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

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will go to the Wales Rally GB next week still very much in with a chance of taking the manufacturers' title for the third year in succession. Crash.net Radio's Rob Wilkins caught up with team director Malcolm Wilson recently and spoke to him about the season finale and lots, lots more, including his recent victory on the 2008 Roger Albert Clark Rally in a Ford Escort Mk 2...

Crash.net:
Malcolm, first congratulations on your win on the RAC Rally, you must have been very pleased with that result?

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Malcolm Wilson:
Thank-you very much - it was a fantastic weekend and it was great to get back to what rallying use to be like many years ago. We had a terrific run and the car was fantastic. We had no real dramas at all and it was a nice way for me to get back behind the wheel again.

Crash.net:
The battle for the 2008 WRC drivers' title may be over, but the manufacturers' crown is still up for grabs. How confident are you that your team can get the job done in Wales?

MW:
Last year we finished first and second in GB with Marcus [Gronholm] and Mikko [Hirvonen] and I am confident we can achieve a similar result this year. Mikko and Jari-Matti [Latvala] are two of the most exciting drivers' in the championship. However we are obviously reliant on what [Citroen's] Sebastien [Loeb] and Dani [Sordo] do too. If we get the same result as what happened in Japan then that will be enough for us to retain our third [manufacturers] title by one point. But our guys can only do what they can do and if we do finish first and second that would be great, but we will still, as I said, then be dependent on Sebastien and Dani.

Crash.net:
Rally Japan went perfectly with Mikko and Jari-Matti finishing 1-2. It wasn't enough though to stop Sebastien Loeb from taking that record fifth title. Was that disappointing?

MW:
I was really disappointed for Mikko because he has done an incredible job in stepping up and taking on the role that Marcus did for the previous two years. To think that he has scored points on every single rally this year and his lowest position has been fifth is remarkable. It just shows his consistency and pace throughout the year has been terrific. I think he will be in an even stronger position going into next season.

Crash.net:
Do you think Loeb will be beatable in 2009?

MW:
I really believe so. If you look at the events next year there is a bigger ratio of gravel events, which tends to suit our drivers a little bit more than the asphalt rallies. Also if you look at the performance of our guys on gravel we have always been, I think it is fair to say on every single gravel rally at some point, leading.

Crash.net:
Francois Duval had a big accident in Japan and his co-driver, Patrick Pivato was badly injured. Can you update us on how Patrick is doing?

MW:
I am really relieved and pleased to be able to advise you that he is now back home in France and as far as I know at the moment, the operation he had a couple of days ago was quite successful. Certainly he is definitely off the danger list now. Obviously it was very, very worrying in Japan because he was critical. But I am really pleased to say that he is making good progress. He will be out for quite a while but I think everybody is just relieved that he is now back in France and undergoing the various operations to repair the various breakages he had.

Crash.net:
Switching back to GB, there are some changes to the route this season. Will that make things more unpredictable?

MW:
A little bit. I don't know exactly who has done those stages in the past - or if any of the drivers have done them. But they will be different from the last time they did them. A small percentage of the rally is a bit like a new rally - a bit like Japan. Again those types of conditions tend to favour our drivers. We would probably hope for a bigger percentage of new stages every year. We will just wait and see. Obviously with Sebastien we know for a fact that it is one of the rallies that he hasn't actually won as a driver. We know it is a big ambition of his to try and do that. But of course Sebastien has got to be mindful and if we finish first and second, Citroen need to get both cars to the finish to still be in with a chance of winning the manufacturers' championship.

Crash.net:
What instructions will you give to Mikko and Jari-Matti for Rally GB?

MW:
There is only one instruction and initially they both have to drive flat-out. There is nothing else that we can do. Okay we will monitor what happens during the event, but certainly from the outset they have to be right up there. We have got to finish first and second. We cannot afford to hang back in any shape or form.

Crash.net:
With Citroen 11 points in front in the manufacturers', the role of the other Ford men under the Stobart banner, such as your son, Matthew, Henning Solberg and Francois Duval could be crucial couldn't it in helping the Blue Oval take the honours?

MW:
Absolutely, it could be crucial. Last time Francois was there he drove very well and he always has gone very well on GB. Okay it will be a difficult event for him as it is his first event back after the accident in Japan. But Francois could put a spanner in the works and also the likes of Petter [Solberg] and Chris [Atkinson] could as well. Certainly the way [Suzuki's] Toni Gardemeister and P-G Andersson were going in Japan was encouraging so they could be up in contention too. However, if it is a wet, slippery and tricky Rally GB anything could happen.

Crash.net:
Valentino Rossi will be competing in a Focus RS WRC in GB. That must be a major coup for Ford?

MW:
It is fantastic. We are really delighted about the fact that we have got Valentino in a Stobart car for Rally GB. He did the Monza Rally recently and finished second overall and really acquitted himself very, very well with the car. He would have probably had won the rally but he had a spin which cost him about 30 seconds and I think he lost the rally by about 20. Certainly from what we have seen from the testing up here he is very committed. He has got fantastic understanding of the car. It will be difficult for him given what the conditions could be like. But if it is dry and consistent I think he could definitely be a potential top-ten finisher.

Crash.net:
Could he sneak in and get a point?

MW:
I don't know about that. As I said, I think if the conditions are consistent and dry he can definitely squeeze into the top-ten. If it is wet, slippery and tricky then as we all know anything can happen. But he is certainly very committed to it and he definitely wants to achieve a good result. I know he wants to better the place he got in New Zealand [in 2006 - when he finished eleventh overall]. That is obviously top-ten and I think if he can do that it would be a remarkable result bearing in mind the competition that is going to be there.

Crash.net:
Next year the number of events will drop to 12 and that is also the plan for 2010 too. Are you happy with the rotation plan that comes into effect in 2009?

MW:
Obviously at this moment in time the reduction to twelve events is a very, very positive move bearing in mind the financial situation. But I have to say I would like to see certainly a group of core events [on the calendar], which have really been the backbone and the cornerstone of the WRC in the past. Probably a lot of these new events will have been affected by the current financial crisis. We will probably find that there are not as many new events that are ready to step in to do the rotation system. We will probably end up with a situation whereby we still have the pillar events and those that have been the cornerstone of the world championship in the past.

Crash.net:
Pirelli came in this season as the control tyre. Have you been happy with the job they have done?

MW:
Pirelli have done a terrific job to come in and do what they have done and provide basically tyres that have worked in every single condition that the world championship has thrown at them. It is not an easy task to come up with new tyres - obviously everybody is on the same tyres - that will work in so many varying conditions. Considering it is their first year they have done a great job and we know that they are working harder now to come up with even better ideas and proposals for the future. I have got to give them full credit for being able to do what they have been able to do in what was their first full season with a control tyre.

Crash.net:
It has been suggested that in certain special circumstances drivers' should be allowed to make cuts, if the conditions are abnormal - like we had in Argentina. Do you think that is a good idea? Should it be considered?

MW:
No, we are totally against anything like that. Okay if Pirelli was to decide to put a different pattern on them or something like that then it is the same for everybody. But really all you are doing by putting a cut in is actually increasing the performance in what are tricky conditions. That is not really a safety issue. You are talking about improving performance. The important thing is that we stick with the moulded tyre. It has been proved this year that they work everywhere. There weren't any accidents in Argentina and only the odd driver complained. That shows it was the right decision to basically go with what Pirelli has tested and developed.

by Rob Wilkins

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