by Rob Wilkins


Subaru World Rally team managing director, Richard Taylor hasn't had the easiest of times of late as the Banbury-based outfit struggle to match the likes of Ford and Citroen. Radio's Rob Wilkins caught up with him pre-New Zealand to find out about what progress is being made, as well as asking him about the new Impreza, which will come out next season and reports Petter Solberg might not be with the SWRT in 2008...
Richard, this season has been a really difficult one for Subaru. At the last event in Germany though, while the result wasn't much to shout about, the pace of the Impreza was very positive. How much of a boost was that?

Richard Taylor:
It was a massive boost for the whole team - and the drivers' as well. I think the progress we have been making has started to show over the last few events. In Greece, Petter [Solberg] had gotten onto the podium and then in Finland, Chris [Atkinson] had a very strong fourth place. So, we were confident we were going in the right direction. However we are obviously really pleased to see the tarmac performance of the Impreza WRC over in Germany.
How is morale at the SWRT because the team have been having a really tough time the last few years?

RT:[laughs] It has been character building! Morale is still very strong. The team has always pulled closely together and worked well together. Over the last couple of months, as I said, we have started going in a very positive direction and so morale is good.
The bottom line though is that Subaru haven't won since 2005 - that's not a very good statistic is it? It must be a real concern...

Absolutely, it is not the sort of performance we are use to - nor is it acceptable to us. The efforts that have been going in over the last few months to put that right have been massive and while we are confident we are making progress, we have got to prove it by getting some results.
Picking up the point you made about what has gone on over the last few months. Some changes were made at the end of May within the engineering department, including bringing David Lapworth back as a consultant on a short term basis. Are those changes having the desired effects now?

Yeah, the key thing really with that change was to get the right level of resource onto the current car and onto the new car. Under that Graham Moore took over complete responsibility for the current 2007 car, which has enabled Christophe Chapelain to focus solely on the project for the new car for 2008. David is there to help and guide both projects.
The images of the new Impreza were released earlier this month. The debut of that car has been delayed. When are we likely to see it in the WRC?

That will really depend on how the testing goes. We are on schedule and the first body shell will be completed within a couple of weeks. We aim to be running the car in the last quarter of this year, which has been the plan for some while. We will see how the progress of that goes and also how the progress goes with the performance of the current car and those factors, combined with the events on the calendar next year, will decide when we will actually see it. Realistically though, we probably won't make a final decision on that until the early part of 2008.
Are the reports the car has been delayed accurate then?

The original programme, to put this into perspective, was developed in 2005. We knew as far back as that that a new car would be coming, but the exact timing of it depended upon what Subaru's requirements were both from a marketing point of view and when the various editions of the road cars were released. So, I think when we said it would be 2008, everybody jumped to the assumption it would be Monte Carlo. But we never actually said that and we are quite comfortable with the sort of timing we are working to at the moment.
Basically, to summarise, there is no delay then?

There is no delay on the plan we have had in place for quite a long time. But as I say the original concept back in 2005 would probably have brought the car in a little bit earlier. However we are only talking about a few rallies and to be honest it is not a big deal.
Looking at the event in Finland, you had a lot of problems there with Petter Solberg's car. Have those issues been resolved now and fixed?

Yes, we think so. We have found a couple of things on the car, which while it looked at the time as if they might be similar on both the Friday and the Saturday, in fact they were different. We had a centre differential issue on the Friday, which we are quite confident we have fixed. We have clearly found what that was and that has been sorted out. Then we had a chassis-damper problem on the Saturday and again we are pretty confident that we have got those sorted now.
There have been reports that Petter could leave the team at the end of this season, even though he has a deal. What can you tell us about that? Is it just rubbish then? Is he talking to Citroen?
As far as we are concerned it is - and as far as the conversation I had with Petter a few days ago, he thought it was too. I think we can put that to one side to be honest. It is the time of year when all of those kinds of discussions tend to happen anyway and inevitably with the relative performance we have had, I am sure people would be asking that question. But as far as we are concerned there is no truth in it what-so-ever.
Not sure if you can answer this, but does Petter have a get out clause if the performance of the car doesn't meet his expectations?

Not effectively no - but we would never discuss the details of contracts, although there is nothing in it, I would say, that would suggest there is any opt out on any side and both parties are completely committed to honouring the contract through to the end of 2009.
Subaru started fielding a third car from Finland. How much of a benefit is it to have three-cars on every event?

I think it is good. We obviously knew quite a bit in advance that we were going to do that and we had plenty of time to plan it. In fact we ran three cars on five events last year as well and so really it is no problem at all for us to do it. It helps lift the morale of the team too because gives us three chances of getting in the points on every event.
Despite all the problems, have you been pleased with the performances of Petter and Chris and Xavier [Pons], although it is of course early days for him still?

Absolutely, Petter is clearly one of the best rally drivers in the world and there is no doubt about that.

Chris is progressing up that way rapidly and his performances on the last couple of events have really been exceptional. Fourth place in Finland was a super result for him and while Germany could have been better in terms of end result, the pace was excellent and obviously the three fastest stage times on tarmac there were great for the team.

As for Xavier, as you say, it is early days yet, but he has had a good sixth place points' scoring position in Finland already, which I think was his best result ever on that event and he was going well in Germany too [before he had engine problems on the final day - ed]. We are very pleased with all of them.
There are only six events left now - can Subaru turn things around? Is there still time?

Yes, definitely. I believe there is time. We have got three tarmac events coming up and we clearly showed in Germany the sort of pace we have got there and so those will be interesting. NZ, Japan and GB have been events that historically have been good events for us. We are confident that the car is well on the way to being right now and on all the remaining events we have got a good chance to show decent performance.
Have you got any specific targets for NZ and the rest of the year?

For New Zealand we would like to see all three cars in points scoring positions. Rally Japan is clearly a very important event for us and we want to produce the best possible result there. Similarly when the team comes home for GB, we want to do well in Wales too. The tarmac events we will see how it goes, but after, as I say the performance in Germany, we should be up in the points on those as well.
Final question, can Subaru get back up there and challenge Ford and Citroen for wins?

Yes - and we will do.




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