by Rob Wilkins

Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson is five events in to his second full season in the FIA World Rally Championship, having made his debut in 2006. Here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio during the four-week gap between the Rally de Portugal and Rally Argentina and gives us his take on his year thus far...

Q:
Matt, have you been happy, generally speaking, with the first five events of the season?

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Matthew Wilson:
Yeah, I think you have got to remember though that they are all very different rallies. You start off in Monte Carlo, which was a new rally for everybody this year and then there was two snow events - and another new event there too. We always knew those rallies were going to be difficult and that really we could only start judging where we were once we got back onto the gravel rallies in Mexico and Portugal. So yeah, I am reasonably happy. In Mexico I got my first point of the year, which is a decent start - so far so good.

We are now going to be going back to places a second time, like Argentina, Sardinia and Greece. There are three consistent rallies in there so hopefully we can gauge where we are compared to last year and see how we are getting on.

Q:
Looking at your results so far, as you say you scored a point in Mexico. I assume that's been the highlight for you so far?

MW:
Yeah, although I think we should have been higher up the order in Portugal. We had a terrible second day there. The first stage on the Saturday we had the wrong tyres and the weather had changed. We just had two or three big moments at the start of the stage and just lost a lot of confidence. Conditions were changeable all day and we just struggled to get the confidence back. On the Sunday though we had some really good times, only a second a kilometre behind the fastest, which was where we wanted to be. So if we can now carry that into Argentina it will be good. Definitely Mexico was the best result then, but there has been promising areas on other rallies as well. It has just been putting it all together really.

Q:
In addition to the point in Mexico, you have had two 12th places (in Monte Carlo and Portugal), a 26th place finish in Norway and a DNF in Sweden. Does that tell the whole story?

MW:
No. Norway was obviously my mistake. I clipped the inside of a snow bank which damaged the suspension and I think we were in line for a top ten position there, which was a bit of a shame.

Obviously in Sweden we had the problem with the engine, which was the same as Jari-Matti [Latvala] and I think it was just a bit of a freak thing. We just hadn't accounted for the temperature being as cold as it was. The last morning it was down to -26oC or -28oC, which we haven't seen in Sweden for a long time. We just got caught out there with the temperature.

So to summarise, I think in Norway we should have possibly been higher up the order - and Portugal as well really. If we hadn't had such a disastrous Saturday in Portugal, we would probably have made it to 11th or 10th. It is a little bit frustrating but I think there has been good that has come out of it. It is not all bad.

Q:
How have you found doing the new events, compared to those you did in 2006?

MW:
I have really enjoyed them. I thought Portugal was a good rally. They did really well with the organisation and stuff like that. The rally ran relatively smoothly apart from the shakedown. The stages were good, although they were very, very rough. I think some of the stages on the Friday were the roughest stages I have ever seen, probably even rougher than Cyprus or Greece or places like that. That was hard on the car and hard on the crew as well. So they have put two good new rallies in there and I am really looking forward to Ireland now [the other event that is new this year]. I think that is going to be the one to look forward to at the end of the year.

Q:
You talked a lot about Portugal there. Were you surprised about what happened with the Fords at the end, with those 5 minute penalties?

MW:
It was a shock. Obviously nobody knew. It was just a mistake. There has been a big investigation going on into it at M-Sport, as to why it happened and how it could have happened. But I think we were all treated very fairly by the FIA and they had to do what they had to do. You can't really comment on it. But I think it was disappointing for everyone involved, but the FIA only did what they had to do.

Q:
What is it like being in the third car this year and not nominated for manufacturers' points? Has that eased the pressure?

MW:
In some ways it has. There was often places' last year where we were in a position to maybe take away points from [Dani] Sordo or [Xavier] Pons in the second [Kronos Citroen] car if they had had a bad rally or something like that. It was often a case of trying to make sure we finished the rally and did get those points to try and help the BP Ford team as well. So this year is absolutely nothing like that and in a way we can do our own rally now. It is a little less pressure but you don't really tend to think about it. You just get on and try and do the best job you can.

