» BACK TO CRASH.NET

Crash.Net WRC News

PWRC: Q&A: Mark Higgins - EXCLUSIVE

16 March 2007

by Rob Wilkins


Britain's Mark Higgins finally took his maiden win in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship last weekend, when he took the spoils on the Rally Mexico. That result moved him up to joint third in the PWRC standings and sets him up nicely for rest of the season, when in addition for going for the Production Cup, he will also defend his British Rally Championship title and compete in the Irish tarmac championship.

It's a packed programme for the Pirelli tester, but here during a rare break, he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about Mexico and much, much more...



Q:
Mark, congratulations on that win in Mexico. You must have been well pleased with that?

Mark Higgins:
I was delighted. We have had a tough time in the PWRC and it all seemed to come right on that rally. After Sweden, which was a really terrible start to the championship, we are back on track again now. We are looking forward and trying to get everything sorted out for Greece.

Q:
How tough was it, because you were under a lot of pressure on the first two days and never had more than a 10 second cushion?

MH:
In a way I would rather be in that position where you are fighting. It is when you have actually got a lead you have a lot to lose [like we had on the final day when we were more than 1 minute up on Toshi Arai]. When you are fighting at the front all you want to do is stay in the front, so it gives you motivation. It keeps you concentrated and I did enjoy the battle [with Mirco Baldacci].

We were driving and when I say comfortably, we had a nice pace and we were able to avoid rocks and keep out of trouble with punctures and everything and that seems to be where the times come from with the Group N cars. It is very easy to over drive the cars, when you push too hard and you actually lose time. There were a couple of occasions where I drove and I thought: 'Nobody will beat that time' and you actually do lose time. Where as vice versa when you feel you haven't been quite so good, you end up taking quite a chunk of time out of people. So it is a strange old thing.

OK, two hard days pushing, which is great, but I would definitely say the third day was more pressure, because we had it all to lose.

Q:
The event itself came in for a bit of criticism - what was your take on proceedings? Was it justified?

MH:
[pause] …Yeah, but it is a shame, because the event is probably one of the best in the world from an atmosphere point of view. At the start ramp there were 60,000 people and I have never seen anything like it before.

The spectator control was generally very, very good. But there were a few kids and people who just spoilt it for everybody. We had a window smashed on the first day by spectators and on the third day we had a stone thrown at us on the road section. I ran across the field after the lads and it was probably three or four eight year-old kids that did it. They were just having 'a bit of fun' and don't know anything of the dangers. It is a real, real shame because it is a fantastic rally. The roads are good. The organisation is good and as I say, it is a real pity.

Q:
There was that incident on day two as well wasn't there with the gate that was left open?

MH:
That is a bit of an awkward one that. Initially we all thought it was a spectator doing that, but it may have been that the gate was knocked by somebody, because it was on the left hand corner. It could have swung shut and then every time a car came through something happened. So it is hard blame that on spectators.

But, I suppose at the end of the day it should have been marshalled. If you look at the UK rallies, there is always a marshal on a gate, or it is tied back or taken down, to stop that happening.

Q:
What can be done to stop the problems that happened in Mexico - is it just a case of better marshalling?

MH:
Well the marshal control in areas where there were lots of people was good. One of the problems we did see quite a lot was stones placed in the road, which were definitely not put there by other competing cars. It was when you were out in the middle of nowhere and there were small groups of people around that it seemed to occur.

I don't know what they have got to do though. They need to educate the people. They put something like 16 or 17 people in jail for it. So that rumour will surely get around fairly quickly and people will realise how dangerous such actions are. The cars are doing 120 mph in places and if you throw a stone at a window it could be a disaster. I just hope they get it right and we are able to go back there again and have another WRC event in Mexico.

Q:
Apart from those incidents, the event went off quite smoothly though didn't it?

MH:
Yeah as I say, the whole atmosphere, the start, the finish, the service area, everything they have done was great. It was a real pity.

Q:
Changing the subject slightly, how are things gelling with Scott Martin, your new co-driver?

MH:
Scott has done a fantastic job and I am very, very impressed with him. He has got a very mature head on him for a young guy. He hasn't got massive experience in the WRC, but is very laidback and gets the job done. He is very well organised and it has been a very good partnership so far. It takes a few rallies to get into each other and I think we also clicked a bit more on this rally as well. I am now really looking forward to the next event with him. There is more to come.

Q:
Is the PWRC title now a realistic possibility?

