FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND 08/05/2007 Present: 1st - Marcus Gronholm -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 1st - Timo Rautiainen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 2nd - Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 2nd - Jarmo Lehtinen --...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND
1st - Marcus Gronholm -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st - Timo Rautiainen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Jarmo Lehtinen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd - Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
3rd - Daniel Elena -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson -- Team Principal, BP Ford World Rally Team
Welcome to the final FIA press conference.
Q: Marcus, congratulations on winning your seventh Rally Finland. How does it feel to be the only driver in the modern era of the WRC to have won an event so many times?
MG: Not too bad! Mikko says old, but it has been good. Since 2000 we have missed only one rally and that's not bad.
Q: This event marked the debut of the new evolution of the Ford Focus. Were you happy with the car?
MG: I would say perfect. We had absolutely no problem with it, nothing at all. I think we could improve a little bit with things like top speed and things like that. That's the feeling.
Q: It was extremely close between you and Mikko during the first day. How much pressure did you feel from your team-mate?
MG: Of course I was feeling pressure because I had to do my best all the time. I was waiting for Saturday where I felt I could make some differences there but I couldn't do so much -- just a little bit here and there.
Q: You have extended your lead over Sebastien, but we do have four tarmac events on which he excels. How much pressure are you feeling in the Drivers Championship?
MG: For the moment I am not feeling any pressure at all. Maybe before Germany we start but not now.
Q: How confident do you think you will be on tarmac?
MG: I have practised a little bit now and I think I will be better.
Q: Timo you have sat alongside Marcus during all his wins in Finland. How enjoyable - in comparison to the others - was this one?
TR: The first time in 2000, when we were driving a full championship for the first time was the greatest feeling. But for a good fight this has been the best rally so far. We have had tight fights before with Seb (Loeb) and Richard (Burns) and Harri (Rovanpera) but these have normally ended in the middle of Saturday. But Mikko has kept the pressure on for the full two days and he could have done still today but he is clever enough to know that 20 seconds is too much and so we had a relaxed drive today - and because of the good fight he was ahead of Seb which would have been much more difficult had we not been driving flat and fast all the time.
Q: We have seen some changes to the route this year. Do you think they were changes for the better?
TR: It was a challenge during the recce, but it has been good for the rally because most of the roads -- especially with the works cars -- get broken quite badly. So it's good that we have some different roads.
Q: How was it with Ouninpohja back to its original state?
TR: Good fun! Now, 24 hours later, it feels OK but when we had just finished it the last thing we wanted to do was do it again! It's all because we had a very fast fight and we really didn't want to give up the fight. We found some places where we were airborn that we had not been before and we landed in places where we had not landed before and still we were equal with Mikko and in the beginning we were faster than him in the splits. It's a great stage but I think it's a very big struggle to drive it.
MW: I think what he's trying to say is that he's getting too old! (laughs)
Q: Mikko congratulations on second place, you proved you could battle with Marcus this weekend, but you couldn't quite beat him. When did you realise that you couldn't catch him?
MH: In the final run to the podium! But seriously, first time through Ehikki when Marcus beat me by four seconds it was clear that OK maybe I can take one or two seconds off him but driving with the risks that we had through the first two days it made no sense to continue like that, so I realised that the fight was over. I have never driven this fast like this anywhere in the world. It's a great feeling to be second.
Q: You did this event in the 06 Focus last year. What were the performance differences you noticed this year?
MH: The handling was easier and the car felt lighter in places. Things like that give you more confidence in your car, as you can just do whatever you want with it. I wasn't expecting it to be this good on gravel -- I was expecting it to be better on tarmac so it looks very good now for the rest of the year.
Q: Of course tarmac is what we've got next in Germany. How confident are you going into that event?
MH: We will see. Hopefully we can be close to Citroen and be in the fight with them. But my job is to concentrate on Dani Sordo and hopefully I can put some pressure on him.
Q: How much friendly rivalry was there between you and Timo during this event Jarmo?
JL: There is always rivalry. We are young and up and coming and they are getting to the end of their careers (laughs)! We want to prove that we are as quick as they are knowing the fact that Marcus is maybe the quickest ever in Finland and trying to be close to him is a big step mentally for us to prove that we can be very close to him.
Q: Most drivers pick out Ouninpohja as a favourite stage. From your perspective, which stage did you enjoy most?
JL: For me Leustu has been always the best. It's flowing and nice and doesn't feel as dangerous as Ouninpohja.
Q: Sebastien, congratulations on third position. It seemed an impossible job to catch the Fords on this event; why do you think that was?
