19 Jan 09
Ahead of the 2009 WRC season opener in Ireland, wrc.com spoke with BP Ford Abu Dhabi team principal Malcolm Wilson, to get his thoughts on the year ahead.
What has your team been up to since Rally GB?
The biggest project up to now has been a really good snow test in Sweden. We tested Pirelli's new snow tyre, which is something we've never tried before, and it went very well. We did lots of kilometres and the drivers are really pleased with the performance. The factory was closed for two weeks over Christmas and the New Year - it's really the one point in the year when the team gets the chance to rest after a pretty hectic year. But we're back now and we have another test planned before Rally Ireland.
What about this year's rally car, is it the same spec as Rally GB?
Yes, we'll be starting be season with the same Focus RS WRC we used at the end of 2008. At some point in the season we will be probably introduce another evolution, but exactly when that will be is not defined at the minute. We want to see how the early part of the season goes - and then look at what we need to do.
In 2008 you had to adapt to new tyres from Pirelli. What do you think will be the biggest technical challenge this year?
Probably the number of new and different events. Australia is a good example. Okay, we've been there before, but not to that part of the country. That in itself is always a challenge, because normally over time you build up knowledge of the events and you know what's needed for each one. In Argentina, for instance, you know you have to be prepared for water splashes and you have to make changes to the car. But because we haven't competed in that part of Australia before it's largely unknown. Okay, we've sent people out to have a look, but it's not the same as actually doing the event. I'm sure those new events will throw something up - even though you always think you've got everything covered. We hope to build on our experiences from other rallies to try and make sure we can be competitive on the new ones.
How will your drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala cope with so many fresh events this year?
I think they'll cope very well. Especially because both of my drivers prefer gravel to asphalt, and this year there are only two asphalt rallies. Of the two asphalt rallies one is Ireland, where a lot will depend on what the weather is doing. Both my drivers are natural gravel drivers and we've seen in the past that they've always very, very quick on new stages or new events.
Do you have any plans to introduce more drivers to the BP Ford line-up?
The way this year's championship is structured - with only two asphalt rallies - doesn't really lend itself to bringing in specialist drivers. Also, if you look at the way that Mikko and Jari-Matti were improving on asphalt towards the end of last year, then hopefully by Spain this year we'll be in an even better position. So I don't really have any plans to bring in specialists. Okay, we'll see how the championship is going. If we feel we can strengthen our title chances by doing something like that then I wouldn't rule it out. We have the possibility and flexibility to do it.
What is your team goal for the season?
We really feel that our drivers are ready to go for both championships. For sure Mikko is in a stronger position; he has a lot more experience and set that incredible record last year when he became the first driver ever to score points on every round. And if you look at this season, with less events, then I think it's going to be very important not to retire. As a team we've got to make sure we keep up the reliability of the Ford Focus. Then of course we have Jari, who had proved he has the speed to win rallies. I think the combination of these factors puts us in a strong position for both championships.