Chris Birkbeck [Birkbeck Racing] and Luca Pregliasco [Astra Racing] will each run a Ford Puma in the Junior WRC on the Wales Rally GB this weekend - Birkbeck with Guy Wilks and Pregliasco with Abdo Feghali, here they talk about their hopes for the event and more...


Q:
Chris [Birkbeck], how have you been preparing the Ford Puma for the Wales Rally GB?
Chris Birkbeck:
As a team we have done this event many times and have a lot of experience of British events generally, so we have a good base specification to start from. Our engine is also suited to this type of rally - rather than out and out power, it's much more drivable and the undulating Welsh roads will suit us. We have made advances on our gravel set-up over the year so will run essentially the same specification we used in Finland with a bit of 'fine tuning'. Unfortunately, there is not time to test prior to the event, however we are confident that we will not suffer as a result and are confident of a good finish.
Q:
Both Guy and Phil [Pugh] have experience here but not together. Will this be a challenge for them?

CB:
Definitely not. Guy had a strong finish last year as a private entrant and Phil grew up on these roads and probably knows them better than the back of his hand. The one advantage they have is the fact that they are a fantastic team, and work well together. They're both passionate and determined and I think they will be hard to beat. They both want to win this event. And while the weather will obviously play a part, they were amazing in the Pirelli International Rally earlier this year, so we know what they can do in the fog and rain.
Q:
How would you sum up the 2003 Junior World Rally Championship?
CB:
Finland and Turkey podium finishes were the highlights this season and Guy has developed more with every event. He has always appeared to be able to rise to the challenge and is not afraid of hard work. His commitment is commendable and there are few who have had a finishing record like his. He was unlucky not to finish in Monte Carlo with just two stages to go - but he has done every other stage this year, which is great experience for the future. For a young inexperienced driver to have done so well in the Puma, which is one of the older cars in this class, is a great achievement. From a team point of view, we have all worked well together - the boys are as passionate about rallying as Guy is and everyone wants to see him do well. There is an enormous amount of respect on both sides - Guy has a great technical ability and has brought the car home at times when other more experienced drivers would have given up. The only great unknown we had at the beginning of the year was asphalt performance and he's now shown that he can be competitive on a sealed surface as well.
Q:
Luca [Pregliasco], how do you use your previous Rally GB experience to help Abdo prepare for this event?
Luca Pregliasco:
We've done this event at least eight times, and twice before with the Puma, so we have a good base to start from. The Puma has done well here in the past and we have a good specification from last year's pre-event testing and from the event itself, so we know we will be able to provide the best opportunity for Abdo. The only 'unknown' is the conditions, as this year's event is earlier in the season and the weather is unpredictable, but we have a good idea of what we're facing. GB is not similar to any other rally, so the old adage 'expect the unexpected' will be our motto for the weekend. When you look at previous years, GB can be a disaster for the JWRC entrants and I would be astonished if any more than eight finish this year. It is tricky, and can be slippery when wet, so avoiding mistakes and failures, I think he will have a good event. You need to know where to put your wheels, and also you need to understand the weather.
Q:
How much of a part does experience play in this event?
LP:
While Abdo has no first-hand knowledge of this event, and little on gravel, he does know the car well and that makes a big difference. The Rally GB will only be his fourth gravel event so I am expecting him to start cautiously. However he's never been one to back down from a challenge, so I am expecting him to approach this event like he has every other this season - with a level head. It is not easy to give advice, because in order to learn he must do so from his own experiences. Before every event I suggest that he tries to be constant on the first few stages until he begins to get a feel for what he's up against and then to drive how he feels. I think GB will offer good conditions for his driving style and I will watch his progress with interest.
Q:
How would you sum up the 2003 Junior World Rally Championship?
LP:
It has been a good season and Abdo has got a lot out of it. Next year he will start from a good experience base because of his achievements this season. We have always tried for the best result at each round this year. It was difficult for Abdo to adjust to the JWRC at the beginning of this year as he is a national rally hero in his home country and I think a lot of people expected him to come here and win everything. But he understands it is one thing to compete and another to compete at the highest level and he's grown a lot, worked hard and has made a lot of progress.

 

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