by Rob Wilkins

Prodrive's David Lapworth made an appearance at the Wales Rally GB last weekend and here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio with just two stages to go. We got his thoughts on that event, his 'old' team, the Subaru World Rally team, which is run by Prodrive and who he used to lead and lots, lots more, including 2007 and Prodrive's F1 project...

Q:
David, what are you thoughts on the Rally GB thus far?

Related Articles

David Lapworth:
It hasn't been a classic in some ways. It would have been nice if there had been a bit more of a battle but I guess the pattern has been a pretty classic Rally GB. It has been more about mistakes than absolute pace. That is what all the drivers' struggle with here every year - finding that pace they can run at, without making too many mistakes and in the end that is what it comes down to.

Q:
Marcus [Gronholm] looks set to take the win, how much is he going to be kicking himself for that mistake in Australia?

DL:
Quite a lot I guess. Although who knows what would have happened here [had Australia gone differently]. Maybe Sebastien [Loeb] could have come back had he really had too and he wouldn't have needed to do much. But yes, I am sure there is that feeling of 'if only' - but that is part of the game, all sports are full of that.

Q:
Obviously you used to be the team principal at the Subaru World Rally team. Is it nice to come back this weekend and visit them?

DL:
Yes I have really enjoyed it. I have been wandering around and catching up with people I haven't seen for a while. I have to admit it is quite a nice feeling being able to pick on the best bits and not have to get up at 5 am in the morning, in the cold, the dark and the rain. It is nice not to have all the stress of watching every single split time come through as well. But it is good to come back and keep in touch with what is going on.

Q:
Subaru had a tough start to the season. Things seem to have improved slightly as the year has gone on though and now they are feeling confident for 2007. Is that confidence justified?

DL:
We have known for a while that this was going to be a tough period, because of the lifecycle of the car. Ford has got a new car this year and Citroen have got a new car for next year. Subaru's turn is really the year after - there is a nice step, an interim car next year, which will help. So it was always going to be a little bit tough. But it has been tougher than we expected for sure. I do think the signs are there though that next years interim car is a good step, they have learnt a lot over the last few months, in tracking down some of the problems they have had. As always in those situations you learn a lot more than you think. When you start digging deep and looking for problems it also unearths some good ideas as well. So next year will be better. I don't think it will be a great year because that is not the lifecycle, but 2008 should be. They are going in the right direction and confidence will start to build from this point as it gets better.

Q:
How do you see the battle developing between Ford and Citroen in 2007? Could Ford have the edge with Citroen introducing their new car?

DL:
I would expect it to be a pretty close battle still. With Citroen's resources and the amount of testing those guys do, they have already probably done more testing with that car than Ford have done with this car, so they should be completely prepared. OK there is nothing like the rallies to find out the little gremlin and it is very difficult to simulate real rally situations when you are doing the set-up work. You do need a bit of rally experience to refine things. But they should be very, very close to the optimum when they come in. They have got all the resources, all the equipment and they have spent a huge amount of time on it. They started on this car [the C4] before Christian [Loriaux - M-Sport's technical director] started on the Ford, so you need to keep that in perspective.

Q:
You are involved with the Richard Burns Foundation as well. How is that going? What will be done in 2007 to keep the RBF fresh?

DL:
We are pleased with the way things have gone this year. The most important thing on that front was to get things off the ground and get some awareness and so on. The targets this year weren't about how much money we can make for charity, so it is great that we have actually exceeded our expectations. The support has been just great, but the most important thing was to see that we were going to get lots of support from different people and it has been really good. Everybody we have spoken to has been really positive towards it. We have got a good solid base now. What we would like to do now is to try and strengthen the relationship between the Richard Burns Foundation and the World Rally Championship. We also want to get an annual event fixed into the calendar that everybody supports and to get the WRC to put something back in for charity and hopefully they will do that with the RBF. We want to build up a couple of annual events that will keep Richard's name going and use the emotional attachment with Richard to try and get people to do something for charity. The two things work together well because of the circumstances we can keep Richard's name alive but also use it for good things.

Q:
The other thing you are busy with of course and will be increasingly busy with, especially as next year draws to a close, is the Prodrive F1 project. How is that all going?

DL:
I obviously can't tell you too much, but it is going very well. We have got a pretty good idea of how things are going to take shape now - and that has been our concern for the last 6 months now, working out how to do it. It is more important to get the plan right than to go rushing off. Everybody thought we would go off and do like everybody else and try and recruit 500 people and make every nut, bolt and washer for an F1 car. But we aren't going to do that. We recognise it is a five year plan at least to get to where we want to be - and we are going to take it a step at a time.

But that is going well and I suppose the interesting aspect of it, the reason that we are doing it now, is because F1 is changing such a lot. In 2008 it is the start of a whole new lot of regulations, a whole new philosophy in the FIA and in F1 and so it is exactly the right time for us. We don't have to copy everybody else. We can try and guess where a F1 team is going to be five years from now - what a F1 team is going to look like in five years and try and start building one of those. And of course it is anyone's guess what exactly that is going to be and that is the challenge to try and build something for five years from now.

Q:
You were heavily involved with Subaru, is it a case now of 'out of the frying pan and into the fire'?

DL:
Yeah... [pause] I love motorsport, anything - I'd race a lawnmower, motorbikes, cars, anything. I have been involved in racing and rallying over the years. I guess most of my career has been biased towards rallying but I have had a foot in our race programmes and so on over the years and its' different, but it is all the same thing too - the underlining philosophies are the same. I just love it, especially the technical side. I guess for me personally the interesting thing with F1 is all the change - there are lots of opportunities for innovation and change and to do things different and to think about things in a different way. That is why we are there.

Q:
The engine freeze is that a positive thing for Prodrive on the F1 front?

DL:
It is in the short-term. That is one of the reasons that we are in. The changes in the regulations for 2008 will in the short-term make it easier for a new team coming into the formula. But you have got to understand the thinking behind it. A lot of people have taken a negative interpretation of what the FIA has done there with freezing the engine, but it is not about freezing the engines. It is actually about diverting all the energy, I mean there are some brilliant engineers in F1, some really well organised, well structured, highly motivated teams, it is amazing what they do. But until now the technology hasn't been directed in any particular direction, it has just been a fight to find out who can make the fastest car. It is a complete change in philosophy now, the FIA is saying, what we want to do is channel all that energy into producing relevant technology and that's what makes it interesting.

Q:
You have mentioned before that Prodrive plan to start testing towards the end of next year. Is that still the plan?

DL:
Yeah. Clearly we have got to be up and running by March 2008 and if you worked your way back from there, commonsense says, the basics, the core of the team has got to be together by the autumn next year. We need to be running before Christmas to try and start to develop the team work and then we have got to be up to full speed by March. It is going to be a fairly hectic 18 months.