MH:
It is not unrealistic now, whereas when we came away from Sweden we were pretty much on a downer. We are two points off the lead now and Anton Alen is the only other person in there who hasn't done two rallies, so he is obviously a threat. But we are 'there or there abouts'.

Greece will be a little bit of a lottery. We have then got two strong events at the end of the year [in Ireland and GB] and Japan, which we don't know a great deal about, so we will have to see how that one goes. This championship has always been pretty much wide open and if you can keep bagging points you will be well up there. But it is going to be tough.

The competition this year is probably the toughest it has been for a long time and I think the championship is very much underestimated anyway. A lot of the guys that have gone into this year have had a bit of a shock. Andreas Aigner, who obviously ran in a WRC car last year and Kristian Sohlberg, they are both realising how competitive it is. It is a hard championship.

Q:
You miss the next PWRC event in Argentina, as it's not one of your nominated events, but as you say, your next one is Greece, what's the plan for the Acropolis?

MH:
I think you need to get a comfortable pace and keep going and try and stay away from problems. It is a rally similar in its own way to Mexico but rougher. Like Mexico, when we did the recce, it seems very smooth, but there are these harsh compressions that really knock the car about. Punctures are always going to be a real problem when you are not running mousse [in the tyres] too. So that for me is something you have got to look out for. You have got to get a good clean consistent run, have no problems with the car and then hopefully you get some good points.

Q:
Of course as well as doing the PWRC this season, I understand you are also going to be defending your title in the BRC and doing the Irish tarmac championship, a packaged scheduled by all accounts.

MH:
We are very lucky this year. That is one of the reasons we are not doing Argentina. It is actually one of the events I really like and I have always gone very well there. But that clashes with Killarney and then we have got the BRC starting with the Pirelli.

So, there are quite a lot of things going on at the moment. You think you have got nothing in December and then suddenly it all turns around and we are doing three championships. We have got a very, very full and packed year with a Group N Subaru [in the BRC], a Group N Mitsubishi [in the PWRC] and a World Rally Car Subaru [in the ITC]. So it is just about remembering which car you are in when you get on the start line! [laughs]

Q:
Will all that extra experience help to keep you match fit then or is there a danger of burning out?

MH:
There is a bit of both. I am doing a lot of testing as well, because I am Pirelli's test driver, so that keeps me very busy and especially now they have got the contract for next year. But you can do too much.

The one thing that doesn't help with Group N or the WRC is going between the two cars, because they are very, very different to drive and if you are not careful you end up driving them both 95 per cent, as opposed to driving one of them 100 per cent. But if we can get a bit of testing in before the rallies, we can hopefully overcome that.

Q:
Will the experience in the Irish Tarmac Championship help for Rally Ireland?

MH:
Yeah it should do, but obviously we are doing it in a WRC car. It would have been nice to do Rally Ireland at the end of the year in a WRC car but it is obviously a round of the Production Cup. I have always done quite well on the Irish tarmac though and hopefully that should be a strong event for us. Nobody knows a lot about it that is coming over to it for the PWRC and so we are looking forward to that. Then we have Rally GB to finish with.

Q:
Generally speaking, what are your thoughts on the state of the WRC this year?

MH:
It would be nice to have more manufacturers in there, but from our side, the PWRC is very healthy at the moment. There are twenty or so cars in there.

Going back to the top level though, Ford is dominating it. It is pretty much a one-make championship with all the Focus WRC cars, which is fantastic for M-Sport.

But it would be nice to see some more manufacturers and some more opportunities for the young guys. These guys are committing and investing into the championship and there is no where to go unfortunately, unless you have £2-3 million behind you. It is getting very difficult. Maybe they need to look at Super 2000 or a different formula. I don't know. It is very hard to say.

It would be great to have five or six manufacturers' back in there and stepping stones for young drivers starting off in the JRC or PWRC or where ever they want to be.

Q:
Obviously a good example of where the WRC is failing at the moment, particularly in GB, is with Kris Meeke. He showed good pace in the Junior RC and is now left twiddling his thumbs?

MH:
Yeah it is the same for a lot of people this year - even Guy [Wilks]. He is investing a lot this year with what he is doing and even if he went out and won a few rallies there is no guarantees he is going to get a drive. That is where it is at the moment and it is a big, big shame.

If you go back five or six years, if you did well, there were at least, some opportunities to get drives. But you can probably say a good 70 per cent of the drivers' in works cars now are actually bringing money in and are paying for the drive. That is not a healthy state.


» BACK TO CRASH.NET