by Rob Wilkins.

Ex-WRC driver, Alister McRae announced on Friday that he will compete in the Chinese Rally Championship this year. Here Crash.net Radio caught up the Scot to talk about that and to look over rallying as a whole, both here in the UK and on the world stage...

Q:
Alister, it's been pretty quiet for you since you competed in the PCWRC in 2004, some good news now though. Tell us about your plans to contest the Chinese Rally Championship?

Alister McRae:
Basically it came about last year. We were looking at different options other than the World Rally Championship - obviously looking at the UK, the Asian Pacific RC, China, Australia and so on. The Australia deal came up, its five events over in China, in a Group N Mitsubishi with the Wanyu Rally Team.
So I am looking forward to a new challenge.

Q:
A five event championship isn't it, with the first event in Shanghai?

AM:
That's correct - the first event is from the 24th to the 26th of March, in Shangahi.

Q:
What sort of surfaces dominate in the CRC?

AM:
They are gravel events, although the first one in Shangahi is a mixture of broken tar and concrete. But they have said it is 70 per cent gravel. The other events are gravel events.

Q:
You are not going to be the only Brit there either are you, because Martin Rowe and David Higgins are going to be doing it as well?

AM:
Yeah - Martin Rowe, David Higgins and Phil Collins [are doing it too]. I think Martin won the championship last year and David has been there and done events in the past, so obviously they know what to expect out there. It should be pretty interesting.

Q:
Are you looking forward to competing against them?

AM:
Yeah you always look forward to competing against anybody that is competitive - and for sure Martin and David are capable of going very quickly.

Q:
Who else will be contesting the CRC?

AM:
Until we get out there I won't be 100 per cent sure. I know there are a number of Australian drivers that compete over there - and some from New Zealand, in addition to the local drivers, obviously. But until we get out there for the first event it is a bit of unknown.

Q:
You are going to use the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. Have you driven the car yet?

AM:
No. We are just to go out there the day prior to the recce and we will do a bit of a shakedown of the car then.

Q:
You will have a new co-driver in the shape of Gordon Noble.

AM:
Yeah, I mean David [Senior], who has been my long term co-driver, has already got himself committed for this year and you look for a guy who is going to do a good job and I am sure Gordon will do a good job. He has had enough experience at world events - and in Ireland and in the UK. I am sure we will work well together.

Q:
I guess going back to China will have some fond memories for you, in light of the fact you won the Formula 2 class in China in 1999, when it was part of the FIA WRC?

AM:
Yeah I have been there once and we won Formula 2, when it was around in the World Championship with Hyundai. So we have had a good result there and hopefully the good results will keep coming.

Q:
Talking of the WRC any news on that front?

AM:
It is all very quiet at the moment. I think unless you can go along with an extremely large cheque getting a drive in the World Rally Championship is not so easy. So that is the main reason for looking elsewhere.

Q:
Is Rally GB a possibility?

AM:
There is always a possibility. But it is obviously a long way until then. We still hope to try and compete in some British rounds this year and then look to do whatever WRC rounds we can get the budget to do.

Q:
Related to the WRC, you are going to do the WRC candidate event in South Africa aren't you?

AM:
We are down to do that in South Africa at the end of May and it is in a Group N Mitsubishi also. It is another interesting event. I have never been to rally in South Africa. I have been to Kenya for the Safari - once, so that is going to be a new thing again. It will be very interesting to go down there and compete against the S2000 cars that they are running there.

Q:
Last year you were in discussions with RJN Motorsports to drive the Nissan 350Z in the British GT series and you almost did the Castle Combe event prior to problems with your licence, anything more happening there?

AM:
Well I have now got... ...I went out and did the events to get my licence upgraded to the international. I am still keeping in touch with Nissan and RJN and hopefully there will be an opportunity this year. I won't do a full programme but there might be a chance to do some one-off events. I'd like to try and do that - and maybe even do some rally cross as well this year.

Q:
Going back to the WRC... what have you made of things so far this season?

AM:
I always keep an eye on things, but it is hard to watch when you want to be involved in it. The Ford's obviously have had a very good start to season and then [Sebastien] Loeb was back on winning form in Mexico. You can't discount Petter [Solberg] though [despite his start to 2006], I am sure he is going to go well during the rest of the year.

Q:
What did you make of Skoda and Mitsubishi pulling out, something that came at the end of last year?

AM:
It is disappointing for the championship when any manufacturers' go, especially Mitsubishi who have been in there for so long. They did pull out the year I was with them also [in 2003] and you would have said that the car was becoming competitive and I'm sure they would have had good results this year. So it is disappointing.

Everybody knew Skoda was in the process of making a decision at end of last year. To pull out after the results Colin showed the car was capable of was a shame. It is disappointing to loss manufacturers.

Q:
Some good news for the WRC recently with the Suzuki announcement though?

AM:
Yeah, it is great for them to be coming into the sport. They have been doing the Junior Championship and when you watch that team in the JWRC they look very professional. I'm sure they will do a good job with the WRC car. And of course to get another manufacturer in there is very important.

Q:
In the British Rally Championship this season World Rally Cars are no longer allowed. Is that something that might help you to put together a BRC programme?

AM:
Yeah I mean the World Rally Cars are obviously very expensive to run. So when they do come back to Group N it is not an affordable budget, but it is a more affordable budget and hopefully they are going to get the entries they deserve.

Q:,
Finally, we spoke last at the Rallyday at Castle Combe in August last year. You have always been a supporter of that show since its inception do you have any news on this year's Rallyday?

AM:
Not at the moment, but hopefully the opportunity will be there to come back down again.

Q:
Thanks for your time Alister and good luck in the Chinese Rally Championship this year - and with the rest of your plans for 2006.