FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Telstra Rally Australia
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
1st Francois Duval and Sven Smeets --Citroen
2nd Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen --Mitsubishi
3rd Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor --Citroen Team OMV
Guy Frequelin, team principal Citroen
Q: Francois, congratulations on your first win. Are you surprised? Were you going flat-out all the time, or were you driving for safety?
FD: Well, it's a difficult rally. But on the first two days I drove at 100 per cent and had the most fun I've had all year. On the third day I was able to control my pace a little bit more.
Q: How much pressure did you feel under, when Colin and Harri were fighting behind you?
FD: There was a battle behind between Harri and Colin -- I had to keep my eye on that. The pressure from Harri was at its greatest yesterday, when there was only a small gap. Then he had a spin and I was able to control the gap a little it more, while I was keeping up a good pace.
Q: Sven, congratulations also on your first win. Did you think that it would come so soon?
SS: No. When I started in Argentina, I had to get back into co-driving. We were very happy that the team gave Francois the confidence back. Those first ones were difficult rallies, especially when I was thinking in my own language, Flemish. It was good in Germany when we were second. Only after yesterday did I start to think about the win on this event.
Q: Did you have any problems?
SS: On the first day, Petter, Marcus and Sebastien started at a higher rhythm than we did. Those first stages are very tricky, though and we couldn't go at 110 per cent. We had to control it. Then there were two gone and only Petter was ahead. Unfortunately, a small animal helped us a little bit. After that it was very nice to drive on Saturday and today we control the pace and bring the car home.
Q: Harri, how does it feel to give Mitsubishi their best ever result with the current Lancer WRC?
HR: That is, of course, fantastic. All the year, a few times, we are quite close to podium place, but always there is coming some small problem -- that is normal on rally. This weekend it all worked very well. I'm so happy with the mechanics, the engineers. So many years it's after the good result for the team, it's starting to come back. I'm happy it has come at the end of the season. Now we have a small break the new season comes soon -- this is good motivation for everybody before next year.
Q: What was the fight with Colin like?
HR: My fight with Colin is the same as some years ago. It's always difficult and at the end of the last stages he has showed that he never slowed down. This morn especially was very nice, I can give him some seconds. But then I am very disappointed what happen to Skoda, but it did make it a little bit easier for me and Francois in the last three stages.
Q: Do you think you would have won it, even if Colin had not had his problem?
HR: We will not know now!!
Q: Risto, you have been second in Australia before, but how does this rally compare to all the others you have driven in here? Was it a better feeling?
RP: That feels very good. Like Harri said, we had two or three times close to podium, but now, finally, we get it. Everybody in the Mitsubishi team is very happy.
Q: Manfred, congratulations on your second podium of the year. Is this one of your favourite rallies?
MS: I'm quite happy for the podium here. I want to say once again, what happen to Colin and Skoda was very bad for them -- we couldn't beat them on the stages. I make some small mistakes, all the time I was under pressure. Yesterday we were fighting with Galli and today Atkinson, but we manage it and I'm happy for that.
Q: Ilka, a number of drivers hit problems: was it your strategy to stay out of trouble? You had some problems on Friday morning with the suspension: what were they?
IM: We had some problems: this morning we hit a bank and destroyed the front of the car a little, but we came out of that stage and then made it through the next one. Yes we did have some small suspension trouble on the first morning, but that was fixed easily at service -- it wasn't so bad.
Q: Guy, what do you think about having a different Citroen driver winning a rally?
GF: For sure, I'm very happy that Francois has won the rally. I'm happy for Francois and Sven and also very happy that Citroen gave them the possibility to win this rally. It's a very difficult rally. I'm also very happy for the sponsors Total and Michelin with 11 wins in the season and also for Manfred, Illka and Team OMV for third place, it's also very important. I'm very happy for the second place for Risto and Harri and Mitsubishi, because it's also very important for them and I'm very disappointed for Colin and Skoda, I know this was also a very important event for them. They came very close to a good result and I know that it's important for the future.
Q: You said you would think about the future of Francois within Citroen after the rally, what are your thoughts at the moment?
GF: It's difficult to say for the moment for Francois next season. We try to find a sponsor for 2006, because you know Citroen stops in 2006 and comes back in 2007. In 2006, Citroen develops the C4 and we need to find a solution with a sponsor, I hope for Kronos. I know it's very important for Francois and Sven. Also, I hope Manfred and Ilka will continue with Kronos.
Q: Francois, how much do you think this has helped your chances for next year? Do you think you will find it easier to win rallies now that you have won your first one?
FD: We have to wait and see what next year brings. There were some problems at the start of year, but the collaboration with Sven has worked very well. We have scored a lot of points and I have no regrets this weekend. I hope I can continue the relationship with Sven, it's working well. I'm still very young and I hope to continue what I have started with my first win here in Australia. The recce for this rally went very well, I didn't have any problems with the notes. If I can find a good car next year, then I don't see any reason not to continue (to win).
Q: Sven, do you feel that you are fully up to speed with Francois and the notes now?
SS: Yes. When I came in we only had to score points for Citroen in the Manufacturers' championship and we did that in Spain. This was the this first rally where we have been free.
