by Rob Wilkins

Prodrive boss, David Richards was at the 2006 Rallyday on Saturday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his success in the FIA World Rally Championship with Ari Vatanen. Here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about that event, his role in the WRC and Prodrive's F1 project...

Q:
David, you are here at the Rallyday, this is the first time you have attended the show. Have you been enjoying it so far?

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David Richards:
Yeah we have had a very good day - it is typical rally weather unfortunately, the heavens opened on us. Nonetheless though, meeting up with lots of old friends is great and it is a good turn out from everybody here.

Q:
Is it nice to see the old cars again?

DR:
Yes it [the Rothmans Escort - Ari and I used in 1981] is a car that is kept in the Beaulieu Museum now and we can go down and borrow it occasionally, they are very good to us and we have had it out at Goodwood before. Ari hasn't driven it for a little while now and he is getting use to it [again].

Q:
Have you been out on the track?

DR:
Yes, I went around with Ari earlier this afternoon and just had a quick run around in the Escort and now I am off home.

Q:
Did it revive old memories?

DR:
It does actually. It reminded us just how dated it is compared to modern cars. Modern day road cars are so good and you get into an old Escort, that is 25 years old, and boy you see the difference!

Q:
Broadening the discussion slightly, obviously you are the commercial boss of the WRC and you are also head of Prodrive, who are going to be entering a team in F1 soon. Has the F1 project been more work that you might first have envisaged?

DR:
It is just starting now. It is early days yet, but I think it will build up over the next 18 months as we near 2008 and our first race. So I think it is the lull before the storm.

Q:
How is that going thus far?

DR:
It is fine - all on schedule.

Q:
Going back to the WRC are you going to stay involved with that?

DR:
Oh very much so, but less so on the media rights side of it and more so back with the team again at Subaru. I would like to get more involved with that next year. The TV rights, the media side stuff is mature now and we have got a great solid team of people in there, so it is time for me to stand back from that.

Q:
Subaru have had a tough season to date. We spoke to Subaru sporting director, Luis Moya a few weeks back, he is confident things will improve in the second half of the season. Do you think they will?

DR:
Well they have done a lot of testing and development work, Pirelli have been working hard on the tyres for the latter part of the year, so if everything comes together, I am sure they will be very good. As I say, I will be spending more time with the team towards the end of the season and certainly for next year.

Q:
Petter Solberg has re-signed with Subaru recently. That is obviously a boost isn't it?

DR:
Clearly it was anticipated, but nonetheless a good vote of confidence.

Q:
What have you made of the WRC more generally and Sebastien Loeb's dominance? Can anything stop him from winning the drivers' championship for a third year in a row?

DR:
Well he looks in a very assertive position. Marcus [Gronholm] is clearly very good in the Ford and of course Petter, towards the latter part of the year, I am sure he can notch up a few wins as well.

Q:
There were a number of changes announced a few weeks ago with regard to the WRC regulations and calendar. We will have three new events in 2007, is that good news?

DR:
Any new events I believe are good news - and on our door-step here in the UK, will be Rally Ireland. There will be another snow rally in Norway - a great event there and of course, that has enormous government support. Portugal back on the calendar after so many years too. There is a great fan-base in Portugal and I am sure we will see an enormous turn out down there.

Q:
With those three new events, we will gain an extra asphalt event in the WRC and an extra winter rally. It's a better balance isn't it, as gravel is pretty much dominant this year and has been for the last few years?

DR:
Well it is always difficult to get a balance - a geographic balance, a climatic balance and a balance across the surfaces, and that is what you strive to do every year with the calendar.

Q:
Regulation wise there is some change on the tyre front as well, which reminds me, Pirelli are of course going to quit the WRC at the end of this season. How is that going to affect Subaru, as they will have to switch to using tyres supplied by BF Goodrich, won't they?

DR:
Obviously in the short term it will be an issue, but BF Goodrich are a very professional company under Michelin and so I don't see any problems there - and then one make for everybody from 2008 onwards.

Q:
Mousse will go as well, some people have expressed concerns this might be bad for safety...

DR:
No, no, I think people haven't realised when you go to one tyre, the reason we have punctures today, is because you are trying to gain performance out of the tyres, with soft side walls etc, when you go to one tyre, the tyre company concerned, will clearly have the opportunity to make the tyre as robust and strong as they want. For many years Pirelli did rallies like the Acropolis with no mousse and no punctures.

Q:
You mentioned a single supplier there, will that help save the teams money, like hopefully it will in F1?

DR:
I don't think it necessarily saves the teams money. It will reduce a little bit of the testing clearly, but it will make it a more level playing field. So it will mean the private competitor can come along to a World Championship event and know he has got the very same tyres that Sebastien Loeb has got.

Q:
Returning to F1 a moment if we may, there has been speculation in the media this week, that Prodrive might become a McLaren B team. Can you comment on that?

DR:
Well last week it was the Renault team and next week it will be the Ferrari team. So it is flattering to think that is what people are second-guessing us as - but what we will finally do is still to be decided.

Q:
You were at the French GP last weekend with David Lapworth, what were you both doing there?

DR:
We were just having a wander around. It was a critical time in the discussions over engines and trying to find a solution for the independent teams and I felt it was important we were there.

Q:
Can you say anything on Prodrive's plans engine wise?

DR:
No nothing at this moment in time. We are waiting for the regulations to be finalised now and then we will know exactly where we stand.

Q:
Thanks for your time David - much appreciated.