Subaru World Rally Team boss David Richards has predicted that the Banbury-based outfit will be just as competitive as arch rivals Ford and Citroen by the end of this year.

Subaru launched the all-new Impreza WRC2008 just prior to the summer break, and following the two events in Greece and Turkey, there is a real sense of optimism that the squad can re-discover the form that saw it win over 40 World Rally Championship rallies between 1993 to 2005 - the last time the Japanese manufacturer took 'gold' in the WRC.

Speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, Richards added that the signs are all very promising for the future.

"It is still early days with the new Impreza - and we have only done two events with it so far, but I am very encouraged," he confirmed. "I think you will see a different style of driving from Petter [Solberg] during the remainder of the year. He is very positive about the car and it suits him - and Chris [Atkinson] is very happy too. I am very confident.

"I expect them to be regularly taking fastest stage times and if you do that it usually gets you on the podium. And if you get on the podium enough, then sometimes you win too.

"We will be in a strong position for 2009. Indeed by the latter part of this season I don't see any reason why we can't be as competitive as anyone else out there. I am looking forward to the next few rounds."

As for the next event in Finland, which gets underway next week, Richards noted that in his view they will go there in great shape.

"Finland is one of the true classic events and has always been a favourite of mine," the Prodrive man continued in the official SWRT preview for the ninth round in the WRC. "From the days of Markku Alen, Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen the local drivers have excelled here and I expect this year to be no different.

"But I'm sure that Petter and Chris will be fast in the new WRC2008 as it is well suited to fast and flowing roads. Our work since the Rally of Turkey has been very fruitful and I'm confident that we go to Finland in our strongest position yet in recent years."

Subaru World Rally Team operations director Paul Howarth meanwhile shares his optimism: "Finland is a very fast event with generally hard base roads that can change massively if it rains. It's one of the highest speed events of the year so it's all about absolute precision and having 100 per cent confidence in the car. There can be tenths of a second per kilometre just in driver confidence - it's paramount here as it's a high risk event with no room for error. It's the first time we'll use the soft compound Pirellis, but testing has all been positive - it's not a hard rally on cars or tyres. We've done a lot with the car since Turkey. Finland will clearly tell us where we are in terms of performance," he added.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH DAVID RICHARDS: CLICK HERE