Sébastien Loeb, Citroën Total World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Mads Østberg, M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team
Kimi Räikkönen, ICE 1 Racing
Q: Sébastien, the WRC returns to Greece, are you happy to see this event back on the calendar?
SL: Yes, for sure. I am happy to come back. The stages are quite good and very rough.
Q: This event is renowned for being rough and tough. How rough are the stages this year? How do they compare to previous years?
SL: I don’t have a lot of memory, so I don’t know! I know some parts are very tricky for the suspension and tyres, but in the past it has also been difficult in some places.
Q: We heard there was some rain on the recce, did this affect you?
SL: We did the recce in the dry.
Q: Is there one day or one stage which is the most difficult on this event?
SL: If it’s dry, the first one will be the most difficult – there was a lot of gravel in the recce, but I hope it will be raining. I know it has been raining in the stages, so hopefully it will not be as bad as in the recce.
Q: We have witnessed some incredible battles this year; did you expect this season to be as closely contested?
SL: It’s difficult to say, but what we see is that the cars are very similar. Comparing the two cars [Citroën and Ford] is very difficult. The speed is very similar and the fight is very intense. In the past, it was two drivers fighting and now it’s five. Even if one [driver] has a problem, there is some more fighting. It’s good, and to end with the Power Stage.
Q: The 2012 calendar has been confirmed for next year with Rally Monte Carlo returning to start the season. Are you pleased to see it back and will we see you compete there as part of the Citroën Total World Rally Team?
SL: I have no idea. Like I told you last time I don’t know what I will do next year. If I am competing, then I will go to Monte Carlo. If not, I will go as a spectator. But it is one of the magic rallies of the Championship. It’s a good move, they [the Automobile Club de Monaco] decided two or three years ago to leave, but now it’s a good decision to be back.
Q: Jari-Matti, what’s the night stage going to be like?
J-ML: It’s open, wide and fast. At the end it’s more technical with some tricky places and a very fast tarmac section in the middle. It’s quite okay; the dust will clear because it’s quite open. There is a risk for the dust and driving at the night in hot countries as when the temperature goes down there is not so much breeze and this can make the dust stay.
Q: What will it take from you to be able to win here in Greece?
J-ML: The last couple of events have been tough in that sense. I was leading in Argentina before the problem, in Jordan we also had some problems and in Sardinia we were a bit unlucky with other things – and that was one of my favourite rallies. Sometimes, if you want to win too much, it seems things are not getting together. It’s better to drive well, as well as I can. It is best not force it.
Q: Argentina was a rough event, this looks to be even rougher. Are you confident the Fiesta RS WRC will perform well here? How was it during testing?
J-ML: We tested before Argentina, about four weeks ago. We had a good test, no problems at all. I picked a different suspension on that test and on the test and this morning I was convinced it was good. But the time was not so good – so I need to go back to how it was.
Q: What set-up do you run here?
J-ML: The same as in Sardinia, Jordan and Argentina. I tried something new. It felt good in the test, but it was not necessarily working in the stages.
Q: One of the decisions to come from the World Motor Sport Council was to make shakedown qualifying for road position selection; this could prove interesting.
J-ML: It’s good that during the rally you will take tactics away. During the shakedown this will be more interesting for the fans and television – but it is also more work for the drivers. You might see more tactics on that day: you want to go as low as possible with the car and take the weight out to maximise the chance. It will be a more intensive day. I think it will be good.
Q: Sébastien, what do you think?
SL: It’s a good move. Everybody will start every rally with equal chances. It doesn’t matter if you are the young driver in the first event, or if you are only doing a few rallies in a year, at the start of the rally everybody will start with the same chances as the leader. There will also be no tactics in the race, that’s good.
Q: The temperatures here are maybe the hottest of the year. I believe you have already had some ‘heat’ training after competing last weekend? What incredibly hot country were you in?
J-ML: It starts with an F, it’s Finland! Last week, we had plus 33 degrees in Finland. I did a round of the Finnish National Championship; I was driving the zero car, which was a Ford Escort with a BDA engine. The exhaust ran under the driver’s side, with no protection under the floor. It felt like my shoes were burning against the pedals. There was no roof vent like the modern cars and we couldn’t open the windows because the dust would come in. It felt like proper training for this rally, but it was good fun.
Q: Mads, you got off to a strong start in Sweden this year taking second place overall, you have yet to get onto the podium again, have you been frustrated by that?
MØ: I think it’s quite difficult, we need to get a little bit quicker again. We have had some problems on the events since Sweden and I have not been quick enough. I need more time in the car and I need to get a bit quicker.
Q: How do you do that? How do you avoid the first day of the rally being a test for you?
MØ: In Sardinia, on that event, we were closest to the top five after Sweden. We need to do the same as there. We did some changes to the car which helped and some changes to the pace notes which also helped. It’s difficult on this rally, though, as my co-driver’s bag was stolen. The bag had the pace notes in and now we have to make new notes for all the stages. Okay, a lot of the stages are the same, but it’s not optimal. I had hoped to come back here on my old notes and give it a push. But now we have to come back and go sensibly in the first run and then go flat out on the second run through.
Q: No testing for you ahead of this event but you were competing in the Norwegian Championship, does that in any way help with regard to your preparations?
