by Rob Wilkins

Subaru World Rally team managing director, Richard Taylor talks exclusively to Crash.net Radio at the Wales Rally GB, the final round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship. Here he chats about the teams' year, the new Impreza - that will make its debut in Mexico, their key rivals, Ford and Citroen and lots, lots more...

Q:
Richard, give us your thoughts on the 2006 season for Subaru, which has been pretty tough...

Richard Taylor:
It has been a difficult year. The team haven't got the results that we would have anticipated - or that we would have wanted to get this year. But over the last few events, particularly Turkey and Australia - and on Rally GB - we have started to see some decent pace again and some more consistency in the car, which I think bodes well for next season. It is the result of a lot of work that has gone in over the last two months to try and improve the car.

Q:
Has there been a specific problem with the car or lots of little things?

RT:
It has not been one thing, which is pretty much what we thought when we started investigating the car in the second quarter of the year. It has been a number of things and gradually we have eliminated or improved on one area and then found over areas that we needed to work on. Then we just kept going through that process and have now got a large chunk of the way through it. Some of the things we wanted to do were really homologation related and therefore we won't be able to totally fix them until we get the new car next year. So to summarise, it's not been one thing, it has been lots of different things.

Q:
When will we see the new Impreza next year?

RT:
That will be in Mexico, we are going to start testing the car after Rally GB. But that isn't to say we aren't going to make improvements on the current car for the first three rallies. We have still got work to do and there is a continuation of the process that we have followed over the last few months, which should still see some improvements, but the big step should be in Mexico.

Q:
I believe you have an endurance test next week with the new car, is that going to be running with the new BFGoodrich tyres as well?

RT:
Yeah that is correct we are starting an eight day test on Wednesday [after the Rally GB], which will see us running in Spain and France and yes, we will be running with BFGoodrich.

Q:
Subaru have been with Pirelli for a long time, how difficult is it going to be making that switch?

RT:
Well tyres are one of the key factors - car, tyre and driver are the three critical things. But having said that, it is not as if we are going to a tyre that is unproven in the sport, it is very much proven. I think it will be a pretty smooth transition but obviously we will have a lot of work to do to catch up with those who have been running on BFGoodrich tyres for a while.

Q:
You have mentioned the new car, can you give us some general information on what has been addressed in comparison to the 2006-spec one.

RT:
I think there are several areas related really to body stiffness, transmission and chassis. Those are the main, the obvious things, I suppose. Those are the main areas we have been working on.

Q:
What are the targets for 2007? Is it podiums? Is it wins? Or is it the championship?

RT:
I think at the beginning of next year we will be looking at podiums - at the very least. Once we get the new car we will be looking at getting some wins, no question of that. Obviously we will keep our eyes on the championship, the drivers' championship for Petter [Solberg]. We don't want to set our targets unrealistically but clearly that is what we are here for and that is what we have got to be pushing for.

Q:
Next season you will have the same driver line-up with Petter and Chris Atkinson, and Chris will be going into his third full year with Subaru. Are you pleased with that line-up?

RT:
Yeah. I think the familiarity now that we have with Chris and the experience he is building up should enable him to get much more consistent results next year. Petter is obviously well proven anyway and he is use to working with us and we are use to working with him. I think his commitment to us will be reflected out and will be shown in the improvements we are going to see in the car and in the performance in the next couple of seasons.

Q:
You made some new appointments over the summer, on the engineering front and Prodrive boss, David Richards is going to have a more hands-on role too next year again. How is that going to work?

RT:
We have brought a number of new people in and the whole engineering side has been pretty much re-structured and added to over the course of the year.

David, obviously, over the last few years with his role with the ISC, has had to take a neutral stance, because he has had a role with the championship as a whole, rather than we any individual team. What we should see going forward is that he can now take a much more active role supporting Subaru than he has been able to do in the last couple of years.

Q:
How do you see your two main rivals, Ford and Citroen shaping up next season?

RT:
I am sure both of them will be very strong. Obviously Citroen are going to have a new car, so we will have to see how that goes. But they will have a strong car I am sure. They have done a lot of testing with it. They will have a strong driver line-up as well - we all know how good Sebastien [Loeb] is.

For Ford, well clearly Marcus [Gronholm] has done a great job there this year. Mikko [Hirvonen] has developed a lot as well. The car has been very good and very reliable too. So, they are going to be strong and they are going to have an improved car coming along too. I believe that is going to be in Mexico as well.

But what I would like to see next year is that all three teams are pretty close together and really competing and making an exciting championship both for the drivers' and the manufacturers'.

Q:
Ford look set to enter two 'B' teams next year, are Subaru still looking at the possibility of having something like that?

RT:
We are obviously keen to see more Subaru's in the championship but over the last few months, our real prime focus has been on sorting out the engineering side of the car and developing the car. The fact a M2 team or a manufacturer team, as it is going to be called next year can enter up until the Rally Mexico, gives us a little bit more time to try and sort something out. But our main concern is to get our number one team working completely properly, to get it sorted and competitive. If something comes along then we will pick that up.

Q:
Have you heard which of the 'division two' teams will stay in the sport in 2007?

RT:
No, I haven't to be honest. I think it will probably become a little bit clearer by the middle of December when the entries close, but hopefully we are going to see, at least a couple more teams in total next year and I'd like to think there will be seven or eight teams running in total.

Q:
Is there any chance Subaru will run a third-car in 2007? I know you did it on occasion this season with Stephane Sarrazin [on the asphalt events] and in Japan with Toshi Arai - and, I suppose, in a way with Valentino Rossi in NZ, although admittedly that wasn't an official SWRT entry.

RT:
Certainly there is a possibility [we will run a third car]. A number of people have express interest in that. If you are running a third car on different events, that can obviously be fairly flexible and can be brought in as necessary and as people require. So, yes we are definitely interested in that and would consider that still.