Present: Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Malcolm Wilson, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team Henning Solberg, Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team Nasser Al Attiyah, FIA Super 2000 World...
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team
Henning Solberg, Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Nasser Al Attiyah, FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Nicholai Georgiou, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Sebastien, after your win in Mexico you now lead the Drivers' Championship by six points over Mikko Hirvonen, which puts you first on the road here. How much of disadvantage is that? Is there a lot of loose gravel to sweep?
SL: Enough! I do not know how it will be exactly. There are a lot of big downhill sections and narrow, downhill areas with stones. I will try my best as usual.
Q: There has been a lot of rain in the region and the organisers have worked hard to repair damage to the stages, have you noticed any difference from 2008?
SL: Yes. I don't know if it is the rain. Two years ago they put some Dead Sea water on to compact the surfaces. This year there is some more gravel on the surfaces and it is a bit loose. Still, we do not know if it will make a major difference.
Q: You are competing in a fantastic landscape but one that many drivers find difficult to make pace notes for. How have you found it and have you made big changes to your existing notes from 2008?
SL: Yes it is difficult. There are a lot of places where you see nothing over blind crests. Sometimes it is in the middle of nowhere and there are no trees for guidance, just roads over crests. You need to be very precise. You have to be on the right line and have precise notes. You need to trust them. One metre either side and you may hit a rock. The first day is worse than the second day. I just have to drive.
Q: In 2010 Citroen will switch to the DS3 as their WRC car; what if anything can you tell us about the development on the project?
SL: Nothing special. I drove two days on gravel and snow. This is the first phase of development. The car is quite different because of the regulations. It is a smaller car and it is difficult to compare to anything. I will tell you later.
Q: Last time around there was an unfortunate end to your Jordan Rally with the accident on the road section. Conrad Rautenbach is not here this time, but the road section still is! How cautious are you going to be?
SL: For sure I will be cautious. It was something stupid but it happened. I hope it does not happen again. These things do not happen very often. But I will be especially cautious in this corner.
Q: Malcolm, let's talk about Mexico before we focus on Jordan. Things did not go to plan there, have the team located any problems and are you confident Ford can bounce back here?
MW: I think you can imagine we were all disappointed. I cannot pinpoint one single thing why we were not competitive. It was a combination of many things. Hopefully, since then, we had a good test and looked at areas of data where there may have been issues. That really is as much as I can say now. Hopefully we will be competitive here. It was bad from a result point of view. But day two stage times showed Mikko to be second quickest even after some problems. There was just not enough time to make up for Friday's loss of time.
Q: Jari-Matti Latvala's role has changed within the team this year as he has become the second driver; is he performing as expected?
MW: Yes at the moment he is doing an excellent job. This is his best start ever to a season. Everyone knows what happened in his other seasons. This really is a platform for him to build on. He can be quite safe and build up speed. I am really pleased.
Q: The Ford Fiesta has proved successful on many varying events so far this year, the teams have now had confirmation on the engine specification clarified for 2011; how is development progressing on the Fiesta WRC project?
MW: Yes it is ongoing. We have started to test with the turbo engine. It is not the engine we will end up using. We have been using the WRC 2.0-litre engine. Testing will be pretty intense when we get the new engine.
Q: We've had an interesting and really competitive start to the WRC season. Looking at drivers across the board, has anyone surprised and impressed you this year?
MW: Petter (Solberg)! But I think the one who really stands out is P-G Andersson for his drive in Sweden. There are several younger developing drivers and Michal Kosciuszko was significantly quicker than anyone else in Mexico.
Q: Petter, a fantastic result for you in Mexico, second overall after a great battle throughout the weekend. Can we expect to see such a close battle here this weekend and will you be at the top end of it?
PS: I think, first of all, it was good fun with the proper fighting. I was really happy with the performance and it was good fun to be second. It was hard work to get it all together. The plan now is to fight, I hope. Like Seb (Loeb) says, this is a very different rally with very difficult stages. To push harder, you need to take risks and have courage.
Q: You arrived here the middle of last week, why was that?
PS: I came here a few days before the start. I haven't seen my son much in the last one and a half years. I came here to be alone and near him for the first time ever on our own -- we were playing games, swimming and walking. It was father and son time. We both needed it.
Q: You are using your second car this weekend, which has an improved engine. Are you happy with the way it feels? How did your test go?
PS: It's a bit different here because of the altitude in Mexico. The car feels good and works right and I just have to push as much as I can. I am happy so far. We will see tomorrow morning. I think about myself and I will focus on my thing. The focus is on the top three hopefully. We will try.
Q: Back to the situation in Mexico, would you elect to run first on the road again here, if the situation arises?
PS: In Mexico, it was important for me to get the good result for my sponsors. My road position was a good learning curve for me later this year. I thought then, if I get second or third I was not too concerned. I did not want to be too greedy. I was doing my job. I enjoyed my Saturday in Mexico. I will not be first on the road here though. Someone else can do it this time.
Q: Henning this year we see you with a brand new co-driver, Ilka Minor -- do you feel it's a successful partnership?
HS: Yes, it is working well. I am happy with how she is reading the notes to me. Because she is a woman, I need to be very careful what I do in the car (joking..)
Q: Your pace notes are now in English, how are you finding that?
HS: Yes I find it okay. It is very difficult to transfer from Norwegian to English so we made all new pace notes in Mexico.
Q: Your pace in Mexico was impressive and you seemed to achieve the right set-up early on; what about here, do you feel you have got it right?
HS: The car is the same as Mexico. It was working well on the shakedown. The stage was on a bad road but the car will be okay in the stages. Like in Mexico, the stages are very slippery. It is difficult with the pace notes and the crests. It is tough to fight for the top positions. I hope I have the same speed as Mexico and I will try to get a little less left-foot braking. I lost a little time on that.
Q: Stobart are four points behind Citroen Juniors in the Manufacturer standings and you are four points behind Petter in the Drivers' standings, can you go ahead in both Championships this weekend?
HS: I hope we can take the four points back in both.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
MG: People say that the last leg will be difficult. What are your views on that?
SL: Yes. Every day there are a lot of crests and stages will be very difficult. I think all the rally is difficult. Everywhere it is tricky and there are stones on the road.
Nasser Al Attiyah, FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship
Nicholai Georgiou, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Q: Nasser, a big weekend for you as you contest not just one but two Championships, the SWRC and the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC). A tough weekend ahead...
NA: Yes actually it will be tough. I think it will be no problem for us. I have a lot of experience. It will give me the chance to make a good start. When we start I will get the feeling for the pace and the roads. Then, after tomorrow, it will be good for us. We will know our speed.
Q: You begin your assault on the SWRC on Thursday and the MERC starts from Friday, what will be your approach on Thursday - will there be an element of caution with the added pressure of trying to score points in both Championships?
NA: No, I think you cannot be cautious. The level is too high. I think we will start tomorrow and we start really full attack. What happens, will happen! I hope we have a good run and we do our maximum concentration. This is very important for a good race.
Q: Does one Championship take precedence over the other?
NA: I prefer the S2000 WRC to the MERC event. The level is higher. There are good drivers here. We must be really full of concentration and we must do a good job on every kilometre of every stage. It is not easy. The roads are really difficult. I need to keep a good pace. It is important that the pace notes are working 100%. There are a lot of crests and fast corners. I have been to this rally many times in Jordan. I am quite happy until now. It is not difficult if we do a good job.
Q: As part of the SWRC you will be running on the Pirelli control tyre while the competitors in the MERC have more flexibility in tyre choice. Will it be an advantage or a disadvantage?
NA: It will be a different advantage. We have the experience of the roads with the MERC with the normal tyres and we could choose what we needed. Okay, we have no choice now. We have the same tyres. My feeling is good.
Q: Nick it seems like 2010 could be a big year for you as you have been selected as a Pirelli Star Driver for this season, and that programme begins in Turkey. How much are you looking forward to the season ahead?
NG: Yes, I am absolutely really happy to do the full series and without the Pirelli Star Driver it would not have been possible. I say a big thanks to the FIA and Pirelli. I feel good for this event. We are back from shakedown with the new car - the Evo X. The most important thing is we did not do mileage, but we had a small test in Italy as part of the Pirelli Star Driver programme. I will be on the pace, hopefully.
Q: We will see you compete as part of the PWRC here; when the Championship was here in 2008 you were second in your class and sixteenth overall, what's the plan this time?
NG: If we could be on the pace it would be great. The level is different. I was competing in the event with the Juniors then and all the Production competitors were not here. We have improved since then. We need to get to know the car and push hard.
Q: We will watch you compete on the world stage this year -- what kind of preparation have you being doing in order to be ready for the challenge ahead?
NG: We did lots of preparation before the training we went though. Pirelli Star Driver used a company called ESP and we worked on fitness, nutrition, media training and with a sports psychologist. There were several specialists and Robert Reid was there too. There were a lot of people to give advice. Armindo was also there at testing to give advice.
Q: It's quite a strong field of drivers here including the reigning PWRC champion Armindo Araujo who is also in an Evo X. How much will you be comparing your pace against him?
NG: Comparing times will be our benchmark. If we want to be competing at the top, we need to beat Armindo (Araujo). We are not quite there yet. I need to work hard and perform well. I do this when I do not think too much. I need to concentrate on the stages and see what happens.