Solberg re-signs until 2009
As part of a renewed driver contract announced today, Petter Solberg will continue to drive for the Subaru World Rally Team until at least 2009.
The 31-year-old Norwegian and his 42-year-old Welsh co-driver Phil Mills joined Subaru during the 2000 World Rally Championship season. Since then, Solberg has claimed 13 WRC rally victories, 30 WRC podium finishes and the 2003 FIA Drivers’ Championship title.
Subaru World Rally Team managing director Richard Taylor said: “We’re delighted that Petter will remain at Subaru, it is great news for the team. Over the past six seasons we’ve developed a very strong relationship with Petter and he has become a great ambassador for Subaru and the sport in general.
“We’ve had a difficult start to this WRC season and our recent performance has fallen below the standards we set ourselves, but Petter’s decision is the clearest endorsement of our ability to get things back on track. We are confident that we’ve got the right technical direction now. We have a good plan and are looking forward to making ourselves fully competitive again over the next few months and then developing a new car for the longer term. Petter believes, like we do, that we can give him the best opportunity of winning his second and hopefully his third World Championship titles in the near future.”
Solberg said: “Well, first of all the aim is to win – that’s the main thing. That’s what I want and the team wants too. Okay, it’s been a difficult situation recently and we haven’t won as much as we want, but I’ve seen the plan and the strategy and how things are going to work out. That’s why I’m feeling very positive about signing for Subaru again – I know that they have always been in the top of this sport and they will be back at the top and start to win rallies again very soon. It is a difficult situation at the moment but that’s how it is sometimes, there are ups and downs and when things are going badly it’s very easy to run away, but that’s not me. I want to stay and get back to the top again with the people I was on top with before.”
Subaru manufacturer principal Toshi Azuma said: “It is very important for Subaru to have another three seasons with Petter and we are very positive about our future prospects in the World Rally Championship. Petter developed his driving career with Subaru, in 2003 he became the WRC drivers’ champion with us and now we want to give him the opportunity to develop further. He has also been closely involved in Subaru’s road car development over the years. Because he understands what it takes to develop road cars, he performs his role perfectly. His enthusiasm and personality has a positive effect not only to the rally team but to Subaru supporters around the world.”
QUESTIONS TO PETTER SOLBERG
Q: Why have you chosen to stay at Subaru?
PS: “At Subaru I have a very good team of people behind me, that’s everybody including the mechanics, engineers, management and those at Subaru in Japan. Okay, I had some problems in my career when I started at Subaru but the team supported me very much and since then we have always stood together, through good and bad things. But the most important thing about this career is winning. Now I know it’s difficult at Subaru just now, and there was talk that I might change teams, but I know that Subaru has all the abilities and all the qualities and the best people to handle this situation. I am very, very confident that we will start winning again soon. I would not have signed if I felt the team wasn’t ready to win very soon.”
Q: What about the current car, what sort of potential has it got?
PS: “It has much more to give. Already it’s working much better and I have tested a lot of things that have shown improved speed but still there are some things missing. The engineers have found out some of the reasons, we have a good direction now and we will work together so that I am 100 per cent happy with it. Hopefully we can unlock more of its potential very soon.”
Q: How soon before we can see you winning rallies again?
PS: “It all depends on how quickly we can get the car truly competitive. As soon as that is done we will start winning again.”
Q: What do you think you can achieve between now and 2009?
PS: “I want to say some big words, I really want to say I’m going to win all the Championships but that would be stupid. What I can say is I have a lot of confidence in my ability as a driver. A lot depends on how quickly we can improve the performance of the car in general but I don’t think it’ll be too long. Once we’re able to start pushing again then I think there will be some very, very good times ahead.”
QUESTIONS TO SWRT DIRECTOR, RICHARD TAYLOR
Q: Why is the latest car not as competitive as its predecessors?
RT: “Clearly, we are not satisfied with the WRC2006 quite yet. Its performance has fallen short of our expectations and our drivers haven’t been able to achieve the results they deserve. We believe that some of the problems have been caused by a previous development process where the latest car and tyre packages were not developed consistently together. In addition, some elements of the design direction we have followed have not worked as well on rallies as our testing suggested they would. We’re now correcting these elements. We have a clear plan for the future and we firmly believe our rally car will very soon be fully competitive.”
