by Rob Wilkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MATTHEW WILSON: CLICK HERE

Britain's Matthew Wilson has had some encouraging results of late and has finished in the top ten in the last four events in succession. Crash.net Radio caught up with the Stobart Ford man at the recent Castle Combe Rallyday show in the UK and spoke to him about that event, his form so far, next season and lots, lots more...

Crash.net:
Matt, you are back at the Rallyday, a year on from your first appearance here. Are you a fan of these sorts of events?

Matthew Wilson:
It is nice to come back again. I probably said the same last year, but we don't get much driving in Britain now. There is obviously only Rally GB at the end of the year [for us in the WRC] and so it is nice to actually come and do some driving back in this country and see the fans that maybe don't get to all of the rallies. It is good.

Crash.net:
Following on from this you will be doing the back-to-back asphalt events in Spain and Corsica. Does an event like this help you at all for those rounds, because obviously you are running on tarmac here at Castle Combe?

MW:
Any mileage we can get at the minute on tarmac is helpful. We haven't had a great deal of running on asphalt and we went straight from Monte Carlo in January to Germany last month without driving the car on the black stuff in between. We turned up on the shakedown in Germany and it was all like: 'how does all this work again?' So any mileage we can do on tarmac is definitely good and hopefully we can do some more before Ireland [and post Corsica], which will just get us up to speed on the bumpy Irish stuff.

Crash.net:
Looking at your season overall, how do you assess things?

MW:
It was a difficult first couple of rallies but after that it has been good. These last four have been really positive for us. We have been inside the top ten on all four of them and should have been for the last five or six but we had a couple of mechanical problems. Really I think that without a couple of mistakes from me we should probably have been in the points in Germany and in Greece as well. There are just little things that I am still learning. We are making mistakes but the promising thing is we are still getting in the top ten, which is a step forward. I think the last three rallies, Japan, Ireland and GB they should be good for us again. I am looking forward to them. I enjoyed Japan last year and obviously Ireland is new for everybody but at least we have got a bit of a rough idea of how bumpy the roads are and what they are going to be like. The only thing there is the weather. It is going to be so up and down. You could have a nice November's winter day or you could have snow and ice. It is going to be a bit of a lottery that one.

Crash.net:
Marcus Gronholm did an event in Ireland at the start of the season and Mikko Hirvonen is going to do the Cork Rally at the end of this month. Is that going to be any help for you, because obviously the three Ford teams must work together a bit?

MW:
For sure, but I think that is more for Marcus and Mikko to get some experience of the Irish stuff. They have never been over there. I think as an M-Sport team we have got quite a lot of customers in Ireland and so we can gather quite a lot of knowledge through that. I think we are reasonably prepared, but for the likes of Citroen, who have never done any events over there with customer cars, then these outings in Ireland are probably more for them on a car side than on a driver side. But really for Marcus and Mikko I think it is just to get up to speed on the bumps and make sure they are happy. It should be good and if they do learn something then hopefully they can pass it across and we can use it as well.

Crash.net:
Marcus has recently announced he is going to retire from the sport. How big a gap will that leave?

MW:
Massive - he is a character and he has been brilliant for M-Sport and for Ford. He has been an inspiration to a lot of people and especially for Mikko. I think he has helped Mikko a lot and now Mikko is at the stage where he can step into his shoes. If you look at Finland this year they were very close and next year Mikko will definitely be going to win that rally and probably quite a few others as well. He is at the point then when he can step in but it will be a big shame to lose Marcus.

Crash.net:
Is it a year too soon for Mikko to step up, because although he has been getting quicker and quicker, Sebastien Loeb is a very hard target for anyone to try and match?

MW:
Mikko has had to play the game a little bit this season, - and if he hasn't been in a position to fight with them at the end of the first day, it has been a case of 'well there has been no point in risking anything'. He has always been in a comfortable, safe third place and so he has had nothing really to push for. But if at the end of the first day he is in amongst them, Ford have said to him 'right you can carry on' but I think he has had to bear in mind the manufacturers'. Ford has got a lot to think about there and he has had to remember that. Hopefully next year he can really push himself on and be fighting with Sebastien because Norway this year and Finland have been really good rallies.

Crash.net:
Ford are looking strong in the manufacturers', however it is a lot closer in the drivers'. Any idea which way it might go? It is a bit soon to say isn't it?

MW:
I think you can never write off Sebastien. That is one thing you can't do. But I think mentally now, Marcus' win in New Zealand was a fantastic result for him, if he hadn't had got that it might have swung in Sebastien favour. However fortunately now he is so confident and now that he has decided to stop, he wants to go out on a high. He will be pushing like hell and in Spain last year he was actually beating Sebastien fair and square until the car had a problem. Catalunya could be a good rally for him and I think in Corsica you are always going to struggle to beat Sebastien there, but for sure he will be close in Spain. Then the gravel rallies you would expect Marcus to be having a big fight with him there as well. We will see. There is a good part left, there are five rallies; there is still quite a long way to go.

