FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Corona Rally Mexico FIA Post-event Press Conference 11.03.2007 Present: 1st - Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen Total World Rally Team 1st - Daniel Elena -- Citroen Total World Rally Team 2nd - Marcus Gronholm -- BP-Ford...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Corona Rally Mexico
FIA Post-event Press Conference
1st - Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
1st - Daniel Elena -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
2nd - Marcus Gronholm -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Timo Rautiainen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd - Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd - Jarmo Lehtinen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
Guy Frequelin, Representative of the winning manufacturer, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Welcome to the final FIA press conference.
Q: Congratulations Sebastien on your 30th world rally win. It was the first time that we have seen the C4 on gravel. Were you pleased with its performance?
SL: It was not so bad. The car was really good. Since Monte Carlo we were waiting for this event as the first gravel rally of the season. We have to wait for this rally to see how it performed. The car was perfect. No problems and a good feeling.
Q: You had a comfortable lead for most of the rally. Did you feel any pressure from the other drivers?
SL: There is always some pressure. When Petter retired it was only the start of the rally. I had a 27 second lead and there were two days to go. I had to concentrate. The car was perfect and it was okay.
Q: Do you now think there is going to be more competition within the WRC than last year?
SL: I'm sure the battle will be tighter than last year. Last year Manfred (Stohl) was third, more than four minutes behind, and this year he was sixth and three minutes behind, so they are getting closer. The new Subaru has shown it is competitive as well. I'm sure there will be battles all season between six drivers.
Q: Daniel, congratulations. You won this event in 2006, did you make many changes to your notes this time?
DE: Not a lot of changes. The organisation made a good job of the stages this year and Sebastien made many little changes to his notes to reach the perfection, but at the end there were just a few changes.
Q: After missing a number of events at the end of last year, what was it like being back on gravel and at a competitive pace?
DE: Sure, the last race for us on gravel was in Cyprus 2006, before Sebastien broke the arm. It's okay. After Sweden it was okay and Norway was good. To come back on gravel, the important surface for the Championship, was good here.
Q: Congratulations Marcus, second position overall. You were down in fifth place at the end of day one. What happened that day, orr was it just the fact that you were sweeping the road?
MG: A little bit to do with sweeping the road, yes, on the first loop. Not in the afternoon. I could not make the times. We had a small problem with the engine. They found it at the night service. I also changed something on my car, but it was a little bit late then.
Q: If you had found the engine problem earlier do you think you could have won?
MG: It would have been very difficult for us. It could have been very close. When we are back to Europe it is a different story....!
Q: Were you happy with your driving on this event? How difficult was it to get tuned into the first gravel event of the season?
MG: Maybe it was also because of that. The first test was not so good. We came here after two snow rallies, so maybe that was also part of the reason for being slow.
Q: After the first gravel round of the season, are you feeling confident that you can beat the Citroens in Portugal?
TR: I would like to say very confident, but that is not fair. On some stages we found a good rhythm and all was perfect; then we could match Sebastien. That was the same last year. Maybe we can beat him. It is too much to say I am confident.
Q: As a co-driver, how much do you notice the effect the altitude has on the cars?
TR: The altitude affects you a lot. The air is thin and we lack power, especially in long corners, especially on stage one. There you need more power, maybe 100 more horse power. A couple of times we were laughing that we can drive medium corners flat-out. That is dangerous, because if something happens in the corner you are on the limit and it is not so easy.
Q: Mikko, you couldn't quite make it two wins in row, but you did have a good battle with Dani Sordo. Are you happy with third?
MH: I was not even close to winning. I had a good fight with Dani today and I am happy we passed him and got six points for myself and the team as well.
Q: How did the car perform well this weekend?
MH: It was good, I am quite happy and the handling of the car was good. We had no problems and I have to say a big thanks for the team. It all looks very good.
Q: What was your frame of mind this morning? You began the day in fourth, but with the times you set you managed to finish 16 seconds clear of Dani.
MH: Yes, of course. I lost a lot of time yesterday. My plan was to make the time back and get the points. I was determined to go flat-out and take third place.
Q: After taking the win in Norway just two weeks ago, has your confidence increased and have you noticed any changes in Mikko's approach to driving?
JL: No, not really. It affects you mentality. When you get close to Marcus and Seb it makes a difference.
Q: You've lost second in the Championship but you're only two points adrift of Sebastien. Do you think you can regain your position?
JL: For sure we are going to try. It (Portugal) is a new event for everybody. We did well in Norway and we will have a good battle there.
Q: Congratulations Guy, Citroen's second win of the season. What did you think of the performance of the car on gravel?
GF: For us it was important to know that the C4 is competitive on this surface, because we will have nine rallies on gravel. Now we know it is good and that Sebastien is okay with his arm, because gravel is a little bit harder than the Tarmac and the snow. It is also good to know that Dani was faster on this surface than the ice and the snow. We know also that he needs to learn a bit more on the gravel.
Q: You have only managed to close the gap to Ford by one point. Are you concerned, four rounds into the Championship, and what is your strategy for the next two or three rallies?
GF: The Manufacturers' Championship is very difficult. We started badly. After three rounds it was bad. Now it is important we have a good result for the next rallies. It is important to finish all the rallies. We know, for example, in Norway, we only had one point for the two cars. We have a young driver. Our first target is to win the Drivers' Championship, but with Marcus it is not too easy. Mikko is very fast this year. But it is very nice for the Championship. It will be very difficult to try and win the Manufacturers' Championship, but we will try.