Q: Would changing tyre supplier help?
RT: “No. We are dealing with a combined car and tyre package issue, not just a tyre issue. In Greece we saw real improvements in our performance because we had been working more closely with Pirelli. We now need to continue that process through the various ranges of tyres we use on different events. We have a long partnership with Pirelli and we will continue to work with them with the aim of winning rallies for Subaru and Pirelli in the second half of the season. We’re conscious of the fact that Pirelli has suggested that for marketing reasons the WRC might not be the place for them in the future. If and when that decision is made we will respect it.”
Q: How can you turn things around?
RT: “The new management team that was put in place three months ago has been looking closely at technical and operational aspects to identify the reasons why our performance has slipped. We now have a clear technical plan which has evolved over the last few weeks and will help us turn things around. There are four development phases, Greece saw the first phase, there will be another in time for Germany, another in time for the homologation process on October 1st and a final phase for the 2007 homologation on 1 January. What we’re doing is pulling as much as possible of our medium term development plan forward into the second half of this year. As part of the first phase before Greece we tested some new ideas to get the car and tyres working better together. The results were encouraging – as Petter’s stage wins proved – but there were limits to what could be achieved in the time available. The nine week summer break will give us the opportunity to work on more fundamental improvements.”
Q: What are the targets for the rest of the year?
RT: “We expect that Germany will be a tough rally for us, but we will target podium finishes on all remaining events. We still believe we can win the rallies in Japan, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”
Q: Will Chris and Stephane partner Solberg at Subaru next year?
RT: “We haven’t yet decided our strategy for the second or third cars next year. A lot depends on the FIA calendar and knowing which events will be included in season. We’ll review the situation after the FIA World Council confirms the calendar in July.”
QUESTIONS TO SUBARU’S TOSHI AZUMA
Q: Is Solberg’s re-signing a reflection of Subaru’s future commitment to the World Rally Championship?
TA: “If the current situation continued, then obviously there would be little point in Subaru continuing to rally. We are one of the top teams and should always be in contention for victory. It is not easy at all to maintain the position as world’s best, but we’ve already taken every possible action to achieve it again. If we can demonstrate it to the world, then long-term commitment to WRC will come naturally. Petter is one of the top drivers and our team is also one of the best. I firmly believe we have enough potential in terms of the car and engineering that we can achieve good results. Our biggest commitment can be seen in the fact that we will be competing with Petter for the coming three seasons.”
Q: How important is WRC rallying to Subaru’s marketing strategy?
TA: “It is extremely important and in line with Subaru’s philosophy of building cars that give a driving experience that is both safe and fun. The best way to demonstrate the world’s best drivability, high speed and high safety that Subaru has with its all-wheel-drive layout, boxer engine and low-center of gravity is rallying. It meets the purpose and can bring far more useful feedback to the development process than circuit racing because the former uses normal public road covered with ice, snow, rain, gravel or asphalt while the latter uses just asphalt. For us, there is no more appropriate stage than the WRC.”
Q: How close is the relationship between Subaru in Japan and the team in the UK?
TA: “At the beginning of Subaru’s WRC activity the engine was developed in Japan while the body was mainly developed in the UK. With increased manufacturer involvement in the championship, we realised that engineering involvement from Japan had greater importance and we quickly increased the collaboration between Japanese and UK engineers. At first this focused on the engine area, but having achieved positive results we are now taking every possible action to increase levels of collaboration in other areas. Above all, The Subaru World Rally Team is a global team and while the UK and Japan sides still have their own areas of expertise, our aim is to have the most appropriate engineering team irrespective of national borders.”
Q: What are your hopes for the rest of the season?
TA: “At Subaru we have a philosophy of “driver and car in one-body”, which means a car that behaves as if it was part of the driver’s own body, and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve with the rally car too. It is now required that we review our processes and make some changes to the cars. The most important thing is to be calm and steadily improve the rally cars and team to return both to the top level. During the second half of season, we hope to get podium finishes on all remaining events. We still believe we can win the rallies in Japan, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.”