WRC

Rally Norway: Post-event press conference

1st – Mikko Hirvonen, BP-Ford World Rally Team 1st – Jarmo Lehtinen, BP-Ford World Rally Team 2nd – Marcus Grönholm, BP-Ford World Rally Team 2nd – Timo Rautiainen, BP-Ford World Rally Team 3rd – Henning Solberg, Stobart M-Sport Ford ...

1st – Mikko Hirvonen, BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st – Jarmo Lehtinen, BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd – Marcus Grönholm, BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd – Timo Rautiainen, BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd – Henning Solberg, Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team
3rd – Cato Menkerud, Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson, BP-Ford World Rally Team

Q: Mikko, congratulations. This must be the proudest moment of your career as you beat the best in the world after leading from the start. How are you feeling now? How stressed did you feel during the rally? Did the fact that it was a new event help you? How much pressure were you under from your team-mate Marcus Grönholm? Was there pressure from Marcus even on the last day or were you quite confident of winning?

MH: Well of course I feel absolutely fantastic. Like you say, I rate this higher than Australia. Sébastien and Marcus are the fastest in the world and now I have beaten them after leading the rally since Friday. Today was a bit difficult, but the rest was good; there was a good rhythm. It’s not easy, but when you have a good rhythm you just enjoy it. Maybe the rally being new did help a little bit, but before the rally I didn’t expect it to make any difference. Everybody has experience of pace notes. I think the pressure was Friday and Saturday. Sébastien and Marcus pushed as hard as they can, but everything just worked perfectly for me.

Q: Many congratulations Jarmo. How nervous were you during the three days of this rally? With this being a brand new event, did you have a particularly good recce?

JL: I wasn’t nervous at all. We had a good shakedown in Sweden, everything went well. We focused on stages one to three, they went well and the confidence came. I normally never re-read the notes, but I did it in almost every second corner here. We spoke about the recce being a big factor on this event, but it’s the same on every rally.

Q: Were you surprised by Mikko’s pace here? Why do you think he was able to beat you, when you have normally been quicker than him in the past? Did you have any problems here that prevented you from winning? Were you generally quite happy with your driving on this event? You’re leading the Drivers’ Championship now; how confident does that make you feel for the future?

MG: I know he (Mikko) is quick and he had a good start on the first stage. Then he kept the same speed and we were just losing all of the time a little bit. It was a good rally for Mikko. I don’t exactly know why (we weren’t quicker); I don’t have any ideas. It’s a new rally like you mentioned, maybe it was that. I was never 100 per cent confident with the notes and driving. I was not in the attacking mood. I was in the safe side a little bit, all the credit to Mikko, though. Okay, it’s good to have the lead, and now we move on to gravel and see what happens there. Let’s see what Sébastien is doing with the new car. We have to wait and see.

Q: The very first World Championship rally in Norway; what are your thoughts about it?

TR: Some stages that I really like, like ‘Mountain’ stage, the conditions were difficult in the heavy snow the first time, but this morning it was perfect conditions. Today it was minus a few degrees; then it was really enjoyable. If the stages were all like this, it would be better than Sweden. Unfortunately, they’re not all like this. They go into some small roads, some bad roads, like the one in SS6 Kongsvinger. If they can take away these roads and make some minor modifications then it’s a very good rally. It’s easy for me to say this; everybody knows Marcus and I love winter rallies.

Q: What were your thoughts about your home event Henning? Have you enjoyed the last three days? How important is it for Norway to have an event in the World Rally Championship? How proud do you feel to be here now?

HS: I am very proud. I think the whole rally has been great, but like Timo says, some roads can be changed, but that is small problems. For us it’s very important and for the whole Championship it’s really important to have two winter rallies. It’s easy and good for the tyre manufacturers to come straight here from Sweden. Yeah, it’s good.

Q: Did you feel any extra pressure competing here in Norway?

