Present at the press conference:
1st - Julien Ingrassia, Volkswagen Motorsport (JI)
2nd - Bryan Bouffier, M-Sport Ltd (BB)
2nd - Xavier Panseri, M-Sport Ltd (XP)
3rd - Kris Meeke, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team (KM)
3rd - Paul Nagle, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team (PN)
Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director (JC)
Sébastien, congratulations on achieving the first win of the WRC season! The title defence has got off to a good start! SO: Of course it’s very good. Like you mention, this is the best way to restart the season - like we finished the last one! It was a tough race for us; we were not so good on day one. We struggled with the meteo information and we went wrong, fortunately everybody behind us copied us. If somebody had been clever behind us and taken snow tyres, maybe they would have taken the lead by five minutes on day one. We passed, but I can tell you it was quite lonely in the car when we were on slicks on snow. We had luck on this rally, we have to admit it. It could end on the first corner, we had some small slush and it was crazy. I understeered immediately and hit the wall. We improved the car in the winter: we reinforced all of the arms and maybe it was a good idea, otherwise it might have been the end of the race.
How tough were conditions this year? What for you was the hardest stage? SO: Every day was tough. We just talked about the first one, the first afternoon was difficult, but from day two there was more rain, and a lot of mud – the rain was heavy all the time. Every cut was full of mud, especially the second loop was a big challenge. Bryan [Bouffier] was very fast on the second loop, we took back a bit of time, but not too much regarding the amount of kilometres. When the conditions turned to the slippery one, we made a bit more the difference, but it was never enough. When you finish the race with Turini you have to have one minute lead to stay in the race; you cross this famous col with the slush on tricky tyres, it was good to be last on the road for us to check what the others were doing and look at the line.
Back to the first morning and your home backyard in Gap, we were expecting you’d get the tyre choice spot on with the weather but that wasn’t the case? SO: That wasn’t the case. Actually my dad called me but it was too late, he said what are you doing, you are on slicks, are you crazy? I said thanks dad but you are too late!
KM: He never called me. I was running 20 minutes after!
SO: We make the tyre choice one hour before the start of the stage and during this one hour the weather completely turned. There was humidity when the gravel crew passed and then it turned to snow. The mistake we did is we should have been more clever and know how quickly the weather can change. We know in winter conditions the weather can change very quickly and you know you should always be safe and take two snow tyres in the boot at least. But we didn’t do it. We had too much confidence and trust in the information. But almost everyone copied us. Okay we lost quite a bit of time but it was still possible to come back.
This is such a huge challenge, is it the toughest in the Championship and how good are you feeling? JI: For sure it was and I am thinking especially about my colleagues here because for the co-driver it is a really hard job. On Tarmac events you get gravel crews and especially here they are of huge importance and there are a lot of corrections in the pace notes so you don’t have a minute to yourself. On the road sections you are giving your driver the information on the road book, checking in on time and at the same time you are on the phone to your gravel crew so it’s a really hard job. For sure I am very proud because we didn’t make a mistake and did our best in difficult conditions and I am happy to get a trophy. At least I hope to get a trophy because for the moment there is only one!
SO: Message to the ACM we need a trophy for Julien please…
Were there any big moments, Julien? JI: I try to erase everything – it’s better to be competitive for the next race! I am never scared with Seb, we compete for nine years together and when we drive together I have never been scared. For sure he has to push on the steering wheel and this is an amazing job the drivers do to stay on the road. Sometimes it has been quite close, even on some finish line we jumped into some field – I did some study in agriculture, which reminded me of some stuff with the tractor! It was fine. We didn't have any big issues because of that, but I am never scared.
Bryan, second position at Rally Monte-Carlo and your first WRC podium! You have had great success in the past at Monte-Carlo but did you think a podium was possible this time around? BB: In my expectations I wanted to finish on the podium but it’s never easy because you are battling the best teams in the world and the best drivers and I know how tough the Monte-Carlo is especially with the tyre choice and it's so difficult to stay on the road. I was realistic before the rally, knowing it was going to be so tough but we were really concentrated on our target to do the best tyre choice and that’s what happened. Just before leaving the service I took two super soft and two snow tyres for the boot and Christian Loriaux from Ford said it was a ‘small dick’ choice. But I said: “Okay but it’s the only dick I have…” I was quite a lot frustrated because 100 metres in the first stage were okay, but then after the first corner I went off and hit a bridge. I knew then we were going to get a lot of snow. I had two snow tyres in the boot so it was not a bad choice for me. It means on Monte-Carlo that even if you are not the fastest driver you can do some interesting things if you have a good analysis of the stages and do a proper tyre choice. In this way the target of a podium was quite reachable.
You are always calm and always seem to handle the pressure. How do you manage to do this? BB: I am getting quite old and now I have good experience and I enjoy what I am doing and that’s it.
Bryan, explain what happened with your spin… BB: We were leading after the first day and we were trying to push as hard as we could on the first stage on the second day. We lost more or less 11 seconds in the long one, then we did the best time for just 0.2 seconds, but then I did a mistake on the second pass: I thought it would be drier and I made the car stiffer. This was not a great choice and I was not happy with the car. When I spin, I got on the power too early in a muddy part and the spectators have to help me. Then the gap was more or less one minute and we couldn't say the race was lost, but Seb had a bit less pressure.
You were a test driver with Hyundai last year, will that continue this year? Will we see you compete again in the WRC in 2014? BB: I don’t know yet. We are talking together, but it’s not done yet. I’m not sure about more WRC, but we will be in Latvia for the second round of the ERC in two weeks and then we will see.
