WRC

Rally Japan: Pre-event press conference

PIONEER CARROZZERIA RALLY JAPAN 30 October 2008 Present: Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Per-Gunnar Andersson, Suzuki World Rally Team Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally ...

PIONEER CARROZZERIA RALLY JAPAN
30 October 2008

Present:
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Per-Gunnar Andersson, Suzuki World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally Team
Toshihiro Arai, FIA Production World Rally Championship
Fumio Nutahara, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship

Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.

Q: Sebastien, taking third position here would mean you win the drivers' title this year -- will you be driving for third or will you go for the win?

SL: For sure my aim is to finish third and that's the most important thing. To win the Championship is far more important than to win Rally Japan. But the situation is not so easy. I am not used to starting not being able to push to the maximum. It's not that I don't want to win but it's a new rally and it's easy for a mistake to happen with the notes not being completely right or with the grip changing a lot. We saw on the recce a lot of mud for example. The most important thing is to find my own rhythm and to feel well in the car. If I can be in the first few places then that would be great.

Q: How difficult will it be for you to find a pace which you're happy with, if it's not flat out?

SL: It can be tricky to find a rhythm. Even if you are not flat out in a tricky place it can be hard. I drive well if I feel well in the car. We will see what happens.

Q: We are in a new location for this year's event. What did you think of the stages here when you did the recce?

SL: For sure the conditions are really tricky. They were really tricky in the recce, especially the first day. Now I hear they have snow on the stages so I don't know what the condition will be. If there is snow on the road you cannot go through the stages on gravel tyres. It is not possible.

Q: As you say, there is snow on some of the stages on day one and there is talk of possibly cancelling SS3.

SL: If the conditions are not usable then yes, I think we cannot do anything else. If the snow is like this and we only have a gravel tyre it can be impossible to go through, but it's only one stage so we will see.

Q: It could be a huge weekend for you, with the possibility of securing a record-breaking fifth world title. Is your feeling before going into the rally just as normal or are you nervous, excited?

SL: Sure I am a little more nervous but that's normal because I am not used to start the rally in this state of mind. I have to forget about the title and concentrate on the rally, focus on the notes and on my driving. That is all. It's easy to say so; we will see tomorrow if it's easy to do. The stages are short so it will be important to start immediately with a good rhythm, otherwise it will be hard to catch time back. For sure there are some tricky stages and I do not want to take too many risks. We will see and try to take confidence.

Q: Ford currently lay second in the Manufacturers' Championship and you are second in the drivers, 14 points behind Sebastien. It is still mathematically possible to win both, but how are you feeling about the situation?

MH: It's not completely over but it's not up to me so much. All I can try to do is win these rallies and see how Sebastien does. What I can say is I will try to win and see what happens.

Q: When you look back at the season, is it Rally New Zealand where the title hopes were dealt the biggest blow?

MH: If we had won that rally then the situation now would be different but we didn't win and there's no point in talking about that. We need to talk about the two rallies we have left. The difference is 14 points and that's the game at the moment.

Q: You have proved on new events that you can go out there and win; Norway last year and Jordan this season. Is your confidence high going into this one?

MH: No, not really it's just how it happened. Okay we won Norway, and Jordan as well, but I think we are all in the same line anyway. We all do new notes for new rallies so there is no advantage. Maybe my record is good but I try to win this rally again and I hope we can do it.

Q: Are the stages similar to what we have seen before in Japan? Do any stand out as being particularly tough?

MH: The Saturday and Sunday stages are a bit like the Obihiro area. They are fast and flowing and generally good stages. On Friday they are twisty and narrow. Most of the stages are being used for the first time so they are quite soft and I can see ruts forming. But they are nice roads and I think it will be okay.

Q: Marcus Gronholm is here as part of his ambassadorial role for Ford; have you been getting any advice from him?

MH: We're going to send him to the stages and ask him to do the gravel notes for us so he can tell us where the snow and ice is!

SL: And he can put some panels up and show you where to brake!

Q: You were the first Australian driver to achieve a podium position at Rally Japan, in 2005. Can we see you up there again for this event?

CA: I think it's a target for the team to definitely get one of us up there. I'll be flat out from the start as I am in most rallies. It will be nice if we can be competitive and the improvements with the car seem to be in the right direction. We will see how far they have gone tomorrow.

Q: The last time we saw the car on gravel was in New Zealand. What improvements have been made since then?

CA: Everybody has been working very hard in the team. We know the areas where we are not quite up there with the others. I think if we didn't have problems we wouldn't be working on finding improvements. But we're definitely getting there.

Q: It is the team's home event; is there any extra pressure that comes with that?

CA: It's nice to go to every event with pressure. The first day is going to be quite tricky and on the second and third days it's going to be fast so you need to have confidence. The idea is to put on a good show and get a good result for the fans but it's going to be hard to match the speed of Mikko and Sebastien for starters. We've only had one podium with the car but we've had some good results and shown some good speed. If we continue to be fast and consistent here then hopefully that will mean a podium. There is a big pressure on us as a team and this is our most important rally all year. It's good to see the fans again even though we're not winning. That's good.

Q: You're currently three points ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala in the Championship. How important will it be to keep hold of your fourth place?

