NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND Present: Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Kimi Raikkonen Matti Rantanen, Munchi's Ford World Rally Team Martin Prokop, FIA Junior World Rally ...
NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Matti Rantanen, Munchi's Ford World Rally Team
Martin Prokop, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Michal Kosciuszko, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Mikko, yesterday Ford confirmed its participation within the WRC for the next two years and confirmed yourself and Jari-Matti Latvala as the drivers. That is incredibly positive news in the current economic climate, you must be pleased.
MH: It is really great news, especially with how the world economic situation is at the moment. At least now we can concentrate on just driving and rallying.
Q: Also, staying in the positive mode the Championship promoter, ISC, have today signed a deal with Rally Finland for the next five years; what are your thoughts on that?
MH: Why shouldn't they? It's the best rally in the world and they definitely made a good choice.
Q: You lead the Drivers' Championship by one point coming into your home event; it's certainly a turnaround from Argentina when you thought the Championship battle was all over. How do you assess your chances now?
MH: Now we start all over again. For sure, after Argentina I didn't think we were going to be in this position but you never know what's going to happen. There are now only four more rallies left to go and it feels like the Championship is starting again. It is a lot more interesting now that Sebastien has made a few mistakes so thanks for that! It looks good for us.
Q: Last year you came second to Sebastien (Loeb), missing out on the top spot by nine seconds. Your team boss Malcolm Wilson said earlier that you had some 'unfinished business' here -- what are your thoughts on that, and being first on the road?
MH: Tomorrow, and maybe on stages two and three, being first on the road might not be the best position to be, but when we go through the stages again the second time around it will be okay. I'm sure it will be fine. It is possible to win but like we saw last year he (Loeb) won the rally by nine seconds and I was a bit gutted about it but we will try again now but for sure it will be a close call -- it always is in Finland.
Q: Sebastien, Citroen also confirmed yesterday its participation in the WRC for the next two years and also that they were in discussion with you and Dani Sordo about renewing your contracts for that period. There have been some recent rumours about your future in the sport; does this mean you will be staying with the WRC for the next two years?
SL: I think so. At the moment it is not signed though so we will see.
Q: You said at the end of Rally Poland that you had to concentrate on getting your confidence back. This event is all about confidence, are you prepared for it?
SL: We have had some good tests here and I know that to drive for a victory you have to be completely confident in the car and the notes. I hope that we can do it again after our win here last year.
Q: You are the most successful rally driver of all time, but you have experienced the most unsuccessful phase of your career over the past three events. How did it make you feel?
SL: It is quite okay. We analysed quite a bit what happened and every year I make one mistake so maybe that was mine. We lost our lead so now it is a new start.
Q: Have you given Kimi any advice on how to drive this weekend?
SL: I think he knows how it is. It is a fast rally and he needs to be confident in his notes. I am sure he will have a lot of fun and it will be completely different for him.
Q: The fight is certainly on now between you and Mikko; does it feel like the Championship is starting over?
SL: Yes it is a new start. We are one point behind with four rallies to go -- one tarmac rally which I hope will be really good for me and the rest gravel. It will be interesting I think.
Q: Kimi, firstly welcome to the WRC. We have seen you compete on events this year but what has made you decide to compete on a round of the World Rally Championship and what have you thought of the experience so far?
KR: The biggest decision was that I have the time now and I don't have anything else to do this weekend.
Q: Rallying is such a huge sport in Finland and this event is a classic on the calendar. Is it your first time to the event or have you been here spectating before?
KR: I have been a few times but this has been the first time I have seen the roads. They look very nice and we will see how it goes tomorrow but this is definitely an excellent rally and good experience for me. It looks like the weather will also be good so everything is ready for a good event.
Q: After contesting events on snow and asphalt this will be your first rally on gravel. How difficult has it been to adapt to the surface?
KR: I think this is more normal for me on gravel. The roads are a bit faster than on snow and the grip is good and the roads are a bit wider so we will see how we can do. We will try to finish the rally -- I don't know if we can win it or not but we will have fun.
Q: The car is prepared by Tommi Makinen Racing -- has Tommi or your co-driver Kaj Lindstrom been giving you any advice ahead of this event?
KR: The notes here are really important for you to go fast and it is something completely different to what I am used to. All the top guys here drive at similar speed and the notes make a big difference. It just takes time to learn and sometimes you get it wrong and it is not easy to know exactly where to go on the jumps. Hopefully we have the right notes and we shall have some fun, but I am responsible for the right notes.
