The 555 Subaru World Rally Team announced today that Petter Solberg has signed a contract which will see him and co-driver Phil Mills stay with the team until the end of the 2006 WRC season.
The announcement of a further three-year contract between Petter and Subaru secures the continuation of one of the most exciting partnerships in the WRC and demonstrates the long-term commitment that both parties have to win at the highest level of rally competition.
Q: With drives being offered by many of the other teams in the WRC you could afford to take your pick for next year. What made you decide to stay at Subaru?
Solberg: The overall performance of the Impreza and knowing it can win was a very big part of my choice. The Subaru is simply a great car and I've got a lot of confidence in it over the last three years. Then I looked at other things, I know how other teams have worked and it's always the key people that make the difference. One of the most important factors from me is the management and the people that work in the team. My thinking is that while anything mechanical can be repaired or improved, the people cannot be changed - that's why it's so important to get it right. I am lucky to work with such a good group of people, from the management team of David Lapworth, Paul Howarth, my technicians, Steve Farrell's engineering team and my engineer Pierre Genon - I talk to him every day about everything and he's a good friend. Maybe I could have switched teams, and perhaps got into another car that could win straight away, but there would be no feeling or passion about that. When we start winning at Subaru, I will have worked hard and there will be a feeling of achievement and that's what I really want. We have also been treated so well by the people at Subaru in Japan, like President Takenaka at FHI and President Katsurada at STI, they are very well organised, there's excellent cooperation and a real feeling of appreciation. It's all about trust and respect. When they give so much to me and Phil you want to give something back.
Q: What's so special about the Impreza package?
Solberg: It's a very good car, and our times this year have shown that. We had a long discussion last year about the development of the WRC Impreza, and it's clear that there is a massive amount of effort going into it's future. It's a long-term project but we're seeing some of the benefits now, there is so much potential and I feel it's all coming together. Working with Pirelli is good too, we are all working together to be champions and there's a lot of effort being put in.
Q: What are your hopes and goals for the coming WRC seasons?
Solberg: This year we want to win the Drivers' Championship, but we know there is still more to come from the car and things are getting better and better. That's the only objective - to win rallies and to do it as quickly as possible.
Q: Will the security of a three-year contract alter your approach to rallies at all?
Solberg: I don't think so. Some people might think it's stupid to sign for such a long time, but I think the WRC is all about trust and cooperation. I wouldn't move teams just for a change, for me there are a lot of personal reasons for my decision to stay and I hope the team feels the same, maybe I'll stay at Subaru for my whole career, who can say. One thing is for sure, I'm not going to relax and take things easy because I have a secure future. If I feel I'm not doing the job well, if I'm not quick enough anymore, then I'd quit anyway.
Q: What has been your favourite moment of your Subaru career so far?
Solberg: I must say when I won Rally GB last year, and the team atmosphere when we came into service - that was the moment.
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal David Lapworth
Q: Why Petter?
Lapworth: Obviously the first priority for us has to be to sign a driver who can win rallies and championships, and having worked with Petter for the last three years we're perhaps in the best position to make that judgement about his talent. But almost as important, and this is backed up by the reputation of other great drivers in history, is the way the driver interacts with the people in the team and the way he helps motivate them as well as providing technical input. Petter has proven to be as much a team player as he is a fast driver. If you needed more, then I could add that Petter handles the media and the fans better than anybody. We're very happy to have him on board for the future.
Q: Why a three-year deal?
Lapworth: The three-year deal reflects two things - our confidence in Petter and Subaru's commitment to a long-term future in rallying. Petter is at a vital stage in his career and it's important for him to know that he is in a team that is able to help him achieve great things while he's at the top. We've been able to share our plans for the future with Petter and he's as excited about them as we are. President Takenaka (FHI) and President Katsurada of STI are big supporters of the WRC programme and are proud to have Petter as a member of the Subaru family. Over the last three years, he has proved himself a great representative and ambassador who epitomises the Subaru spirit.
Q: What can you tell us about your future plans?
Lapworth: The greater integration of FHI engineering and research and development resources into the team is going from strength to strength and we expect to see the fruits of our efforts over the next 12 months. We've also expanded our engineering team in Banbury and our development and test programme. The progress we've demonstrated in the past six months is only the start and we're very confident of maintaining the momentum.
Q: What about the rest of the driver line up for next year?
Lapworth: Tommi certainly remains an option as Petter's teammate, he has built a strong relationship with him and the rest of the team. At this stage our strategy for next year is not confirmed. Once we have a clear idea of the objectives, then we'll look to get the remaining drivers in place.