2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY JAPAN 10.28.2007 Present: 1st -- Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 1st -- Jarmo Lehtinen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 2nd -- Daniel Sordo -- Citroen Total World Rally Team 2nd -- Marc Marti -- ...
2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY JAPAN 10.28.2007
1st -- Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st -- Jarmo Lehtinen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd -- Daniel Sordo -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
2nd -- Marc Marti -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
3rd -- Henning Solberg -- Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
3rd -- Cato Menkerud -- Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson -- Team Principal, BP-Ford World Rally Team
Welcome to the post event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Congratulations Mikko on your third win in the WRC. It's been a very tricky event, how difficult was it for you on Friday afternoon leading the rally but knowing that Marcus (Gronholm) had retired?
MH: Well it was quite a difficult situation. I really would like Marcus to take the title and all I can do to help is be ahead of Sebastien (Loeb). But at the same time we couldn't lose manufacturer points. The whole weekend was very, very difficult.
Q: Saturday morning you started the defence of your lead battling with Sebastien Loeb. With the reigning World Champion breathing down your neck, were you driving on your limit? How much pressure did you feel?
MH: I don't know, but it's always the way that if you want to fight you have to go flat and take risks. I was very comfortable, though. The car was perfect and there were no moments. I had the same feeling as I did in Finland. I could do what I wanted with the car and it will work out. The feeling was very good.
Q: You have been a strong second driver to Marcus again this year. Did it feel good to be the one with the responsibility to bring the win home for the team and help Marcus's title hopes in the process?
MH: Yes it did. It was very good and, of course, I am happy for myself. I got the win and important points. Because it's Marcus's last year, I want to help him get the title. It's been very good with Marcus for the last two years; he has done a great deal to help me, which is why I will do as much as I can for him.
Q: Mikko, the light will shine on you next year with Marcus retiring; are you ready to battle with Sebastien?
MH: Yes for sure. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll be trying. There will be new things next year: new rallies and new tyres. I feel very comfortable, but it's not just going to be me and Sebastien; Dani and Henning are going to be there with other drivers as well. There are so many changes next year, we have to wait and see.
Q: You and Mikko both seemed affected by Marcus's retirement and his hopes in the Drivers' Championship, but it did mean of course you could go for the win. Did you have mixed feelings about the situation?
JL: You're absolutely right. It was a big shock to see Marcus's problem. To see him retired and losing all of the points he was looking for was terrible. We felt really down and at the bottom. Then we knew we could only do one thing and push, then let's see what Seb's reaction is: does he want to fight with us? That was all we could do.
Q: This is only your second time competing in Japan and you have successfully sealed second place. Like Mikko, as a second driver, the responsibility was on your shoulders to bring home a good result for the team. Was it quite a stressful weekend in that respect?
DS: It's a little more responsibility, but all of the team has worked for me. It's the same. I try to drive the fastest possible. I am happy that I'm here now.
Q: You were taking big chunks of time out of Mikko on Saturday afternoon. You were obviously feeling confident, but how many risks were you taking out on the stages?
DS: A lot of risks. I drove fast, but Mikko is one step faster than me. He is a very fast driver, but my progression on gravel is well and I have a lot of confidence for the gravel driving in the future.
Q: This is your best result on gravel Dani. Do you think you are developing more confidence on this surface?
DS: Yeah, of course. For the step by step, more kilometres is better for me on the gravel. In the next rally in gravel I will try to drive the same as here.
Q: How much has Dani's performance developed since you began your WRC campaign and what kind of challenge do you think you can both mount in next year's Championship?
MM: Of course Dani is learning very fast. He is very young and when he tries to run on this surface, he doesn't have a lot of experience. I am happy with his progression and we need to be happy for next year. People expect a big step from him, but the most important thing is to work with Citroen and Sebastien for the title. The most important thing is that Dani is still young and he has time.
Q: Congratulations on your third, third position. Did you imagine on your first time here in Japan that you would be on the podium?
HS: Absolutely no! In my head on the Friday I said: "Go flat out and see what happens." But I also nearly went out on Friday, but it went well. I really like my first time in Japan.
Q: You told us that you would be flat out here in Japan. Were you and did you take any big risks during the weekend?
HS: No. On Friday I went flat out and half of the second day. I was fighting for fourth, I was fifth overnight. Then two people went out. It was not an idea to beat Dani (Sordo) so I said to myself: "Go slowly and go to the podium." This is not what we came here for... we had the luck as well.
