Present: Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Francois Duval, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team Dani Sordo, Citroen Total World Rally Team Aaron Burkart, FIA Junior World Rally ...
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Francois Duval, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team
Dani Sordo, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Aaron Burkart, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Kevin Abbring, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: We see a new evolution of the Ford Focus RS here in Germany Mikko. You tested it last week, how did it go?
MH: It was okay, the test went well. The changes are very small. There are some new components in the engine and some changes in the weight distribution, but the rest is pretty much the same.
Q: You were locked in a battle with Sebastien (Loeb) in Finland, and were pretty much in a rally by yourselves. Malcolm Wilson commented that he thought you had moved up a notch in terms of your performance -- did you feel that?
MH: It was a big fight indeed. In some places we were definitely faster than last year. I have to get used to such fights when I want to be Champion one year -- maybe even this year.
Q: You have yet to score a win on Tarmac; with Sebastien winning every event here since 2002 do you think it's time you had a bit of a look in now?
MH: Sebastien has won since 2002, but it has to stop some year, and maybe we can stop him from winning this year.
Q: You have safety crews this weekend and on all Tarmac events this season, giving you the latest information about the conditions in the stages. With such changeable conditions here, how important is that information to you?
MH: It is very important, especially in Germany where conditions can changes really fast. When it rains, you have a lot of surface changes. There is talk about safety crews being abandoned for next year, but I really hope they don't do it. Abandoning them is not saving you a lot of money, only a few hotel nights. It is an important thing in terms of safety. Look at Formula One: when it rains, the safety car is out immediately and we have nothing. I think the safety crews are important.
Q: With the Drivers' and the Manufacturers' Championships incredibly close, this could be a crucial weekend for Ford if they want to stay ahead; do you feel the pressure?
MH: Actually, all the remaining rallies are very important now and we have to fight and do as well as we can. With three Tarmac rallies and three gravel rallies, anything is possible.
Q: You are back with the Stobart team for Germany in a 2007 Ford Focus RS. You also tested last week -- how did it go? Do you feel happy with the car?
FD: I have been out for seven months, which is quite a long time. I only had one day of testing on Saturday and that was quite okay. The car is doing well. It is difficult to get back into the car and be competitive. This morning, it was the first time in the car in wet conditions and the Pirelli tyres are new as well, so it is quite difficult.
Q: You have an impressive record on this event, having been second three times previously, and you have been Loeb's closest rival at this event finishing just 20 seconds behind him last year. Do you think you can win here or will Loeb still be too hard to beat?
FD: This weekend, it is a bad situation for me as I am starting 11th. There is a lot of mud in every corner when it rains tomorrow, so it will be difficult.
Q: You come back to the Stobart team for the remaining Tarmac rounds on the calendar -- great for you to be back but I'm sure you would prefer a full time drive in the WRC. Is there any possibility of that for next year?
FD: No, not yet. At the moment, the plan is that I will only be doing the Tarmac rallies with my new sponsor, but after Corsica, I will try to do the Rally Great Britain as well, and then we will look at the situation.
Q: New car and new tyres for this event, and a lot to learn for the team ahead of another two Tarmac rounds in the second half of the season. This is a big event for you then?
PS: Yes, it is, but every weekend is very important for us. We have had two days of testing before this rally and made a lot of changes to make the car faster. Now, we have to see if the car is fast enough. There is still work to do. Shakedown went well, we didn't have any problems.
Q: Everyone wants to see the Subaru World Rally Team back to winning ways. Do you think that winning is achievable before the end of the year with the new car, from what you have seen of its performance so far?
PS: There is some more development that needs to be done. Everybody in the team knows that and is very open about it. We are trying hard, we are pushing when we are driving, but we still need to do more work. We have to get more consistency during the rally and throughout the rally. The team have done a good job with the dampers.
Q: You have the Pirelli PZero tyre for this event in a choice of two compounds, but of course you are not allowed to cut them. If the weather is wet as predicted how tricky is it going to be on the stages?
PS: If it is full rain, you should have cut tyres, that is for sure. The tyres have been working well all year, but sometimes you just need cut tyres for safety reasons. It is not good to go off the road and maybe hit someone.
