Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team boss Malcolm Wilson says he isn't concerned about the relative inexperience of his line-up for the 2013 World Rally Championship season.
After losing manufacturer backing from Ford, the team has gone with a young driver line-up for the new campaign, with Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville all signed up the season.
Between them, the trio have competed in fewer events in the WRC than former Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala but Wilson said he felt confident that his young chargers – who have an average age of just 23 – would be able to impress during the year ahead.
“The last three months of last year were the most difficult of my business life if I'm being honest,” he told Crash.net
. “Getting notification that Ford were to withdraw their title sponsorship left a very big hole as you can imagine. It left me worried about the 200 staff we employ and also left us wondering how we would get to a position that would allow us to compete at the highest level.
“Luckily, Qatar came on board at a crucial time which allowed us to put together a very strong driver line-up, with young drivers who I feel have the potential to win rallies. We still have a long way to go but we have a competitive car and competitive line-up so we'll see what happens as we go through the year.
“My life has been spent working with younger drivers and helping to take them to a position where they can win rallies – as was the case with Jari-Matti. I feel that all three of our drivers can do that. We know that it won't be easy against the resources of Citroen and Volkswagen as we are now a privateer team, but we have a good car and I'm confident that we will be winning events this year.”
Wilson also didn't rule out a title challenge for one of his three drivers, although he said he expected VW to emerge as a major contender for honours with the all-new Polo WRC – which will debut in Monte Carlo later this month.
“There is clearly more of an opportunity this year with Sebastien Loeb not competing on all of the rallies,” he said. “Of our drivers, Mads had a good record last season of consistently performing at a high level and finished inside the top five on every event he competed on. I think he could well be a title contender and we also have high hopes for Evgenvy and Thierry, as well as Juho Hanninen, who is with us for the first two rounds of the year. Any one of those could spring a surprise.
“[Of the others] Volkswagen have the two quickest drivers in the WRC in Jari-Matti and Sebastien Ogier and that fact alone is going to put them in a strong position this year. At the moment, no-one knows what the Polo is going to be like as it hasn't competed, but they have the budget and they have the team, so there is no doubt that they are going to be strong contenders.”