FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday January 20, 2005
Gilles Panizzi - Mitsubishi
Alexandre Bengue: - Skoda
Toni Gardemeister - Ford
Markko Martin - Peugeot
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen
Interviewer: Welcome to the press conference. Joining us are Gilles Panizzi and Alexandre Bengue.
Alex, this is your first rally as works driver. What are your objectives?
Alexandre Bengue: This is indeed my first race for Skoda, and this is a great opportunity. I want to bring as much feedback to the team as possible, and this is to be looked as a life-size test. I want to build foundations on which to build in the future.
Interviewer: Gilles, Mitsubishi are back after an absence of a few months. What aspects of the car have been worked on?
Gilles Panizzi: It is hard to compare the car with the one we had a year ago. We've worked a lot, and we've found nice avenues of development that I feel are the right ones. I am very happy with the car as it is.
Interviewer: Alex, how much have you driven the Fabia during testing, and how does the car compare with the Peugeot you drove last year?
Alexandre Bengue: I drove between 500 and 600kms in the car, but that is not enough. The car is much more complex than the cars I drove until now, with more electronics. That said, it is not really that far from the 206 and I'll try to learn more during the race.
Interviewer: Gilles, you finished the rally 6th last year, which was the best result for this car in the season. Is there something in this rally's conditions which helps your team, or is this result down to your talent on tarmac?
Gilles Panizzi: This is always a difficult race with tricky choices to make regarding tyres. It is important to make sure your car is easy to drive. This does not mean that there is any difference between gravel and tarmac as far as I am concerned.
Interviewer: We welcome now Tony Gardemeister: for Ford, and Markko Martin for Peugeot. Tony, is this the biggest chance of your career?
Tony Gardemeister: For sure this is one of the biggest chances of my career. I already was lucky last year, but this might be even better now.
Interviewer: Markko, this is a new team for you as well. The 307 has a reputation of being difficult to drive, but how do you find it so far?
Markko Martin: The only real benchmark is the stage, so I'll find out tomorrow.
Interviewer: What were your impressions in testing?
Markko Martin: It is a good car, but a different one than the Ford. Hopefully, I will adapt well to it and reach the same level of confidence and push it just as much.
Interviewer: Tony, the Monte-Carlo has always been favourable to you. Do you think you can equal your best result ever, third place?
Tony Gardemeister: I will see during the race. It is true that I have been quite successful in this rally but it is also the first one of the year and I do not know the car well yet. We'll try to be steady and fast.
Interviewer: You also have a new co-driver. How is the relationship going?
Tony Gardemeister: . We have no problems, and I hope this will not change in the future.
Interviewer: You've had to get used to new tyres. How are the Pirellis so far?
Markko Martin: As if changing team was not enough, I had to discover new tyres! We had to test many different tyres and conditions, so hopefully I have developed a good understanding of which combinations to choose.
Interviewer: Tony, your contract with Ford is for one year only so far. How confident are you of staying at Ford?
Tony Gardemeister: It is up to me to prove that I am fast enough with this car, but I am quite confident.
Interviewer: Does this give you extra pressure?
Tony Gardemeister: Not at all at the moment, but if things were to go bad and not improve, this might change.
Interviewer: Markko, this year the rally is more Southern than usual. From what you've seen and heard, do you expect this race to be more like a normal asphalt rally?
Markko Martin: A big percentage of the stages are on the Northern sides of the mountains, so it does not feel very Southern to us. Also, the changing conditions might actually make this rally more difficult than usual, and I think that this was the organisers' aim.
Interviewer: Markko, Tony is driving your old car this year. Do you have any tips to give him?
Markko Martin: There are many people at Ford who could give him those tips, and I am sure he has received them already.
Interviewer: Tony, having driven the car, do you understand why the Ford won the last two asphalt rallyes?
Tony Gardemeister: I don't know what makes the car a winning one, but it is easy to drive, and it helps build your confidence in it.
Interviewer: Joining us now are reigning World Champion @!Sebastien Loeb: and Stephane Sarrazin driving for Subaru this year.
