by Rob Wilkins

Xavier Pons will make his debut with the Subaru World Rally Team on the Rally Finland next month having concluded a deal that will see him compete with the Banbury-based outfit on all the remaining events this season, as well as doing a full-year in 2008. Here he speaks exclusively to and looks ahead to his maiden outing in the Impreza WRC 2007...
Xavier, first up, congratulations on securing the drive with Subaru - you must be really looking forward to the Rally Finland, your first outing with the team?

Xavier Pons:
I think it will be a good rally to get to know the team and to do some kilometres in the car. Obviously on all rallies I want to do well, but there will be a lot of local Finnish drivers there and nobody will expect a great result. I will be able to have a 'quiet' rally and improve my feeling with the car ahead of the next rally.
How did the deal come about?

It was some time ago that I started to have conversations with Subaru and it wasn't until recently that we finally came to an agreement. I am a young driver and I want to show my talent with them and show that I can be a fast driver in the future.
How have preparations been going for your first outing with Subaru?

I am now starting to get to know the team and during July I will do two days of testing - one in Finland and one in Germany. At the end of the month I will also do a bit more running and before the first rally I will do another three-day test. That will be important to get to know the car.
Have you tested with the car at all yet then?

No, I have just met with the team and the key people. My first contact with the car will be this week.
Have you had a chance to speak with your new team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson? Are you looking forward to working with them?

Yeah, I am very, very happy to work with two drivers' of that level. I was lucky last year and had an opportunity to work with the world champion, Sebastien Loeb and now I have the chance to work with another two good drivers. You can always learn from working with different drivers.
Of course you have done three events this season in a privately entered Mitsubishi. Will that experience be of any help?

Obviously the results weren't so good [in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Norway] - and after the opportunity I had last season [with Kronos Citroen] they were three difficult events. But the chance to do the Rally Norway, a new event, that is good for the future - it is important to have the pace notes and know the stages there. It was a good idea to do these three rallies.
What are your targets for Finland - and the second half of the season as a whole?

For Finland, like I said, I want to do as many kilometres as possible and get up to speed as much as I can. For the rest of the season, rally-by-rally, I want to try and get as high as possible in the overall classification. Obviously it would be nice if I can get a podium before the finish of the year.
How much of a boost is it for you to know that you also have a drive with Subaru in 2008?

It is important as it will give me the opportunity to do the rallies this year quite relaxed, because I know what I will be doing next year. Sometimes it is difficult being with a team when you don't know what will happen in the future. That puts you under pressure. So to have a deal for one and a half years is perfect for furthering my career.
Can you ultimately win events with the SWRT?

I hope I can - but I haven't tested with the car yet and I don't know what level the car is at. I know the team have been working a lot and the new car will be really good, for sure.
Who do you think will take the drivers' title this season?

That is a difficult question, because the fight is very tight this year [between Marcus Gronholm and Loeb]. It will depend how things work out following the first two tarmac events in Germany and Catalunya. I think this year the title will be decided on the tarmac. But it is very difficult to say who will be the champion.
The FIA has announced that there will only be 12 WRC events on the calendar from 2009. What do you think of that?

That could be fantastic. The expenses will decrease and then that could permit the arrival of new teams. Maybe with the teams that are already in the championship they might enter a third car too. That would open up more opportunities for other teams to have more young drivers. Obviously the gaps between the rallies will be bigger and you will then get more opportunity to test and develop the car. There will be less stress. It is a good thing.
The FIA has also announced that from 2012 WRC cars will be based largely on Group N and Super 2000 machines. Again what is your reaction?

It is a long way to 2012. If that does happen it has to be well considered and the most important is not which car we use, the most important should be the opportunity to go to the max and also obviously for the spectators, there should be as much spectacle as possible If we have to drive with rear-wheel drive or Group A it will be like in the past - it will be spectacular and the fans like it. The costs should come down too and maybe we will get six or seven manufacturers in there, it could be better. All the movements to improve things are good.