WRC

Rally of Great Britain: Pre-event press conference

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Wales Rally GB Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference 15.09.2005 Present: David Lapworth - Subaru Malcolm Wilson - Ford Harri Rovanpera - Mitsubishi Colin McRae - Skoda Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Marcus Gronholm - ...

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Wales Rally GB
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
15.09.2005

Present:
David Lapworth - Subaru
Malcolm Wilson - Ford
Harri Rovanpera - Mitsubishi
Colin McRae - Skoda
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen
Marcus Gronholm - Peugeot

Q: David, Petter has an incredibly impressive record here. He's won for the last three years. Why do you think that is?

DL: It's a difficult thing to quantify but I think if you look at Petter's record he thrives in difficult conditions. I'm thinking back to that stage in Cyprus a few years ago where it rained really heavily, there were changing grip levels, water all over the place, and he did an incredible time. Difficult conditions suit him -- he's a driver who thrives on confidence and when he has confidence then he's very strong. And of course, the difficult conditions are typical Rally GB.

Q: Are these the sort of conditions that will make him strong again? It's been raining heavily this morning -- from your point of view, would you like it to stay like this or would you prefer the conditions to clear up a bit?

DL: I'd say if you based it on my comments and history we wouldn't be unhappy if it poured with rain for all three days. But I'm personally keen to see what this rally is like with some nice dry conditions. They say we're going to get drier roads on Saturday and Sunday -- it'll be interesting to see what the drivers make of these stages in good conditions, and warmer weather. I think it would be a completely different type of event and that wouldn't worry us. Petter seems happy with the car and we've done some good testing. We'd be as happy for it to be dry on Saturday and Sunday as wet and muddy.

Q: If the conditions are dry how do you think that will affect Petter's chances of victory? Will he be any less likely to dominate in dry conditions as he is in wet conditions?

DL: I don't think we're here expecting to dominate anyway. Obviously Petter's going well and he's happy with the the car but I think it'll be a hell of a fight with people like Sebastien and Marcus strong. I'd expect it to be a three-way fight at least, anyway. I wouldn't expect to be easy, regardless of what the conditions are like. I don't think dry roads would change that.

Q: Malcolm, this is another event where Ford has traditionally been strong: are you realistically looking for a podium or points here? Which specific objectives do you have for this event?

MW: I think it's been a long time since we were really strong -- I mean, I think that goes back to the Escort days, probably. But you're right -- we've been competitive and led the rally on a number of occasions, but never finished on the rostrum. And I think David's just answered the question -- obviously we're not going to get a look in! He's mentioned Marcus and Sebastien, so there's the answer! In real terms we're like we've been on most events this year. We think we can challenge for a podium position. I think Tony's been improving as each event has gone by, although we had a little bit of a setback last week. He had quite a big accident in testing so we had to abandon the test for this event. He seems fit and well, though, and I think that's the best we can hope for.

Q: Have you set the drivers any specific objectives? What are their goals here?

MW: Obviously it's a critical time. Everybody knows what's happening with the possibilities for driver movements. The pressure's really on Toni, in a way, to show that he has the speed to stay with us next year. But apart from that no, it's not vitally important but it'd be nice to keep our points-scoring record intact.

Q: David, this year's really been about Sebastien Loeb and Citroen. Seb's well on his way to the drivers' title and Citroen is doing well in the manufacturers' series. What can you as a manufacturer salvage from this year, or are you already thinking about 2006 instead?

DL: We're always thinking about 2006, 2007, because this is a sport now where the development of the cars for the future has to run in parallel with the current cars, especially when we have such a short break in the winter. You sort of take that for granted. For this season the goal is to win more rallies. Obviously the championship is looking a long way off -- the only hope, if there is one, is to win nearly everything by the end of the year. So it's very simple for us -- we want to go out and win every rally. We've pushed quite hard over the last few weeks on development stuff. There are some new ideas coming through for this rally, there are some more ideas coming for Japan, there's more for when we get back onto the asphalt. We are going to take some risks and push hard, to try and get as many wins as we can. I think this is one of our best chances.

