by Rob Wilkins

2006 and 2007 were both difficult seasons for Subaru in the WRC. The Banbury-based outfit will however, introduce its new car in 2008 and a lot rests on that. Radio caught up with SWRT operations director, Paul Howarth prior to the final event of the 2007 season, the Wales Rally GB and got him to turn his thoughts to 2008. Here he chats about the new Impreza, changes to the regulations and more...
Paul, how is work progressing on the new Impreza?

Paul Howarth:
The team will be making an announcement in the near future. All that we really need to say for all the fans out there is that we are well on our way with a beautiful new car for the 2008 championship. We are not saying yet when it will be out. But the main priority is to make sure we deliver a new car for the team to use in the championship, which is competitive against the Citroen and the Ford - and as long as we can do that we can get back to where we should be. It will be good to have a clean piece of paper and start again.
The team haven't won now since 2005, how much pressure is there on everyone to ensure this new car puts Subaru right back up there with Citroen and Ford?

There is pressure for everybody - from the Japan side, from the drivers, everybody in the team, the engineers, anybody connected to the team. The pressure is there regardless. We are in this business to win rallies and the team has got a great history. We have just got to keep digging in and what is very noticeable is the amount of support from the spectators over the last two years, who have stood by the team and really seen the pain that has gone on. But we have just got to keep digging our way out of that and making sure we don't accept anything but getting back on the podium. We will only do that by beating our opposition, which all credit to them are very professional and very capable teams. We will have to lift the bar beyond them and that is the target for everybody in the team.
Can Subaru take any positives from 2007?

I think the main positive is teamwork. Everybody has kept their heads up and kept going forward. It would be very easy for things to deteriorate in these circumstances. But everybody has given as much as they can. We have stepped back and looked at it in detail and we have identified how we are going to get back to the top. But the most positive thing for me to take out [from 2007] was teamwork. A smaller or bigger team could have got really frustrated by now. There has been frustration but hopefully we are on an acceptable track going forward. We have a plan. We have a vision and we have a target. You just stick to that until you meet it and then stop at the target forever really - or as long as you can until something else happens
The 2008 edition of the Rallye Monte Carlo will be a 'proper' four-day event - how has this gone down with Subaru and the other teams?

It was a four-day event last year [although on the Sunday we just had the super special stage around the Monaco F1 GP circuit]. We had the two classic stages in the dark [on the Thursday night, which kicked off proceedings] and it is a new spectacle to [modern day] rallying [to run at night]. Watching rally cars through the stages in the dark and seeing them come through stages in the mountains is very good in my opinion. It brings another competitive edge to the rallies as well - drivers having to drive in the dark. Rallies now are very well planned when it comes to safety regulations etc, etc. It has taken rallying back to how it was.

We have got an extended event there [for 2008] because we go down to Monaco on the Saturday evening and then we do the classic stages in Turini after the re-start on Sunday morning. It is a logistical difference and the championship has worked very hard over the last 3-4 years to reduce costs - being either technical or logistical - and it just adds more costs to the teams budgets. But at the end of the day that is what has been decided will happen.

We have shown frustration with the rallies with not being consistent in keeping the service park in one place and having to move the whole team. But it is an opportunity as well. The best prepared will get the best result because using those stages down near Monaco are very tricky.

Of course we will be on the single make tyre in 2008. We will all revert back to Pirelli - every team and it is a control tyre. There is only one tyre for the wet and one for the dry surface - just one compound and that is it. And we just have one snow tyre and we are not allowed to cut the tyres. It is going to be quite tricky.
That will make things interesting won't it?

Yeah it will make things more of a spectacle. On the last two rounds [in 2007 in Ireland and GB] most teams were flat-out - cutting tyres and finding the best compounds etc, etc. The days of having five compounds sat there or different tread patterns or different cuts - all the tricks you use to try and get the best performance are gone.

You just have your four tyres. You can use six tyres. You can put two spares in the car as well because there is no run-flat mousse in the tyres anymore. There is no ATS - so if you hit a rock and get a puncture you have to change the wheel. We will be carrying two spare wheels on lots of occasions or you might decide not to and not get any punctures by not making deep cuts on the roads.

Again it is going to be quite interesting because if you do get a puncture and you run out of spare wheels you have got to retire the car as there is a clear regulation that says you cannot drive the car with no tyre on the rim on the road section. Being able to limp back to service on three tyres is a thing of the past now on the grounds of safety. There is going to be some interesting decisions to make in 2008.