FIA World Rally Championship
Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
January 18, 2007
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Marcus Gronholm - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team
Manfred Stohl - OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team
Welcome to the Pre-event FIA Press Conference of Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Q: Seb, welcome back and Happy New Year. It's been a long four months while you recovered from your broken arm. Are you completely recovered? How long do you think it will take before you are entirely back to normal, as you were before the accident? Do you think that being out of competition for so long has compromised your chances here?
SL: I hope I am recovered. For sure I didn't recover completely, my shoulder is not so strong at the moment. But driving the car is not so bad, the feeling is good. There was no pain at shakedown this morning and in each test last year there was less pain. Perhaps the long stage can be a bit more difficult, but it shouldn't be a problem. I don't know how long, but I don't think I need to have my full strength to be fast. In the test I wasn't slow because of that. The feeling is better and better for me. I didn't start, I don't know (if I will be compromised). In the summer we stopped for two months, it's not like I don't know how to drive. I don't think it's a problem.
Q: Welcome Marcus. What have you been doing over Christmas and New Year? You won here in Monte-Carlo last year; how realistic are your chances of doing it again? Do you think that your main rival, Sebastien Loeb, will have any problems with his new car? How confident are you feeling about your chances of the driver's title this year, after Ford won the manufacturers title last year?
MG: I was a bit sick at home with a cold and fever. Before and after that I was testing a lot. I don't think it's going to be easy here, it's a new rally and very fast. It also looks to be a Tarmac rally this time. It can be quite slippery with the rain. I don't know if I can win but I will do my best. I don't think they (Citroen) have any problems; you have to remember their car was ready before ours was on the paper - and that's true. They won't have any problems; the only problem is it (the C4 WRC) may be too slow! I don't like the slippery asphalt, I hope for more dry than wet weather. I don't know, we have a good chance to win many rallies. But to win the title we have to have everything, I'm not really confident -- we will see.
Q: Hello Petter. How has the time since last season been for you? Have you done a lot of testing and development of your new car that will be launched in Mexico? Of course, here you have the 2006 car that you struggled with a bit last year; is that going to cause you any problems?
PS: I have done some PR, a little testing, not much, and then fitness training to get back on track so we can enjoy a little bit this year. I think to keep up with these guys for the next three rallies will be tough, but we have new tyres - that can be very interesting. It can make a more equal field on some stages, but for maximum attack it will be tough I think, but I will definitely try. The focus is on the Mexico car - it's a big step. If we can come through the next three rallies with 20 points we'll be happy. That's the plan.
Q: Welcome Manfred. Last season was very successful for you, but this year you have a switch to a new car, albeit one you know pretty well already. How different is the Citroen Xsara you will be driving in 2007 to the Citroen Xsara you had in 2005? How easy has it been to slot back into the Kronos team? Is the team different or more confident since it ran Sebastien Loeb so well last year? What are the main differences between the Xsara and the Peugeot 307 you drove last year?
MS: I make 16 events in last year's car, I was very comfortable. I then make one-day test on Sunday and it's not so easy to get comfortable straight away. We have 16 events again, so I hope we will be comfortable. The Citroen is very noisy and it feels more like a racing car. It's stiffer and harder. I have to learn more about this car. I remember at the start of 2005, I had problems getting used to a new car, but I look forward. I hope the team has changed, I hope they have taken all the experience from Sebastien (Loeb) with them. The team is very professional and very nice. I hope we can make good results together.
Q: Seb, everybody is very excited about your new car; how have the latest tests been? Did you have to miss much of the testing work with your broken arm? Are you feeling confident that the car will be both fast and reliable here in Monte-Carlo? How much more work is there still to come? Do you think that this makes your chances more vulnerable this year? The C4 is much larger than the Xsara; has it been difficult to adapt yourself to it? Who do you think will be your biggest challenger on this event?
SL: The tests have been good. We have done four days for Monte-Carlo and the feeling was good. The car is more stable than the Xsara, but the agility is a bit less good than the Xsara. This morning there was a bit too much oversteer, so we try to fix it. But that's it, the car's good. For me, hopefully, we won't have any problem. In the test, we did six days in December and the car was perfect. We have some experience from the Xsara, some parts are an evolution -- it's not all completely new. I think it's a lot of work, but now we have found a good compromise on gravel and Tarmac, the feeling is okay. (For the future) there is an evolution and we try to work on the suspension and some new diffs, but that is the work you have to do. At the moment we have a good base, but you always work to make it better. I hope the car will be faster than the Xsara, but I'll know after a couple of rallies. Marcus (Gronholm) was always fast on every rally, for sure, he'll be a big competitor. (Daniel) Sordo was also quick on Tarmac, and here is a Tarmac rally -- he can also be dangerous. Petter (Solberg) also has the same tyres as us, we don't know how much time he lost with the tyres last year -- he can be tough.
Q: Marcus, these stages are pretty much new for this year; do you remember any of them from the past and will that be of any help to you? The weather this year looks like it will remain dry. As you do not like very inconsistent conditions do you think that will help you? How is your tyre choice looking for this event, do you think you will be able to take advantage of the dry conditions?
MG: I have never rallied here before. Maybe I did gravel crew in 1991 or 1992, but I don't remember. I don't think it's dry. For the moment it's raining on the stages and it will be difficult tonight. I hope this time we can take the right tyres, we were always a little bit on the wrong side - it's not easy, but I hope we will manage to get it right this time.
Q: Speaking of tyres Petter, you are on BFGoodrich for the first time. What are your first impressions of them from initial testing? After having worked with Pirelli for many years, how long will it take you and the team to get completely used to working with BFGoodrich? Are you worried about getting the tyre choice right? Has it been difficult to adapt the Impreza to the new rubber?
PS: Well, I have done just two days. To try the tyres on all type of conditions is difficult. This morning we needed to work with the car a little to get the best, but in the dry it worked very well. It's quite a big difference in feeling, I must say. It's many different tyres and we didn't have much time to do anything else on the test but try the tyres. I'm sure through the weekend we'll learn a lot. We have an engineer with a lot of experience. For the tyre choices, we will lay a lot on him. He hasn't slept so well in the last few days: there's a lot of pressure on him! The tyre choice will lay on him, for the first few days at least.
Q: What are your goals for this season Manfred? Last year you were consistently on the podium and in the past you have been in second place as well. Is it realistic to hope for a win this year, or is your aim to be a more regular podium visitor? With a number of new events this year, which are a level playing field for everybody, do you think that this is your best chance?
MS: It is realistic to hope, but the fact is we have not much kilometres in the car. The car is difficult to drive on the limit, it's not easy to get used to the new car on this rally. Our goal is not to make a stupid mistake, take some nice points home and get used to the car. Normally the new events are good for me, good results on new stages or new rallies - I hope I can use that also here.
Q: What do you think of the new route and the new format for this rally Seb? What are the stages like, from what you can see? Do you think that the new stages take away the advantage you and Daniel have had over the previous years; is it more equal for everybody? Tonight we will have some night stages for the first time in many years; are you looking forward to them? How difficult do you think these particular roads will be to drive at night? What do you need to do to be quick in the dark?
SL: I don't know if I had an advantage before -- I didn't know more of the old Monte Carlo. Here I don't know the roads so it's the same for everyone. It's a good idea to come here to find some snow, but there's no snow... For me, a couple of stages are too fast, it would be nice in the snow, but okay we can't control the weather. The place is nice and a lot of people are really happy to see the come-back here. In the dark, you have to drive like you can when you have only two passes on the recce, and then you also start with the fastest stage. I think there can be some big moments tonight...
Q: There have been some recent reports in the press that you might retire at the end of this year if you win the Championship; are these true Marcus? This is the shortest break in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship, with just 46 days from the end of Great Britain 2006 to the start of Monte-Carlo 2007; does this make preparations difficult? For the first time this year there will be just one stage on Sunday -- one lap around part of the Grand Prix circuit and more stages tonight instead. Do you think it is good to have a change in the format of rallies sometimes?
MG: I don't know if I will win (the Championship), so speak to you later! It (the break) felt very short, it could have been a bit longer. To go to Monte-Carlo and to do, I don't know how many minutes... not even two, I don't know, but maybe it's good to be back to Monte-Carlo: that's fine.
Q: Petter, for different reasons, Monte-Carlo has never been particularly kind to you in the past. Do you think that your luck might change this year? What are your tactics going to be on this event - flat-out or cautious?
PS: I'm not putting any pressure on myself. If I'm sixth or seventh, I don't care -- we want some points in the pocket. We have been unlucky, last year with the oil cooler. We have the same car as last year, it was reliable in GB. I don't know, we will see.
Q: You are now starting your second full year of the World Rally Championship Manfred. What are the main lessons you learned from last year, and how do you plan to put them to good use this season?
MS: When you sit every event in the car, it's like your drive to work. You get more used to it, you learn the roads -- it's quite okay.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: Sebastien, have you done any normal rallies at night before?
SL: Yes, Monte Carlo 2002 and Sweden, I think 2002 also, then some stages at night. Not so much, but in French Championship, yes.
Q: The shakedown stage was stopped this morning because of the high numbers of spectators. Were the spectators more badly behaved than on other rallies, Sebastien?
SL: I'm not really sure; there are problems with spectator traffic on lots of other events. The police have their work cut out to make sure the rally runs according to schedule and safety.