by Rob Wilkins


Petter Solberg's co-driver Phil Mills is hoping that Subaru will be able to come back strong in the second part of the season - and now armed with the all-new Impreza WRC2008 there is a real sense of optimism that the team will be able to end a barren spell that runs back to 2005, the last time the Banbury-based outfit won a round of the World Rally Championship. Radio spoke to Phil recently ahead of the next event in Finland, which marks the end of the long summer break...
Phil, Subaru launched the new Impreza just before the summer break. How much will that help you and Petter now as we go into the second half of the season?

Phil Mills:
It should be good. We have done quite a bit of testing and the car is obviously very, very good anyway. We have made some small steps forward and it is just a matter of getting kilometres on the car. We should be reasonably competitive.
How useful has the break been for Subaru, I assume it was well timed?

Yeah it was - and while a six-week break in the championship isn't a very long time, in this game it seems to be like forever. We have done a lot of work with the car during the break but so have the other teams as well. I know that the other two or three big players in the game have all made steps forward. Maybe we will be back to the same position. We will just have to find out.
What improvements have been made?

It is all set-up changes basically. The car is the car now - everybody has seen it. It has been on two events. It is just an on-going development programme in all the areas that you can imagine. Just about every area of the car has been looked at.
What do you think will be possible in Finland?

That is difficult to predict. It is almost impossible to say where you are going to be. But anywhere approaching the podium we would be quite happy with. If we can get up in the top three or four I would be very happy personally.
After Finland, the WRC goes to Germany, which is one of three asphalt events in the second part of the year. How is the car looking on tarmac?

As we speak I am just about to leave for the airport for the Germany test and I can tell you more in 48 hours time. But it is looking very, very good. The car is just so well balanced compared to the old car - and that is crucial on tarmac. On paper the car should be excellent on tarmac.
Markko Martin has tested with it on asphalt hasn't he?

Yes he has. He has done the initial set-up - all the base settings. Now we will go and test for four-days and do the final settings. Markko has done a lot of kilometres and that is a good start.
Looking back on the first part of the year, how would you assess it?

We knew where we were with the old car. That was a frozen spec car. We had some bad luck in some events. We were set for some good results and then something disappointing happened. In Argentina for example we lost second [on the final day with an electrical failure] and that wasn't the only event we had problems on. We have had so many failures of one sort or another.

But when we launched the new car in Greece, it showed it colours straight away and what it was capable of doing. Turkey wasn't quite so good. It has been an up and down season so far. But the main, main thing now is that we get this new car sorted out between now and the end of the year. Then we can start 2009 with a proper attack on the championship. That is the priority at the moment over the next six events.
How difficult was it having to stick with the old car until Greece?

It has been three years now that we have been looking forward to the new car. It was just a matter of sticking with it. The old car was a frozen specification. There was never going to be anything new on it. We knew exactly what we had from the start of the year. So there were no shocks there or no surprises. We just had to go with what we had. But as I said, in Greece, everything turned around with the new car. I think it was quickly forgotten.
Recent years haven't been easy for you, Petter and Subaru. Has that made you all stronger?

Definitely - we have had our fair share of disappointments. But we are still hungry for it and we still go to every event thinking we can win or certainly be on the podium. We have never lost confidence in ourselves or the team. Everybody is working very, very hard. I think when the first victory comes in the new car it will be a very, very sweet one.
Could that come in the second half of the year?

I don't see any reason why not. The car is looking good. Probably a little bit later on in the season is more realistic - Japan or Wales Rally GB time. We should start getting stronger now. But the main thing is we get the car sorted out. Then we will be in a position from the first round next year to put in consistent podium finishes and hopefully have a good crack at the championship.
You and Petter were last champions back in 2003. Does that seem like a long time ago now?

It seems like an awfully long time ago now. In 2002, 2003, 2004 and even 2005 we had a real rollercoaster ride. We won many, many events. We won on snow, we won on gravel and we won on tarmac. We proved that we were an all-round crew. But then it has been just disappointment ever since. But it will turn around and we will have a lot of fun again. I can guarantee you that.
Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb are currently engaged in a close battle for the title. Who do you think will win it?

That is a difficult one. But you would say Sebastien will probably be stronger with the tarmac events coming up. However if you look at Ford's performance on tarmac recently they are now taking the fight to Citroen - even on asphalt. Traditionally you would have said it would have been Sebastien. But that has changed and without sounding like I am sitting on the fence, it really will be 50:50. It could tilt either way. I really think it will be a close fight all the way to the finish. I hope it is for everyone's sake too. But predicting a winner is not easy.
Ford and Citroen have made noises in recent months that they might quit the sport. There is still uncertainty over the future regulations, there is no central promoter appointed and we have the controversial rotation system coming in next year, which will mean no Monte Carlo. Has the FIA lost its way?

Instability in any sport breeds all sorts of contempt. That is where Formula 1 has been so good. I don't like using F1 as a comparison. But they have had consistency in the rules and long term plans, with the Concorde Agreements and so on. They knew where everyone was going quite a few years ahead.

It seems to be with rallying that rules change - and change often. We had that period a few years ago when there was a new rule every rally. We didn't know whether we were coming or going.

But they need to just nail the rules down now for the new cars. That needs setting in stone. The events need setting too. We need to know where we are going in three or four years' time. We just need some stability and as soon as we have got that all the other manufacturers will start looking at it. It is as simple as that. We have heard all the rumours that everybody has got Super 2000 cars whether it is Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot or MG. If you think of everybody that has got a car, they could actually come into the championship. But nobody is going to come in while there is instability. We just need to know how many events we are doing and in which year we are doing them. It is so easy to plan ahead then. How can you plan ahead when you don't even know how many runs you are going to do in two years time? If it jumped from twelve events back to 15 or 16 events, then all of a sudden you have to find 'x' million extra. It just doesn't happen anymore, especially in the world climate we have at the moment with everything on a downward spiral. So we need a set calendar and a set load of rules for the cars. I think you will find that a lot of people would get very, very interested if a set of rules was introduced for a very, very long period of time.
What do you think about rotation? Is it good or bad? Should the historical events have special status?

The historical events are so well organised it seems to be a pity not to run them. I don't know really why the rotation system came in to begin with. It must be financial and certainly not from the teams' point of view - but financial from the FIA's point of view. I can't see any other reason. The main thing however, is the manufacturers' really should have the say. At the end of the day they are doing rallying to promote their product to sell cars. If for instance, the upcoming market of the world is India. Then India is where we should go to and promote our product. We should just be hitting the markets that are big or the growing markets and it should purely be driven by the manufacturers'. That would be the best way to tackle it. If China is the upcoming market and the place to be, then that is where we need to be. They should look at it and consult the manufacturers' a little bit more.
Final question, sum up your hopes and aims and what you want to have achieved by the Rally GB?

We just want to get a little bit stronger between now and the end of the season. If we can get onto the podium in any position we will be very, very happy. But the main thing is get the car sorted out and then we can have a fresh assault on the championship next year from round one. Not from round five or whatever - but from round one. That is the goal.



Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment