Present: Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Evgeny Novikov, Citroen Junior Team Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team Olivier Quesnel, Citroen Total World Rally Team Martin Prokop, FIA Junior World Rally...
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Evgeny Novikov, Citroen Junior Team
Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team
Olivier Quesnel, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Martin Prokop, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Michal Kosciuszko, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Mikko, we are at a new event here in Poland. Historically you have done well on new events, with wins in Norway in 2007 and last year in Jordan and Japan. Why is it that you excel on new rallies?
MH: I don't know. There is nothing special or different. It's a good record and I hope to keep it that way.
Q: Both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships have got closer after the results in Italy and Greece; you lie seven points behind Loeb in the standings. How crucial is it that you take maximum points away from the next couple of events?
MH: Well it would be my only chance. To still be second behind Seb will not get me anywhere. I need to win these rallies now and get closer to him to give me a chance of the title. Hopefully there will be no more seconds. The stages here are so fast and the difference between the drivers is going to be very small - tenths of seconds and where there will be no room for mistakes. It is so fast and narrow and now it is going to be slippery. One small mistake and you hit a tree. For sure, there is no room for mistakes.
Q: Let's talk about the stages here in Poland. What have you thought from what you have seen on the recce and how will this weather affect them?
MH: It (the rally) looks really nice. The stages are fast and flowing, with nice corners over crests. It's going to be very soft (stage surface) the second time through and that will make it very rough with some ruts. A perfect example is the changing road condition. We did a recce and the roads were dry and now it has been raining for two days. A lot of the corners we do not know and they are sure to be rougher and rockier. We are not like Formula One, where they cancel a race or are able to change tyres for the conditions. We do not have the chances like that. We are driving flat-out on narrow roads and there is no room for a mistake. This is something we should work on. We are not in need of a big effort for safety. For sure, having gravel crews to go through the stages would be the answer and that is not too big a cost. If the organisers and the FIA could be more flexible, we could easily have time to go through the stages one more time on Wednesday. This would be safer for everybody. We need to have more flexibility in the rules in these conditions.
Q: The World Motor Sport Council met yesterday and one of the decisions made was to give rallies more flexibility to evolve the character of their events, and could possibly be run over two three or four days with the possibility of mixed surfaces within a stage or day -- what do you think?
MH: The only thing I don't like is the tarmac and fixing that problem would be a problem solved for me. Giving the events a little flexibility would make it more interesting, for sure.
Q: You took a win in Greece and you did that while suffering a back problem - is that still an issue here?
MH: No it was okay in Greece. There is no problem at all.
Q: Evgeny, we have seen some real pace from you in previous events, especially Greece where you picked up four stage wins. Were you pleased with your pace there?
EN: Yes, of course, I will try again. It was a good race for us in Greece. One of the aims I have here is to do the same for this race.
Q: How much were you pushing to achieve those times? Were you at maximum speed or was there some in reserve?
EN: No I did not drive too hard and take a lot of risks. I concentrated hard and had a good pace. That is all.
Q: You are nominated to score Manufacturer points here in Poland -- what is your objective for the weekend?
EN: To finish the race will be very difficult. Of course I will try and score Manufacturers' points.
Q: Have you rallied on stages like this before -- are there any events you can compare them too?
EN: Maybe sometimes they are like Estonian roads. They are very difficult.
Q: What about the rest of the season with regard to budget, will we see you compete for the rest of 2009 with the Citroen Junior Team?
EN: We will not do Australia and I will try and find a way to be in GB and Spain maybe.
Q: Petter, we saw great pace from you in Greece a couple of weeks ago. It ended in disappointment, but there were huge positives to take away from that weekend.
PS: Yes I could have done it (better result). But I had four days to get the car ready (for Poland). I did not have many options to prepare it properly and we wanted to get it ready for Poland. On the downhill sections I was very fast. Now we will try hard here. It is going to be a tough rally. The second time through the stages will be tricky. It is much different to Greece so, for me, I hope to cause a surprise and make a big attack.
Q: You were concerned about the pace of the car on the hotter events -- we won't have a heat problem here, so will we see more performance from the Xsara?
PS: Well in Greece we made a good difference, inside the car was better. For sure, here is going to be a very fast rally. I will try hard and we will find out quickly where we are on these stages and whether we can keep up with the 2009 cars.
Q: I understand you will be testing a Peugeot 307 next week. How probable is it that we will see you in a different car in Finland?
PS: I drove a Mitsubishi last week and a Subaru a few weeks ago. Maybe the Peugeot next week and then a Skoda, perhaps! I aim to pick up a little knowledge here and there. It is fun to drive. You never know for Finland. I am in the position where I can drive whatever I want and do the best I can and have fun. Factory teams are different.
Q: It was announced just before Greece that you have a new sponsor in Shell -- how much does that ease the budget pressure you were under?
PS: Well, to tell the truth, the whole year is on a rally-by-rally (basis). I have a budget for what I am doing. If the budget is empty then it is stopped. The car itself is my private car. I am risking using that. Shell has given me one more rally this year. I have to fiddle to get things to work. I want to drive. It is really good fun. My wife is sitting back home and working a lot. My team has a lot of passion. I think it's very good. A factory team is a factory team, but we do the best out of the situation we have.
Q: The World Motor Sport Council met yesterday, what are your initial feelings on the WRC decisions that have been made?
OQ: Yes I am quite sure for the WRC it is good. We got the calendar for 2010 but, honestly, it is not the best calendar we could wish for. The regulations and the engine we know will be a 1.6-litre turbo for 2011. For us it is okay and new manufacturers will come soon and I am quite sure that rallying and the WRC will again be on top in two years. I would prefer to go to Monte Carlo. We have to ensure that we go to events where there is a car market. Going to Bulgaria is not too good for Citroen. We do not sell too many cars in Bulgaria and we prefer to go where we sell cars.
Q: Olivier, in Greece we saw a rare mistake from Sebastien (Loeb) on the Saturday morning while driving on a brand new stage. He has stated in the past that he is not a fan of new stages and we have a rally full of brand new stages here. Are you at all concerned?
OQ: I was disappointed to hear that Seb had a crash in Greece. He used to make a crash once a year. Last year it was in Sweden and this year in Greece. It is okay, it is done now for the season. I think the mistake he made was that he spoke to Daniel (Elena) just before and made a correction (to his notes) and lost his concentration for a small time. Then it was too fast in the corner and he hit a stone and this was it. It happens.
Q: You must be impressed by the performance of the Citroen Junior Team members?
OQ: We were all pleased with what happened in Greece. I was at Le Mans, but Evgeny and Seb (Ogier) are now clear in the head what they have to do and that is okay for us.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: You come to your home event in the lead of the Junior World Rally Championship; how does that feel?
MK: Yes, but to be precise, I live 600km away from here. A rally in Poland and the first time in the WRC is great for me. I will push as much as possible. I know the stages and they are quite similar to before, so that will be good.
Q: It's been a great season for you so far, two wins, two second places -- I imagine it would be pretty special to be able take a win here. Is that the objective?
MK: Of course it is, but Martin (Prokop) is very fast and I hope we have a nice battle. It is important that I take 10 points.
Q: What can we expect from the stages here?
MK: You know the stages are really tight. It is a really fast surface and quite soft. Sometimes it will be very difficult, like off-road stages, and it will not be easy to drive fast through the trees. It is difficult to get the correct line. This is no place for mistakes.
Q: Are there any really tough tests -- any stages that stand out as being particularly tricky?
MK: All the stages are similar. There are no car-killing stages like Cyprus and Greece. But I need to concentrate on driving. I have good pace notes, so I should be okay.
Q: At the last Junior event you took away maximum points after another great battle with Michal, but you are on his territory now. How tough will it be to take a win here?
MP: We will see. It is not far from my country. Michal is a very fast driver. For sure, we will do our best from the beginning. We will see how it goes. The shakedown was very difficult. The stages are like Finland and I enjoy driving them, but you cannot brake in the ruts and that could be a problem. You are not flat-out all the time and the ruts could be difficult.
Q: What are your thoughts on the stages?
MP: The stages can be nice. I hope it is not raining. On the recce, outside the forests, it can be okay. We will see. We (Michal and I) can speak Polish and Czech and we understand each other. I hope we enjoy the rally together and everyone enjoys our fight in this race. I think to be champion I have to win here and in Finland and be the fastest in Spain. I do not want to be second. I want to push for maximum points.
Q: One of the decisions taken by the World Motor Sport Council yesterday was to introduce a 'WRC Cup' for S2000 cars -- would that be something we could see either of you compete in next year?
MP: We are thinking about next season. I want to continue racing. We need to find a way to race. We will think about it. The final decision could be good for us.
MK: It is difficult to answer now about the future. We will wait for the FIA's decision and make final plans. For sure, I need to concentrate on this rally and the rest of this season.