WRC » 19 September 2006
Q&A: Paul Howarth - EXCLUSIVE.
by Rob Wilkins
Subaru's rally operations director, Paul Howarth talks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about the recent events in Germany, Finland and Japan, which in the end were pretty disappointing for the Banbury-based squad. He also discusses what the team can do during the rest of the season and what they are doing to make sure they are more competitive in 2007...
Paul, Subaru had a tough time in the first half of the season. There seemed to be a lot of optimism after the summer break that the team's fortunes would change in the second half of the year. Thus far though, following the events in Germany, Finland and Japan, that doesn't really seem to have been the case does it?
No not at all. We were fairly optimistic through the mid-season period. We had time to do some testing and get ready for the second half with some target events, because Japan and places like Cyprus and GB, have been very good to us in the past and we have performed to a level which has been good there. But it hasn't started to unfold like that. Germany was still a great team effort getting Petter [Solberg] back into the event [after his crash in the shakedown] and showing what we could do. We didn't expect much on the tarmac there. In Finland we started off with the front pack and then we slipped back again. Then Japan, we experienced some technical issues and problems, which didn't allow our drivers to really perform. Although from the mid-day on Saturday, when the fight was really on at the front, we did manage to hold on to Marcus [Gronholm] and Sebastien [Loeb]. So there is some encouragement but as you know, you have got to be totally consistent from the start to the finish.
So, do you think Subaru can still turn things around this year, beginning in Cyprus this coming weekend - or is it a case of focusing more on 2007 now?
We are pushing, but we have to be totally realistic, and get our house completely in order for 2007. Cyprus is one of the most demanding events in the championship. It is very hot down there at the moment and it has very low average speeds. We have won there in the past, but being realistic we have just got to work on 2007 and try and keep our heads up as much as we can through the remainder of this year's championship.
What are Subaru doing to ensure that the Impreza is more competitive in 2007?
We have had a good look at the package itself and have identified quite a few areas of improvement. For the long term Christophe Chapelin has just joined the team as chief designer. Christophe has considerable experience in rallying and has been involved in the sport for a long time – for Peugeot, Nissan and previously at Prodrive, he was part of the team that developed the S9 car, which was one of the most successful cars we have run. Christophe is now working in the engineering team as chief designer but like all these things, unfortunately, it is going to take some time for it to filter through onto the car, because obviously we are restricted with homologation and what we have got for this year.
Staying with 2007, Prodrive boss, David Richards told Crash.net Radio at the Rallyday event in the summer that he will be taking a more hands on role at the Subaru WRT towards the end of this year and definitely in 2007. Is that still proceeding?
Yeah, David is obviously chairman of Prodrive and is a very good influence on all the teams which operate throughout the world under the Prodrive banner. He has a phenomenal amount of experience, so David will challenge us and push us along to deliver the best. His involvement is welcome, so is David's experience and it just helps the team to focus. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can help you focus in a different direction, so that is ideal.
Subaru have already re-signed Petter Solberg, what's happening with regard to the second driver?
We need to secure that in the near future. Chris [Atkinson – our current number two driver] is doing an excellent job at the moment, even with the issues we are having with the performance. He is keeping his head above water and is showing some great consistency and maturity for a young driver. He is still relatively fresh into world rally cars. This is only his second season driving a WRC car and also driving in the World Rally Championship. He came from the Australian rally championship but he had done quite a few recce's around the world. He has worked quite well and he's a good team player. We will just have to see though. He has got targets to meet - just like we have all got targets to meet. So we will know in the near future what we will do long term.
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