Ford and Mikko Hirvonen gave Sebastien Loeb his toughest fight in years during the 2009 World Rally Championship. While the Citroen driver emerged triumphant yet again, Ford boss Malcolm Wilson still heads into 2010 confident that his squad can make Loeb's life even harder in the new season, as he told AUTOSPORT.
Q. How do you beat Sebastien Loeb in 2010? What can you do with the car, are you still looking for things with the car?
Malcolm Wilson: We never stop looking, but we are very restricted now that homologation is frozen. Of course we can still do the things we're always doing. We have a full debrief planned in early January – we've tended to make this an annual event. Obviously, we've got quite a few things we're going to look at and we're going to try and come back even stronger next year.
There are four asphalt rallies next year and we've got a lot of testing planned. We're also going to work with the drivers more on this surface. They need more experience. All the Rob Wilson [driver coaching] work is in a road car, so we'll try and get him in a rally car and see what he can do.
Q. What about the car, what more can you do with the car?
MW: Because there's no new homologation, we can't do a new turbo or different cams or anything like that. So, it's basically fine-tuning again. We have some things Christian [Loriaux, technical director] wants to try on asphalt. On gravel we're more than competitive. The main emphasis will be to try and improve the drivers and the car on tarmac.
Q. Will you do more testing?
MW: I wouldn't say more, but we'll look to do as much as we can.
Q. You don't want to spend a lot of money on this car, when it's in the last year of its life – with the new technical regulations coming to WRC for 2011...
MW: That's true. It's very much a balancing act in 2010: it's the last season for the car, but we've got to try and win the championship. We've run Sebastien as close as anybody has this year and we've got to try and take it that next step next year.
Q. Where is that next step and how do you take it?
MW: You're always looking at ways to take you to the next step. The way Mikko has developed is fantastic. And if he carries on where he left off – and I'm confident he will because that's the way he has gone throughout his career – then I know he'll be even more determined next year.
Q. Mikko is seven years younger than Sebastien Loeb. What do you expect from Mikko when he's Seb's age?
MW: I expect he'll have a few world titles under his belt by then. Look at those two on Rally GB, they were in a different class. I guess it's good to have the two of them there fighting. The WRC wouldn't be nearly so exciting if Sebastien retired or had gone to Formula 1.
If Sebastien wasn't there, we would have won every rally last year, with the possible exception of Catalunya. It might have been nice to have been in a one-horse race with the horse called Ford!