by Rob Wilkins

Nicky Grist was at the 2006 Rallyday recently and Crash.net Radio caught up with him there to chat to him about that event and his last outing in the WRC back in Australia at the end of last year. He also talks about the X-Games Rally, which gets underway this week in the USA, running from August 2-6 and the current state of the WRC...

Q:
Nicky, I know you have only just arrived at the Rallyday, but what are your initial impressions?

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Nicky Grist:
It's a great day out for the rally fan. I mean you can see a fantastic selection of cars here. It is hard work to put this event together but it has been growing and growing every year and I think the word is really getting out. It is a must-be at venue for the rally fan now and with so many stars here it is a good chance for them to get some autographs.

Q:
Of course this time last year, you were out in action or about to go out and compete in the Skoda Fabia WRC with Colin McRae. You almost took a podium with it too on the Rally Australia...

NG:
Yeah it was so sad that it all had to come to an end the way it did. I felt sorry, not so much for myself, but for the team, when they had been working hard for years and years and years, with absolutely no reward and here we were in a position, we were fighting for second place and we were confident we could get it and then we came into service with a perfect car and then we went OTL [over the time limit] through a silly clutch change. The team was distraught, I have never seen so many grown men cry but that is the way it is. Skoda in their wisdom decided to go in a different direction this year - we had a possibility to perhaps go out and perform ourselves with them, but as it is, we have not done any serious competition WRC wise now. We have done a few events, just for fun, but everybody has to stop sometime and while we are still competitive, it is a great time to bow out.

Q:
Do you miss competing though at the sharp end or do you really feel now is the time to draw the line?

NG:
To be honest we have been dabbling with a few events here and there. We were out on the Donegal Rally in Ireland some weeks back, with Colin's old 6R4, which we had some great fun with. We have done some events in his Escort as well - we did the Pirelli International and did some great slides there. That is a proper sounding car, none of these turbo charged things. We are off to California soon too because we are competing in a competition called the 'X Games', which is a televised event through-out the US.

Q:
That is quite a big event in America isn't it?

NG:
Well it is the first time they have ever run it for rally cars. They have run it for motocross and tricks, where they do these rotating spins and all that kind of carry on. But now they are having this purpose made part for rally cars and it is the first time it is going to be used. They have invited us to go over there and compete against the top American championship runners, so we will see how we get on. It is though going to be an interesting event, I am sure.

Q:
Are you and Colin going to show them how it is done?

NG:
I am sure Colin will show them a few tricks or two, but we are running in an open class car, which is a more powerful version of a Group N production car and then we have got to use the organisers' notes and we don't know what they are like. We have got to run on stages we have not run on before and we will have to see how all these things pile-up. I am sure though that Colin's ability will make up for a lot of things and he will no doubt give the spectators something to smile at.

Q:
Looking forward to it then?

NG:
Yeah absolutely, when you have got the opportunity to go out and perform it is great, because that is in your blood. But when you have actually got a proper competition and you can go out to win, because this is a serious event, then it just adds to it all. We have been in this sport for so many years now and you take in your stride really. Doing just the odd event now and then, it a nice way for us to wind things down.

Q:
What have you made of the WRC this season, Sebastien Loeb has been pretty dominant hasn't he?

NG:
Yeah he has. I think that was always going to be the case. The big question was how the new Ford was going to perform. It was always going to be a question of reliability from the start and that's the way it has panned out. It has been exceptionally quick but has then broken down and they are still having some dramas from time to time, but even so they are getting there now with the car and they will put in a serious charge towards the end of the year, that, I am sure of. But at the moment Sebastien has got a good hold on the championship and there is nobody else as quick as him. The Subaru with Petter Solberg, they are not really at the races anymore, so all Sebastien has got to do, even if Marcus Gronholm goes off winning all the rallies left, is pick up eight points and finish in second. So I think the championship really is Citroen's and Sebastien Loeb's for the taking again this year.

Q:
What do you make of Sebastien's form in light of the fact the Xsara WRC is run by Kronos and not Citroen Sport?

NG:
Well I think as far as the championship is concerned it is going to be only the second time that a private team has ever won the world championship - and the first person to have done that was David Sutton. He has been there for 25 years and now he is going to lose out, which he doesn't mind. But I think when you look at Kronos, yes, there are a lot of their own guys running the team, but there is also a hell of a lot of Citroen personnel in there. So I think it is great for Kronos, they have put a lot of work into it and in fairness they have had a great car from the start of the year and it has continued to be dominant this year. So, all-told, I think it will be a wonderful end of year party for them, I am sure.

Q:
There have been some changes announced by the FIA recently, on the regulation and calendar front. What have you made of those changes?

NG:
I think we were a bit surprised at three new events getting a place on the calendar. I think people expected one and I think all of these events that went out to be a candidate thought they were just fighting for one place, but in the end it turned out to be three. I was a little surprised, possibly, that Australia was dropped. Historically it has always been a good event, but it was a little bit on rocky ground anyway, because last year the event almost didn't happen, so that is why it probably left the championship. I think it is great news for Rally Ireland to get a round of the championship as well and we have now got more or less two events close to the UK. Then Norway, that was always going to be the strongest of them all, because all this hard work and developing snow tyres and we only had one true snow event, so because it is so close, it is a three hour drive from Karlstad to the Norway base, it was the ideal candidate. There was though a bit of a strange paragraph at the end of the FIA announcement, saying that the World Council may put more events in. Now I am a little bit confused about the whole thing because here we are in a championship, which from the outside appears to be struggling, there are very few teams that can actually afford to compete in the championship, they are reducing costs by restricting the amount of engines they can use in a season and restricting the amount of testing days they can do, and then all of a sudden, they turn around and say: 'We may drop in another one or two events'. It is effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul and at the end of the day we need to make some much more bolder-steps for the future. I think if we have got to cut costs, we have got to cut costs. Yes you can argue you can cut the championship down by 50 per cent, that would save a lot of money but I think the real costs and the real problems that we have in this sport at the moment is the cost in the technology and in the cars. I feel that the FIA should be making more in-roads now and announcing in 2009 exactly what the format is going to be and really slash the technical aspect of a lot of these cars. The spectacle will still be the same, as you will still have the fastest drivers in the world driving these cars, from that point of view it won't change, but we need to be shaving millions off budgets, not a few thousand here and there. That doesn't go anywhere to entice new manufacturers' in and that is what we need. We need more manufacturers' and more teams.