by Rob Wilkins.
Ford team director, Malcolm Wilson looks back on their season to date, which started brilliantly for the M-Sport ran squad with back-to-back victories in Monte Carlo and Sweden. Although things have not been as easy since then, the speed of the Focus is all too evident, it is just the reliability, which at times has cost them.
Here speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio
, Wilson Sr. talks about the reliability issues, their main rivals - Kronos Citroen and Subaru and the performance of his son, Matthew, with Ford's 'B' team...
Malcolm, we are six events into the 2006 championship now, with 10 still to go. BP Ford have taken two wins with the new Focus and following the Rally Argentina lie 12 points behind Kronos Citroen. How pleased are you with the season to date?
Well like you said we had a fantastic start to the season but we were disappointed in Argentina because again and I think it is now five rallies out of six, we were actually leading the event [until we had mechanical issues]. But I suppose at the end of day there are a lot of positives to come out of it, like the fact we are so competitive and we still seem to have a very quick package. We always knew there would be some things on these events that would be unique to particular rounds and would catch us out and obviously that is what caught us out in Argentina. All in all though we are still in very strong position and we are really pleased that we are the only manufacturer to really take the challenge to Sebastien.
Reliability seems to have been an issue at times and was again in Argentina. What are you doing now to address that ahead of the event in Sardinia and the following one in Greece?
Well we have had two issues. One was in Spain, which was the turbo related problem and which we got to bottom of very quickly and in fairness that won't happen again. Also the problem that happened with Marcus in Argentina we have actually got to the root cause of that and we are very confident we can address that issue as well. So the one issue we have at the moment is the engine problem Mikko had. That engine is still on its way back at the moment to the supplier from Argentina, so we don't have an answer on that one yet. Basically with what has happened with Marcus in Spain and Argentina we very confident and we will just have to see what the diagnosis is of the problem with the engine.
You have a new driver line-up this season with Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen. How pleased have you been with this combination?
Really pleased, I mean you have got the experience of a double world champion in Marcus and obviously the speed. And you have got Mikko, who basically is learning off one of the quickest drivers in the championship and some of his performances have been very good - particularly his performance in Argentina before he retired. He was driving exactly as I requested him to drive and in Mexico he showed his real speed. He was really the true leader at the end of leg one in Mexico. So OK there are lots of rallies we still want him to finish and get the experience on, but I think, certainly by the end of the year, he won't be far off being on the top step of the podium, that is for sure.
Marcus of course has slipped quite a way behind Sebastien Loeb in the battle for the drivers', with 21 points separating them, can he claw back the gap? Is that possible?