by Rob Wilkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH RICHARD TAYLOR: CLICK HERE

The Subaru World Rally Team has been a lot more competitive this season and there seems to be definite signs that the Banbury-based outfit is making real progress. Crash.net Radio caught up with managing director Richard Taylor recently to get his thoughts on the year so far and to get the latest on the new Impreza, which is due to make its debut in the WRC in the not to distant future...

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Crash.net:
Richard, Subaru have 33 points on the board - and is currently third in the manufacturers' championship, 11 points off the leaders, Ford. How happy is the team with the results so far?

Richard Taylor:
We are pretty pleased actually with the way things have gone. We would really rather it was 39 points, because Petter [Solberg] should have been able to finish second in Argentina without that problem on the last day. But 33 points is the best start to the season we have had for a while. Overall we are pretty happy with that.

Crash.net:
Has it made any difference now that Prodrive and David Richards are more focused on the WRC team as opposed to working on that still-born F1 project?

RT:
Obviously the team runs independently within Prodrive and so the team has always been completely focused on the Subaru project in the WRC. But having David's increased input this year has helped.

Crash.net:
Chris Atkinson seems to have had a very strong start - with three podiums from four events, but Petter hasn't been quite so lucky, with mechanical problems in Mexico and Argentina costing him good points. How concerning is that and what is being done to ensure that the reliability is improved?

RT:
The electrical failure - rather than mechanical problem - Petter had in Argentina was totally a one-off. It was a component we have used for three to four years with no problem. It was obviously very unfortunate and very frustrating, particularly for Petter and the whole team. But we have got a fix for the next event and we are confident that problem won't occur again.

The previous problem in Mexico, again it was unfortunate. There was no particular reason why it should have happened on Petter's car and not on Chris' car. Petter has been unlucky

Clearly as we said at the start of the year, we have not put significant effort into development of the current car this year because all the focus is on the new one. But we have got to address those reliability issues and we are confident that we have done in both those specific cases. We have just got to look forward to the next events now and help Petter get to the end of the rallies and score the solid points we know he is capable of.

Crash.net:
How do you assess the form of your two drivers?

RT:
I think both of them have shown really good pace. It was quite obvious in Argentina that Petter was much more comfortable with the car and was going very strongly. Chris has obviously had a very good start to the season - and as you said, has had three podiums. Those are excellent results and it obviously helps to build his confidence. I think both of them are now really looking forward to getting the new car and to getting on with the season.

Crash.net:
In Argentina a lot was said about the tyres and with the weather abnormal many of the drivers' were complaining that it was actually quite dangerous. Do you think the tyre regulations need to be amended so that all the runners are allowed to make cuts if the conditions are extreme enough?

RT:
The very positive thing is that the tyres work the same for everybody and it is equal. It is difficult to judge from a safety aspect. I think ok it is something that Pirelli and the FIA could look at. But overall I think the one-make tyre this year has worked very, very well. It has been good for everybody and good for the championship. Pirelli have produced some tyres which have worked very well in pretty much all the conditions we have experienced so far.

Crash.net:
How are the teams' preparations going for the next event in Jordan?

RT:
Obviously Petter did the recce last year and so he has a little bit of an advantage there. But otherwise preparations are very good. The next two events are paired because the cars won't come back in between. We will be using the same cars [in Jordan and Sardinia]. The cars actually left here a week ago to go to Jordan because of the time it takes to get there. Preparations are fine and we are looking forward to that new event.

Crash.net:
How much more difficult is it to prepare for Jordan, in light of the fact this is the first time the WRC will go there?

RT:
It is not particularly more difficult than any other event. You can do a reasonable amount of research on it before. Petter did the recce last year - as I said a moment ago, and some of our team management went two years ago and got a feeling for the place and the roads. A lot of the roads are newly built and they are in a very, very good condition. I think it will be fairly smooth and very fast event. It is not difficult to prepare for new events when you have got a system in place to handle it.

Crash.net:
What can Subaru do in Jordan?

RT:
Obviously we are still using the old car and whilst we do that the expectations are to try and keep getting decent points for both drivers. I'd like to see them both in the top five or top six places and that is what we should be aiming for. I think we have proved on each event so far this year that the car is capable of that.

Crash.net:
How is development going with the new Impreza?

RT:
Very well so far - we are very pleased with where we have got to. Obviously we started testing a couple of months back now, back near Christmas time actually. So far everything is going very well and according to plan.

Crash.net:
How important a contribution is test driver Markko Martin making?

RT:
Excellent - Markko has done what we feel is a very, very good job for us. He has allowed Petter and Chris just to concentrate on the rallies. He has been able to bring his experience of a number of world rally cars to us. He has been able to focus totally on the testing and has done a very, very good job so far.

Crash.net:
When we will see the new car?

RT:
[laughs] We have not decided yet. We are obviously getting closer to it. Once we are comfortable we have got the performance and level of durability from testing that we have set to get us to the rallies then we will be making an announcement and bringing the car out. But not for a little while yet still.

Crash.net:
Is Markko likely to drive it on any events competitively?

RT:
There are no plans for that at the moment. His interest and ours is purely in testing. He is not particularly looking to do rallies. So, at the moment, no - it will be Petter and Chris as normal.

Crash.net:
Will Markko continue testing once the new car has been launched?

RT:
Yes - we have got an arrangement with him for the whole of this year. We have only done gravel testing so far and so once we launch it we have got tarmac testing to do. Markko will be involved in that. He has got a role with us through the rest of this year, at least.

Crash.net:
What's happening with Xavier Pons, will he be back with the team at any point this season, because originally he was meant to be doing all the events?

RT:
We would very much like to see Xavier in a car with us again and he is interested in the possibility. I think realistically if it happens it will be for the second half of the season or sometime in the second half of the season. But we are still in touch with him and both of us are trying to find a good way forward together.

Crash.net:
What was the problem?

RT:
There were a number of issues for both sides and we just decided not to carry on with the original plan. But we still maintain a very, very good relationship and are hopeful that we will be able to get together again before the end of the season.

Crash.net:
What have you made of the competition - Ford, Citroen and Suzuki?

RT:
We were asked at the beginning of the year what we thought might be different this season and I think the biggest thing we felt was that it would be a lot more even. We felt that the championship would be a lot more open and you would see a lot more different winners. I think that has proved to be the case so far [to a degree]. The manufacturers' championship is pretty close. It would have been even closer too if we hadn't had our electrical problem in Argentina - but that is history now. The competition is good and it is nice to see that the championship is closer. For Suzuki it has obviously been a difficult start to the year. But I am sure they are working very hard. The car has shown some good pace and when they can get some more reliability, which comes from more event experience, I am sure they will be up there as well.

Crash.net:
What do you want to see Subaru achieve by the end of the season?

RT:
Win some rallies.

Crash.net:
How do you see the sport developing in the future?

RT:
I think that the new regulations we are working to now will be an effective way to bring more manufacturers' back in. It would be nice to see six or seven manufacturers' in the championship and hopefully the way the technical regulations are evolving will help to encourage that.

For me personally, I think one of the biggest things the sport can do is to improve the overall promotion. That is the key thing, so that the manufacturers', not only do you look at reducing costs, but at enhancing the value that the championship can deliver. At the end of the day it is about brand image and selling cars for the manufacturers' and that will come through the value of the championship. That is a very important thing for the FIA, the teams and the manufacturers to look at, along with the ISC.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH RICHARD TAYLOR: CLICK HERE