by Rob Wilkins
Astra team boss, Luca Pregliasco has every reason to be proud this season, as ex-Ford works driver Toni Gardemeister has been sensational in the events he has contested with the privately-run outfit. Indeed despite having to switch cars mid-season, Gardemeister has managed to notch up 20 points and currently lies ninth in the standings – even though he has only contested four events.
spoke exclusively to Pregliasco recently and asked him about Astra's year in the FIA World Rally Championship and his plans for 2007...
Luca, first up, Astra Racing did four events this season with Toni Gardemeister in the WRC - and on all of them you got some very solid points results. Were you pleased with how the events in Monte Carlo, Greece, Germany and Cyprus went?
We have been very, very pleased. To do four events and to get a podium in Monte Carlo, a fourth place in Greece, a fourth place in Germany and a fifth in Cyprus – it was absolutely perfect. It is unbelievable that Toni can be ninth in the rankings of the drivers' championship with only four events. It is fantastic. I could not imagine any better.
As you said there, you're team's best result was at the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo, when Gardemeister finished third. I assume that was probably the highlight, especially as it was done at the Principality?
The Rallye of Monte Carlo is of course a very important event – it is very famous and therefore the podium there was very, very important for us, Toni and everybody. It was also the start of the season and it wasn't possible to do a better start. Of course without the SupeRally regulations we would have finished second because just in the last stage [Sebastien] Loeb overtook Toni - and Seb had retired in the first leg. At the end we got third but it was like we finished second and without small mistakes in our tyres choices, I think we could have done, maybe not P1, but we could have been fighting for the victory [with Ford's Marcus Gronholm].
After that you were going to do the events in Spain and France, but you actually had to miss those two, before returning for Greece having swapped from a Peugeot 307 to a Citroen Xsara. How difficult was that to change cars mid-season?
It was very difficult at the beginning of the season, because after the podium in Monte Carlo, I had a scheduled programme for the rest of the season for Catalunya and Corsica, so everything was planned. Then I had to re-schedule everything when I was informed the Peugeot was no longer available. So then, under the new regulations Toni could not drive a 2005 spec car, therefore we had to wait until Greece and this was a big pity. We could have done more events, but at the end to have done four events with those results, it is very good. Of course I regret that we could not do Spain and Corsica but when I understood the Peugeot was not available I had to plan something else and the only possibility was the Xsara from Greece onwards. The Xsara is a fantastic car - it is really, really good and very reliable and we have all enjoyed working with the Xsara.
Despite having to changes car though, you still did well in Greece, Germany and Cyprus – taking two fourth places and a fifth. Were those results a disappointment however, after the podium in January?