Stephane, did you think 12 months ago that you would be here now driving a factory car?
Stephane Sarrazin: This is fantastic for me, and driving for Subaru is like a dream. I will give my best.
Interviewer: Sebastien, your record on this rally is exemplary. Do you think you are the favourite to win again?
Sebastien Loeb: Of course I will try to win again. When you start a race you want to win it, but I am hardly the only one who wants to win. That is the problem! It will be an interesting fight in challenging conditions. I am confident, but we still have to do it.
Interviewer: If you had to choose a driver you don't want behind you, who are you afraid of most in this rally?
Sebastien Loeb: It is difficult to say at the moment. Some drivers are very fast, but I cannot single one out. I will tell you tomorrow evening.
Interviewer: Stephane, like you Sebastien is a graduate of the FFSA French Federation programme. Do you think you can achieve what Sebastien has?
Stephane Sarrazin: I hope so, but first I need to learn every surface: gravel and snow. My first target is to win races in the future. Sebastien is very strong, and I need more experience to compare myself with him.
Interviewer: Sebastien, @!Markko Martin: said that he thought the road was more difficult this year. Do you agree?
Sebastien Loeb: Yes, I agree. When we go around Gap, we may have to face snow, but we just put snow tyres on the car. This year is tricky because we will probably drive all race long with slicks though we may find some ice in some bends.
Interviewer: Stephane, you had to change co-driver before this event. What happened with your usual co-driver?
Stephane Sarrazin: Last Monday, we had to decide this change as my co-driver went down with a virus. I am therefore starting the race with Patrick Pivato who was with me last year. This is a very unsettling development.
Interviewer: Sebastien, how much development on the Xsara has been done since the end of last season? How confident are you to be able to do as well as last year?
Sebastien Loeb: It is very difficult to improve over last season. The car is very comparable to what we had at the end of last season except for some suspension and differential adjustments.
Interviewer: Stephane, your team mate Petter Solberg thinks you'll be fast immediately and that you will be able to go at his pace. Do you think so?
Stephane Sarrazin: I hope so. Petter is a very good and open guy, and he has given me a lot of details about the car and how to drive it, so I am very lucky about that.
Interviewer: What has he been able to show you already?
Stephane Sarrazin: On the snow I sat next to him as co-driver, so I know the target! He is very fast. On gravel we spoke a lot about my style. I am very smooth on tarmac, but I need to be more aggressive on gravel.
Interviewer: Sebastien, you have a new team mate with Francois Duval. How are you adapting to the fact of being the senior driver in the team?
Sebastien Loeb: Working with Carlos Sainz for two years was a great experience. Being with Francois is a new experience, especially being the oldest driver in the team. With Carlos, we had great communication between ourselves with no secrets at all. Guy Frequelin told us that he wants this type of relationship to continue for the good of the team, and he is right.
Interviewer: Stephane, new tyres for you with Pirelli. From what you could see in the recce, do you think you'll be using studs or slicks?
Stephane Sarrazin: Mostly slicks. There was some snow on Turini yesterday, but it might be gone tomorrow. Maybe we'll use some wet weather tyres sometimes. I have some good feel with the Pirelli tyres so far.
Interviewer: We'll now take questions from the room.
Journalist: Sebastien, what do you think of Stephane's performance in rallying so far? Is he a dangerous man here?
Sebastien Loeb: He was very good last year, going faster and faster from one rally to the next. He was fighting with the best at the Catalunya rally last year, so everything is possible. The first time I drove in the Monte-Carlo, I was the fastest, though I did not win the rally. So it is certainly possible.
Journalist: Stephane, did you have technical problems during shakedown?
Stephane Sarrazin: Not all, we just made our runs late. Everything is normal.
Journalist: Sebastien, do you think the Championship will be even tighter this year?
Sebastien Loeb: It is hard to tell. I hope I can do as well as last year, but we were very consistent, so it will be difficult. It is hard to know which cars have improved before the start of a season.
Interviewer: Thank you very much, and we'll see you at the end-of-rally press conference.