Crash.net:
In terms of yourself what do you want to do in these final five events? Do you want to get into the points?

MW:
I want to try and keep this run going that we have had on the next few rallies [in Spain and France] and get some good strong finishes there. There is quite a lot of new route in Corsica, which I think will be new for a lot of people. That is going to be a bit of a challenge. We won't be able to use the pace notes from last year, which we have been doing on the last few rallies. That is going to make it a bit of a difficult one. For sure though in the last three rallies we are going to try and see if we can get some good results. I loved Japan last year. It was a fantastic rally and hopefully we can do something there. As I said before, Ireland is going to be a tricky one for everybody. We will have to see what happens and then it is GB at the end of the year. Obviously that is my home rally and we are back in the Welsh forests and that should be another good one.

Crash.net:
Obviously this is only your second year in the WRC and a lot of people seem to forget that. Do you think you would have benefited from another year in the BRC or maybe even a year in the J-RC, so you weren't in the limelight so much?

MW:
Yeah, we would have loved to have stayed in the BRC another year, but obviously when they went to the Group N and Super 1600 cars that was something we couldn't do [at least with a WRC car]. The only option then was to step up to the world championship and I don't think there is anything that can prepare you for it. There is a big divide between anything you do at national level and British championship level, to going up there. But I think the sooner you get into it the better it is. OK it is a real challenge but the biggest thing is to learn the rallies and just get there and get experience. For any young driver, if they can do anything, the recces and things like that without doing the actual rallies, it is a massive help. Just seeing the stages and what they are actually like it is a big help.

Crash.net:
Looking to next year, have you starting thinking about that at all yet?

MW:
We have had a bit of a think about it and hopefully the plan is to try and do the same again. That would be good. If we can get the consistency going I think everything now is just starting to click into place and I have probably said this a few times before, I have learned a lot more this year than I did last year. Last year was just all so new and such a challenge you are just concentrating on trying to get through the event and make sure you do the best job you can. Whereas this year you start to remember a lot more things and you learn a lot more. Really to go back into it next year with even more experience would just be a lot easier and obviously we had a plan when we first started and if we can keep sticking to that plan it will be alright.

Crash.net:
Pirelli will supply the tyres in 2008, how much of a difference is that going to make?

MW:
I think it is going to make a massive difference. No mousse is going to be a big factor. That is one of the areas at the minute that you don't even worry about. You take the line that is there and if you get a puncture it is not really the end of the world. Next year that is going to be a big difference. Hopefully the tyres will be strong and punctures won't be too much of an issue because I think it will be a shame if punctures ruin the fight for the overall victory. If you look at the finish in New Zealand, 0.3 seconds between Marcus and Seb and if there is punctures in there that is not going to happen again. Hopefully then punctures won't be too much of an issue, but the grip levels will be because if the tyres are going to be stronger then they are going to provide less grip. We will have to wait and see. I haven't driven on them yet and hopefully we can do a bit of mileage before the start of next year and just get a feeling for them and what they are like.

Crash.net:
Have you got to wait until after GB to test those tyres?

MW:
I think so. That is the plan anyway. It is going to be a big shock, especially on the tarmac as well. Obviously you are restricted with the amount of patterns you can have and what cuts you can do and everything like that. Whereas at the minute it is quite open to us. We can go out with any cut that we like and so it will make a big difference. But as long as the tyres are strong and punctures don't decide rallies then it should be OK.

Crash.net:
What did you make of the FIA's decision to award the tyre tender to Pirelli and not BF Goodrich?

MW:
Obviously we don't know what happens in the meetings and it is hard for me to say. We have got a fantastic relationship with BF Goodrich and for Ford to win the world championship on their tyres last year - and hopefully we can do the same this year, it is a shame. But that is the way it goes and everybody is going to be in the same boat and getting use to these new tyres. We will just have to get on with it.

Crash.net:
Final question, there was tragic news last weekend with Colin McRae passing away, is there anything you would like to say on that?

MW:
I think for British motorsport it is an absolute disaster. Obviously we have lost Richard [Burns], 'Beef' [Michael Park] and now we have lost Colin. It just leaves a massive hole. He was a legend and that is the best way to describe him. I have got some fantastic memories of him and I think one of the things is he will never grow old now. We will always remember him as he was and the legend that he was. It is a terrible tragedy and I would just like to pass on my regards to Alison, Holly and Jim and everybody up there. It is going to be difficult but I think they will have to be strong and get through it.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MATTHEW WILSON: CLICK HERE