by Rob Wilkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH PHIL MILLS: CLICK HERE

Subaru's Petter Solberg and his co-driver, Phil Mills have both had to endure a pretty miserable season again this year. Crash.net Radio caught up with Phil at the recent Rallyday event in the UK and spoke to the Welshman about the show at Castle Combe, how tough things have been in 2007, the future and lots, lots more...

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Crash.net:
Phil, you are a regular at the Rallyday - are you enjoying this year's show?

Phil Mills:
Absolutely, it is just so nice to come here and see the enthusiasm and a lot of the older cars rather than the modern stuff. All the things that are here is the stuff that was impressionable on me when I was growing up and it got me into the sport in the first place. It is always a pleasure to come here and get involved with this type of thing.

Crash.net:
There is a good turn-out isn't there?

PM:
It is fantastic. I don't know how many people have come through the gates and obviously we have got this new event in Chatsworth now, which everybody thought would take the sting out of this event, but standing here now and looking down on the people walking around here, it is just incredible. I don't think it has made any difference at all.

Crash.net:
It's a shame isn't it that these two rally shows are happening on back-to-back weekends and aren't a bit more spaced out?

PM:
It is - and there is always a danger of having too many of these types of shows. This has always been successful and they have obviously tried to copy this and I am sure they will have a good day. But there is also a danger you can over do it, which is always a shame.

Crash.net:
This season has obviously been a difficult one for you and Petter. How are things looking ahead of the final five events?

PM:
It is the second season from hell as we call it - or the second non-competitive season. As ever we are changing the car constantly. The last test we did last weekend was very good and it feels very nice in testing. But when we get to the events it seems that Ford and Citroen have got the upper hand on us. There cars are a totally different concept car to our car, which is quite an old concept now and it is just starting to show its age a little bit really in comparison. Testing went really well last week and we are testing again this week and we will just have to see how it goes. I don't think we are in a position to go to Spain and fight for a win but I certainly think we are in a position to go there and fight for somewhere around the podium.

Crash.net:
It has been quite strange this season, because every time you think Subaru have turned the corner and have a good event it is always followed by a bad one.

PM:
That seems to be the picture doesn't it? Greece was very good. It suited us really well and we drove well. The car stood up to it really well too and then we went to the next event and it was a big flop. Finland was obviously the biggest disaster we have ever had in the team what with having to withdraw from the rally. But as I say testing has not been so bad. The tarmac test was very good, the gravel test wasn't quite as good as the tarmac, but we are just open-minded. If we can just get onto the podium we will be happy.

Crash.net:
Has this season put an extra pressure on your relationship with Petter?

PM:
It doesn't put any extra pressure on it at all. We do go with the attitude of winning events but we are not in the position to do that at the moment. It will turn around though. We have got a new car in the workshop now and we are only a few months away from testing it. That is a new concept car, like the other two cars I just mentioned. We have got lots and lots to look forward to. All sorts of modifications are coming along. We are looking forward to the future very much.

Crash.net:
There has been speculation that Petter might leave Subaru. Can you shed any light on that?

PM:
There is a very simple answer to that. We are contracted until the end of 2009 with Subaru and I don't know where these rumours come from. But we have shown commitment to Subaru by signing a three-year deal eight or nine months ago and there are no changes to that deal at all. We are committed until the end of 2009 and that is the end of that. These rumours are great I suppose from a press point of view but I really don't know where they start.

Crash.net:
When will Petter get to test the new car?

PM:
The plan is to start testing it the first or second week of December. In real terms that is not many weeks away. It is a body-shell at the minute but the body-shell is the hardest bit. Putting the bits in after that isn't so bad.

Crash.net:
What are you hoping to do in the final five events of the year, is it just to try and get a podium perhaps?

PM:
Realistically if we can sniff around the podium and stand on the podium in any position we would be more than happy - especially after what we have been through in the last two years.

Crash.net:
Chris Atkinson has been showing quite good speed in the #2 car that must be quite encouraging?

PM:
It is. Chris is in a slightly different position though. He had to show some speed to get his two-year extension to his contract, which he has done and he is doing a very, very good job. We are all around the same sort of speed however. The car is what it is and we are all ringing the neck out of it as best we can. But we have got a good team now. We have got stability. We have got two years for Chris, two years for ourselves and Xavier Pons is there for another season. There is real good consistency and we need to capitalise on that now.

Crash.net:
Does it help having Pons in a third car or is there a danger of diluting the team's efforts?