Xavier, congratulations on the result! How good does it feel to achieve a podium result here at the ‘Monte’? XP: It’s amazing. We won the Monte-Carlo in 2011 but it was already a really amazing rally but this rally to fight with the best drivers and best teams in the world and to be on the podium from the beginning to the end is an amazing feeling.
Xavier what happened with your pace notes – you used somebody else’s? XP: It was a big mistake from me during the recce, I missed the junction – I didn't take the proper road. It was my mistake. The road we took arrived in exactly the same point. I did not see that I made this mistake and our gravel crew told me, when they passed. They said there was a mistake and the road in our notes was not the road we take. I try to think how this is possible, but all of the time the time was running. I called to François Delecour’s co-driver Dominique Savignoni to try and find the mistake. Dominique gave me his notes for the five kilometres I missed. I write down the first three, but then the phone is cutting out and it was not possible to take all five. So, for five kilometres we have our notes, then we do three with François Delecour’s notes, then two with Bryan’s eyes and then the final 10 with our notes. I apologise to Bryan – it was a big mistake.
Kris, the first British driver to be on a WRC podium since 2003, plus this is your first ever WRC podium! I presume that was a good weekend?! KM: I’m sitting here laughing… if I’d had Seb’s dad’s phone number I could have won the rally! We had two winter tyres in the boot.! No, it’s really special for me to get my first proper opportunity with Citroën. To know I have a future is important and not that every stage and every rally is the only chance to prove what’s possible. It’s nice to prove that when I have an opportunity I can manage a rally, look to the future and see the bigger picture. This has been an incredibly difficult rally. Every stage was a surprise. There was just no consistency in the conditions and it came with a big sting in the tail that was Turini. That was special, I enjoyed it. I’m really delighted to get the first podium with the first event in the team.
You thanked Yves Matton personally last night on the radio – is this payback for Citroen’s faith in you? KM: It’s only number one of 13 events, but it’s a nice way to start for sure. Motorsport is different; in football you are yourself, and in golf, but in motorsport you need a good car and good tools. To get the opportunity with Citroën, a team with so much knowledge and so much knowledge to help me is incredible and to be able to reward people who give you an opportunity is nice.
You were battling within the top four throughout the weekend, you obviously felt comfortable in the car from the start? How happy have you been with your pace this weekend? KM: It’s my first asphalt rally in two and a half years. Okay it’s maybe not asphalt but still my first rally in the DS3 on Tarmac so I had to manage it and keep everything in check. Seb drove an incredible rally and so did Bryan. I saw a lot of drivers were having some hot moments pushing a lot, including Seb, but it was a drive of a champion to come back like he did. I did not have one big moment and there were no surprises throughout the rally. On another weekend you never know it could have been a better result. But I am so happy to get to the finish to build the confidence with the team and the car.
You have had your first taste of the WRC podium; no doubt you now want more! KM: I have never driven a snow rally so Sweden’s going to be an interesting experience for me. For sure I know it’s impossible to do a good result the first time there so the plan is to be very quiet in Sweden and drive round to get the experience for next year. In fact I’ve never been to Mexico or Portugal either so I’ll be quiet on the next three rallies. But the Championship is not the objective. I want to build my confidence and experience. I want to battle Seb in the future and get some rallies under my belt.
JI: Kris, show us your right hand – now promise for the next three rallies you will be quiet!
KM: (raising right hand) I was quiet on this rally!
Paul, it’s a great start to the season but your ice note crew did a great job too? PN: It’s an impossible job not having them. Mark Higgins and Derek Brannigan did an incredible job. We relied 100 per cent on their notes. It was Mark’s first time and what he did was absolutely incredible. Every stage the conditions were different and on the second pass the conditions were different. They did an incredible job and don’t get the recognition they deserve. It’s a credit to them and all the crews because without them I don’t think any of us would be on the podium today.
Paul, it’s a great start to the season. What was the atmosphere like in the car and team last night when you achieved third place? PN: We’ve had a couple of great years together, Kris and I, but we have been in different colours in the last few years. But, we’re back where it started and that relationship works well. It was a different approach this weekend; it was a different Kris Meeke on this rally. There were no moments, no dramas or anything like that. He did an incredible job. This was the first time for me with Citroën and the team and it’s been incredible. Having a team built around you is fantastic and it’s makes it easier to do a good job. But we have to give credit to Kris for this result.
Jost, what was the target for this event – did you achieve it? JC: Jari-Matti saw the finish line for the first time in 10 years… he wanted a top five and he got that and he won the Power Stage, so he was better than the target – this gives a lot of confidence for Sweden. This was the second time [on this event] for Andreas [Mikkelsen] and you can imagine that the first time he only did 500 metres. This time he did much more – he learned all of the stages and that was his target; without one bad luck, he could have been higher. The whole team was happy to come back after the tyre choice on the first day.
A great start to the season for the Volkswagen Motorsport team! Starting the season with a win and the team’s first win at the ‘Monte’! JC: You can’t start really any better. Monte-Carlo is an event everyone wants to win and winning it in the second year with Volkswagen in the WRC is absolutely amazing. That’s what we were dreaming for and the next dream is coming true after last year. All three drivers did a fantastic job and everybody achieved the targets they had been set so it’s really good for the whole team.
You began last year not knowing what could be achieved, and you achieved so much. Is there more pressure this year as everyone is expecting to see the same success? JC: Last year we were relaxed at the start and wanted to see where we were. Then we saw where we were and could develop from there and it went really well. There is no external pressure, we know what we want to achieve so it is an internal pressure and this is a very positive pressure to show what we are capable of. We worked hard during the winter, it was a short break, but the work we did to change the car paid off this weekend. I am pretty sure if we had not done that Seb would not have won the rally.