Mick Linford Q&A

Peugeot is coming back to the BTCC in 2001 on a high after its works driver Toni Ruokonen sealed up the National Saloon Championship at Silverstone this weekend. The company's UK motorsport boss Mick Linford explained the reasons behind Peugeot's decision to Nick Phillips, and told him why he won't pay inflated driver salaries

Mick Linford Q&A

"I don't like to think of it as a return, because I'd like to completely forget our past experiences in the BTCC. At that time, we came in, but we were always playing catch-up; there was never as much money to commit to it as some other teams had. So, we were always on catch-up and we never really got there.

"They are definitely the right way to go. The costing is correct now; it is more cost-effective for a manufacturer and I think there is a much better return for the investment. Obviously, I am eager to re-establish Peugeot's credibility in British Touring Cars. We didn't do much good at that the last time and I'm eager for that first BTCC win. These rules gives us a much better chance.

"Of course, if somebody has plenty of money they will throw all sorts at it and it may well give them an edge, but I genuinely believe that we are going into it next year on an equal footing to everyone else. We've got plenty of experience in National Saloons - which obviously is not the same but the new formula is an upgrade of it - and the technical knowledge that other teams have got from the old Super Touring isn't necessarily an advantage any more."

A: Vic [Lee, whose Bowman Motorsport team runs the Peugeot race programme] ran it as a separate outfit in London for the first season, but this year and for the future, he and his team have actually been based in our workshops in Coventry. It's not just a close working relationship, they are really part of Peugeot now. I'm able to work much more closely with Vic; I know exactly what's going on and I'm involved in all the decisions within the team. Vic has got a fantastic history as far as racing's concerned. He's a very determined person and he tends to approach running the race team in a slightly different way; he's looking for different angles and I think it is those different angles that have gained us advantages without breaking the rules.

"One big issue is that at the moment in touring cars, teams have been drifting into grey areas and been allowed to get away with it. That is bad news and it will kill the championship in 2001 if it is allowed to continue. There must be hard and fast rules, and from day one anyone who drifts into a grey area must be jumped on and penalised in such a way that it frightens them to death. Otherwise the same thing will happen and over the next three or four years it will drift into exactly the same situation it's in now, and kill itself."

"For sure it has lost a lot of its prestige and the first year under the new regulations is probably going to be a difficult one, though I think the second will be very successful. But, it's got BMP [British Motorsport Promoters] behind it and bigger companies behind that, and they intend to make it work. They've done it with World Superbikes and I believe that they see the BTCC as a very serious opportunity to build up a show that is of the standard of Superbikes, with the same razzmatazz and support. I think they'll put a lot effort into it and I'm led to believe that they've got a new TV deal for about four years that is better than the one the series has now. TV is what the manufacturers want."

"It's difficult to know, because Class B - or Super Production as I believe they are going to call it, Super Touring and Super Production - is going to be more expensive than National Saloons is now and that might put a few off, but I'd work on there being equal numbers. I think there could well be 12 or 14 Super Touring cars, and - I'm guessing here - four manufacturers, and then another two manufacturers offering genuine support, but which for political reasons cannot put their name to the teams. For example Ford can't, because out of that group of companies Volvo is designated to do touring cars, while Ford do rallying. I would think that they would want some success for the Ford name, so I think there is a fairly strong chance that they would give some strong support behind the scenes to a team such as GR Motorsport - that sort of thing. It's speculation of course.

"Two drivers, one of whom could win the championship for us and the other to finish second. That's what I'd like.

"As far as who is concerned; at the moment we've only just had the decision and there are too many other things going on for me - or Vic - to even think about drivers. Any driver who contacts us at the moment, we are telling: "Thank you very much, let us have all your details and we'll talk to you at the end of October.

"Our own two drivers at present - Dan [Eaves] and Toni [Ruokonen] I've given a letter to the same effect - obviously they are in a strong position. We are talking to various sponsors and I anticipate a fairly serious sponsor coming on-board and it's important that a sponsor has some input on that - not necessarily on picking the drivers, but I do foresee a situation where a sponsor will want a big-name driver, a character. That doesn't necessarily mean that either Dan or Toni will be put to one side. We are trying to organise it so that there are at least four cars out there - maybe an A and a B team. As for the details of the B team, I don't know whether we would prepare the cars and someone else run them, or whether someone else just buys and runs them. Maybe there's a potential for a mix and match deal over the two teams, where each has a big-name driver and a lesser name - of the calibre of Dan and Toni - who have the ability but not yet the sort of profile that will attract people to touring cars again.

"But all these are just thoughts at the moment and I wouldn't dream of mentioning other names, though I am pleased that I have had some good some good front-running existing BTCC drivers talking to me, who are genuinely interested. Fair enough, they are out of work, but it's nice that they are prepared to talk to Peugeot, where they wouldn't have done five years ago."

"Absolutely not. No. A driver deserves a good wage, but the money they have been getting is too much. I'm not saying the drivers aren't worth it, but the championship, even as it was, did not warrant those wages and I don't think it's done motorsport any good paying them. Top drivers probably should be on six figures, but those six figures should start with a one, not a four a five or a six."

"There are only two cars which comply with the rules - the 406 and the 307 - and we are right in the middle of assessing that now. For sure the obvious route is the 307, but before we make a final decision, there are a number of calculations going on and we're in the middle of getting all the drawings from France and so on."

"Only technical support, nothing financially. Obviously. we'd like to see our existing 306s and the HTML cars out there. The 307 won't be launched over here for a few months, so nobody would be in a position to run those.

"Vic seems to think he could cope with six, and I'm fine with that; the more we can get out there the better. But if we build six there must definitely be people out there with money to buy them, we're not in a position financially to build six and loan them out or hire them out or whatever. I'm fine with six as long as that doesn't affect the key four cars. It's really down to how things pan out in the next month."

"We've made a commitment for two years and with the success that I anticipate we are going to get - being a strong front-running car - then as long as the series is giving a good return in exposure, which I anticipate BMP will deliver, then I'd like to think we'll be there for the next four or five years. Two years is the minimum."

"I'd love to think so, and without doubt we will go into the season with that as our aim. I think realistically we would be looking at the second year."

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