FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLYE RACC CATALUNYA-COSTA DAURADA/RALLYE DE ESPANA FIA Pre-event Press Conference 23.03.2006 Present: Barry Clark Brice Tirabassi Mikko Hirvonen -- BP Ford World Rally Team Stephane Sarrazin -- Subaru World Rally...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLYE RACC CATALUNYA-COSTA DAURADA/RALLYE DE ESPANA
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Mikko Hirvonen -- BP Ford World Rally Team
Stephane Sarrazin -- Subaru World Rally Team
Gilles Panizzi -- Red Bull-Skoda Team
Mario Isola -- Pirelli
Sebastien Loeb -- Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala -- Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Barry, you're new to the Championship this year. What's your programme for this season and what do you hope to achieve from it?
BC: We've a fantastic programme from Stobarts. We're doing the British Rally Championship in a Fiesta Super 1600 and six rounds of the Fiesta International series in an ST. The aim in the World Rally Championship and in the ST is to gain more experience. This is a fantastic platform for me to learn new events and new stages. Hopefully we can move on from there. This gives us 11 rallies this year. Rally GB clashes with the International and the national series, we have to look at which championship is working out best. I hope we can get out on some other rallies, the more miles under the belt the better. It's all about seat time.
Q: Brice, welcome back. You did the Production Car World Rally Championship last year: why did you decide to come back to the JWRC?
BT: My return to JWRC started with a call from Citroen at the start of the year. They made the suggestion that I come back. I was delighted to accept and I'm happy to be here starting the season in Spain.
Q: It's the first round of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy. What's the idea behind the Championship? What are the cars like to drive?
BC: The Fiesta ST Championship has been launched to give new drivers an affordable way to compete at the highest level. The cars are cheap to run and fantastic fun. It gives us the chance to run at the same level on the same stages as the WRC. Then there are the domestic championships, like we have in Britain. The pinnacle is the International Sporting Trophy.
Q: As a former JWRC champion do you feel a bit of pressure? How likely are you to defend your title this year and do you think the opposition will be stronger or weaker than the year when you won the title in 2004?
BT: I have no particular pressure. I have good experience of the events and the championship. My times testing the Citroen show the car is good. Most important is to consistently score points -- that's my aim for this year. Two years have passed since I drove. The cars have evolved and there's a good level of competition. I am expecting the key rivals to come from my team.
Q: How much preparation have you had for this event? What do you think the level of competition will be like on the Fiesta Sporting Trophy?
BC: We were out last weekend on a national rally in Scotland with the ST. We took first two-wheel-drive and sixth overall. Today at shakedown, we set fastest Fiesta time, so it's all been very encouraging so far. I've been out practising the notes with Scott (Martin, co-driver). That's about it.
Q: How about you Brice? Who do you think will be the strongest competitors in the JWRC this year?
BT: My first objective is to consistently score points. I want to be on the podium and maybe towards the end of the year, when I have had more time in the car, I will look at the idea of winning rallies.
Q: Mikko, welcome. You've just come back from an asphalt test in preparation for this event, how did it go? How much running did you do and are you ready for this rally now?
MH: It went well. As always we had a good test. The car was very good from the beginning of the test. We made a few small changes and now we're ready for the rally. We did many kilometres, but unfortunately none on wet Tarmac. I'm sure we will be fine. I'm confident, no problems.
Q: Stephane, you've had some slightly unusual preparation for this event -- at Sebring driving a GT car. Can you compare driving a racing car on a circuit like that to driving a rally car in Spain? What if anything do the two things have in common?
SS: Yes, hello. At Sebring we did a good result, but this morning, the first run at shakedown was a bit strange for me. I have a good feeling with the car. Before Sebring, I went and did a test -- it was not bad. It's so different between race and rally; very, very different, the road, the car, the engine, the braking. Because I run the week before in a Subaru, it was less difficult for me today. I needed a bit more time to be on the pace. This morning, at the start, I was braking too early -- but towards the end, on the fourth run, it was good.