CA: Finishing fourth is nowhere near as important as being first or second although I'm going to try that's for sure. But I'm not going to cry if I don't finish the 2008 World Rally Championship in fourth place. I'll do as good a job as possible to keep the guys behind me.

Q: Home event for the Suzuki team too, the first time the Japanese fans will have seen the Suzuki World Rally Team in action. Should be a special event for the team?

P-GA: It's really good to be here in a Suzuki World Rally Car and see all the people in Suzuki jackets with flags cheering for us. Hopefully we can show the potential and get some good success this weekend.

Q: You have been busy here in Japan before the recce got underway, visiting the Suzuki Sport factory and taking part in Japanese traditions. How was that?

P-GA: We arrived last Thursday and we have been visiting Suzuki Sport, the headquarters, some factories, distributors and some local dealers.

Q: It would be great for the team to get a good result here on home ground; what is the aim this weekend?

P-GA: Of course to be in the top eight would be great. That's what we're looking for in every event. We still have a bit to work on to get some more speed but the top eight is realistic.

Q: What would you say the toughest aspect of this weekend will be?

P-GA: To start with on Friday SS3 will be very slippery and now with the snow it will be terrible to drive, but to survive SS3 and the second pass of that then you have done a lot of the rally. Saturday and Sunday will be much faster and really drivable.

Q: There are rumours circulating in the service area over the future of the Suzuki World Rally Team project. How does that make you feel as a driver to not have clarity with your plans for 2009?

P-GA: I think it's quite normal and it's been like this for three years but there is always something good coming at the end of the season so I am not worried. I hope I can answer your question soon and hopefully be back next year with Suzuki in 2009.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Q: Nutahara san, you have a new co-driver for this event as your regular co-driver Daniel Barritt is ill and will be replaced by Hakaru Ichino who is the reigning African Championship co-driver. How tough will it be without Daniel this weekend?

FN: Daniel contacted me at the end of last week to say he could not come. He wasn't feeling well at that time and I was worried because it looked like he had food poisoning with salmonella. The doctor stopped him from leaving the hospital. In a hurry I asked Mr Ichino to be my co-driver substitute on Sunday morning and I contacted the organiser about the change of a co-driver. I had total trust of Daniel and I am so disappointed but Mr Ichino was my co-driver twice: one domestic rally and just last month in the China Rally Championship he was my co-driver so in that sense we do not have to worry about the new combination.

Q: The rally has now moved to Sapporo; what do you think of the stages here?

FN: I feel they are very difficult stages especially the road surface being so rough. Sometimes the corners, sometimes the surface is very challenging.

Q: It's the first time we see the Evo X in the PWRC, how did the test go on Monday?

FN: Well the PWRC combined test was conducted on Monday and it was the first time for me to drive this particular car. I was satisfied with the result and the setting we found was very suitable. In the domestic rally here the Evo X was used and the result and data has been used in the test so we did good preparation for Rally Japan.

Q: What are the main differences between the Evo X and the previous model?

FN: The engine is totally different. The mid-speed torque has increased and will be more suitable for this type of car. The suspension is much better than the previous model. The traction is also very good.

Q: What have you thought about your performance this year?

FN: This year, the last time in New Zealand we had a bit of trouble but until then we were steadily gaining the points. We're aiming at higher standings in the last part of the season and especially Rally Japan. I am here at my home so I will be looking for victory.

Q: What are your plans for next year? Could the Evo X be a winning car for next year?

FN: It's that time of year when I think about next year but the world economy is a problem and it is the same in my homeland as well. I want to achieve a very good record with the Evo X, that's for sure.

Q: Toshi, you have only scored points on one event this year. Do you think you might have more luck on your home event?

TA: Of course I tried too hard. The last time I get the three points was in the Swedish Rally. After then I have retirement every rally so I am disappointed but the car has been improved and I hope to have a good result here.

Q: This is now the last round for you in PWRC this season; what improvements have been seen on the new car throughout the season?

TA: Especially in the rear suspension. It's been quite good on smooth gravel but on rough places we need more testing. The competition is getting better but it's easier to drive than the previous car.

Q: We have seen some snowfall on the stages, with the forecast possibly for more -- which means it will be very tricky on the stages this weekend?

TA: Day one it's quite tricky and narrow like a proper Japanese road. It's completely different on days two and three, it's high speed, flowing and a good challenging road. Also the weather is terrible with quite a lot of snow so not so easy. I don't want to drive on the snow on gravel tyres -- that's very difficult.

Q: How did the test go on Monday?

TA: We had big rain so I did not do so much testing but my feeling was very comfortable so not so bad.

Q: What about next season, will we see you back in the PWRC?

TA: I hope so but I try to do many testing in the off season so next year I will be faster and become the champion again.

Q: What is your aim for this rally?

TA: I have to finish the rally, that's the objective, but I want to win this rally. It's a nice event and a nice way to end the season. It's Subaru's home event but it's not so easy with the other drivers and the drivers in the E10. It's definitely extra pressure being at home.

-credit: fia

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Toshihiro Arai , Marcus Gronholm , Sébastien Loeb , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Per-Gunnar Andersson , Fumio Nutahara , Chris Atkinson , Daniel Barritt , Hakaru Ichino
Teams Citroën World Rally Team