by Rob Wilkins

Eddie Stobart Motorsport driver, Mark Higgins has had a busy year thus far, and as well as contesting the British Rally Championship, he has also been taking part in various events in the World Rally Championship. Here speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio at the recent Rallyday he talks about his season to date and much, much more...

Q:
Mark, you are doing the BRC this year and some of the WRC events as well of course. Let's look at the BRC first of all, as that has been going really well for you, with a good run of wins.

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Mark Higgins:
Yeah, it has gone very well for us, apart from the Rally of Wales, where we had an engine failure that was a bad start to the championship. But, since we have been with the Eddie Stobart team, it has been fantastic. We've had, I think, seven wins out of eight starts in the BRC. So we have just got to keep it going there, it is very easy to throw it all away. I know it is always difficult, even though when you are not fighting out and out with big competition, but the Irish rounds have been a real challenge for us and I am looking forward to going to Ulster.

Q:
What are your aims for that event?

MH:
They have got to be to try and win it, like we did last year. But it is getting quite difficult now with the modern machinery. I think Andrew Nesbitt is going to be very fast - it is in his back yard. We have got to think about championship a little bit too, but I think it still important to win the rallies.

Q:
We were talking to Malcolm Wilson prior to the Rally Finland and he was saying that your team-mate Matthew Wilson is doing well and could be back for Rally GB?

MH:
Yeah, actually he will be back for Ulster. He is doing a rally next weekend as well. So that is great news. He is going to be out most weekends now until the end of the year, getting himself back up and ready for the big one. He is really working really towards Rally GB.

Q:
You will have a bit more competition in the BRC then?

MH:
Yeah, definitely - the more the merrier. Let's bring them all on [laughs] ...makes it a lot more fun for us as well.

Q:
What are your aims for the rest of the year - its got to be to get the title in BRC, hasn't it?

MH:
Yeah, we can only really lose it now if we do something stupid. That is the plan. I can drop two scores. We may even be able to win it in Ulster, but that depends on what Austin [MacHale] does and what happens. We'd like to go to the other rounds and just enjoy the rallies. At end of the day, I really still enjoy driving these rally cars.

Q:
The Eddie Stobart name is obviously a good sponsor. Are they planning to continue next year or is that not known yet?

MH:
It's not known but, obviously, we hope so. They have made a massive investment so far, and it is starting to come to fruition. People are starting to really know what the Eddie Stobart team is. I think it would be a very big disappointment if they didn't come back again next year with all they have put into it. But you never know in this sport. As quickly as you have a drive, you can be without one altogether. We have got to make most of it and, as I say, I really enjoy driving the cars.

Q:
Turning to the WRC, it has not been such a good year there unfortunately, has it?

MH:
No. In the Group N championship, it has been a disaster again. We have had some good times and always been there or thereabouts, which has been very encouraging. The car is very good, it's just daft things happening really - the exclusion in Argentina and what happened in Turkey. It has just been a real nightmare.

On the other side of coin, we have had a WRC car out, an '03 Focus, but we have been a bit unlucky with that. We should have been sixth in Sardinia and then we didn't have clean stage apart from two in Greece. So we will see what happens in GB and, if our luck turns around, that would be a great result at end of year.

Q:
Going back to Argentina... You are on the podium in the Production class and then you get excluded due to a tyre mix-up. That must have been gutting?

MH:
Well, I couldn't believe it because we were the ones who notified the organisers about our mistake. It was a very straightforward thing. The mechanics picked up two spares for our team-mate and put them in our car. We didn't actually use them. I think we made it too easy for them but, after what went on at the previous rally - with the Subarus being underweight and just getting a fine, I thought no way would we get excluded. I found out just going back to get the 'plane, to go straight home from Argentina. I was just mortified.

Q:
I know rules are rules and they have to be obeyed but, for such a minor mistake, an exclusion seems a bit over the top?

MH:
Yeah, I definitely think so, and it is not encouraging privateers either. It cost us a lot of money to do that rally. When things like that happen afterwards, sponsors don't want to be involved in that scenario again. It is not good - full stop. We wrote to [FIA president] Max Mosley, but got a reply too late to do anything.

Q:
Rallying obviously needs all the support it can get at the moment, especially with two manufacturers pulling out of the main WRC. What are your hopes for the rest of the year?

MH:
I'm looking forward to GB and would like to do Corsica as well - and as many rallies as we can after that - and then work towards a good programme next year. Fingers crossed Stobart continue. Let's see what happens.

Q:
It is tough for drivers though, isn't it, as there are not enough works seats as there are and now there are four less?

MH:
It is, to be honest. I think, even if you went out and won GB and Corsica, I still think there is no way it would guarantee a drive or anything. It is very, very difficult out there. Sebastien [Loeb] and [Marcus] Gronholm are floating around and will be sorted. People like Markko Martin have nothing at the moment, which just shows the state of affairs. Let's hope the powers that be make some big changes in the sport and we get the manufacturers back.

Q:
How can they do that? They are on about increasing the rounds in 2007, which seems the wrong way to go completely.

MH:
I think it is ludicrous. I don't think we need three-day rallies any more. The route is compact enough. They don't need to drag it out. As for the cars, we all love driving these WRC cars but, maybe, we need to think about a different format, especially in the domestic championships. Maybe we should leave the WRC to WRC.

But the big problem is that all the manufacturers get enough publicity from the WRC, the last thing they want to do is put money into the domestic championship. I think we should adopt a touring car format. I think we should go back to Formula Two, but make it rear-wheel drive. Put a cap on it, same differentials, same gearbox, same drivetrain. Make it a very cheap formula. That would be very fantastic to watch. You only have to watch Colin and Alister McRae in the Mk2 Escorts here [at the Rallyday] and they sound brilliant.

Q:
Turning to the Rallyday, your thoughts on that?

MH:
Apart from the weather, it has been a fantastic day. It has been quite emotional for us really to be driving Richard [Burns]' cars - to drive the 206 and have Richard here, it was very nice to be asked to do that for him. He has been a good friend of mine for a long time and you know he is fighting really hard through this illness and I don't think anyone could have fought as hard as he is. On a positive note, it has been great - good for him and good to see all his cars and all the people down here today.

Q:
How is Richard doing - can you just give us an insight there?

MH:
He is doing very well considering the illness he has. Everyday is a battle and you know Richard was a fighter in rally car and he is fighting this very hard. I think we've all got to get behind him and just see what happens.