PM:
There is always a danger - but at the end of the day it is just a third add on. It doesn't dilute any effort at all. It just means you bring another 'x' amount of personnel to run the car. But it doesn't lead to any dilution at all. In fact it probably helps because Xevi is slightly outside of the main world championship rules. If there is anything we find in testing that we are not 100 per cent sure of he can actually try it for us before we get to the next event. A third car actually helps then rather than anything else.

Crash.net:
Marcus Gronholm has announced he is going to retire. Do you think the sport will miss him?

PM:
Very much so. If you look just a few weeks ago back to New Zealand we had the biggest fight of all time there with Marcus and [Sebastien] Loeb. At the minute those two cars, those two drivers' are the ones that are fighting it out and to go back to Loeb winning everything again isn't what we want. It is going to be quite interesting next year when Marcus goes. I fully understand his decision to go. He needs to move on. He is at the right age. He has earned enough and everything else. But the sport in general, the spectators, the teams, everybody is going to miss him really, really badly. I think you will see at the second or third event next year we will be wishing that he hadn't gone.

Crash.net:
Is there a danger Sebastien Loeb is going to run away with it next year?

PM:
There is always that danger - but you can also be tricked into thinking Sebastien is going to win every event next year and that would be the wrong thing to think as well, both from his point of view and as well as our point of view. He has still got to go out there and get on with the job. It is just disappointing that Marcus has gone but Mikko [Hirvonen] is showing some tremendous speed at the minute. Mikko is not going to be far behind. I don't know if he can actually take the fight to the last stage with Sebastien. However looking at his performance in Norway this year you would say he would. But then on other events Mikko goes very cold. He isn't going to be far behind though and let's face it he is right up there now. As soon as Marcus has gone he will take over the responsibility of the number one driver and I think you will see a different person and different string of results in Mikko next year.

Crash.net:
Who do you think Ford are considering for the vacant slot now?

PM:
That is a difficult one. But if you look at it common-sense wise [Jari-Matti] Latvala is there ready to move in. Mikko will go up to number one and Latvala will slot into number two. I guess everybody is guessing that way. They could go down the specialist route and get [Francois] Duval in to do the tarmac events and even Marcus has said he hasn't retired full-time. If Marcus comes back and does five gravel rallies and Duval does the tarmac rallies all of a sudden you have got a very interesting team there as well. Ford has got a lot of possibilities - either using specialists or signing up somebody like Latvala. It depends on what route they want to go down. There are certainly quite a few options open to them.

Crash.net:
Is it a year too soon for Jari though?

PM:
Possibly, I don't know him well enough to say. Realistically, yes you would say it is a year too soon to take on the responsibility. But they said that of Mikko and he turned out to be the ultimate number two driver the world championship has seen for many decades. [Ford boss] Malcolm [Wilson] has got a very, very good way of controlling young drivers. They respect him and he rules with a stiff hand, which is good and it has worked to the ultimate with Mikko and I am sure it could work the same again with Jari.

Crash.net:
Final question, from 2009 the calendar will be cut from 16 events per year to 12. Is that a positive step for the WRC?

PM:
It is a very big positive move. All of a sudden teams are talking about running three cars with junior drivers' in the third car and so on. Other manufacturers' are now sniffing around the championship because they are not daunted by this huge logistical problem of 16 rallies and obviously the cost of 16 rallies too. So, yes, it is a massive step forward and it should have been done a long time ago. When it went from 12 to 14 everybody said it was a mistake. Then when they were talking about going back to 12 it actually went the other way and up to 16. That was the biggest mistake the championship made. It has only gone backwards since that move. So let's get back to 12 again and let's get common-sense back into the championship and get more manufacturers' and cars out there.

Crash.net:
Will rotating events actually work though in reality?

PM:
That is a good question. Traditionally if you rest an event for 12 months then the event tends to get, not sloppy, but they are not match fit for the following year. I think the standard of events is in danger of slipping back ever so slightly just because of that. It is a difficult one to do. It all started because all these candidate events came in and paid these huge sums of money to the FIA to be considered as a candidate event and they all put on these fantastic rallies - and they have been fantastic - and the FIA found themselves in a position where they had to run them. They got themselves in a bit of corner. I am not a big fan of rotation though, I must be honest. I'd rather see twelve rock solid events there and have one event there as a stand-by and just leave it at that. That would be best from my point of view. From a manufacturers' point of view, putting my Subaru hat on, there is no point going to Cyprus. I don't sell too many cars in Jordan either. We should be going to India, China and America - the big, big markets of this world, from a commercial point of view. From a competitors point of view I'd have the whole championship in New Zealand! Everybody has got there little argument to throw into the equation but I don't know whether it is going to work, but we have got to try it. We have tried 16 events and it hasn't worked and now we have got to try rotating events. Let's see how it goes.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH PHIL MILLS: CLICK HERE