Q: What result do you expect here?
PS: We start the rally and take it from there, let's just wait and see.
Q: What is your impression of this year's rally?
PS: It is the best we have seen here in all these years, a little less on the military grounds is good.
Q: Dani we have seen a big improvement with your performance on gravel over the past season, and we know how quick you can be on Tarmac. But is there still more to come from you on this surface?
DS: I learn on every surface. I am happy to run on Tarmac.
Q: Sebastien has won every event here since 2002, Francois Duval is also here this weekend and he has an incredible record too. How tough is it going to be to even get onto the podium this weekend?
DS: Sebastien is always very fast, but here in particular. All the drivers will try to beat him, but it will be difficult.
Q: Could you see yourself fighting for a win here?
DS: Everything is possible, but it is not easy.
Q: You will be able to select from two choices of compound for the tyres this weekend; hard and soft. How difficult will it be to make the selection when the weather here is so changeable?
DS: The tyres are difficult for this event. When it is dry, it is no problem, but when it rains, you have a lot of mud on the road, which is a problem.
Q: In the Manufacturers' Championship, it is quite close. How much can you contribute as a second driver in the team?
DS: I will try to score points for the Championship. It is important to finish in the top three.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Over the past three years the Junior category has been won by a Citroen C2. Can you make it four in a row?
AB: Citroen has quite an impressive record here. I hope that we can make it onto the podium, that would be great. The competition is tough: Prokop and Ogier will be strong and the Suzuki drivers will improve on Tarmac.
Q: You beat Sebastien Ogier by 10 seconds on the ADAC Eiffel Rally last month, so that has to have boosted your confidence for this weekend?
AB: Yes, it was nice to beat him, but this is a new rally, a new game, and I am sure that he will be able to push more. But it will be a nice battle.
Q: Being your home event, is there any extra pressure with that?
AB: We got so many e-mails encouraging us and that gives us a good feeling.
Q: What was shakedown like for you?
AB: We had some questions with the tyres as well. We tried not to push too hard in order not to damage the car.
Q: And what about the weather?
AB: The forecast is changing every day. When it rains at Baumholder, it can be like ice. At some corners, you have got good grip and in other corners, it is totally slippery.
Q: You have scored two fourth positions and a third so far this season and you have already dropped a round, leaving you eight points behind Ogier in the standings. So, do you still feel in with a chance of the title?
AB: It is quite a strange situation for us. There are three rounds left for us, whereas others only have two rounds left. The Deutschland is my home rally. We will try to push hard and I hope we can survive. Catalunya has nice stages as well. There is not a lot of dirt on the roads there and you can keep the lines you have made up in your pace notes. That suits my driving style. But for this weekend, a podium finish would be great.
Q: You are the youngest Junior competing this year and you are part of the Dutch scholarship programme -- tell us bit about the 'talent first programme'.
KA: The KNAF, the Dutch Federation, wants to get some young people into the WRC and it is going well. After some selection days, the winners are allowed to start in rallycross and if you win that, you go on to the Dutch Mitsubishi Colt Cup, as I did last year. I won that, too, and now I am here.
Q: How did shakedown go for you?
KA: During shakedown I struggled a little bit with the hard compound tyre, but that is the same for everybody.
Q: What is your impression of this rally, based on what you have seen during the recce?
KA: The cutting (of corners) is very different here. If it rains, it will change a lot.
Q: At the last event in Finland you picked up your first points of the season -- that must have been a relief to get some points on the board?
KA: It was a relief, but scoring points wasn't really our goal for this year. Our intention is just to learn as much as we can, as it is only my second season of rallying.
Q: You broke your leg over the winter -- are you back to full fitness now? Does it give you any problems at all?
KA: With walking and some other things, it can be difficult, but driving is not a problem.
Q: What do you expect from this rally?
KA: A points' finish would be great, but we don't push too hard. Maybe we can score some points, but it doesn't really matter whether I come fourth, fifth or sixth.
Q: You already did the rally last year with a Group N car. Can you benefit from that experience, and from other experience in Tarmac rallies?
KA: Driving with a Group N car is completely different from what we have now, but knowing the stages is always good. We have also Tarmac rallies in Holland, but this one is completely different.