Q: Malcolm, speaking of 2006, how is development of your new car proceeding? Are we on course to see it competing in Australia?

MW: Really pleased. I must admit it's a really exciting time now for me and the team because we're now starting to see some of the parts coming together, starting to assemble the first car. I've never seen such incredible effort put in by the design team and the engineers. It's rewarding for them to see their work and see the first car coming together. I can't hide my excitement about the car -- I'm so excited about what it's going to be like. Some things are on schedule and some are behnid but all being well we should be on the start line for Australia. That is the target -- we might be still assembling the cars as we put them onto the aeroplane -- but that is the intention.

Q: When do you think the car will run for the first time?

MW: I think it will be close to what I've just mentioned, but in an ideal world we'd like to see it running probably the first two weeks of October.

Q: David, a quick word about Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson. They've got a car that can win this rally underneath them: what can they do with it?

DL: I guess they could win, but realistically, no. They've both got a lot to learn. Stephane, I think this is his third gravel rally ever, so you've got to be realistic with expectations. Remember this morning at the shakedown was the first time he'd ever driven a rally car on gravel in wet conditions -- ever. So tomorrow morning's going to be a difficult start for him. What we've seen so far is that the learning curve is very steep. But we wouldn't be surprised to see him doing quite respectable times by Sunday, if conditions are stable. Chris is already going at a good pace. We've seen him now doing times, quite often up there in the top three. And I think he can do that here. His big focus is on Japan, which is an event he already knows well. I think that will be the first time he really feels at home. He's got one eye on this rally and getting himself comfortable with the car and ready for Japan. I think his current run of form and confidence will see him, certainly on Saturday and Sunday, setting some regular top-six or top-three times.

Q: Malcolm, how is Matthew (Wilson's son) and is he completely fit to start the rally?

MW: Yes, thank you, he's got now about 100 degrees of movement in his right knee. He's done three events in the last four weeks. I'm glad to say he's lost none of his speed. He's still making the odd mistake. He was leading a rally comfortably in Scotland last weekend and slid off for one and a half minutes. In fairness he's mentally stronger than he's ever been, and certainly I think his pace has improved. What will he do here? I don't know. You know what it's like trying to tell an 18-year old what to do. He wants everything to happen like yesterday. But I'm pleased that he has come back stronger than ever. He's surprised me and I have to give him full credit for the commitment and dedication that he's put in to get himself into the position he's in, back behind the wheel so soon. I'm also pleased he's part of the MSA Elite scheme. Apart from me giving him some assistance he can now receive help from lots of other people as well. So I'm pleased for him that he's been nominated for that.

Q: Colin, how does it feel to be back?

DM: Yeah, it feels good. I'm looking forward to it. Everything's gone very well and the preparations have been good, building confidence with the car and the team. It's almost been too good to be true -- we've had no problems at all in testing or on the rally we did last weekend. And shakedown's gone very well today. I'm a little apprehensive about tomorrow morning, but I'm looking forward to it.

Q: Harri, how about you? Is this rally one that you like?

HR: Yes, I've had good results many times on this rally. And this morning the usual interesting weather came. I think it will be an interesting weekend and I hope our tyres work well here.

Q: Colin, how important is this event for your future in the sport? What sort of objective have you got fixed for yourself here?

DM: Obviously to go as quick as possible. It's going to take time, for sure, to find the speed and find the confidence. The stages on Rally GB are very fast and quite tricky. It's difficult to know how long it will take to get the speed and confidence back. It'd be nice to go on the first stage tomorrow and have a cracking time, but I don't think that's going to happen. I'll try, but it's going to be a case of finding the balance between finding a reasonable pace and not making a mistake.

Q: Aside from the driving, Colin, how difficult has been to get back into the practice of, say, making effective pacenotes?

DM: It's been reasonably easy. I was talking about it with Nicky [Grist] during the recce and it doesn't feel like it's been nearly two years. I guess it's like riding a bicycle -- once you learn you never forget it. It's just how well can you do it. It does feel like it's gone very well but we're not going to know until mid-morning tomorrow how much confidence we have and how quick we can be.

