FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY RACC CATALUNYA COSTA DAURADA -- RALLY DE ESPANA 10.04.2007 Present: Daniel Sordo - Citroen Total World Rally Team Jari-Matti Latvala - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY RACC CATALUNYA COSTA DAURADA -- RALLY DE ESPANA
Daniel Sordo - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson - Subaru World Rally Team
Shaun Gallagher - FIA Junior Rally Championship
Martin Prokop - FIA Junior Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Hello Dani. Your home event: how does it feel for you competing in front of all your fans? Does it give you something extra? How well do you know these stages? You will obviously be a strong contender for the podium here, but do you think you will be able to challenge for your first win this weekend?
DS: The feeling is good. In the shakedown there were a lot of spectators, which is nice. The stages are also very nice. Some stages have new tarmac and I like the new stage. The feeling is well at the moment. I have the same experience as everyone. My home is five hours from here, so it's only special because it's in Spain. The stage is the same for us all, but I like this type of circuit-type road. It's important to win, important for Sebastien (Loeb) to win and to beat Marcus. I will try, but it's important to finish the rally and in a good position for the Championship and for Sebastien.
Q: Marcus, it's a crucial time of the year for you. Last year you were quicker than Sebastien Loeb before you had a problem with the turbo; do you think you can beat him on pace again? Does the fact that this is your last year give you an extra motivation now? Of all the asphalt rallies still to come, is this one your strongest do you think? You've done some asphalt driving practice with an instructor in England: what did you learn?
MG: I have no idea if I can beat Sebastien; it's a new year and a different year. He has a new car. We will see tomorrow. Hopefully, in three days, the gap will be in our favour this time. I feel exactly the same as before. I'm not thinking about this being the last time. I just want to go out and see what I can do, see if we can fight for the win. No, I think Ireland is my strongest tarmac event to come... It's difficult in a short time (with the instructor), maybe it's more for the circuit, but everything I learn is positive. We will see. We will see.
Q: Chris, you showed a lot of potential in Germany. How comfortable do you feel with this car on asphalt? Have you made any changes here during the pre-event test? If so, what are they? How competitive a package do you think you will have here? What are your thoughts about driving on asphalt: do you prefer it to gravel now? It seems strange, as there aren't exactly loads of asphalt rounds back home in Australia.
CA: The pace in Germany was good, but we were taking risks to do those times. It would be nice to win some stages here, like we did in Germany, but we'll have to see how it goes. These guys will be fighting. We did some fine turning at the last test with the car and before that, at the test before Germany, we did more development for this surface. We've made some improvements. The car was looking faster than it was in Germany, at the pre-Spain test. If that's true, this will be a good event. It is small things, not big steps. We're looking for tenths here and there and making the car faster in the mid-corner. We had the quick stuff well sorted in Germany, but now we're trying to make the slow corners flow a little bit better. That's what we did in the test. I'd never done a tarmac rally before I came to the WRC. Now I've done something like 10 tarmac rallies, you never know where the results will come; maybe on tarmac rather than on gravel.
Q: Hello Jari-Matti. After finishing eighth in Germany, do you think you can improve on your pace here? You had a problem here last year when you ended up on top of a barrier, but do you like this event still? How are you going to approach this rally?
J-ML: Germany wasn't an easy rally for me. I can say I'm better on gravel than tarmac. I'm trying to learn more and improve myself on tarmac. Before I came here I did some training with one of the best touring car drivers in Finland. I want to take some of those ideas and improve my driving on the stages here. The main things are in the braking: I have been too aggressive and turning-in to the corner too sharp. This is too hard for the tyres. In Germany we destroyed our tyres in the long stages and lost two minutes. I need to be a smooth asphalt driver. I like this event, these fast tarmac roads. I have always enjoyed tarmac when it's fast and dry. I hope the weather stays dry. If that's the case we have a good chance for a result, but we do have bad memories of last time. I hope I have learned a lesson from crashing here last season.
Q: The route is largely the same this year but there are a couple of changes with one completely new stage and also another stage, which is the shakedown, run backwards. What do you think of them? The Catalunya Rally is back in autumn now: do you prefer it at this time of year or the spring date we had last season? What are the main differences between these two dates in terms of driving conditions?
DS: The small new stage I don't like, it's the same as shakedown: bumpy, slippery with water. The other new stage I like, it's like a circuit. It's difficult. Tomorrow, it should rain a little bit which is not easy for the drivers in this fast road. It's also not good for the spectators. Sometimes it's nice to drive in the slippery stuff, but I prefer the good weather.
Q: You're 10 points ahead of Sebastien in the title race. How many risks are you willing to take to win here? If you see that he is quicker than you, how hard are you going to push to finish in front of him? Will it be okay to finish second? Now that the Championship is coming to a crucial phase, how much help can you expect from your team-mate Mikko Hirvonen?
