by Rob Wilkins
TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH MALCOLM WILSON: CLICK HERE
The BP Ford
Abu Dhabi World Rally Team has had a good start to the year and following the first half of the season the 'Blue Oval' leads the way in both the drivers' and manufacturers' championships.
Indeed following Mikko Hirvonen's tactical win in Turkey - the last event prior to the summer break - the Finn re-took the initiative in the race for the drivers' crown, 3 points up on Sebastien Loeb. Ford also leads the manufacturers' championship - 9 points ahead of Citroen. Crash.net Radio
spoke to team director Malcolm Wilson recently and got him to turn his thoughts ahead to the rest of the season and more...
Malcolm, I guess at the half-way point of the season, you must be really happy with Ford's position in both championships?
I have to say, it was a position we thought we would be challenging for - but to actually be at the top of the pile in both championships is probably a bonus in all honesty. We always felt that Mikko could carry on and do the great job that he was doing when Marcus [Gronholm] was with us. But of course it was a big step up for him to take on that lead role and the way that he has adapted to it has been quite special.
Are you at all worried though, especially as Ford has only won three events this season to Citroen's five?
No. Okay there is no question there were events that we felt we should have won. But inexperience and probably the odd mistake from our side meant that events we had a really good track record on, we didn't do as good on them as we felt we should have. But I always said right from the outset, with two young drivers, they would always perform better in the second half of the season than in the first half. I still believe that. Okay, I know there is three asphalt rallies to come and nobody other than Sebastien has won these rallies in the last four or five years. It is a big challenge ahead of us. But also there are some very good gravel rallies too and we won them all last year with either Mikko or Marcus. The way that the two boys are starting to improve, work together and the fact Jari-Matti is now getting a lot more time in the car testing, means they should be stronger in the second half with what they have learnt so far this year.
Are you optimistic that the team will be able to stay in front during the second part of the year?
It is going to be a really big battle - that there is no question. We are absolutely confident it is going to go right down to the wire. It is certainly not going to be as easy as last year and the year before [when we won the manufacturers' championship]. I am just so happy though and just so delighted with the way the team and our two drivers have been performing. To be in this position with the two youngest guys in the championship and to be actually up there and leading, I feel, is very special.
How pleased have you been with the performances of Mikko and 'graduate' Jari-Matti Latvala?
I think I have covered most of it. As I said, in a way they have both done terrific jobs. I didn't expect anything less of Mikko. There have been moments when we have seen the odd little hiccup. But if you think about what he has got on his shoulders it is more than acceptable considering his age and his level of experience.
With Jari-Matti we all know that the speed is there and it always has been there. He got that win in Sweden, which was a great confidence boost for him. After that he has had a few set backs but if you look at Turkey he played a very good supporting role to Mikko. I think the combination works and now that they have got the break and can do a bit more testing between now and the second half of the season it should get better. I just hope they can start the second half of the season in the right frame of mind and look at the mistakes and what they have learned in the first half and use it. I am sure we will then be in a great position at the end of the season.
The win in Turkey came after Ford adopted some clever tactics. Are such manoeuvrings good for the sport?
From a team point of view we don't mind what it is. But basically the FIA made the decision to re-introduce the order of classification [and not reserve the order for days 2 and 3]. They felt the sport needed some tactics brought into it. We did have some rallies before this year, when whoever got into the lead you knew that was it, because they were going to have a favourable road position. If you look if it has ticked that box, it has certainly done that. It keeps the rallies alive right through until the final day. We were having rallies and it was halfway through day 1 and the top five positions were what they were and it didn't change for the whole duration of the rest of the rally. We have got a situation now where you have definitely not won that rally until you cross that ramp on Sunday. I can't remember the last time we had three drivers who could actually win a WRC event on the final stage - and that is what we had in Turkey. At 11 kilometres Sebastien Loeb
was on course to win that rally after our guys had been leading for two days. It has brought a real amount of excitement back into the sport that it didn't have. I understand a lot of people don't like to see drivers' slowing down but they are only slowing down for 100 metres at the very most and just getting themselves in the right position. There is a lot of pressure on those guys too when they implement those sorts of tactics. It can very easily go wrong. You can go out the next morning and if you hit a rock or get a puncture, you have then thrown it all away. There was still two days of the rally to go. It is not all over. The rules are there. There is no cheating involved. Rallying was always like that until about six or seven years ago. It is not something new.
The next event is Finland, what will be possible there?