Present: Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Armindo Araujo, FIA Production Car World Rally ...
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team
Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Armindo Araujo, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Mark Tapper, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: The last time we were in Australia you took the win, the first win of your career, but the stages here are very different from those in Western Australia. Are there any other events you can compare them too?
MH: Yeah it is very different. And me winning here last time, I don't think it's going to help me at all really. Okay, good memories, but it's a new rally. So we'll see; it's completely different as well. We'll see how it goes on Friday.
Q: There are 35 stages here, the highest number of stages on an event this year. Instead of groups of three stages we have groups of up to seven; what extra challenge does that add?
MH: I think it's going to be okay, I'm not worried that there are so many different stages. There are not so many kilometres, but lots of short stages so I think the difference is between drivers and it can be quite small so I think even a small mistake can cost quite a lot. So there's no room for any small mistakes.
Q: And there's no room for any mistakes for either you or Sebastien in the Championship at the moment.
MH: No it's only three points difference and three rallies to go, so if it's zero points for me or Sebastien, it's virtually championship over. For sure there's no room for that. We still need to go flat out and we still need to fight, so it's going to be another exciting weekend.
Q: The title fight is the closest since you battled with Gronholm in 2007, is it enjoyable?
SL: Yeah for sure it's much more exciting when you have to fight for the Championship and we are only three from the end. We don't know who will win. In 2006 I won without doing the last four rallies, it was a very different situation.
Q: Sebastien, a brand new event for everyone, what is your opinion of the stages here?
SL: There are also some very different stages. We have to find the right set-up for that.
Q: It's been your first season in a WRC car. The first half of the season there were a few ups and downs, but you have been delivering consistent performances during the second half - a podium in Greece and just missing out in Poland. Are you pleased with your performance to date?
SO: Yeah for sure it is getting better and better. The start of the year was hard, but now it starts to be good and I hope to continue in this way.
Q: Will we now see you on the remaining rallies this year?
SO: For me I will do all the season, it is perfect for me.
Q: For you as a driver, who do you compare your times against in the WRC to know that you are improving?
SO: I compare myself with Henning (Solberg), and his brother (Petter Solberg). So when I start the rally here I will try and match my times with Henning.
Q: Do you think these stages will suit you?
SO: As Sebastien said, there are some different stages. But mostly there are faster stages, high speed, I think. The rally will be on smooth roads that are very narrow and twisty. We will see.
Q: Henning, the last time you competed in Australia it didn't end well, an accident in Perth meant you could not complete the rally. Hopefully we won't see a repeat performance here?
HS: I'd compare these roads with New Zealand and I have done quite well there. If I can get the set-up as it was last year, then I will be happy.
Q: You currently lie fifth overall in the Championship and we have seen you on the podium -- has this been one of your best years?
HS: It has been one of my best years. Cyprus, Greece and Finland were very good for me; I hope we can replicate it this weekend.
Q: You are the only Solberg competing this weekend as Petter elected not to come to Australia -- you going to miss him?
HS: Yeah I miss him -- as my brother. This will be my first rally without him this year.
Q: It is of course good for you in terms of the Championship?
HS: He will be very strong in the last two rounds of the Championship.
Q: The two last rallies of course, everybody is wondering what car he will be in. Has he told his brother what car he'll be driving in Spain and GB?
HS: All that I can say is that he will be driving a car that has a French built rally engine.
Q: A French-built rally engine... which both the Ford and Citroen have? Thank you for that insight Henning...
Q: Mikko, you are first on the road here; will that be difficult on day one from what you have seen on the recce?
MH: It's going to be quite difficult tomorrow, especially if it stays dry. On some of Friday's stages there is a lot of loose gravel. It's going to be a bit of a disadvantage, I don't know how much better it's going to be for Sebastien behind me, but for some of the guys further down it could be pretty fast. But, we'll see on Friday.
Q: We hear it may rain tomorrow, how much would that benefit you?
MH: For sure it might help a bit, so I will be dancing tonight to get the rain happening!
Q: What is going to be your approach then? Are you going to be cautious at all?
MH: I can't really be too cautious otherwise Sebastien will definitely run away from the start. So I will try and find a good rhythm, like I had in Finland, and hopefully we will have a good fight again. For sure it would help me out if I could get more points that Sebastien, but okay, it wouldn't be the end of the world because there are still two rallies left, though it would be a lot more difficult (to win the Championship).
Q: We haven't seen you on the top step of the podium since Argentina -- which for you is highly unusual. How keen are you to change that statistic here?
SL: I won a go-kart race! I know it will be tough again. I know that it will be very very fast, so we will see. We will try our best; it is difficult to know who will be able to have a good rally.
Q: You have spent the majority of the year as the first car on the road and as a result unable to use tactics to achieve a good road position for day two. Is this an event where tactics could be played in that way and will you be using them to your advantage?
SL: I think it's too early to know. In Finland we didn't use tactics, we just tried to go as fast as possible. I think if I can take the lead, I will take it. But it's not always good to use tactics because if the leader tries to go flat out and keep his lead then he can usually keep his lead to the end. Maybe that is the best solution.
Q: Sebastien Ogier, long days have been described with lots of stages, have you recovered from the jet-lag and are you ready for this long weekend?
SO: No not really. We have a long journey and we start very early. Sure it will be difficult for everybody. I try to do a lot of sport before the rally but not much this time, so we will see.
Q: What will be your approach on Day One? How are you going to start?
SO: As usual I will try to start prudently and try to keep confidence and then try to push more.
Q: You're confirmed for Spain and GB, as you said, but what about next year? This is the time that drivers are talking to teams for the next season. What about yourself?