Q: Overall what did you think of the rally in Mexico this year?
SL: For me, Mexico Rally is a very nice event. Generally it is well organised and the stages are really nice to drive. The only bad thing this year was that some spectators threw some stones into the windscreens of the cars and into the middle of the road, especially on the first day. That is really dangerous. Some drivers had some accidents because of that. That is a bad point for me. We need to find some solution for that in the future.
Q: Rally Portugal is next up, how does a co-driver prepare for a brand new event?
DE: Not a lot of work as it is completely new for us. We will see when we arrive on Sunday to prepare for the recce and the road sections. I hope to see good stages and good surfaces. I never saw Portugal before.
Q: You still lead in the Drivers' Championship but only by four points, and now over Sebastien. How important is it to try and stay in front this early on in the season?
MG: It's important to be in front after the last rally. I hope we can fight to keep the lead, but we are now always first on the road in Portugal and that is not so good. We try and do better than here.
Q: It doesn't seem to have been as hot here this year. Does that make life easier for you in the car?
TR: Yes of course. In stages in Mexico, even if it is hot outside, it is not too bad because we go fast and we have ventilation in the car. When you ask Seb about the rally, I would like to add spectator behaviour is only a few people who try and destroy the image of the rally, even though the vast majority of fans are really supporting the event and the teams. A good information system is needed to control this. On SS18, the first three or four kilometres were like 10 years ago in Portugal. Both sides of the roads were crowded. If you have a problem, then you take spectators with you and that is not very clever.
Q: You won the first new event we have seen on the calendar (Norway). Portugal is the second new event -- could we see a win for you there?
MH: Hopefully and for sure I will try. I did the rally in 2005 and I think I have done day one stages before. That will help a little but it will be different on gravel to snow and ice, but I will try.
Q: Did you feel under intense pressure today, thinking Dani could maintain third, or were you quite confident the package you had could keep you in front?
JL: I was pretty confident. If I look back to Friday, we took quite a bit of time from him. We lost it in the one place with the spin, but I was confident that we could make it.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1st - Mark Higgins 1st - Scott Martin
Q: Congratulations, your first ever win in the FIA PWRC, how are you feeling?
MH: I think relief is the word to describe how I feel. This rally we led from the first stage. I think we lost the lead a couple of times, but the team, Scott and everyone did a great job. It's all gone so well.
Q: Your best result before was second in Australia 2005, but you have had bad luck follow you around since. Do you finally feel that you have shaken that off?
MH: I hope so. Sweden was a disaster for me, I did not drive very well at all. We have a different strategy this year and we are back in the points and back in the Championship. We have two strong events for us at the end of the year. People say that you make your own luck and I am going to try and make some luck this year.
Q: There was pressure from Mirco Baldacci yesterday until he picked up a puncture. It's very easy to lose big increments of time in the PWRC isn't it?
MH: Yes it is. Punctures are a big problem of the Championship. You can be very unlucky here. Mirco did not deserve that; we were having a great battle. But it made my job a lot easier, because to fight on the last three stages would have been very difficult.
Q: This event is famous for the high altitude which affects everyone, but what does it feel like for a driver?
MH: For the drivers it is not a problem .You just have no power in the car. You swear the turbo pipe has come off when you leave the start line. It feels very slow in the cars. When you get into trouble there is no power to get you out of it. When you are getting older that is perfect...!
Q: Congratulations on the win, your first time in Mexico as well. The notes must have worked well for you.
SM: It's been a great event for me. We are a new partnership. Sweden was our first event together. It's a real privilege to sit with Mark. It's all relatively new to me. The way the rally has run has been perfect. There were some problems with spectators, but the rally definitely has a place in the Championship and I hope we come back again. This result has been a massive step in my career.
Q: Scott, a second win in a row for you. You won the Fiesta category in Norway with Barry Clark and now your first PWRC win. It's going well so far in 2007.
SM: Yes, like Mark said, Sweden was a bad one for us and then Norway was better for me. But, I hope we will go onwards and upwards now. It's Portugal next for us in the Fiesta, but I hope we can do the job there again as well.
Q: It's good to get a win early on in the season, could this be your year Mark?
MH: I hope so. This is the most competitive year so far. Greece will be a bit of a lottery, it always is. Then we go to the speed events like Japan and then New Zealand, GB and Ireland. Hopefully we can be in there fighting. It will be a great battle.
Q: You have taken your first win in PWRC, but we understand you won't be around to celebrate it tonight as your flight is booked for this evening. Going on past experience did you not expect to be in this position then?
MH: The main reason was that the parties are that good over here, rather than get into trouble, we thought we had better go home....!
Q: You have led pretty much from the beginning, how much pressure does that put on you?
SM: The real pressure was this morning. This was the first time for me. You just think more in that situation. The key is to remember the essentials and the things you do all the time, not to push and to take no risks. Basically getting it to the finish was the key in the end.
Q: Scott, you are part of the MSA British rally elite training scheme. How has this helped you prepare for events at this high standard and has it contributed to your win this weekend?
SM: That's a big key to my career really - being recognised and sitting next to Mark. The MSA elite is a confidence-building environment. The resources they bring in are excellent. They have the contacts to put on days for training and fitness. It is the key.
Q: Scott, Mark has waited a while for this moment. Was it emotional in the car when you crossed the finish line?
SM: Yes it was. It's all to sink in yet, and for me to take everything on board. It was great to be with him when it happened. It's good to get it now and it sets the season up for us. The next one won't be as nervous and a bit easier perhaps.