CM: There has been a lot of people around us for the whole week. The recce the day after Sweden, yes, we did have a lot of pressure.

Q: Malcolm, congratulations on a resounding one-two-three for Ford. When was the last time that happened? How many nervous moments did Mikko and Marcus give you during the rally? Did you decide to call a halt to the competitive side of things between them on Saturday night? You’ve been handed a fantastic opportunity with the problems for Citroën here – how crucial is that? Do you feel that you’ve got two top-class drivers now who are equally capable of winning events?

MW: The last time was 1979 in New Zealand; everything has happened in ’79; we won the manufacturers last time and Rally GB. You could not complain about the job the guys have done. Mikko set off at a fantastic pace, he got 20 seconds ahead. You felt Sébastien would come back, the pressure was really on them. When Sébastien went off the pressure was off and the guys controlled it to the finish. Today was a formality, we couldn’t afford to throw away the 18 points and there were valuable driver points - Marcus and Mikko are one-two now. The icing on the cake was Henning beating Petter and scoring a one-two-three. We’re not underestimating the task ahead, we’ve seen how Sébastien goes. There’s no question for the asphalt as well. We really have to capitalise on this type of event and the gravel events ahead. It’s not going to be easy, but we have to capitalise. There’s no question that in the sport experience counts for a lot. There are a lot of rallies and stages Mikko hasn’t done, but there’s no doubt he can win rallies and that’s going to help us in our battle against Seb and Citroën.

Q: You set an amazingly quick time on the very first stage of the rally? How vital was that quick time to ensuring that you won the rally? Where did the time come from – do you know in which areas you had an advantage over everybody else on this event? How much extra confidence does this win give you? Do you think you will be able to beat Marcus on a more regular basis now?

MH: It was a good start to the rally to take nine or 10 seconds straight away. But I was concentrating on the long stages, when we had the shorter ones I tried to take it steady and stay close to Sébastien and Marcus. When you make a good speed at the start, it’s easier to keep that speed. I know where the speed came from, yeah from Finland! But okay, it helped that this was a new rally for everybody. Still I’m not expecting to do the same thing on every rally. There’s no promise, let’s see. Of course it gives you a lot of confidence, but like I said we’ll have to see in the next gravel rallies. Can I do the same pace? In this rally the snow banks saved me a few times, it’s not going to be the same in Mexico, let’s hope there’s plenty of space.

Q: How much did you have to hold Mikko back on some of the more tricky sections? Were you worried at any point?

JL: No, no definitely not. We agreed it was a full attack from the start. I just read the pace notes and held on!

Q: Marcus, how big a threat do you think Mikko will be to you in the future? Did doing three rallies in succession affect you this weekend? How worried were you about Sébastien catching you – do you think your performance forced him into a mistake?

MG: For sure he (Mikko) will be, yes. It will be fights to the end of the rallies in the coming events. I had nothing to do with his (Loeb’s) mistake, he was just little bit out of the road. He was trying maximum to beat Mikko and myself, and yes, it happens sometimes, but next one is a different rally and it will all be different again.

Q: What was it like for you as a co-driver doing back-to-back recces? Is it easier or more difficult when it’s a brand new event?

TR: Okay, it takes it taxes. If we had one more rally, I would seek another job! The last few days when you wake up at six or five in the morning, the first thing you think is: “Is it the recce day, rally or do we fly today?” Three rallies in a row for us is a bit too much. Many people who have done two have the same feeling, but as we have said from the logistics and cost, this is the best way. I don’t think it affected the performance.

Q: You had a big fight with your brother over the last couple of days; what was that like? Did you feel a bit of a rivalry on this rally? How determined were you to beat him? What was it like this morning? Do you think you were both pushing at 100%?

HS: Actually I have been fighting so much in these years, not so much in the rallies, but before. I’ve learned not to think about him – I just wanted to beat the blue car. This week has been very hard for me. There were a lot of sponsors, I was stressed from the start, if I go out then it’s not fun for the 600 people from sponsors. They want to see me for three days. Then after two days, I think it’s okay, I have given the sponsors some time on television and signed hundreds of autographs. Now I don’t care, now it’s flat out!

