Absolutely and that is the whole idea of the wildcard scheme, which has been introduced in all the Junior and Production rounds this year. It gives the local drivers an opportunity to just come along and see what it is all about. The WRC is very different from anything else and so any experience these guys can get is invaluable.
Obviously Matthew Wilson
is the most prominent member of the MSA Elite scheme and probably one of the best known, at least by the public. Do you think the experience he has gained this season will pay real dividends in 2007?
We have seen some real strong glimmers of what is to come. He has set a fastest time and he has been very competitive when you look at the split times on occasions and sometimes in difficult conditions too. Other times I think it is fair to say Matt has been disappointed with his own performance, but it is difficult during the season to react very much. There are 16 rallies, a lot of travelling and a bit of testing, and especially now with the two-month break in the summer, it is not as spread out during the actual competitive part of the season as it has been in the past. Just talking with Matt during this event, we are going to sit down and we are going to review what's happened and we are going to work out what's been great, what's been average and what's been less than average and then move forward from there. It is a long process to get to the top of the WRC, in terms of learning and growing confidence and so on. I think he could have had a better first year, but I think he could certainly have had a lot worse a first year as well.
Matt's programme is pretty much wrapped up for next year, what about some of the other drivers in the MSA Elite scheme, like James Wozencroft?
I think they are all looking to move on. They have all been prominent in the BRC this year. World championship rallying is where I want to see them and it is where they want to be, obviously there is some financial limitations at times, but when you have got a fantastic series like the Fiesta Sporting Trophy International [FSTi], I mean there is not many series which can offer you, for a budget of less than it would cost you to do the BRC in a Super 1600 or a Group N car, you can come and be apart of the World Rally Championship and get invaluable experience in six or seven WRC rallies for next year. Certainly speaking to some of the drivers who have had a taste of that, they are all saying after one-day of a WRC event, that they have learned more, than they have in their whole rallying career up to that point.
What about the Academy scheme, all of those drivers' are here, a few of them are doing this event and the rest are doing media work. How is that progressing?
The idea behind the Academy is that we would like to have a look at drivers' and co-drivers' closely before we would commit to having them on the Elite scheme. The Elite programme, OK it could always be better funded and it could always be bigger, but it is a significant contribution that the MSA is making to the sport and we don't want to waste that. So, therefore, we have taken eight guys this year and on this event they have all had the opportunity to come and do the recce and quite a lot of them that are not doing the event, have had the opportunity to work with the teams and just try to understand how a big team works really. Certainly one or two of them have been on the phone since, saying: 'I really appreciate the opportunity because had I not done it I don't fancy coming along and just being in at the deep end and experiencing this and then having to go and compete a few days later'.
What are the plans for the future with both the Elite and the Academy schemes?
As I say we have come to the end of our first full year. The guys are up at Edinburgh in the next week or two. So it is just a case of working out what they are going to do and how they have progressed. Who should remain on the scheme, who should move up a level and that is all down to the selection panel, as the initial process was and then we will move on. By the Autosport
International show we will have a good idea of what we are doing and we will probably open up the Academy application list again. We need to get as many people as we can coming through the scheme and just getting a good founding and understanding of what it takes in the sport.
We had a preparing for Rally GB training day before the event and I was there and we had Glenn Patterson, Phil Mills, Paul Howarth, Subaru's team manager and Petter [Solberg] there at points during the day. The guys were all commenting after that they hadn't fully understood or appreciated just how much effort goes in. So, every time when they are speaking to the right people they are learning a lot.