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Q&A: Paul Howarth - EXCLUSIVE

11 December 2006

by Rob Wilkins


The 2006 season will certainly not go down as one of Subaru's best in the WRC - that much is certain. Crash.net Radio caught up with SWRT operations director, Paul Howarth recently, on the Thursday prior to the start of the Rally GB, the final round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, and we spoke to him about the year to date and asked him about their plans for next year...



Q:
Paul, the season to date, it hasn't gone to plan, but things do seem to have improved in the second half of the season…

Paul Howarth:
Yeah they have - but people expect us to deliver between three and five wins a year on average and we haven't delivered anything like that this year. We have proven on the last few events that we have got consistency, we have got performance and we are now getting fastest stage times, but on average to win an event, you need at least nine fastest stage times or something like that. Long term we have got a very, very stable plan and the engineers are working forward. The new people we have appointed in the engineering area have got a phenomenal amount of experience, but it won't happen overnight. We have just got to be patient, we have got to work hard and we have got to keep our heads up there and just keep on with it. We led in Australia and we finished second and we matched the performance of the Fords.

New Zealand, I can't explain that at the moment. It was a bit of a strange event. We used the Pirelli K tyre there and it didn't work out and the conditions were really tricky. But it is not just about the tyre…

Q:
Looking to 2007, Subaru have made some new appointments, as you mentioned. David Richards is going to be taking a more hands on role next year too. Will that all help get things back on track?

PH:
David has massive experience. He will help keep us focused and moving forward. We have a plan to get the team back on the top. We are here to win world championships, but you have to be careful when you say we are going to win world championships. You have to be realistic.

You have to deliver at the same level as your opposition. Ford is now a very good operation, they deserve the manufacturers' championship this year - they have worked hard, the package is good and the drivers' are good. It is the same with Citroen. Our opposition is a lot stronger that what it was in the past and we have got to lift our bar now. The bar is up there and we have to be level on that bar everyday of the week.

Q:
Post-Rally GB what tests have you got planned?

PH:
Straight after GB we will be down doing an eight-day endurance test with the new configuration of the car. It looks very similar but it has a lot of new stuff underneath. Mainly we will focus on endurance mileage. We will do eight days there and then straight into a Monte Carlo test. Monte Carlo is quite a tricky event because there more than anywhere you need the right tyres on the car at the right time. So we will focus on that and then straight after the Christmas break, which is very short, we are straight over to Sweden for a four-day test.

Q:
Very busy times then, by the sounds of it?

PH:
Yeah there is no switching off. The infrastructure is working at maximum capacity. But that is the only way you will win. Look around the paddock here and everybody else is doing the same. You don't take two weeks holiday in this game - no way.

Q:
There have been stories in the press that Petter [Solberg] has not been very happy with the fact that the new car won't be introduced straight away in 2007. When are we going to see it and how much of a difference will it make?

PH:
You are going to see it in Mexico, but you are not going to see a completely new shaped car or anything like that. Underneath though, a lot of the detail, the geometry and other aspects of the car have been addressed.

For sure, Petter is a driver and he wants to win events. No driver wants to start the championship off in a way that puts him at a disadvantage to his opposition. The team don't willingly want that, no way, but we have got to learn from the past and we have got to know that the car is right. We cannot turn up with something that is not 100 per cent and is not how we want it - long term that will pay off.

In the short term I think we have got a package, which strategically for Monte Carlo, Sweden and Norway can deliver results that will keep us in line for the championship. So that is what the team has to do. It is a combined thing. I respect that Petter wants to go out from day one and wants to get a good result in Monte Carlo, for sure he will want to win Norway, it is his home event and he won't want to be beaten there. He is emotional sometimes and he is onboard with exactly what the team want to do and we have a strategy between us all and that is what we are going to deliver.

Q:
Do you think Citroen preparations for next year will have been hurt somewhat with Sebastien Loeb having been out injured?

PH:
I think there preparations are well on the way and if they have got to let him go and drive the car for ten days straight or do something they will. The testing restrictions will be an issue for them, because all teams can only do 48 days testing next year, but he will be match fit. In Monte Carlo, if you look at his performances, historically there, he is going to be right up there and he can turn it on and off. He knows exactly where the performance level is.

How fast the new C4 is we don't know. They have done a phenomenal amount of testing and Citroen is an organisation that will push it forward throughout the year. We will be interested to see what the performance level is of the C4 – and I know the only way we will beat them is to be faster.


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