Malcolm Wilson’s voice is getting quieter. Now louder. Quieter again. Bang. A file has landed on a desk. He has what he needs.
My question was one about a discussion he’d had in 2005. In typical Wilson style, no detail was left in doubt – especially not when it came to a deal he now realizes would have changed the direction of his world 16 and a bit years ago.
“I’ve found it,” Wilson says, sounding like he’s taken a seat and is now perusing something he hasn’t seen for a while.
“I was right. The meeting was in 2005, the deal was for three years and over the three years, we were going to pay Sébastien Loeb…”
“Did you seriously think I was going to tell you that bit, David?”
I guess I was being a touch on the optimistic side.
Down the decade Loeb dominated the World Rally Championship, Wilson’s attitude to the Frenchman who spoiled season after season for him never changed. It was about absolute appreciation, with just a little bit of envy.
Seventeen years on and with the nine-time champion finally installed in one of his cars, Wilson gets it.
He truly gets it.
“I understand now,” says Wilson.
“I understand what we were up against for all of those years and I can tell you for sure we’d have had all the titles if we’d had him with us. Without him, that task [through 2006 until 2008] was almost impossible.
“And we were close, you know. Really close. He drove the car, he was happy. The deal was the same as the one Citroën was offering him. The difference, I believe, was probably Guy [Fréquelin].”
Fréquelin was Citroën’s team principal at the time. More than that, he was the man who had guided Loeb’s early career from giving him his first break to making it all the way to world champion.
“Because of his respect for Guy, I don’t think Séb felt he could leave him,” adds Wilson.
I remember talking to Loeb as 2005 neared 2006. Citroën was about to take its sabbatical season to build the C4 WRC, leaving him with a Kronos Racing-run Xsara WRC. All the talk was that he would stay in the red corner.
Concluding our chat, I threw away a line about staying put probably being the safest bet.
Loeb checked himself and thought on things for a second or two and smiled.
“Yes,” he said at the time, “but a change can also be interesting…”
They were close.
World championships lost are water under the bridge. Finally last month, the moment arrived, and the word ‘Loeb’ was written on the side of a Ford.
It was a source of real satisfaction and pride to see him getting out of the car and talking like he did about itMalcolm Wilson
Worth the wait?
“Oh yes,” says Wilson with a chuckle. “Very definitely, yes.
“It was a dream rally and he was a dream to work with. From the moment he sat in the car for the first time – and don’t forget his first test was still in the prototype car, he was very happy. He drove the car at Greystoke, he enjoyed the car – it was a source of real satisfaction and pride to see him getting out of the car and talking like he did about it.”
But it was only once round one was underway that Wilson really saw the real benefit of the Loeb factor.
“He was just so, so relaxed about everything,” he says. “Nothing fazed him. He looked nonchalant about the whole thing, but actually, what you didn’t see was the hard work, the focus and the attention to everything.
“One of the things I was most impressed with was the way he stuck to the setup. He got in the car on Thursday and didn’t change a single thing through the following four days. Not a damper click, a roll-bar setting, not spring rates, nothing. These days you see so many drivers jump in the car and start changing things all the time, chasing this direction and that. Even when he was running compromised tires [crossed across the car’s axles] on Saturday, he didn’t change a thing.
“And there was Isabelle [Galmiche]. He was so calm, so relaxed with her. There was big pressure on him, but you’d never have known it – and he did everything he could to take away any pressure from her. He was amazing. He put her completely at ease.
“It was Rich [Millener] here who summed it up properly. When they crossed the [final stage finish] line and got out of the car, Rich said: ‘How much would you pay to be as cool as that…’ He was dead right.”
And the coolest part? The feeling was completely mutual.
Loeb smiles, shrugs and dismisses the thinking that he’d discovered a friendship with Wilson.
“I always knew Malcolm was a good guy,” he says. “Even if we didn’t have a lot of time to spend together in the past. To say hello and to chat a bit, I always enjoyed his way of doing things and his passion for the sport.”
That passion for the sport rang true in the French Alps.
“When we were doing the rally,” says Loeb , “I could see he was living this very intensely – it’s enjoyable for the driver to see your boss is really involved in it and living it with passion. It was really nice.
“In some ways I can compare him with Guy Fréquelin. But the difference is that Guy was the director of a brand. He wasn’t putting his own money to the game. For Malcolm it’s different. He manages his own team and his own business, so it’s, I think, even a harder job.
“It’s always been like this with Malcolm – you can see the passion he has for rallying, he’s always doing everything with his heart. I always knew it would be nice to work with Malcolm and we could do it for the first time. For this, I’m very happy.”
That makes two of them.