by Rob Wilkins

Britain's Guy Wilks achieved his primary aim of getting to the finish on the Acropolis Rally of Greece recently, when he brought his privately entered Mobil 1-backed Ford Focus RS WRC car home in ninth position. Here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio about that - and his next WRC outing in Finland...

Q:
Guy, you got your first WRC finish of the season in Greece when you finished in ninth place. Were you happy with the event?

Guy Wilks
Yeah, it was obviously a very tricky situation for us to be in. Prior to Greece we had had two starts in a World Rally Car and two non-finishes. It was a big hole for us to be in to be honest. We had never really been in a situation like that in our career. We were feeling the pressure.

We are privateers this year and we don't have a manufacturer behind us. We felt we had to go to Greece, because although it wasn't in the schedule to start with, the gap before Finland from Portugal was just too big. We felt we needed to do something before Finland.

So I suppose yes, we achieved exactly what we wanted to do in Greece, which was to finish and have a strong consistent run. We drove at eight tenths all the time, never did any more or any less and had a totally trouble-free run.

Q:
I guess you really wanted one of the drivers' in front to retire, so you would finish in the points?

GW:
That would have been a bit of a dream, but it wasn't to be. I had not done this version of the Acropolis Rally-based around Athens before. I think on the old Greece perhaps the stages have a bit more character and it is slightly trickier and had it been run there, it might have taken a few more cars out. The last day wasn't so rough. There was nothing too technical although there were some narrow sections.

These guys in the World championship, as in any world series, are all very good drivers though or else they wouldn't be in it if they weren't. It wasn't so much a problem with the driving side - we were just hoping some cars might have some problems. A lot of people said they hit things. On the first, second and third day there was some big bangs but they were lucky enough to get away with it and bearings didn't collapse and dampers didn't fail. So it wasn't to be. I suppose at one point we thought if we can hang on in here we can maybe climb up without doing anything too flash ourselves.

Q:
A lot of drivers' had punctures. Did you have any problems?

GW:
Yeah we had a couple of punctures, but nothing too drastic. The main time we used our heads was on the second run of the long stage, the 48 kilometre one.

On the first run, because we were running so high, we were running fourth on the road, but [Federico] Villagra went out very early in the stage, so we were effectively the third car on the road. We were sweeping the road and the tyre wear was very minimal. We didn't have a great time, but the road conditions were such that we couldn't push and we didn't want to push, because we didn't want to go off.

The second time through was the time it caused the problems with the punctures. I don't think it was so much - yes some people will have instigated the punctures themselves by hitting a rock; but there were a lot of tyres that just wore right through the canvas.

We had made a conscious decision to try and protect the tyres in the start and in the middle of the stage and try and use them a little bit at the end. I could definitely feel the tyres, from about 10-15 km to go were definitely well worn however, and towards the end of the stage, the last 3-4 km, it was very difficult to get the car turned into the corner and hit the apexes' consistently. When we got to the end of the stage, the tyres were literally like slicks. There was very little grip left in them, both front and rear. But yeah we managed them well.

We only had two punctures really on the last day, just over a small river crossing / small stream with a bit of a compression in. It just so happened rocks were moving around and when we hit the compression they nicked the outside wall of the tyre but the mousse worked well.

It is funny because it is the first puncture I have had and driven on with the mousse. It is a strange feeling because it almost felt as if the damper was soft on one side because I could feel understeer around right hand bends. It was a left hand front tyre that had punctured and I didn't know exactly what was wrong with the car to start with. I thought it might have punctured but it was strange. We were not lucky but we used our heads on quite a lot of the event and we only picked up three punctures.

Q:
How tough is it going to be from next year when there is no run-flat mousse?

GW:
Immensely for those boys - it is like, there is a rough stage in there and I said to a couple of drivers, I said to Henning Solberg and I remember what he said. I said: 'How quick do you go over that Henning?' It was the roughest stage of the rally and he said: 'Flat, no problem'. I then said: 'But what about the tyres?' He replied: 'Well if you drive fast and flat and maybe get a puncture you will lose some time, but if you drive carefully you will lose more time'. That mentality will not be there next year. It is not a mentality I am use to. I respected the rough stuff quite a lot in that stage because we hadn't done any testing and the car was perhaps just a little bit wrong in terms of set-up. Not wrong actually, just not ideal for that terrain. Those boys are able to push hard on it. But like I say next year it will be back to what it is like in the Junior WRC. You will have to stop and change punctures in a stage. We will see what happens. It will definitely be a deciding factor of results on rallies.

Q:
How have you found it adapting to the Focus from the Swift?

GW:
No real dramas as such. I am just trying to get the car exactly to my liking, which we are working quite hard on and are going to be working on, in the coming weeks before Finland. I feel I have adapted to the car but now I want to tune the car even more to myself. I want to get the car to perform better and obviously you need the car to be efficient for your driving style to get the best time and that is where we are at now. I have got no problem with driving the car, it is just a case of making the car slightly easier and getting it to do things more how I want it to do them.

I am enjoying driving a World Rally Car. It is an immense pleasure and it is fantastic to be competing against those at the top. We know they are in newer cars but we are just happy to be there. We have got an opportunity and we are taking it with both hands. Maybe a bit of the problem in Portugal and Norway, was that Phil [Pugh - my co-driver] and I were not willing to accept, what we have had to now, that the car is not as modern as the other cars around us. They are going to be more efficient and percentage wise over a rally they are definitely going to be quicker. But it is something we have got our heads around and we are just looking to go to Finland and minimise the gap, even though in Greece we didn't try to set times. But in Finland we will try to even though we have the older car. I think in Finland with the faster roads it will be less of a difference.

Q:
Ideally speaking what sort of result are you hoping for in Finland?

GW:
Who knows! I have heard rumours of how many World Rally Cars are turning up and a lot of those will be locals. They do those stages on national rallies. They know them very well. I think about 50 per cent of the route is changing. I knew the rally very well, I had done it three or four times - four I think. We are hoping for a good result but at the same time it all depends on who turns up in what and how we go and how we get the car in the test that we have coming up. I am sure we will do a good job with it in the test, so we will obviously just try and build the confidence and start the rally and see how we go. But another top ten would be great, especially in Finland and if we can push for some points that would be even better. That would be fantastic.

Q:
How much testing have you got planned during this two-month summer break from the WRC?

GW:
Not masses, we are privateers after all. You can never do enough - even if you are a manufacturer driver sometimes. The problem is obviously the cost of the mileage. We have just got to be super efficient. We have got to look to find a solution very quickly and once we have found it, be happy with it. We will probably only do a day and a half before Finland but that day and a half will be massively crucial to our performance over there.

So, yeah, we are looking forward to it. We need to work hard before, thinking of ways in which we can improve the car and think about it when we are doing the test and also afterwards, analysing exactly what we need.

Q:
Do you know what events yet you will be doing after Finland, WRC wise?

GW:
Germany definitely and then after that we will have to wait and see.