MØ: Not really. Okay, I get some time in the car, but it’s a S2000 car, so it’s not exactly the same. But, it helps doing recce and the rally it helps for time in the car. But the conditions in Norway are different to here. We need to take one stage at a time and then improve the speed.
Q: Will you do all the rallies this season?
MØ: I don’t think we will do them all. I think we will do Finland and Germany, but it’s not easy to get the money – and it takes a lot of money – for all the Championship. It’s possible to get some more money to do some more, but we definitely won’t go to Australia. We hope to get some good results which will help us to try and get some more money.
Q: Kimi, Jordan was the last time we saw you behind the wheel of the Citroen DS3 – it’s been a while! Is it good to be back?
KR: Yes. It’s good to be back.
Q: You tested last week, how many kilometres did you cover and was the test successful?
KR: It was last week, in France. It was good, we tried a few changes. It was mainly to get back in the car and drive, we did a bit more than 100 kilometres, just to get the feeling back.
Q: And how is the feeling?
KR: It’s fine. This is a new place for me, new stages. The stages don’t look very easy, but we will do our best.
Q: Where are you trying to improve your performance?
KR: I’m trying to improve all the time. Australia is a new place for us, it should be a little easier than some of the other rallies, but I try to improve all the time.
Q: What do you know about the future? Will you commit to the WRC?
KR: I don’t know. I’ll see after this season, but so far there is nothing sure.
Q: You have done well on the rough WRC events - sixth in Jordan and a career-best fifth in Turkey last year. Do you think rough rallies suit you?
KR: I don’t think so, some of those places - like Turkey - was a new place – it was the same for everybody. The guys have been here before and I haven’t done rallies for a while, it will be a tough rally for me. The stages are rough, but it’s the same for everybody. The car is strong enough – but if we have problems, it happens and we will try and deal with it the best we can.
Q: What’s the toughest challenge for you on this rally?
KR: It’s a new place with new stages – that’s the most difficult thing for us.
Questions From The Floor
Martin Holmes Rallying, UK
To all the drivers, isn’t shakedown the time to get the car ready for the rally? [Note: the precise regulations for shakedown from 2012 have yet to be finalised.]
Next year, I think we will have a real reason for shakedown.
SL: I don’t know what is the idea or who proposes it, but I think we start shakedown at 08:00 hrs and we are free, then at 10 [o’clock], we start qualifying. At shakedown now we go four times because we have to. Next year, I think we will have a real reason for shakedown.
J-ML: The morning is very important to get the free runs. Some drivers – like I used to – come to these events with no testing and the first two hours is needed, especially if you want to try something in the car. But after that, like Sébastien said, at 10 it starts. I think it will work out.
KR: I don’t know exactly the details of the rules, but it sounds like it doesn’t change much: do your running, set the quickest time as you can and then chose the position. It doesn’t change so much.
MØ: I think it’s quite a good idea, providing we get time in the morning to prepare. I use the shakedown for the test in many other countries and it’s important to have time to test parts on the car.
FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Hermann Gassner, FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Ott Tänak, FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Q: You tested on Monday, how did that go?
HG: It went well. We changed something on the set-up and now we will have a look on the rally. We changed some springs, normal things: anti-roll bar and I hope it worked out.
Q: What do you think of the stages here? Are they stages you will enjoy?
HG: It will be the toughest rally, in some places you have to save the car, but in some places it can be not so bad.
Q: You are team-mates with Juho Hanninen, he has a lot of experience, has he passed any advice on to you?
HG: Yeah, he told me it’s not easy and not to push so much. We will see.
Q: What will be the key to surviving the opening day with just the remote service?
HG: We will have to have some caution. The first day will be quite difficult with only a remote service. There will be no chance to make a mistake.
Q: Who are your main rivals on this event?
HG: It’s very difficult to say. Sometimes the speed is not so good, we will drive our own rally and see what happens.
Q: What are you looking for by the end of the year?
HG: This is also difficult to say. We have made progress and we are getting faster and faster, which is what I want. It’s not so bad, so far – I am happy.
Q: Ott, you are joint leader in the SWRC after competing in two rounds this year. This will be your first time competing in Greece. Thoughts so far?
OT: It’s been quite interesting so far. We’ve had a few ups and one good victory from Sardinia, but it was not so good in Mexico, but it worked out quite well. I think it’s been, for us, quite good.
Q: Have you competed on stages like this before? Is there anything you can compare it to?
OT: It was my first time also in Sardinia; there were some very rough places there as well. It’s good to be smart here, but you need to keep some speed up to make a good result. It will be a big challenge.
Q: You didn’t test on Monday but you were at the test as a mechanic…
OT: It’s not a different job, it’s quite usual for me – I am doing it every day. It was a usual day in the workshop, but this time it was in the forest where I was a mechanic for [MM Motorsport team-mate, [Frigyes] Touran.
Q: Are you happy with the running you have done today?
OT: We did four runs and the car worked well, no worries.
Q: Do you try to win this event or is that too much of a risk?
OT: For sure, we can push as hard [as] we did in Sardinia. We need to find some good rhythm here. Let’s see.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of the rally?
OT: For sure, the Sunday looks quite smooth, but the first two days look, in places, quite bad. There is something everywhere. We need to look out to avoid the punctures.
Q: How rough is it?
OT: It’s incredible here, there’s nothing I’ve seen like this before. In the recce it wasn’t the worst, but it will be a big challenge on the rally.