Interview with Martin Muehlmeier

Interview with Martin MuehlmeierFrom Skoda Press [ 28/05/2004 ].
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The new Head of Skoda Motorsport, Mr Martin Muehlmeier, joined the team at the beginning of March. As Skoda Motorsport prepares to return to the World Rally Championship at the Acropolis Rally, he shares his thoughts on the challenge that lies ahead.

What are Skoda Motorsport's performance targets for the Acropolis Rally and the rest of 2004?

The main target for our comeback event and the rest of this season is to finish as many rallies as possible to continue the learning and development process. It is not possible to make any predictions about overall results until we see what improvements the competition has made and, even then, overall results are not our priority this season.

What changes can we expect to see on the Fabia WRC in Greece?

The car is largely the same as last year. Because we have not registered for the WRC we can not make any major changes that require a new homologation.

How much of a problem is this for the development process?

It allows us only to reach the performance potential possible within last year's rules which is definitely a disadvantage as we have to stay with the car in its original homologation specification. For example we cannot use all the lightweight materials like aluminium bonnets that are permitted this year.

What areas, specifically, have been changed?

The main changes have come in the driveability of the car. We have revised the engine mapping and the differential controls for this purpose. We have found new settings for the springs, anti-roll bar and shock absorbers and designed a new pedal box that gives better feeling and response for the drivers. We have also made a lot of small improvements to areas such as weight saving and the aerodynamic package.

Have you seen improvements to the car in the current round of testing?

The drivers have all made positive comments about the improved driveability of the car but we can not really compare the results before we re-enter competition. We will have run approximately 1500kms on gravel and 400kms on asphalt by the time the team returns to competition. Our final test in Greece, a few days before the Cyprus Rally, involved testing for a full rally distance of close to 400kms.

What were your first impressions of the Skoda Motorsport team?

It was immediately clear that it had nearly all that a WRC team needs. I was surprised by the depth of some developments in detail, such as stress analysis, which I did not expect from such a small team. On the other hand not all components of the car were operating on the same level of performance so to co-ordinate these technical interactions was the first major target.

What have been your priorities since joining Skoda Motorsport?

To fix these processes first, but without neglecting the technical performance on which we will ultimately be evaluated.

Having been part of Audi's successful Le Mans-winning team, what experiences from that campaign are you bringing to Skoda Motorsport?

First of all we try to transmit the major development processes to the team in order to work more systematically with clear targets, schedules, responsibilities and competences. In the technical field we use some analysis and testing methods, like test benches and simulation tools. Hopefully my experience with circuit racing will allow me to bring some fresh ideas that will benefit everyone.

When will a new engine be homologated for the Fabia WRC?

The current development work is carried out on the current unit and at the moment it is not possible to say when we can homologate either major changes to the existing engine or a completely new engine.

Skoda Motorsport announced a programme of seven events this season. Is that programme still in place or is there a chance that it may change?

Currently there are no changes to be expected at WRC level. We plan to participate on the remaining European rallies starting with Acropolis but without Turkey. However, Toni Gardemeister will compete on the Exide Rally in Finland and also our ‘home' event, Rally Bohemia in the Czech Republic. Before that Armin Schwarz will drive the car on the Saarland Rally in Germany. The Saarland Rally will give us excellent asphalt information as it runs close to where Rallye Deutschland is based. The Exide Rally is a well known test event for Rally Finland which is a very technical rally. And of course Rally Bohemia takes place around Mladá Boleslav and is therefore our ‘home‘ event. Skoda Motorsport had to miss this event last year as we were in our final preparations for the Fabia WRC debut so we are happy to return to this rather special rally for us.