by Rob Wilkins
TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MALCOLM WILSON: CLICK HERE
BP Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson has a lot to smile about at the moment as his team not only seems to have the edge over Citroen, but they have also recently landed a sponsorship deal with Abu Dhabi. Crash.Net Radio's
Rob Wilkins caught up with him last week and got the low-down on that - and on how preparations are going for the second half of the season, which gets underway with the Rally Finland early next month...
Malcolm - let's begin with the Abu Dhabi announcement that was made Monday, July 2. How much of a boost is that for Ford and the WRC in general?
It is a great boost for Ford and M-Sport. It is also, I think, a tremendous boost actually for the World Rally Championship to have somebody like Abu Dhabi involved in a long term arrangement. It can only send out positive news for the World Rally Championship to think that someone as global as Abu Dhabi wants to be involved in it.
Related to that announcement was news that you are going to have a third driver on selected events now as well with Khalid Al Qassimi
in a number three car. What can you tell us about that?
That is part of there plan. Obviously the big initiative is too ultimately to try and find as well a Middle East driver, who can regularly compete in the WRC and hopefully at some point challenge for honours. Part of the programme is we will look at a youth development programme to try and find the next budding star. We will be looking at probably using our Fiesta ST series' car, which is obviously very successful in various championships in different parts of the world and so the idea is we will go and take a team of cars out there and do a few evaluation days. We will then look towards putting a programme together, a step-by-step process to get a driver in the WRC in a World Rally Car. But obviously the third car for this year is Khalid. He is a very keen ambassador to try and get this initiative off the ground, as well as competing in the world championship himself.
Looking to the second half of the season, is the team still on schedule to use the new 2007 spec Focus in Finland?
Well as we speak [on Wednesday, July 4] we are testing in Finland at the moment. Yesterday [Tuesday, July 3] was the first day with Mikko [Hirvonen] driving and we certainly had some very positive results. That is still the plan to debut in Finland.
What were Mikko's first impressions of the new car?
Feedback was very good. I think the conditions of the roads means it is difficult to compare like with like from last year. There has been quite a lot of rain, so the roads are a lot softer. But he certainly proclaimed himself to be very happy with the car last night.
With four tarmac events in the second half of the year, a lot of people are predicting that these rounds will play a crucial role in deciding the drivers' and possibly the manufacturers' championship too. How confident are you that Ford will be on form on asphalt?