Chris Birkbeck [Birkbeck Racing] and Luca Pregliasco [Astra Racing] will each run a Ford Puma in the Junior WRC in Italy this weekend - Birkbeck with Guy Wilks and Pregliasco with Abdo Feghali, here they talk about their aims for the event and more...


Q:
Luca [Pregliasco], how important is a pre-event test?
Luca Pregliasco:
Abdo [Feghali] did well here last year and was unlucky to retire when he did, although he did learn a valuable lesson about how unpredictable this rally can be. I think the test [over the weekend 27/28 September] is doubly important for us as a team this time, not only to allow Abdo to revisit and build on his previous experiences here in Sanremo but also as a confidence boost following the Rally Finland. We are using a road that represents as many types of challenges offered by the stages themselves - very twisty and with quite a climb. Abdo is incredibly focused on this test and we are looking forward to a great couple of days and in turn a fantastic event.
Q:
What is the key to this rally?
LP:
It is a bit of Corsica, twisty with lots of turns but with fewer drops, and a bit of Catalunya, on average wider and quicker with fewer straights. It's very tricky and you have to keep your wits about you, particularly as the weather is at best unpredictable. It can be brilliant sunshine in the service park and torrential rain in the mountains, so it's a real test of 'man and machine'. From our point of view the key to it is to aim for a good consistent run and to get to the end near the top of the field. The local drivers are strong here and will provide some tough competition. However with a good test, a good recce and a positive outlook, anything is possible.
Q:
How can the team's experiences here help Abdo? Does it help that you both competed here last year?
LP:
We have been racing these Italian roads for so many years now that we know them like the back of our hands. The most important thing however, is an understanding of the weather in this region. It is incredibly varied, particularly in the mountains, however we have a great network of informants to keep us updated about the weather situation along the stages. Also, the leaves are falling already, so combined with the inevitable showers these will make the roads treacherously slippery, so a clear head and cautious approach will help. Abdo had his first outing with Astra Racing here last year and we work well together, so we are looking forward to building on what we started here last year.
Q:
Chris [Birkbeck], how do you expect to go this weekend?
Chris Birkbeck:
The Puma has had an engine and specification upgrade since Monte Carlo so it will be interesting to see how much more competitive it is on this type of surface. The car is suited for this terrain and in Monte Carlo we showed how competitive the Puma is with good times on the dry stages.
Q:
How does Sanremo differ from other tarmac events?
CB:
I am expecting to see quite a different event this year simply because it's moved two weeks into autumn. It has been tricky enough in the past, but there is a stronger chance of rain and more leaves on the roads. Like Monte Carlo, some areas of the mountains just don't dry, as the sun never reaches them, so it will provide a stimulating mental and physical challenge for us all.
Q:
How important is a good result here?
CB:
It's vital to Guy's championship hopes that he has a strong finish in Italy. The Puma will be competitive, of that we have no doubt. However, we will be concentrating on the other championship contenders and certainly try not to get caught up with the 'locals' who will shine here next weekend as they always do. In a lot of ways, it is a strategic rally, rather than a rally where your best bet is to go flat out to win.
Q:
How can you use your previous experience here to help Guy prepare?
CB:
This will be the fifth time Birkbeck Rallysport has competed in Sanremo and we have a lot of knowledge of this area. One of the great things about Guy is that he is not afraid to ask questions and also listens well. He has worked closely with all of us to get the most of out of the Puma this season and we will spend a lot of time looking at previous information, trying different set ups and adapting our results to suit both the car and Guy and Phil.