Q: You desperately wanted a place on the podium. How nervous were you feeling going into the final day? Did it affect your mindset to see top drivers going off the road over the past couple of days?
HS: I was a little nervous, but I decided to go very slowly. I did not have any moments today. Maybe I was too slow, but that's the way I did it today.
Q: Henning told us that you had both been watching Marcus Gronholm's in-car footage from last year. How much do you think it helped you?
CM: Yeah, it really did. We looked at the film and we saw when he was flat in some corners and then in some of the hairpins we looked when he was in first and second gear and we put that in our notes. It really helped us.
Q: You came here with the hope of taking the Manufacturers' title and maximum points for Marcus (Gronholm). On Friday, with Marcus's retirement, it looked like he may lose the lead in the Drivers' Championship and the team seemed pretty down. But a u-turn with Loeb's accident on Saturday -- and now success for Mikko -- what is the feeling in the Ford camp now?
MW: It's certainly better than it was on Friday. Like Mikko said, the whole team was down. If you look at Marcus's record it was Sardinia last year that he didn't finish in the points. As the event unfolded it put a whole new perspective on things and brought more pressure on Mikko. We had the rally in the bag, subject to driver error. Mikko did a fantastic job, thinking about the Manufacturers' points as well. We did have a little conversation, that he didn't take too kindly to, but what can I say -- he did a fantastic job here.
Q: You had a chat, what did you say?
MW: The chat was when he was already in that position (leading), not before the event. I didn't get the response I was looking for! He did a fantastic job though, what can I say?
Q: It's back to tarmac next with Rally Ireland -- an unknown event and possibly a level playing field. What will be the objective there?
MW: From the Manufacturers' Championship point of view, all we need is three points to be sure of the Championship. It would be fanatic to go to GB with both guys fighting for victory. Ireland is unique, it's completely different to any other event in the Championship. We've been to Ireland for two events this year and we have some more testing planned. Marcus has done the calculations today. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but we do have a plan. It's very important to us that we can give Marcus the Championship in his final year.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK)
Q: How do you think Rally Japan is shaping up in the context of the WRC?
MW: Certainly for the last three years it's improved year on year. The organisation is first class. The only negative, if anything, is the long road sections for the crews and team management spending three or four hours in the morning. This year has been an incredible challenge for the drivers, bringing something different to what we have seen. This is the first time Sebastien and Marcus have not sat up here on this podium, which tells you how difficult this event has been. It's been terrific.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1st -- Gabriel Pozzo
1st -- Daniel Stillo
Q: Congratulations on your first win of the season Gabriel. Just how important was it for you to take maximum points here in Japan?
GP: Hello everybody. I think it was very important to win here. This is the first victory for me in one and a half years. We started developing the car and a new team one and a half years ago. It's very important, all the team is new. We needed the victory. The last win was in 2004 in Argentina with Subaru. Now with Mitsubishi a win in Japan is fantastic.
Q: This is the first time since 2001 that you have been in contention for the title. Does it feel good to be back fighting for it again?
GP: It's fantastic for me. After 2001, it was difficult to fight for the Championship; there was a difficult moment in Argentina. It was hard to get the sponsors, maybe we do some rallies, but not the whole Championship. But then we have the possibility for the 2007 Championship. I only think about trying to win the next rally, I'm not going to think about the Championship. I'll just go step by step and see what happens at the end.
Q: Important rallies lay ahead - Ireland and GB. You need to win one and come second at another; how difficult will it be and which one do you think you could win?
GP: I think it will be difficult on both events. Both are new for me. GB is new for me and Ireland is new for all of the drivers. I feel better on gravel rallies because I don't have too much experience on tarmac; in 2001 and 2002, Spain and Corsica, but not too much. I think we have a very good car and now everything is going well. I'll try to fight and win both rallies.
Q: It was a very difficult event with a lot of top drivers falling foul of the stages. You made it through, so what was the strategy for this weekend?
DStillo: Well, our strategy was the tyres. We did the right choice of tyres. The surface is changing from time to time and the tyre was very important for this rally.
Q: How difficult were the conditions on the stages? Did you take any risks out there?
DStillo: You always have risks on the stages, but the most important thing is the many changes of surface. You have grip for the first three kilometres, then no grip after that for some distance. You have to drive very carefully with the mud and the water.