Q: Mikko, Catalunya was the scene of your first podium last year, after a brilliant fight with Xevi Pons on the final stage. How strong do you think your chances are of finishing on the podium again? How well do you think the 2006 Focus is suited to asphalt?
MH: Well, for sure, I will try. This year the competition is different to last year, and we have a new car which is very fast. I have a chance to be at the top, it's up to me. The car is almost made for asphalt, I hope at least. It looks very good. Of course, there are some small things to improve and maybe make it faster. The car is quite easy to drive. We have strong team and a strong, fast car for this event.
Q: You've also been testing on asphalt with the rally car -- how did that test go? Do you think that the Subaru is in a position now to be as strong on asphalt as it is on gravel? How much is the 2006-spec Impreza an improvement over the 2005 car on this surface?
SS: We see tomorrow morning. We did a few days of testing and improved the car and the tyres. Pirelli will push a lot. I need to confirm the test, but I was really happy with the endurance test. I don't know if we can fight with the top guys, but I will try. The advantage? I don't know. Now the mechanical differential means it's more fun to drive, more sliding. We improve the engine, the balance, but you cannot change everything. It's good for the driver, very easy to drive. We did some wet Monte stages, but we need to see on the high-grip stages here.
Q: Mexico was ultimately disappointing for you but you showed some very good speed. Do you think that this new Ford Focus has the pace to beat the Citroen on asphalt? Can you pull off a big surprise here?
MH: I will try, that's no doubt. Citroen is always really fast on Tarmac, but it's not just Citroen, either. It will be a really tight fight. Yeah, I will be the biggest surprise of this rally!
Q: There are a couple of new stages this year and also some stages that are run in the opposite direction to last year. How much of a challenge do they present and are these stages enjoyable to drive?
SS: We have some new stages: they're quite narrow, twisty and dirty. They will be interesting. The rest of the stages are similar to last year and we have notes. Unfortunately last year we crashed quite early, but we still did the third day, so I'm quite confident for this year.
Q: Gilles, back on asphalt now: your favoured surface. In Monte Carlo you had problems that meant we could not see your full potential with the car -- do you think that here you will stand a better chance of showing what you are capable of?
GP: For sure, I hope. I discover the car in Monte Carlo, the week before. It was all very late to prepare for the rally. For me it is the same scenario here, we have one day test before the recce. For me it's not easy to look for the right set-up. I do the maximum and the team also.
Q: Pirelli recently completed a tyre test on roads near the old Sanremo Rally -- what work did you carry out and what did you learn? Were the conditions representative of the roads here?
MI: We learn a lot. We did 10 days of test, both with our car and the Subaru. We found a good, new construction. I hope we will see it during this rally. The drivers were happy. At the moment the conditions are the same as the test. If it gets much hotter during the weekend, then it could be something we haven't tested. At the moment, it's good for us.
Q: The Skoda Fabia has never been on the podium -- what do you think of the car? What are its biggest strengths and is it good enough to finish in the top three?
GP: If you look at Duval's time this morning, he was fastest. If you do that, you win. For me, I don't know. We have to discover the car, we do leg one and look to see if we can stay with the first drivers. What's the strength, what do I like? The colour of the car...! You know, it's difficult. The car is nice, but it's difficult to say. I just drove three cars: the 206, Mitsubishi and Fabia, which is maybe like the 206.
Q: A key factor in this rally is always the weather. What sort of weather conditions are you expecting over the next three days? What sort of effect do you think this will have on tyre choices and the outcome of the rally?
MI: Right now it's difficult. As everybody knows, the rally moved from October to March for this year. We expect it to be a little bit colder this time. It's hard to say if it will be raining or not, as the stages are in the mountains. It's difficult to know what to expect. It can have a huge effect. Our choice of tyre can influence the result of the rally: a huge effect.
Q: The first time that we see the 2006-specification cars with mechanical differentials on asphalt. Is there a big difference driving these cars on asphalt, compared to cars with active differentials?
GP: For me it's not a big change to compare with last year. Last year I drove a car with passive diffs at the front and rear. For me, it's okay. Today, I think we have to reduce everything. The World Rally Car is too expensive for everybody. To reduce all the electrical system would be nice and spectacular; it could mean more cars in the rally as well. When we find a good mapping, it's all about finding a good mapping.
