by Rob Wilkins

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

BP Ford team director Malcolm Wilson saw 'his' team secure the manufacturers' championship for the second year running in Ireland. Crash.net Radio caught up with him in the countdown to the season finale, the Wales Rally GB to chat about that, as well as Marcus Gronholm's situation in the drivers' championship and lots, lots more...

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Crash.net:
Malcolm, you must obviously have been delighted to see Ford secure the manufacturers' crown in Ireland. Just how important was it to take the title there?

Malcolm Wilson:
It was a great place to take it, so close to home and it is only now that it is starting to really sink it - just how significant it is. Obviously last year was a very special moment as we hadn't won it for 27 years. But the significance of doing back-to-back victories' is really special and the fact Sebastien [Loeb] was there and there whole team was at full strength makes it even sweeter. Also to win it with one event to go is a great feeling.

Crash.net:
How will the BP Ford WRT approach the Wales Rally GB, especially with Marcus Gronholm six points behind Sebastien Loeb in the drivers' championship?

MW:
The only thing he can do now is win the rally. OK he doesn't need to win it if Sebastien has a problem, but whatever happens now, he really has to go out and go for the victory.

Crash.net:
How have preparations been going for Rally GB?

MW:
They have been going really well. We have been testing with Mikko [Hirvonen]. Marcus was basically advised to rest after his accident in Ireland and he has just been given the all-clear from the doctors. He will actually now be testing on Sunday.

Crash.net:
How difficult an event is it?

MW:
Rally GB could be very similar [in terms of weather] to what we had in Ireland. I think it was a big shock to everybody as to the amount of people that went off the road in Ireland and made mistakes there. In Wales you can have all sorts of different weather conditions thrown at you. I don't think it will be as bad as Ireland for retirements but I certainly think there are a lot of places that will catch people out, especially if the conditions are wet and there is a lot of rain.

Crash.net:
The Stobart Ford team moved ahead of Subaru and took third spot in the manufacturers' championship in Ireland. How pleasing was that?

MW:
It is a fantastic achievement to think that the privateer Stobart team in only there second year in the WRC are actually ahead of Subaru, who have won the championship on numerous occasions in the past. Certainly everyone within the Stobart team is very excited about the prospect. I think again that is going to be another great battle on Rally GB. Obviously Jari-Matti [Latvala] is driving exceptionally well and it is an event Henning [Solberg] likes too. Between them they have got a lot of experience on that event - even though Jari is only 22 years-old. It is going to be interesting because Petter [Solberg] obviously always goes very well there as well. It is a case of fingers crossed and I hope the Stobart team can hang onto that 'podium' place in the championship.

Crash.net:
Looking to 2008, will the Stobart and Munchi's teams continue in the WRC?

MW:
We are hopeful that Munchi's team will stay - and the Stobart team. We would obviously like to try and find a way to keep the strength in the Stobart team and we are looking at all the different options at the moment. It is looking promising that we can keep both of those teams in the championship.

Crash.net:
Any idea when will we get confirmation on that?

MW:
No, but we don't actually need, unless we are doing the whole championship, there is a lot more freedom with the deadline for the entries on the M2 teams than there is on the manufacturer 1. We have got a little bit more time to get everything in place fortunately because we are so busy at this time of year with events in rapid succession and trying to pull everything together. It is fortunate that we have got a bit more breathing space with the M2 nominations to the FIA.

Crash.net:
When can we expect confirmation on who will replace Marcus Gronholm at the BP Ford WRT?

MW:
We are not in a position to disclose that yet. We are looking at various options. We are looking at long term, short term, all the possibilities and hopefully within the next few weeks we should be getting closer.

Crash.net:
Can you reveal anything about who is in consideration?

MW:
I have had a lot of phone calls from a lot of different drivers! [laughs]

Crash.net:
Some management changes were announced by Ford of Europe recently, with Mark Deans being appointed to the new position of motorsport director. What impact will those changes have?

MW:
I think Mark has a different background to Jost [Capito]. Mark has been in sales and marketing during most of his time at Ford. But he did have a spell in motorsport from the mid to late 1980s. Ford are looking to maximise value on their investment in the WRC and they feel that there is a lot more to be gained - hopefully, from the marketing and public affairs point of view. Jost is now moving across to look at high performance road cars for the future, which again I think sends out a great message about the commitment Ford has got to the world championship and to future performance cars. It is a very positive step for the longer term.

Crash.net:
How confident are you that the BP Ford WRT can continue to run at the front next season?

MW:
I feel very confident. Mikko has continued to do an incredible job for the team this year in backing up Marcus on many occasions. He was there again to win in Japan when Marcus went off the road and again he was there in Ireland just to continue around and make sure that he got us the necessary points to clinch our second manufacturers' championship. I am really happy for him that he has got the opportunity now on Rally GB to go on the attack and try and get his pace where it needs to be for next year. But he has won two rallies this year and I am sure he can win more than that next year. It is going to be very difficult to replace Marcus but I am confident Mikko can step up and step up to do the job very, very well. Hopefully we will see a little bit of that on Rally GB and then hopefully it will continue throughout the whole of 2008.

Crash.net:
Will we see a development of the Focus RS WRC 2007 in 2008?

MW:
Yeah you will. We are non-stop developing all of the time though and at what point in the year we will make that evolution I don't know at this moment in time. But it will probably be around the middle of the year again, like we did this year in Finland, which worked very, very well. Since we have introduced the '07 version we haven't actually been beaten on gravel. It was obviously a step forward and even though it is very difficult now, with the way the regulations are to keep making improvements, but I am sure Christian [Loriaux] and his team will be pushing very hard to try and find some improvements.

Crash.net:
Will it be a case of more refinements and tweaks?

MW:
That is all you can do now because again the regulations are so well controlled, which I think is a great thing by the FIA. It leaves less and less scope, which is good because it helps keep the cars so evenly matched as we have seen this year on quite a few rallies with how close Marcus and Sebastien have been. It is a great way to keep all the teams competitive and also it controls costs. It makes it more challenging for the designers and engineers but I am sure they will come up with something that is going to give us an improvement for the second half of next year.

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