Q: Is there anything new on the car on this event?

HR: No. It's a similar car to the one that we had in Germany in Finland.

Q: Looking at the conditions, would you be happy for it to stay wet or would you prefer the roads to dry out? Or would you even be happy with mixed conditions?

HR: I really hope Saturday and Sunday are dry, because it'll be the first time! But we'll see tomorrow morning what the weather is like. It'll be the same for everybody, but I do hope it dries out.

Q: Colin, what are your impressions of the Skoda Fabia compared to some of the cars you have driven in the past? What would you say are its principal strengths and weaknesses?

DM: Best car I've ever driven! All WRC cars, certainly the ones I've driven, feel very similar when you drive them. It's a fine-tuning thing and when you come to tune the car to give you that little bit of extra confidence you find each driver is different. For sure, in every car there are things you'd like to change but it's just not possible in such a short space of time. But I feel comfortable in the car. Today in the shakedown the conditions were terrible -- a lot of water, very slippery, unpredictable -- and we were still able to push quite hard because the car felt good and wasn't doing anything it shouldn't be doing. That's one big plus point -- the balance is good. I've a good feeling, so let's wait and see what the times are like tomorrow morning.

Q: Would you say it's suited to your distinctive driving style?

DM: I wouldn't say so -- all of these cars now tend to need to be driven very straightline, to keep them in the line and out of the soft stuff at the side. And naturally that's not the way I like to drive. I need to force myself to drive the way the car wants to be driven, not the way I want to drive it. But that's been the same a bit with the Subaru at the beginning, with the Ford and certainly with the Citroen. After two years out I've forgotten so I'm learning afresh!

Q: Harri, Pirelli have been strong here in the past. Do you think that will help you to get onto the podium?

HR: I think this season we've seen Pirelli and Michelin at a very close level. But of course I think our tyres will work well.

Q: Frederic Billet (Echappement) Colin, would you be happy or upset to find yourself behind Kris Meeke (McRae protege)?

DM: It depends. If Kris won the rally and I was second I'd be happy!

Q: Hello Marcus. Are you feeling optimistic about your chances here? Great Britain is one of the events where you have always gone well -- do you feel that you have a chance of winning here?

MG: Yes, why not? The weather seems to be normal here. I don't know why you say I have done well here because the last three times I have retired! So now it's time to get a result here for manufacturer's points for sure. We need to do well here because on tarmac we know we are not competitive enough to win, so we will do it on gravel.

Q: Seb, what do you have to do here to win the championship? Will you be thinking about that and driving to a plan, or just driving normally?

SL: I think if I win and Marcus is no higher then seventh then I could win the title, but for me it doesn't matter. I shall do my best and I will try to win my race like every time. I will try to go fast at the start but then so will all the teams.

Q: You've got a couple of changes to the cars here. Are you going to be using a different gearbox and new dampers?

MG: No, we're not using a new gearbox. We have made some small improvements to the dampers and the car feels good and the new tyres are OK and seem to be good for this rally.

Q: This is one of the few rallies that you have not won, but you've finished second a number of times. How important would it be for you to win this rally? Is there any particular type of conditions that you would prefer?

SL: It would be nice to win it for the championship but it will be very close and is often won on the final stage. We expect to have dry conditions but it will be wet until Saturday and then we will see.

Q: As this season comes to a close, are you any closer to a deal for next year? When would you like to have your future settled? Is there any particular deadline or date?

MG: No way.

Q: Who do you think will be your biggest rival here? Is it going to be you and Petter again?

SL: I think that every time. We also have Markko Martin and Francois Duval who are very good now.

Q: Any questions for Seb and Marcus?

Q: Markus, what's your opinion about the new rules that will take effect next year?

MG: Why should we go in the forests for three days!? (jokes). Forget this! We should be like Formula One and go round and round on a super special! (everyone laughs)

Q: Seb, do you think that Colin (McRae) stands a chance of winning this rally?

SL: I don't know, I think that Colin is a very fast driver but I don't know how he will do. We will see. It will be a big surprise seeing him fighting for victory and for points.

-fia-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team