Though he concedes that Ford's goal of claiming the 2008 World Rally Championship manufacturers' crown was hit with 'a big dent' on the opening day of Wales Rally GB this weekend – the final round of the campaign – Malcolm Wilson is adamant that nothing is over yet.
Ford needs to out-score season-long rival Citroën by at least twelve points if it is the lift the laurels for the third year in succession, but those hopes were dealt a hammer blow when Mikko Hirvonen – bidding to defend his 2007 victory on the event and add to his three successes already in 2008, in Jordan, Turkey and most recently Japan – rolled his Focus WRC on the fifth stage of the opening day of proceedings, Sweet Lamb 2.
The subsequent damage affected the intercooler and induction side of the engine, causing a lack of performance over the remainder of the day. That left the Finn down in 29th position outright, just over five minutes adrift of his leading team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala – and the Blue Oval's title dream in tatters.
“It was a very difficult day,” BP Ford World Rally Team chief Malcolm Wilson admitted to Crash.net
in Swansea, “probably the most difficult day in the world championship this year to be honest. The conditions that we've had have made it very difficult for everybody because we've lost a lot of mileage, and obviously there's been a big dent in our championship aspirations with Mikko having an uncharacteristic roll.
“We're glad that Jari's leading though, and Mikko's car will be 100 per cent again on Saturday so he can make a big attack. [The accident] has made it a lot more difficult for us, but if we have two more days like we had on Friday anything can happen.”
The former British Rally Champion was also effusive about Latvala's performance, as the 23-year-old returned to end-of-day service with almost 13 seconds in-hand over recently-crowned 2008 champion Sébastien Loeb – and looking strong. The youngest-ever winner in the WRC is aiming to add to his Swedish triumph from earlier this year – and Wilson is optimistic that he can do so.
“If you look at last year he was by far the quickest driver on this event,” the 52-year-old underlined, alluding to the 2007 edition of WRGB, when Latvala lost ten minutes on the first day with windscreen wiper problems, before going on to blitz ten of the final eleven stages.
“He was quickest on every single stage for two days, so it's clearly a rally that he enjoys, and it's one of the world championship events where he's got the most experience. I'm very confident, and obviously Sébastien's got to think about the manufacturers' championship as well…”
by Russell Atkins