Q: We heard earlier from Stephane Sarrazin, who is helping Pirelli's tyre development programme this year. What role does Stephane play, and how has he contributed to tyre development this year?
MI: Stephane is, let me say, Pirelli's test driver; he helps develop the tyres. He is testing Subaru and Pirelli. He is providing us with information. He has a hard job this year; he's driving on some circuits as well. He has very good experience on Tarmac and he does performance tests, endurance tests, then he's testing new tyres, development tyres. It's a hard job for him.
Q: Seb, welcome to Spain. You start the first of two asphalt rounds leading the Championship. Do you think that this is one of your best opportunities to take some points away from everybody else?
SL: I will try, but, yes sure, the last season asphalt was really good for us. Me, the car and the tyre all worked well. This year, it's difficult; Marcus has a new Focus which is really fast. He has the same tyre and Pirelli are a bit different, I don't know if they will fight for the victory -- it will be a big battle though.
Q: You were last out in a Ford Focus two years ago. How has the car changed since then -- what do you think of this latest customer version? What are the biggest differences compared to the last Ford Focus you drove?
JML: Well this morning, on my first time on the shakedown road, I was a little bit scared. The car was incredibly fast. My hands were shaking for half-an-hour afterwards, trying to get used to the speed. There has been a big development on the car after 2003, when I drove the 2002 car. This car is from another planet. I did some driving this morning, but the more kilometres I can do the better. This car is basically made for the racing circuit: all the weight is down. It has more power in the engine, the suspension is working and the car is very low. It can go so much faster through the corners and it stays on the road better and has more engine power. The biggest difference, though, is the launch control. It pulls to 100kph so fast; it's really incredible.
Q: The Xsara has traditionally been the dominant car on asphalt. Do you think it is still the fastest car on this surface, or have other cars like the Ford closed the gap? Which driver do you fear most on asphalt?
SL: Yes, especially with Marcus now in the Ford. We know the Ford is a good car. The old version was still good and with Duval and Markko Martin was really fast. They will be really good, it will be difficult for us. It's always Marcus and Petter, but we saw in a few rallies, Hirvonen was going fast, he led here last year.
Q: How much experience do you have of driving on asphalt? Is it a surface that you like? What are your objectives on this event and is your priority to get to the finish or to set fast times?
JML: I did some stages in 2003, and as well as that I have done some Tarmac on the British Championship rallies. In Germany, I drove a Focus '02 car. Since then I have been driving Group N cars on the Tarmac. I've driven Corsica and Germany as well. My experience of World Rally Cars on Tarmac is not much, which is the reason why need to increase experience. That's why it's good to drive the Stobart car here. At first, the point is to get to the finish, get the experience and see how fast we can go. Then in Corsica we can increase the speed a little, but I'm working on Germany. I have been there twice already, I like that event -- maybe this is the round where I can try to go faster.
Q: Why do you enjoy this rally so much, Seb?
SL: The roads are really wide: a bit like a circuit. You need the good line, a lot of the time the surface is really clean; very different from other rallies. As well as that, there are a lot of spectators, the fans are everywhere. The feeling from here is very good; it's nice to drive here.
Q: Seb, you recently drove the new Citroen C4 WRC at the Stade de France in Paris. How is development of this car doing? What are your thoughts on it so far and which areas are you worklng on at the moment? When do you think you will be testing the new car next?
SL: Next time I will drive it is next week. We will continue the work then. The feeling is good. For me it was difficult at the start; the seating position, everything is different. We are sitting more in the rear of the car, it was a bit strange. We have good settings on gravel, but on Tarmac, I only drove for one day, so I don't have much experience. I will try again next week.
Q: What is your programme for this year Jari? Why have you selected these particular events?
JML: I am doing the Production Car WRC. We have already done Mexico and Monaco. Our experience wasn't so good so far. We retired early in Monaco and then with technical problems in Mexico. We have some work to do before we are out in Argentina next, after that we have Greece, Japan and New Zealand in our Production Car programme.