Malcolm Wilson has admitted that the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's commanding one-two finish on last weekend's Rally Australia was 'just the boost we needed' following a long winless run and has come at 'a crucial time' in the World Rally Championship title battle – going on to laud 'a great effort from every individual in the team'.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala
delivered Ford a timely tonic in New South Wales, by keeping their heads on an event that claimed two very high-profile casualties indeed in the shape of Citroën arch-rivals Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier.
What's more, in tallying his third successive victory Down Under – and his and Ford's first triumph full-stop since Sweden all the way back in February – Hirvonen has narrowed his deficit to Loeb in the 2011 WRC drivers' standings from 36 points to only 15 with three outings remaining. Just what the doctor ordered, Wilson acknowledges.
“I think we've touched the summit,” he reflected. “We've lost quite a few rallies by such a small margin, and to be honest, you don't start to doubt yourself but you keep thinking, 'when are things going to change, when are you going to get onto the top step?'
“What has been really important is [that] the whole team sticks together. Everybody has played such a big part to get this result, and there's no question it's just the boost we needed, I think at a crucial time with three events left in the championship. This was a terrific result for the team after a difficult season. We were convincing winners, and it was a great effort from every individual in the team.
“It's fantastic now to put Mikko back in the hunt again, and a great job by both these guys (Hirvonen and Latvala). Conditions on Friday were treacherous, and Mikko and Jari-Matti had to lead from the front. You can imagine the huge amount of pressure on the team, because all we could do from halfway through Friday was basically throw this rally away, so really it's fair play to these two guys that they managed to keep ahead of [third-placed Petter Solberg].”
If Australia was a must-win outing for the Blue Oval, then it could be argued that so, too, is Rallye France next up on the WRC calendar at the beginning of October, as Hirvonen and Ford prepare to take on Citroën and Loeb in their own backyard. Last year, the team could manage only fourth and fifth places across the Channel, and Wilson is well aware that significantly better will be required twelve months on if Ford is to retain its hopes of glory in the manufacturers' battle as well.
“I think we would need a few more results like we have had here,” the former British Rally Champion mused of his team's chances of overhauling Citroën for the 2011 manufacturers' honours at 62 points adrift still. “I have a feeling that's not going to happen, but we've seen what can happen here – anything's possible if we keep on fighting.
“We know we can make some improvements – just detail things that we learnt from Germany...we've got a test plan and quite a few things we want to try – and hopefully we will in time for France. Hopefully, we can go to France really in a good position.”
In commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the tragic 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington, meanwhile, Ford paid tribute to the victims by carrying memorial stickers on its Fiesta RS WRCs, and Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn confessed that to achieve the team's first double success since Sardinia in May, 2009 was the perfect tribute.
“The team has taken some hard knocks this season,” he conceded, “but we've never given up and in Australia we kept our cool in tricky circumstances to bring home a fantastic one-two result after so many near-misses previously.”