SO: For the moment nothing is sure but for myself I want to continue with Citroen, but nothing is sure.
Q: Henning, what are your thoughts on where you could be this weekend? Is a podium realistic do you think?
HS: Yeah I can be on the podium for every gravel event. I will try for a podium, I will always try.
Q: What are your thoughts on the stages? It seemed to be quite dusty out there at shakedown.
HS: Yeah I said the same after the recce. In the forests it's going to be dangerous. The dust stays in the air. We don't want to have the same thing that happened in Sardinia. There should be three minute gaps.
Q: What about the future for Henning Solberg? Will we see you compete in the WRC next year and with what team?
HS: Yeah I hope so! I feel younger and younger every year, and faster and faster. So I hope I can stay for a few more years, yes.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: You now lead the PWRC after the news that Nasser Al Attiyah has been disqualified from Greece. That's under appeal but it puts you into the lead of the PWRC. You weren't supposed to be in Australia, but you are here under a new entry.
AA: Yes, it's good I'm here. After Greece, Nasser was excluded. Of course, we are awaiting the appeal but at the moment we are in front in the Championship by six points. Since the beginning of the year our target was coming to Australia, because it's a new event and it's good for me. But some months ago, more or less our sponsor decided to support our rally here in Australia and it's possible to come. We are here in a good position to take points here and it will be my sixth event. I am very confident; of course I want to win the Championship. I will do my best.
Q: You want to win the Championship but you don't know now, I suppose, whether you will win the Championship until we hear that appeal with Nasser.
AA: Okay, we need to wait for the decision. Now my job at the moment is finishing in first place here.
Q: What have you thought of the stages, all 35 of them? It's the most we've had at an event this year.
AA: I think it will be a sprint rally, the stages are very fast in the second and third days. In the first day they are more tight and narrow. But I think during the Monday shakedown test we did very good work. I am very confident.
Q: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge out there this weekend? You say it's going to be a sprint, we've got drivers saying it's very much like New Zealand; in places very fast then some days it's very slow.
AA: I think it will be fast the whole weekend but in places you have to be very careful because it is very easy to make a small mistake and one small mistake makes problems. My target is to find a good speed and don't commit any kind of mistakes.
Q: Mark, it's been a busy year for you, competing in the PWRC and Pirelli Star Driver programme. What have you thought of your year in 2009?
MT: It's certainly been a thrilling year. There have been certain frustrations along the way but it's been a once in a lifetime opportunity and I've really enjoyed every minute of it.
Q: There have been some ups and downs and you have been injured as well. That shoulder injury and wrist have been quite nasty. You've driven with it though, fully repaired or not?
MT: It's definitely not 100% but it's getting better every day. We did a rally at home in New Zealand a week or so ago and we did 220 kilometres in one day back in a right-hand drive car. I hadn't driven a right hand drive since the injury and we had no problems. It gets a little bit sore at the end of the day but then goes away.
Q: You are a New Zealander so you can tell us whether the roads here are similar to over there or not.
MT: Yeah they do have some similarities, certainly in some of the slower stages, except we don't have the camber aspect like at home. So it makes it a little bit slower and a little bit harder. There's certainly a lot more off-camber corners than you get at home in New Zealand. But yes, the roads do have some similarities and I'm looking forward to it.
Q: In the PWRC event we're used to making three stages then a service, at the most four. Here we have seven stages then a service. Is it difficult to keep focus and visualise the stages ahead in your mind?
MT: I don't think it's so hard; a lot of the stages here are reasonably short. I'm used to longer stages so that's not going to be such a problem. The key being away from service for so long will be keeping your fluids and food, looking after yourself, looking after your body. Keeping your mind on the job is going to be very important.
Q: Obviously jet lag has been something you've had to live with, but not so here.
MT: I've actually tried to keep on New Zealand time here in Australia because of the early starts, so that will keep me a couple of hours ahead. It won't be so bad waking up early.
Q: We have the Pirelli Star Driver shoot out for the Asia-Pacific region here. Have you been giving any advice to the guys?
MT: Yeah certainly, I've been looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a huge intense battle tomorrow between only two or three of them really but they are going to fight it out hammer and tongs and I'll be very interested to see who comes out on top. We've got another Kiwi in there and it would be great to see young Hayden Paddon wearing these colours next year -- two Kiwis in two years.
Q: It's been a good experience for you this year being with the Pirelli Star Driver programme?
MT: Yeah, we've got two more events -- two very famous events and I'm certainly looking forward to the challenge of the tarmac. Spain is our next event and then GB is the last event and hopefully we don't have any problems and there's a chance we could maybe get three good results at the end of the year and hopefully put something together for next year.
Q: That was going to be my next question, what is the future for Mark Tapper?
MT: We're out there looking and working hard on it but I need to get some results to be able to get the backing, so that's what this weekend and the next two rallies are about.
Q: Armindo, if you could win the Championship, what would it mean for you for finding a drive for next year? How would winning help you in 2010?
AA: Of course if I win the Championship it would be good for my sponsors and for Portugal. At the moment I don't know what it is possible to do next year, I don't have any kind of plans. First I want to finish this Championship and see if it is possible to win or not. After that I will decide what will be the best for me.
Q: If you finish fourth here, is it still possible for you to win the Championship?
AA: Yes, if Brynildsen doesn't finish in first place in the next two rallies.
Q: Strong competition here though, local drivers and a strong field of normal PWRC drivers as well. It's going to be tough to make it up to the top.
AA: Yes, I think it will be very tough because a lot of drivers are very very fast. It will be very hard for me to finish on the podium. I will try.