Q: With the benefit of experience now, what do you think of the idea of running rallies back-to-back? Does it work?

CM: For us it was very good because we didn’t have so much time in the car. When we came here it was like having a good test. Doing Norway straight after Sweden was very good.

Q: After the problem you had on the final day in Sweden, did you make any adjustments to the car? Does this give you more confidence over Citroën before Rally Mexico?

MW: In terms of set-up, the cars were identical. The issue we had on Jari and Matthew’s car, we did make some small modifications, but it wasn’t anything like as cold here. It was strange the other cars were fine. We did make some small modifications, but nothing significant. I think, unfortunately, these guys have a difficult job of sweeping the road on day one, it’ll be a difficult day, but there’s no way we can underestimate Sébastien and the package. This is a big turning point and confidence boost for Mikko. Some events he will be strong and some events where Marcus and Sébastien will be strong. It’s great for the Championship that we’ve had three events and three winners.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Fred Billet (Echappement, France)

Q: Malcolm, how much do you think it is good for PR to have two rallies close together?

MW: From a team point of view, it’s a very cost-effective way, not just to do the events, but when you link engines and chassis, the closer the rallies are the easier it makes it to manage. There’s the cost saving of not going back home too. That’s from the team point of view; we have to wait for the marketing point of view when we get home.

FIA JUNIOR RALLY CHAMPIONSHP

1st - Per-Gunnar Andersson 1st - Jonas Andersson

Q: You’ve started the season with a win; how hard were these stages for a two-wheel drive car? How difficult was it when you lost all your studs on SS3? What do you think of this rally; did your experience of rallies at home in Sweden help you? Suzuki tested in Norway last year before the Rally Sweden; did that help you?

P-GA: As long as there is ice on the stage, it’s okay. When it was snowing it’s hard to find traction. If you go off the line, it can be hard. We could only do 20km, the last 10km, I had 50 studs left in the tyres, this makes it difficult if there is ice at the end of the stage. Yeah, we had some set-up from the Swedish last year. Of course it helps, you have to test the car.

Q: Were there any moments when you thought you might lose your victory, such as the high-speed spin on SS5?

JA: That’s the only thing during the weekend. Sixth gear over a fast left, we hit a snowbank and the car spun 360 degrees. We changed down a couple of gears and went again. It was a bit of a moment, but okay.

Q: Did you expect everybody else to push you harder than they did? Were you expecting your team-mate Urmo Aava to be challenging you for the win? Does starting the season like this give you a small comfort zone heading into the next round? How much do you expect Patrik Sandell and the Renault R3 to challenge you? From what you have seen, what are the main differences between the Super 1600 cars and the R3 cars?

P-GA: We didn’t know where they were standing. I knew Urmo was quick, I thought he would be the main rival. He was close, but then, unfortunately, he hit rock and retired on SS5. After that it was relaxed. The Renault will probably have better traction, he has more torque. As long as it’s smooth it can be a good car, but over the length of the season our car will be better and we will probably win.

Q: Did the change in conditions between the recce and the rally affect your pace notes at all? How difficult was it to come back into competition after two months off following Wales Rally GB?

JA: No not really. The road was not really different, just more snow. The corners were the same, not a huge difference. Not so hard, it was good to have a test before and get some mileage and confidence in the car. We had good pace from the start.

Q: Did you take time to get into the event? Do you think your performance here has boosted your chances of landing a WRC drive with the SX4?

P-GA: It was no problem; I’ve been in the car some years - snow and ice is my home surface. I hope so!

Credit: fia

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Timo Rautiainen , Mikko Hirvonen , Malcolm Wilson , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Per-Gunnar Andersson , Jonas Andersson , Urmo Aava , Patrik Sandell
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport