RALLY ARGENTINA 2009 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Present: Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Federico Villagra, Munchi's Ford World Rally Team Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team Dani Sordo, Citroen Total World Rally...
2009 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Federico Villagra, Munchi's Ford World Rally Team
Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team
Dani Sordo, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Michal Kosciuszko, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Aaron Burkart, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Martin Prokop, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Toshihiro Arai, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Mikko, you are second in the Drivers' Championship, 10 points behind Sebastien Loeb. On paper it looks like a good start to the season -- how would you asses it?
MH: Well, it's been okay, but for sure I'm not happy how it has been. We were hoping that we could win one or two rallies from these four, but Sebastien has been able to win them all.
Q: So it has been a frustrating start?
MH: Yes, it has been a little bit, but it has been quite good anyway. I haven't given up and this is now a new opportunity for me to fight back. Hopefully, we can do it here.
Q. You haven't given up, but what about the Manufacturers' Championship because Citroen are 24 points ahead of Ford now. Is the light dimming on the Manufacturers' Championship or is there still a chance?
MH: There is still a chance, but it's going to be very difficult. Dani (Sordo) and Sebastien have been driving very well and scored points from all the other rallies, so if they keep doing this it will be difficult to catch them but we'll still try.
Q: Dani has been a strong second driver for Citroen; your team-mate Jari-Matti (Latvala) has not had the best of starts to the season. How much of an impact do his mistakes make to your strategy during an event?
MH: It doesn't affect me at all. I mean, I have enough things to worry about with Sebastien, and trying to beat him in rallies, so whatever Jari-Matti is doing doesn't really concern me. He has made some mistakes, so when he can get his head together he can be there fighting for the win as well.
Q: Do you believe he can be the strong second driver that the team needs?
MH: Yes, I do
Q: Federico, this is the biggest event on the calendar for you and the Munchi's team, already there are hundreds of fans here. What is it like to compete in front of a home crowd like this?
FV: It's always very nice to race in your hometown. There are a lot of people supporting us on this rally so that helps and gives you a little extra speed, so I'm trying not to make many mistakes and to have a really good rally.
Q: This year there is only one Munchi's car running for the season, does that put extra pressure on you, especially to achieve a good result here?
FV: Yes, there is pressure trying to get a good result. We know it's the rally in which we can get the best points of the season, that's why the main thing is to get the best points we can and also I know it is going to be a very difficult rally so trying to get in the points will be good.
Q: We see you competing in the national championship here in Argentina; does your experience help you here? How many of the stages that we use in the world event have been used in the national event?
FV: The only stages that are run are the stages from the second day but not even those really, because we ran those in the opposite way, so this complete season we haven't been racing these stages.
Q: What did you think of the condition of the stages this year in comparison to last year?
FV: The roads are getting pretty bad. It's been very dry this last month. If it doesn't rain it will turn to being a difficult rally, everything that was fixed on the roads is not fixed any more. So during the rally we'll have a lot of rocks on the road.
Q: Sebastien, this is your first time competing in Argentina, although you did do the recce for the event last year. How much did that help?
SO: It was good to come for the recce before the rally last year, I think we have 60% of the stages of last year so it is good. I think the stages this year are rougher but we'll see.
Q: You are nominated for the first time to score Manufacturer points for the Citroen Junior Team. Does this create additional pressure on your shoulders to bring home a good result?
SO: Yes, it is the first time we are nominated for points for the Manufacturers' Championship, but it is the same for us because our main goal this weekend is to finish without mistakes, because since the start of the season we did some good times, but also some stupid mistakes so we have to be more careful this weekend.
Q: What have you thought of your performance so far this year? Has stepping up to WRC level been tougher than you expected?
SO: Of course, WRC is the top level of the sport, you cannot come to WRC and fight for victory in your first season so I think it is a season to learn for me. I have no pressure for the results, so I need to finish and do as maximum kilometres as possible, and I have to become competitive in the future.
Q: Dani, you arrived in Argentina early last week and spent some time in Buenos Aires and took part in 'The Citroen Roadshow', where you put on a display for the thousands of fans. What was that like?
DS: It was very nice in Buenos Aires and also here with a lot of spectators.
Q: The atmosphere at this event is unique, would you consider this second to your home event? The fans flock to you.
DS: It is because we speak the same language. For everybody the support is very high, we are very happy to be here, this is really nice because of all the spectators during the recce, the shakedown, the service park and it is really very nice.
Q: You had a very consistent start to the year. Were you happy with your performance in Portugal on gravel?
DS: Yes, I'm very happy. In Portugal I think I drove very well, but on the second day I made two mistakes and I lost time, but I am very happy with my performance. It is good to be here, this rally is very different, it is softer than Portugal and it is very slippery and twisty in some places but I will try to have the same performance.
Q: You were on the podium here last year, is that the target again this year?
DS: Yes, I finished on the podium last year but a lot of people stopped with problems, but I think this year I have more level in my driving and I think I can push a little more to finish in the podium.
Q: Can you take the fight to Mikko this weekend?
DS: I don't know. Mikko is very fast. I think Mikko and Sebastien are one step more (than me). I will try of course, but it is not easy.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Michal, your first win was in Portugal. Confidence must be quite high for this event, despite the fact that you never competed here before.
MK: Yes, it's my first Argentina Rally so it will be for sure a top event. The three of us (Junior contenders) still have to finish this rally, we need to avoid problems, to drive as fast as possible and of course, each of us can win so we need to keep our normal speed.
Q: Your co-driver has been here before, so how much of a help is that? He has experience of the stages and can help you in that respect.
MK: Last time he said the only advice he can give me is to push the throttle, so that's the only advice I can get from him!
Q: Martin Prokop, who is competing in the Junior as well as Production series, is in PWRC this weekend so that gives you an opportunity to extend your lead over him to pick up a win. How important would it be for your Championship hopes to take away 10 points this weekend?
MK: Of course it's very very important to get maximum points.
Q: What's your strategy for this weekend?
MK: I will start with my normal speed at the beginning and then we will see the situation and the differences between us; that's the only strategy, because I don't want to slow down too much. In that case, I would loose the concentration as I did in Portugal. I tried to slow down but it was a bad idea. I need to keep my normal speed and avoid problems. That's it.
Q: Aaron. It's your first time in Argentina. What do you think of it so far?
AB: It's probably the same as Michal said before. It's quite strange circumstances because you really have to finish the rally to get the points again and on the other hand you always try to be faster than the other guys. So it's exciting as well. It's quite important to keep the car and yourself out of trouble and trying to finish the rally.
Q: We have had three winners in the Juniors this year. Do you think it's going to be just the three of you - you, Martin and Michal - who are going to be fighting for the title?
AB: Hope so, It would be nice. So at least I mean that fight. It's good.
Q: What do you think of the stages? You've been out, you've done the recce and seen it now.
AB: It's quite unique. Because you have a very, very fast intersection, quite smooth and you turn around two corners and suddenly the stage is a completely different one; it's very bumpy, a lot of big loose stones and sometimes even rocks underneath and on the next corners there is deep sand. So it's quite challenging to the suspension and also for the driver to adapt your driving style to the circumstances you find.
Q: We have got dry weather at the moment but the threat of rain is present. Whether it will actually happen or not, we don't know. But we are hearing that it could be wet tomorrow, and that changes things again.
AB: You're absolutely right, yes. I heard that there's a lot of this kind of black surface on the stages and I've been told that this kind of surface is really, really slippery but it would be the same for all of us. We all have the same tyres, so there's at least this kind of gambling.
Q: Aaron, you're not far behind in the Championship standings. How important is it for you to take the top step of the podium?
AB: It's always important to try to be the fastest and win the rally. Generally, as the other guys said as well, it's quite important to find a good rhythm and a good mixture in not being too aggressive and saving the car. For the tactics, I think everybody is the same, so you will go out and try to do your own driving style, see the times, what the others are doing and try to be more aggressive.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Toshi, you've won this event in the past and you know what it takes to win. Is it possible to do it this weekend? We haven't seen you on the top step for quite some time.
TA: I hope to win but it's been so rough this year, not so easy to win.
Q: You have had quite bad luck recently, but tell me about the development of the car, because we are seeing steps forward. Are you happy with the way things are going?
TA: Yes, because now the car has quite big improvements. Because the engine management and the suspension are quite good so I am quite confident now.
Q: You had a test at the start of the week. How did that go? TA: The road was tough, the suspension travel and traction is good, everything is fine.
Q: Aaron told us a little bit of the stages and one thing you didn't mention are the water splashes that we have here, which can cause some difficulties for the drivers. What are they like?
TA: I have much experience for the water splashes. I have broken the engine, I have broken everything, so I am very careful in the water splashes!
Q: You've got the most experience out of this panel here. You've seen what it is like on the stages with regard to the fans and people who are so passionate. What is it like out there?
TA: Every spectator is very excited and sometimes too much excited! But it is very good for the driver and the team.
Q: Martin, in contrast to Toshi you've had a fantastic start in both the Junior and Production Championships. Is it your best start to a season to date?
MP: For sure, it's my best start to a season so far. But I am not too surprised, because I felt that it's possible to be on the podium almost every race last year, but we had too many problems with the car. So this year with no troubles, almost no troubles - just a small one - the results are coming and it's much better than last year.
Q: You also tested on Monday as well, everything go well?
MP: Yes. We were trying some special things for this rally because it's a little bit different because of big rocks inside the roads, so you have to change the set up but everything was going very well, and I think we are ready.
Q: What's your opinion of the stages here?
MP: It's a little bit changed from my experience last year. Because last year it was very broken, tough and so on, but I think the stages are not repaired from last year and it's much more rough. It's totally broken and full of stones and rocks everywhere, so for our car it's very bad and you cannot push everywhere, you have to save your car from these bad places so a few stages we will not be able to race but to survive. Maybe two or three stages where we can go fast and enjoy it, but other stages it will not be about racing so it's a pity that we cannot enjoy this race to the maximum. But we have to fight for the points and that's the most important thing. It's not like in Portugal where we were fighting from the very beginning to the end, it was hard for the car but we enjoyed the race. It's quite okay but the stages are really not okay for Group N.
Q: So what are you hoping for this weekend? What's your target? You said it's really difficult, that we have a strong field in PRWC with the local drivers. What's the target for Martin Prokop?
MP: The highest position, but I think we have to change the strategy, it's not about pushing from the beginning, you have to stay in contact with the others. I think all the European drivers, not the Argentineans, will wait a little bit, not fight from the beginning. Local drivers want to show their speed, and I think they cannot stay on the same speed all the time. Last year they were very very fast but it was too much for theirs cars so I think we will wait and see the times.