by Rob Wilkins

Pentti Airikkala believes that the Subaru World Rally Team has virtually no chance of getting back on terms with Citroen and Ford - and that the Impreza WRC2008 has a fundamental design flaw.

Subaru has struggled in recent years and the Banbury-based outfit hasn't won an event in the World Rally Championship now since 2005. Furthermore while the new car - billed as the most 'radically different Subaru WRC car in 15 years' - has given the Banbury-based outfit cause for some optimism since its debut on the Acropolis back in May, progress in the second half of the season hasn't been nearly as quick as team boss David Richards and co would have liked.

Indeed Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson both remain quite a way off the works Citroen C4 WRC's of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo and the BP Ford Focus' of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala.

Speaking exclusively to Radio at the Castle Combe Rallyday last month, Airikkala noted that the main issue is to do with the location of the engine.

"Subaru is dead. It is dead. The problem is the same as Audi had - and still has. The engine is in the wrong position," he explained.

"It is too far forward relative to the front axle and unless they change the engine location they are not going to do very well.

"I have driven all of these cars and having too much weight in the front makes the car understeer. It doesn't change direction as quickly as other WRC cars where the engine is less on the top of the front axle. There is a big difference. Subaru is saying it is great because the engine is so low. But I don't buy it.

"You have to have a weight transfer that is very fast in World Rally cars. You don't need it in F1 cars, but the cars without wings, like rally cars, they have to have a weight transfer that is very quick. To achieve that you have to put the weight high up in the car and then you can change direction very quickly.

"Look at the switches they have now-a-days in WRC cars - the indicators, the windscreen wiper switch and the change of brake balance - they are all down in the floor. Everyone knows that is the wrong thing to do. Guess what, I won't be very popular for saying all this will!"

Airikkala meanwhile also criticised Ford and where the M-Sport-run outfit has the spare wheel or wheels: "No, Mikko [Hirvonen] won't win the title this season - and there are three main reasons why," continued the 1989 RAC winner. "First, Citroen has a lot better engine. They have got the best engine in the sport. That is quite clear to see. They have a more powerful engine and engine power matters.

"Secondly, they have got the spare wheel in the right place. All the Ford Focus' have the spare wheel in the end of the car - and weight distribution is important. Where Ford has it, it makes the Focus very difficult to drive. It is very slow to react and when it does react, it is then tough to get it back. Citroen doesn't have that. They have the spare wheel more or less in the middle of the car.

"Also, they have softer suspension than the Focus. So even if you are a better driver than Sebastien Loeb you can't beat him. I would love to see him driving a Ford Focus and I'd like to see Mikko or Jari-Matti driving a Citroen. That would be exciting to see. But at the moment Sebastien has got the better car."