Q: Could we see you compete again at World level - is rallying just fun for you or could this be a future career?
KR: Yes definitely. I am still in F1 and still have one more year contract but everything is open and it is nice to be a part of it here. I am a bit too young to do nothing so I will see. It all depends on which way F1 is going. Nobody is exactly sure how it will be. I am in no hurry.
Q: Matti, a great performance from you in Finland saw you finish in seventh position overall last year. Is the plan to try and better that this year?
MR: I think I need to be better than seventh this year! My goal is to be as close as I can to you guys (Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb).
Q: You tested before the event; how was the car and were you pleased with how it went?
MR: Risto was very happy with my speed and the stages are looking quite nice. There are lots of familiar stages and I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Q: I hear you sat alongside Mikko Hirvonen during his test. What did you think and did you pick up any pointers?
MR: At first I was just wondering about the speed because it feels really different being in the co-driver's seat, but it was good. It was nice to be able to watch Mikko drive and see what he does behind the wheel.
Q: You obviously did well last year, what will be your approach this time around?
MR: The most difficult thing will be the speed. I have driven slower cars so I really need to be comfortable with the car especially when we are driving those stages twice. It is difficult to say how I will do. I hope that we will have a good rally and I will get some publicity for my sponsors who have made this happen.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: Kimi, have you set any target results for this rally?
KR: I just hope to get to the finish and match the same speeds as the other guys in my group.
Q: What do you think about Michael Schumacher joining you as the second driver at Ferrari?
KR: I actually heard it yesterday. For me it makes no difference who drives the second car. I don't think it is 100 per cent sure that he will drive as he is still checking things out. But it will be nice to have him as a team-mate. It nearly happened before.
Q: Will you be doing more rallies next year in the WRC?
KR: I don't know. If I have the time then maybe. I like learning different things so if I have no testing, and the time, then I will do more rallies -- I enjoy it and there is no harm in it.
Q: Has Luca di Montezemolo shown any interest in your rallying project?
KR: I asked him first if it was okay, because FIAT has a Super 2000 car, so it was an easy choice. He knew I was interested so he let me do something in my spare time.
Q: Would it be possible for a World Rally driver to win an F1 race?
KR: You will have to ask Sebastien! For sure he has the speed, and he has shown he can drive fast in Le Mans.
SL: I tested only once and the time was okay, but for sure it would be nice to race for real.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Michal, let's look back at Rally Poland, which ultimately ended in disappointment for you with retirement. Was that a critical blow to your chances in the Championship?
MK: Yes for sure it is critical. If you are not scoring points in one event out of six you have no possibilities to catch up. So now it is difficult and there is nothing more to do. We just have to see how the situation changes for the others.
Q: What did you think of your home nation's debut on the Championship calendar?
MK: I am proud that it (Poland) was such a nice event. The drivers liked it and so did the spectators. We had a lot of support. I think it would be great if there were more WRC events in Poland.
Q: This is the final round you will compete in for the JWRC this year and currently you are neck and neck with Martin on points after not scoring in Poland. Will you be pushing for the win here this weekend?
MK: For sure the pressure is not so big for us. Martin has much more pressure. For me it is really difficult to clinch the Championship on this rally so we will try to enjoy this rally and keep Martin behind me. It is not over yet and we need to do our best and to get a good result here.
Q: The final round is Spain -- how tough is it going to be just watching the results coming in for that one?
MK: I will be at the event doing the recce for next year but for now there is nothing more to do, just watch what Martin does. There are some good drivers here to compete against and it is something special to be here in Finland.
Q: Martin, you could win the Championship here this weekend if you get one more point than Michal and four more than Burkhart. You could be the new Junior World Rally Champion, is that right?
MP: Yes that is absolutely right. It sounds easy to do it but I will decide tomorrow after the first stage if I want to do it fast and try to win here. I lost the title here three years before so this rally is very important for us!
Q: What will be your approach this weekend?
MP: On this rally, especially, it is really difficult to go off the roads safely. Almost impossible. This is why I want to enjoy this rally and try to push. In Poland I was a little bit nervous and made mistakes. I did some good times but it was not possible to win. We did a very good test here on Monday so I feel confident with my car and think we can have a good rally. You never know what can happen on a rally but we will try hard.
Q: We have some new stages here this weekend, what are your thoughts on them?
MP: It is nice how the stages are fast so for our car it is very good with no slow corners. It will be a nice race, and I know one or two stages from the past so it is good for us. It is my favourite.