SL: I don't know. I tried my best all weekend and every stage was the same -- I was always behind. To be faster we have to work a bit on the agility of the car. I couldn't really be flat out everywhere as I was not completely confident in the car and I was thinking in the rally here you need to be 100 per cent confident. Last year in the Xsara we were closer but this year we couldn't do anything. So now we know that we have to work a bit and, OK, we are slower behind the Finnish drivers with good cars so what can you do! You have to accept that you cannot win. For sure we are not very happy, and we have lost another four points to Marcus, so we just have to hope that we are better in Germany.
Q: Your team-mate Dani Sordo retired with an engine problem. Was it a case of defending your position from then on?
SL: Yes, but it didn't change a lot for me. I had to concentrate on saving my third position. For the Manufacturers Championship it was more difficult without Dani.
Q: It's back to tarmac in two weeks time with Rallye Deutschland, a rally you have made your own in the past years. You must be looking forward to that?
SL: For sure it is a rally where I have always had some very good results. There is always a good fight there with tricky conditions and we will try to do it again but it will not be easy.
Q: A Ford one-two is the perfect finish Malcolm. How pleased are you with the debut of the new evolution of the Focus?
MW: It has been a fantastic debut for the new car. I think we all knew that we couldn't make any big improvements but I am glad to see that the drivers have felt the difference on this event and hopefully it allows us to put up a bit more of a threat to Sebastien on the tarmac. It's really these two guys who have done an incredible job. OK the car was great and we had no problems at all with it, but to have the battle they were having and be as close as they were and both still be on the road was incredible. I did have to have a word with my younger member of the team yesterday, after seeing his exploits in Ouninpohja (laughs) but in all honesty, as Mikko said, once he realised the maestro was still in control he did a fantastic job of supporting him and bringing maximum points for the team.
Q: How was it for you to watch your drivers battle it out for tenths of a second on Friday?
MW: These last two rallies -- in Greece and here -- I think in all honesty have been the most stressful two events for me in the whole time that I have been running the team. First of all in Greece where all the drivers were picking up punctures there was so much at stake for Marcus against Sebastien and that was an incredible moment for me on the long stage there. And the first day here with the pace and with Jari-Matti, yes it was pretty stressful and it lasted for three days which has given me a few more grey hairs.
Q: Four tarmac events remain during the second half of the season. Are you confident the new car will run well on a sealed surface and that you can stay ahead?
MW: We are not underestimating the task at all. We know what Seb can do on basically his home rally, but judging by where we were last year when Marcus was leading Catalunya the improvements will make a bigger step forward on the asphalt. The nice thing is that the two guys are looking forward to Germany which sends out a really positive message to me and the other members of the team.
Q: Finally Marcus, I know all week around the service park you have been asked about retirement. What are your thoughts on it now? Have you made any decisions?
MG I would like to reflect a little bit for a week now and the most important thing is that we have still seven rounds to go and I would like to win the championship. It's not the best time to make such a decision now. I have spoken to Malcolm and we are in no hurry to do anything.
MW: The important thing is that Marcus shouldn't make a decision based on this rally. Everyone in this room will know what a great loss Marcus would be to the championship. At the end of the day we will respect whatever decision he comes to. We will have a discussion tonight but there will be no decisions made today -- we don't need to rush into it. It is more important we stay focused for the rest of the championship.
FIA JUNIOR RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1st - Patrik Sandell
1st - Emil Axelsson
Q: Congratulations Patrik, your first win of the season. You seemed absolutely determined to get on the top step of the podium here!
PS: It was a beautiful win and to win in Finland is something every boy dreams about. Now were are here and it feels perfect.
Q: After Martin Prokop retired, you took over the lead, but Rautenbach wasn't far behind either. How much pressure did you feel during the weekend?
PS: When I saw Prokop off I started to think too much about the first round through Ouninpohja and lost some time but after that we just had to focus and not make mistakes. The car and team have worked very well.
Q: With the dramas that went on behind you, you had a lead of over a minute. Is it difficult to stay concentrated when you don't have anyone breathing down your neck?
PS: You have to have full focus all the time. It's tough but we did it.
Q: What about a shot at the title now? How confident are you of retaining the junior title?
PS: I knew that we had to take ten points to keep my championship hopes alive. We only have two more rounds to go now so I think it will be tight.
Q: Emil, what did you think of the stages here in Finland?
EA: I always enjoy Finland because of the speed but it is quite difficult and the stages are really tricky and some are not as in as good a condition as Ouninpohja.
Q: Did you have any 'moments' out on the stages this weekend?
EA: We always had moments! Not big ones, though. Some of the big jumps on the crests were quite interesting...
Q: Patrik, how confident are you going into Germany?
PS: Not confident at all! It is only our second rally on tarmac and we haven't done any testing. I went to Italy on a rally school and that was really good. It is going to be interesting to see -- I hope we do well!