Interview: Paul Howarth, Subaru WRT
- 14th January 2008, 8:30am
The Subaru World Rally Team's Operations Director, Paul Howarth, answers a few questions regarding the 2008 season. Although the major challenge for all the teams this year will be adapting to the new Pirelli control tyres and racing without anti-deflation mousse, the Japanese team will also be bringing in a new car during the course of the Championship.
Howarth explains how those issues will determine the Subaru team's approach, as will the logictics of a reorganised WRC calendar.
This year there is a revised calendar and 15 rallies, rather than last year's 16 events. How will that affect the way the team approaches the year?
"Jordan is new for this year, but the rest are the normal classic events on which all the teams have a great deal of experience. There are some very key events for us in the latter half of the year, which in itself will be quite demanding. The calendar is a little closer this year with a smaller gap in the middle of the year. Generally a smaller summer break is better for the team, if it works logistically. It depends on when the first rally of 2009 is held, but it's preferable to finish slightly earlier in November to have a longer period at the end of the year. It's always a balance with organisers though to ensure that they have their infrastructure in place, and sometimes that does more to dictate dates. Jordan will be tricky this year as it doesn't work with the freight like a traditional long-haul rally. Due to the timing, all of the long-haul freight will still be in Argentina so we'd ideally operate the team with two lots of kit."
This year the WRC makes the change to Pirelli control tyres. How different are these to the versions the team used in 2006 when last with Pirelli?
"In Monte Carlo we'll be using three tyres – the new tarmac soft tyre which has a new tread pattern we haven't used before. We also use a Pirelli WX tyre which we have used before, both with and without studs, as Monte Carlo is a specialist event. For the rest of the events it's more straightforward as you just have the one tyre which we're not allowed to cut. The biggest factor to be aware of on tarmac is punctures because we are not using anti-deflation mousse, but that can be avoided by changing driving style and not going quite so tight into cuts. It's a stylistic thing and those who adapt faster will gain an early advantage."
How much are punctures likely to influence rally results in 2008, with the use of anti-deflation mousse banned?
"First of all, cars are allowed to carry two spare wheels if teams wish so crews will have sufficient to cope with two punctures in a loop of stages. The tyre has been designed with the lack of anti-deflation mousse in mind, so it has a thicker carcass and sidewalls than previously. We've seen testing on really rough gravel where there have been no punctures, so they are tough, but a lot will depend on tyre wear. We're only allowed one compound, so dependent on how rough the surface is and the rate of tyre wear, you may pick up punctures where rocks actually cut through the tread, if it is sufficiently worn. It's important to remember though that it's the same for everybody, and it is a new challenge as everyone has to start from scratch."
Do you think the control tyre situation will make competition closer throughout the year?
"Everyone was on BFGoodrich tyres last year, and for the most part everyone used the same compounds and tread at each event, so a control tyre will not necessarily bunch everyone together. It will however take away any debate about weather and compound, so in times of uncertainty everyone will be in the same situation which will make it closer. What will make the difference is which driver is able to make the most of those tyres when conditions change and it rains or when temperatures fall."
How much testing will there be with the current car, the WRC2007, in the first part of the season?
"There were four days of testing for Rallye Monte Carlo and there will be two days in Sweden and four days on gravel. For the most part, these will concentrate on testing the car on the new championship control tyre, as of course we have tested the car on many surfaces all last year too. The Monte Carlo test was positive and has allowed us to establish a good setup for this season's opening event."
What is the expectation of the WRC2007 at the start of the season?
"We've worked on the WRC2007 over the winter and have made some steps forward with it for the beginning of the season, but we have to remember that Ford and Citroen are locked in a close battle and won't have been sleeping on their own development. I think everyone has the chance to benefit from tyres though, as punctures will be far more costly this year than last. Mexico in particular is a very tough event on which we have lots of experience, and the car worked well there last year. There is certainly the chance that results could be decided by punctures, especially early on when drivers are caught out by cuts."
With a new car being introduced part-way through the year, how will that influence the team's focus during the season?
"For the start of the year we've made some changes to the Impreza WRC2007 and we'll focus on achieving the best results we can. We'll also use as much resource as we can to get the new car ready. The technicians and engineers will become acquainted with it through a training programme, rotating them between the current and new variations so that they are well practiced with it. The objective of the development programme is to hand over a car which is operationally effective and can replace the WRC2007 as smoothly as possible, allowing the team to keep absolute focus and not lose ground in the championship."
How is testing of the new car going ahead of its introduction later this year?
"We've been conducting rigorous systems tests so far to determine that every aspect of the car works as it should and is up to the required standard of endurance. We've conducted many kilometres of testing so far and everything is functioning correctly – we've had no significant problems and all the signs are good. Markko Martin commences testing within the next month, which will signal a move to setup and endurance-orientated work, rather than just shakedown runs. The current systems tests are essential in the overall test schedule, as we know from past experience that if we spend the time getting each system right in one hit, when we come to do the later tests at speed we know we have it sorted and can focus on performance aspects. Once testing has been completed to a sufficient degree of performance, the car will be launched."
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