The BP Ford
Abu Dhabi World Rally Team ultimately missed out on the two titles in 2008 to Sebastien Loeb
and Citroen. Team director Malcolm Wilson however, is optimistic about the new season, which gets underway later this month in Ireland and here he speaks exclusively to Crash.net Radio's
Malcolm, before looking to the season ahead, a quick reflection on 2008. How pleased were you with the way the year went?
I think it was above our expectations. We didn't expect to go into the final round of the year with a chance of still winning the title so that tells you that the two young boys did a great job. They had a difficult task, with Mikko [Hirvonen] basically replacing Marcus [Gronholm] and in an ideal world, we'd have probably liked Jari-Matti [Latvala] to have an extra twelve months in the Stobart
There were some great moments, like Jari-Matti getting his first ever WRC win in Sweden, becoming the youngest driver ever to do it, and also in the way Mikko developed to set another record by being the only driver to ever score points on every round of the championship.
There are a lot of positives to take out of the season and to take into 2009 because everyone can see that the potential is there in both of our guys and with the extra experience they now have, we feel confident we will be challenging for both championships this year.
How challenging was it for the two youngsters to continue with the work started by Marcus before his retirement?
I never had any doubt about Mikko in one sense, but I really feel he went past my expectations of what he could actually do. Jari had a period in the middle of the season through August and September, but the positive thing is the way he came back at the end of the season and was close to Mikko in Japan and then only lost out on the final stages on Rally GB. He had that blip but came back strong and he will go into 2009 full of confidence which is what we need to try and win a championship.
How important will the continuity of an unchanged line-up be for 2009?
It's a difficult one. From a team point of view, it makes it a lot easier. From a testing point of view you get consistent feedback and the engineers know what the drivers are looking for and you can't underestimate the relationship that the drivers, engineers and management build up; you learn the strengths and the weaknesses. I am certainly one for keeping the same drivers and we feel it is a plus from our side.
The main headlines for 2009 have already been generated with Subaru and Suzuki both pulling out of the WRC. How big a blow will the loss of those two teams be to the series?
Nobody likes to see the two Japanese teams disappear from the sport, but if you look - and we still don't know what will happen with Petter [Solberg] although Chris [Atkinson] will be competing - in real terms, Subaru sadly hadn't won a rally for three and half years so in many ways, it will be more competitive if Chris and Petter end up in more competitive cars. It will make it more difficult for us to win rallies and the spectators won't suffer. Okay, the two Japanese brands won't be there but hopefully the drivers will be and they will be fighting for victory. So for the spectators, it could be even more exciting.
Citroen has announced its M2 team which will provide an extra challenge and you will continue with the Stobart
programme for another year. We've heard from drivers who will be with the team but no official line from the team itself, so what's the state of play for the M2 programme?