by Rob Wilkins

Former WRC TV presenter, Jon Desborough use to provide regular coverage and thoughts on the FIA World Rally Championship in the UK. Crash.net Radio caught up with him at the recent Rallyday 2006 at Castle Combe in Wiltshire and got his thoughts on the first half of the season...

Q:
Jon, what have you made of the WRC overall this year?

Jon Desborough:
I am not surprised Sebastien Loeb has continued to be such a dominant force that he is - but I did think with him running in this kind of semi-privateer team with Kronos, that somebody would have his skin and have beaten him by now, quite handsomely. It hasn't happened though as often as I thought it would. Marcus Gronholm I know is very keen to make history of Sebastien Loeb but that hasn't happened either and Marcus is running in the full Ford works team. So somebody has got to beat him and beat him well before the end of the season, because then Citroen are back in with all their money in 2007 and then Sebastien Loeb will continue to be the legend, and the winning legend, that he is at the moment.

Q:
Like you said there Loeb is in a semi-privateer team effectively - but we haven't noticed much of a difference with things have we?

JD:
Yeah, but maybe what you and I think of a semi-privateer team is one thing, but what Kronos and Citroen think of a semi-privateer team is another thing. There was an awful lot of technology, spare parts and resources' from last year's Citroen team that has found its way towards Kronos...

Q:
A lot of the mechanics are the same aren't they too?

JD:
Well exactly - picture yourself, you are going to lose the Xsara from the championship, you are going to go on to the C4 and make a WRC car out of that, so that is all old technology with the Xsara - you can write it all of, you can hand it all over, can't you?

Q:
How do you think the C4 will go then in 2007? Citroen have been testing that for some time now, it should hit the ground running shouldn't it?

JD:
I haven't got the first clue - my mum and dad's C4 is very good! That hasn't had to go back yet and they drive it a lot more carefully than he does!! It is always difficult with a brand new car to make it a winning car from the word go, but if any team, if any manufacturer can do that, it will be them. They test twice, three times as many times as the other teams and they invest a lot of time and money in it, so maybe it will win first time out in Monte Carlo. I know that is what they will want and they will aim for a 1-2-3 in Monte Carlo, because they will want to make a statement of their arrival for the new season and with the new car. Whether or not it will happen I don't know, we will have to wait and see.

Q:
Related to that and Citroen, what have you made of Dani Sordo this season, since he stepped up from the Junior WRC with the Xsara WRC? He has been very impressive hasn't he?

JD:
Yes - but it would have been nice to see Kris Meeke do that, because I am sure Kris would have been equally sensational. But there was a time when Citroen, the World Rally Championship team Citroen went Spanish - if you remember Carlos [Sainz] got the drive instead of Colin [McRae] and that has been replicated with Dani Sordo getting the drive instead of Kris Meeke. Kris would have been brilliant in that car and if he had been in that car this season, we would have all been much more involved in the championship, than I think we are at the moment. But you can't keep talent down can you? And Dani Sordo is a talent.

Q:
Judging from what you have said there then, you reckon, Kris Meeke would have done as well, if not better than Dani Sordo has then?

JD:
Of course he would have - he carries a British passport! What else does a man need? And he comes from that part of the world that is absolutely barmy on rallying, which is, Northern Ireland. And they have now got a round of the World Rally Championship and boy is that going to be a mad round of the world championship. They are completely mad for it. I have been over and done two Donegal's and an Ulster, as a co-driver - brackets: qualified as an international co-driver now - can you believe that? Me? Does Robbie Head know about that? - and everybody over there has got a Mark II Escort and a garage at the back of the garden and if they've not and they have made a few bucks, they have got a WRC Ford or a WRC Subaru. And I will be really interested to see how it goes and that is one event, I think, I might just turn out for at the end of next year, when it joins the schedule - brilliant.

Q:
There is quite a bit of change to the calendar next year isn't there - with three new events joining the fold?

JD:
Yeah you have got to get them in and you have got to get them in when you want. You can't go to Norway in the summer, so you need to schedule that one in at the same time as Sweden. I am guessing, I would imagine, the way they run the championship, they will want to go to Ireland at a similar sort of time as they go to Cardiff - so those two events will get linked together. It saves a bit of money for all the teams and that makes sense. But I would guess if you had the choice, you would sign for anything wouldn't you? You would run out Christmas day if you had a chance of a World Rally Championship event! So I think Ireland will be magic. I mean at the Donegal 70-80,000 fans turn out everyday and just hang off the trees, watching you come by, it is the most heart warming sight ever. And they are almost as mad for rallying as Castle Combe is today! [laughs].

Q:
You were talking about Kris Meeke a moment ago - what does Kris and Guy Wilks need to do to graduate to the 'senior' level in the sport?

JD:
Well the cynic in me says a cheque for about ?50 million - but it might only be ?3 million or ?4 million. Somebody else might say they need the series to be level - they need everybody to be in the same cars, so that the best driver emerges. If you have got the same sort of car, the same backing and the same money involved, then the best driver can be picked from that. Guy who, the last time I talked to him was about two or three weeks ago, said he is working really hard to get himself a place in the WRC for next year, Suzuki are committed full-time for 2008 and I think his best bet is probably going to be to stick it out with Suzuki, because loyalty counts there. He has got to keep producing the results and he must keep winning, so he can say to everybody: 'I have won and I am better than all of them, even if they have got better machinery'. And he has got to hope the series' and the sport is good enough for a manufacturer to put there brand on.

Q:
Final question: Subaru, what has gone wrong there this year?

JD:
How long have we got? [pause] ...I think they might have taken their eye off the ball a little bit. It is also difficult to constantly lose to somebody as good as Sebastien Loeb, in a very well resourced team like Citroen is. It is very difficult to climb out of the car and say: 'I am happy with second, I am happy with third, I am happy with second' - so psychologically it is very difficult; you get beaten up. I think Japan have tried to get a little bit too involved and they should leave it to Prodrive, they know how to build a winning car. They have built plenty of other winning Subaru's - they are the experts. Japan should make the car and Prodrive should prepare it and they should have a good driver in it and a good co-driver, which they have got, because Petter [Solberg] has signed on for another two or three years. I phoned Phil Mills [Petter's co-driver] up the other day and I said: 'Are you sure you are doing the right thing? Have you not gone off and talked to the French?' And he said: 'Well it got very close - it got very close'. But then maybe having Solberg and Loeb in the same team wouldn't work out. Because imagine you are in equal machinery and still you are coming second to a guy like that, now that is worse than just coming second to him. So he has got the best bet I think.