Q: Are you feeling optimistic about next year? What do you think it is possible to achieve?
SS: We can still improve in a few areas, but it's going better and better -- I think it's looking good for the future.
Q: How about you Harri? Are you close to your deal for next year? You have achieved a lot with Mitsubishi this year...
HR: I can't say anything. Yes, I'm close to the deal for next year. I really hope I can continue with Mitsubishi. This year all of the time we go way up. Next year the rules are changing, I think we can make a good job. All this year we are almost like next year's car. We improve many things and now it's two months before Monte; the team is working very hard, and we know what we have to do. We have to build things, but everybody knows in the rally business this isn't always easy
Q: As a co-driver Risto, how safe do you feel on this rally? There are a lot of big trees, very close to the side of the road, as Sebastien Loeb found out...
RP: Yes, there are very high speed and trees near. When all is going well and if you can trust your driver you can have quite a confident feeling.
Q: Manfred, two podium finishes in a private car: do you think that will be enough to get you the possibility of a works drive next year? Or do you think it will be a privateer car again?
MS: It's hard to say, we have to ask that question of the team bosses. For sure, though, I am very happy that Citroen gave me a very good car and it all works perfectly and finally we have everything perfect for me. I'm very happy with the season.
Q: Guy, what do you think this says about the strengths of the Xsara as a private car? How many private Xsaras do you think we will see competing on the World Championship?
GF: We know that it's very important to give good car for the private teams. It's important for us to have a good result for Kronos and also with the other teams if they want to rent Xsara. We don't want to rent so many, we want to rent good cars and find a solution with good teams and try to have better result in 2006.
Q: Is it possible for a private car to win the championship?
GF: I think it's very difficult to answer that question. For sure we will try to give the best car to the teams, but it's very difficult to say it's possible to win the championship with a private team. It's not so easy, there are other teams. I know the other teams work very hard and they will have the new car, it will be very difficult.
Q: Could I ask you Manfred, Chris Atkinson pushed you very hard today were you controlling the gap or driving flat-out.
MS: I was flat, driving as quickly as possible. We checked the times yesterday evening and we know he is going to be very fast on the last two stages in the Mundaring area. He is very confident there. We expected this, but finally everything works okay for us.
Q: How surprised is Francois to win first rally on gravel rather than asphalt?
FD: I'm not especially surprised it came on gravel rather than asphalt. I've been on the podium before on gravel and come close. On asphalt events, Sebastien has been unbeatable. This time Sebastien went out and I was able to win
Q: Harri has it been a big advantage to run passive diffs? Is this a good start for next year?
HR: We have an active centre diff, but personally I like locked centre diff this weekend. Last two events we have small problem with the system and I not like it. I wanted more safety this weekend, in the future there won't be any problem.
2005 FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1st Toshi Arai and Tony Sircombe -- Subaru
Now for the final press conference of the FIA PWRC, we have the winning crew: Toshi Arai and Tony Sircombe joining us from the Subaru team, who have also won the FIA Production Cars World Rally Championship.*
Q: Did you feel any pressure before this rally? Who pushed you hardest?
TA: There was not so much big pressure for me. In Rally Japan there was bigger pressure for me. Here we were just checking the times from Nasser and Marcos. There wasn't so much pressure for me after Japan, when we are leading with quite a big gap. I knew then that I have to get this year. It was a good gap after the last rally, so it wasn't so bad. Everybody has pushed me this season, especially Marcos and Nasser and Xavier Pons.
Q: Has this year been harder than last season?
TA: Actually last year was quite the same, there were many good drivers last season. But this year has also been tough.
Q: Tony, how has Toshi developed as a driver in that time? In which areas has he improved most?
TS: From the word go, Toshi has had the ability to win rallies. From the first season we have been winning rallies. There was only mechanical issues in the last four years which have stopped us winning. Toshi has become much more consistent. Look at this year, we have four victories and a second. A small mechanical problem in Cyprus put us down to seventh.
Q: What makes the partnership between you and Toshi so successful?
TS: I don't know what makes the partnership. It just gells. We work well together in the car. He's a very competitive person, there's no room for error, so it makes everybody lift their game
Q: Do you think you will be returning to defend your title next year? What is the latest Group N Impreza like?
TA: Yeah, but I can't say anything. I don't know about the new car, but it seems quite good.
Q: It was a good fight with Mark Higgins. Do you think you had the measure of him?
TS: Our strategy going into this rally was not to try and win the rally. We wanted to go fast enough to keep our concentration, but not to take any risks. We knew we could finish and the worst case scenario was if Marcos Ligato won then we had to finish sixth. We went into day one driving comfortably and we could see the speed was close to the top. On day two, we were only seven seconds down on Mark Higgins.
Q: How concerned were you about punctures?
TS: Bunnings is a bit of an unforgiving place for punctures, especially if you're in a Production Car with no mousse. We thought if we got a puncture then we could drop back a little bit. Nasser was in sixth and Marcos already out.
Q: Toshi, is the Production Car championship a good way for drivers to progress to WRC?
TA: I think so yes. Now the cars are very close, the World Rally Car is turbo and four-wheel-drive and the Group N car is like this, more powerful and closer.