MG: It's not so much, the 10 points; it's not enough. I will start and do my best and, of course, take no stupid risks. Then we will see how the rally develops. If I have the chance to win then I will take the risk, because I'm not here to be second or third. It is, however, also quite nice to be second or third... I hope, because Citroen has brought in all drivers available, he (Mikko Hirvonen) can help me also.
Q: Your future at Subaru is settled and you've beaten your team-mate over the last few rallies. How much confidence does this give you? Would you say that you've been driving better now than you've ever been? Who do you think you can take the fight to here?
CA: It's good for confidence, but every rally is the same: you want to be fastest down that bit of road. Nothing has changed with my strategy. I'm still coming to every rally and trying as hard as possible. I think I'm driving pretty well and the car development is suiting my style. On top of that, I'm learning what I want from the car. Now this is happening, I'm getting quicker and quicker. I had the pace for the podium in Germany, if we're close to these guys, I'll be happy. We had a one-day test to fine-tune the car, hopefully that's enough, but these are tricky roads and you need good confidence to set a fastest time.
Q: Jari, there's a lot of speculation that you might be taking Marcus Gronholm's place in the Ford factory team next year. Do you think you would be ready for a role like this? How much do you think you still have to learn about competing at the top level?
J-ML: Personally, I would say from a young boy, like four years old, I have always dreamt of being a manufacturer driver. I have worked so hard to make this come true. I think I'm ready, but I know I need to improve the driving, particularly the asphalt driving. When manufacturer drivers are competing, they need to make the team some points. I guess there would be more testing for a manufacturer driver, which would help. I hope so, I guess we'll see. I will try to do my job as well as possible and see what it brings. If it doesn't bring me what I would like then we have to see for others.
FIA JUNIOR RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Shaun, this is your last rally of the year and you're leading the Junior Rookie classification. What's your plan here? Generally speaking, do you feel more confident on asphalt events like this than you do on gravel? How close is the C2 title race going to be?
SG: Yes, three very important points for the classification. We have to get to the finish; it's going to be quite difficult with a lot of gravel on the slow corners. It'll be difficult for a driver, you can get caught out so easily on the small roads. If you're unlucky you could do some damage, retire and lose everything. I prefer gravel, I suppose. My background is mostly tarmac rallying, but yes, it's much of a muchness. I'll tell you about the C2 on Sunday evening! If it rains, it'll be even more difficult, but I'm pretty confident we can keep it together. Ski Brown Cars have done a great job all year for me.
Q: Martin, this event holds good memories for you as it was the scene of your first Junior victory last year. How highly do you rate your chances of doing it again? Is this a favourite event of yours? What about the other rallies coming up?
MP: I like this rally very much, it's good for me. Last year it was a class win, so, for me it's good I would like to try to go fast this year, but it won't be as easy as last year. Kris Meeke made a mistake early last year, so I only had to hold my position. This year I think there will be more fast drivers. It's my favourite rally of the year. I like all tarmac rallies, it's good. It's a good time yes, but we have to try to push for the maximum, our situation in the Championship is not so well. We have to push, to do our best to make some good positions before the end of the Championship.
Q: We've seen a bit of variation here in the weather over the last few days. What are you expecting during the rally and how does it affect your strategy? How difficult is the tyre choice here for a two-wheel drive car? What about the driving style - is it very different to any other asphalt rally?
SG: I'm prepared for the worst, for rain. That's what we didn't order, but it's what we're getting. We'll have to treat it as it comes. The tyre choice is very difficult, almost impossible to get the right decision because it changes so quickly. Communication can be difficult to make this choice, but that's rallying isn't it. It's a little bit like on gravel, with the slippery corners, so you're going to be left-foot braking through those corners trying to keep the car on the road.
Q: The battle for the top two of the Championship is very close, but what are your hopes: do you think you can end up in the top three? How tough a task will that be? How much do you feel that you have improved as a driver over the last year?
MP: Now it's not possible to win the Championship as with only four points he (Aava) will be the Champion. For second, we need some luck, but it's possible to be third. This year has been very good for me. The car is much faster and I am faster also in every race. All of my team has improved. Everything is better for me this season.
Q: Have you already formulated any plans for next year Shaun, given that this is your last event of the year? Are you thinking of the Junior Championship again or something else? Any ideas about which car you might drive?
SG: Yes, I hope we can do Juniors again -- hopefully in a Super 1600. We've a few things going on at the moment; we'll have to see what happens after that.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK)
Q: Marcus, you didn't deny last night that you had driven a raid car. Have you?
MG: No. I didn't deny it, but I don't know what I'll do (next year).