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Q&A: Malcolm Wilson - EXCLUSIVE

23 March 2007

by Rob Wilkins


BP Ford team boss, Malcolm Wilson has every reason to be satisfied following the season to date, especially as 'his' M-Sport-run outfit lead both championships and have a comfortable 15 point advantage in the manufacturers'. Crash.net Radio spoke exclusively to him recently and while he is satisfied, he isn't getting carried away, all to aware that with twelve events to go, it is by no means over...


Q:
Malcolm, I guess you must be pretty happy with your team's start to the season?

Malcolm Wilson:
Yeah, we have had a very good start and there is no question about that. But we realise we really do have to try and capitalise on the early part of the season, because Sebastien [Loeb] has got a new car and we need to maximise our potential and reliability on these events.

Plus we are not underestimating the task ahead on the asphalt rounds in the latter part of the season, especially with the way Sebastien and Dani [Sordo] are likely to go on those. So it is important that we try and amass as many points as possible on the events that tend to suit our car - and drivers' better.

Q:
Daniel Sordo of course struggled on the snow events in Sweden and Norway, as it is not a surface he knows very well. Do you think they will get 'paid back' somewhat on the asphalt events?

MW:
We saw that in Monte Carlo when they finished first and second. We reversed the roles on them in Norway and it is important that we keep trying to do that on some of the gravel rallies. I think we can always probably quite comfortably beat Dani on the gravel, with both Mikko and Marcus, but obviously the real battle is trying to get that number one spot off Sebastien.

Q:
Can you tell us anything about the new 2007 spec Focus and how work is progressing there?

MW:
Well it is not possible in this day and age to do big changes, but we are looking to do an evolution of the 06 car for probably around the Rally Finland. At the moment though we are still working flat-out on the current car and trying to make evolutions which are not FIA related homologated issues.

You will, however, see some detailed changes for the 2007 car, but they won't be significant. They will be quite small changes on the outside, but hopefully maybe under the skin there might be a few more.

Q:
What sort of time are you hoping to gain with the new car?

MW:
It is very difficult to say - you are talking such very, very small percentages now. If you look at some rallies, they are being won now by less than a handful of seconds after 350 kilometres over three-days on totally different terrain. So it is very difficult. It would be nice to say there is a clear percentage to be gained and you have done these calculations and implemented those changes, but in real time it doesn't have the same affect. We know though what we are trying to achieve but it is certainly not significant and I think you can see how difficult it is by how close all the cars are at the moment.

Q:
Changing the subject slightly, Ford and M-Sport are now fielding upwards of six cars on most of the events this year. How difficult is that?

MW:
Logistically, we have introduced a new team of people to take care of the management of the service park and that side of it has gone exceptionally well. We are really happy with the way the presentation and layout has worked. Also the way the event organisers have helped us to set up such a big service park that has been a real bonus.

I think the difficult part is actually the workshop time and the turn around time for the cars between the events - just the sheer volume of cars. We actually had nine cars running in Mexico and it is quite an operation. Any slight delay, like a delay of one day getting the cars back for instance from Mexico, has a knock-on effect, as the cars still had to leave to go to Portugal on the Tuesday or Wednesday this week. So you get one slip up there and it really puts an extra amount of strain on all the work shop and on all the turnaround components to re-build the cars.

Q:
The Stobart Ford team are going well and are currently third in the manufacturers' championship - can they stay ahead of Subaru?

MW:
I think we have all seen the potential of the 'new Petter' with the new car in Mexico. So, they are definitely going to be a strong threat and in real terms we need Petter [Solberg] to be challenging in there with Sebastien and putting pressure on him rather than just being our two drivers. We need them to be competitive.

We have also got though two exciting drivers in the Stobart team. Henning [Solberg] is obviously a known quantity and Jari-Matti [Latvala] is developing all the time as each event goes by and he is getting more and more experience. They are both in reliable cars, so I think at the end of the day it could be quite a close battle towards the end of the season.

Q:
Have you been happy with Henning Solberg's input?

MW:
Yeah he did a great job in Sweden and Norway. He got caught out in Mexico, but I know he is really looking forward to Portugal and Argentina. I think Argentina is one of his favourite events. He is getting more experience in the car. He is doing a test this weekend in Spain as well so he will be a bit more familiar with the car again and will probably change some of the settings to what he wants. So, I can only see an improvement from him really.

Q:
Matthew, your son, scored another point in Mexico. Do you expect him to continue to make progress this year?

MW:
He has to, but he is doing everything that we require. He is trying to finish as many rallies as possible and get that invaluable experience. And yeah, he managed to get a point in Mexico and I am sure he will get some more before the end of the season. I don't think there is any doubt about that. But, we have a long term plan in place and the important thing is that he continues to get the experience and the understanding of the events and then we will take it from there.

Q:
Have you set him any targets this season?

MW:
The targets are to try and finish all the rallies and get the experience. On the odd stage on certain events we see the performance is there on some of the splits, so I am not bothered. We have a five-year plan like we have done with Mikko and like we did with Petter too. So there are no specific results orientated targets, it is more a case of building up that invaluable experience, which you need now to be a top driver.

Q:
Pirelli recently won the rights to supply tyres to the WRC from 2008-2010. Michelin are contesting that and have started legal proceedings against the FIA. In you opinion how will this affect the WRC? Is it something of concern?

MW:
Of course we know that Pirelli have won the tender but I still think there are a lot of detail things to be finalised. For instance, we haven't been [officially] notified yet and there is still a lot of paperwork to be sorted out between the FIA and Pirelli. So we don't know the terms and conditions for the teams yet.

To be honest with you, the important thing at the moment is that we are continuing to work with BFGoodrich for the rest of this season, because we were the first manufacturer to win on BFGoodrich tyres. It's important for us that we continue and work with them and try and achieve the objective we have set for ourselves this year.

But, having said that, we know that Pirelli are excited about winning the contract for the future and so we have basically just got to wait and see. It is good in one sense that the decision has been made.

Q:
How healthy are things looking for the WRC at the moment?

MW:
Well in Norway, I actually heard a lot of the journalists saying: 'Gosh this sport really has got a great future at the moment' and I have been beating the drum about that. You have got to remember when we took on the Ford contract in 1997 you had three manufacturers, which was Ford, Mitsubishi and Subaru and all we were running was two cars each and that was it. We have now got a situation where there are six teams in there in the World championship. There was 30-odd World Rally Cars in Norway and we fielded nine WRC cars in Mexico. So I think what it is telling you is: 'OK there is not the manufacturers', but, like a lot of other sports, you have teams coming in now. These people, teams and sponsors wouldn't be coming in if they didn't feel the championship was delivering value. Basically the sport is changing like a lot of other sports are. For me I think the WRC is in great shape and the one thing that we need is stability. We are working with the FIA and all the cost reductions are going exceptionally well. We now have a great platform to go forward with.

Q:
Going back to the BP Ford team, what have your drivers got to do now to keep Ford in front?

MW:
That is quite simple isn't it? They need to win events and we need to try and get both cars to the finish in points scoring positions. But we are not under any illusions. It is not going to be an easy battle against Sebastien. We have a great driver line-up though and we have got a great car package. So we are just hoping we can capitalise and build on where we got to last year.

Q:
Are you anticipating that the 'new' Citroen C4 will get more and more competitive?

MW:
I think the big driving force is Sebastien. Certainly by any of the measurements we have done we are in a similar position to what we were last year. OK so we have to keep improving our car, which we are doing and I am sure they will as well, but Sebastien is a very formidable opponent - Seb and the car is a very difficult combination to beat.


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