Q:
Team-mates wise this year, it is quite a different situation to 2006. Instead of having lots of different ones, you have Henning Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala on all of the events. How much is that helping and how are you getting on with them?

MW:
It's good. We have had a couple of tests before the events in Sweden and Portugal and we have all been driving on the same day. It has just been a fantastic help. You have got two mega experienced guys there, especially in Henning. He has been around a long time and he has done a lot of the rallies a number of times. So there are always things you can learn from him - especially with car set-up and stuff like that. That has been a big help. We have struggled less with that this year, because we have had a bit of guidance there. It is definitely good. They are the benchmark at the minute - and from holding fourth in the manufacturers' championship, third for quite a while as well in front of Subaru, it shows how well they are both doing.

Q:
Latvala and Henning have both had some good results - Henning was on the podium in Norway and Jari has had three points' finishes on the trot now. Is it frustrating for you that you haven't managed to do that?

MW:
I think if you look we are not in that position yet and we said that right from the start. If you look what Henning did last year, he was on the podium and he was high up in the overall order of the championship. So I think everybody expected that. Jari-Matti is coming on in leaps and bounds but he is two or three years older and in two or three year's time it is a great benchmark for where I want to be. So as I say, it is just a case of trying to learn the most off them that I can at the moment.

Q:
There is a four week gap between the last event in Portugal and the one in Argentina, what are you going to be doing during that period?

MW:
I am just doing a lot of training at the minute - and just trying to keep myself in decent shape. I was out doing a 40 mile bike ride yesterday, which was fairly tough going. But it was worth it and I am starting to feel the benefits of it. I should definitely feel it on the hot rallies in Sardinia and Greece. They can be tough on drivers' and co-drivers. So the more prepared I am the better really. We are also spending some time in the work shop and trying to learn new things. That is what is on at the minute.

Q:
Do you have any testing planned?

MW:
No. The next test that we have got is going to be in the break in the summer and then hopefully something in the second half of the year before we get onto the tarmac rallies. It is obviously important to get some mileage on asphalt before those events. So that is the plan for now.

Q:
Looking to the next event in Argentina, what do you want to try and achieve there?

MW:
I think we need to try and do what we did in Mexico - and in Argentina last year. If we can get into the points and have a strong finish, that is going to be the main aim.

But also we need to concentrate on where we are in terms of behind the leaders and just keep trying to bring that down. That is the main aim with every event we go to - just to try and bring down the difference to the leaders. So, we are trying for that.

But it is always nice as well to get a finish and get some drivers' points. So we will be aiming for that I think too.

Q:
Have you set yourself any targets for the year?

MW:
Really it is just to continue to gain experience and keep learning. Like I say, if we can pick up some good results throughout the year, just to help with the confidence, then that is good too. But really we are just trying to learn as much as we can and keep bringing that pace down to the fastest. We just need to keep learning. That is the main thing. Results are not the be all and end all at the minute. I think next year and the year after that will start to be more important. But at the moment we can just try and keep gaining experience and learning.

Q:
Final question, generally speaking, it looks like it is going to be another battle between Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm for the drivers' title this year. Who do you think is going to take it?

MW:
It is hard to call. Obviously I'd like to say Marcus [because he is with the Ford 'A' team run by my dad, Malcolm]. He is in a strong position at the minute with the rallies that are coming up - they are sort of 'Marcus-type-rallies'. He was leading in Sardinia last year and won in Greece. So if he can get a good strong end to this half of the year he will be in a good position, because in the second half it will be difficult with four tarmac rallies. Sebastien is going to really come on strong on those events. Mikko [Hirvonen] is going to start throwing in some surprises as well though. If he can get ahead of Sebastien on some of the rallies then it will really help Marcus I think.