Yoann Bonato Julien Pressac Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team Harri Rovanpera - Red Bull Skoda Team Sebastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team Matthew Wilson - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford...
Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Harri Rovanpera - Red Bull Skoda Team
Sebastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team
Matthew Wilson - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson - BP Ford World Rally Team
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Hello Yoann. What do you think of the chance the FFSA has given you to drive a Renault Clio S1600 on the Tour de Corse? What are your hopes for this rally and the future in general?
YB: I think it's very important for a young driver that the Federation can help them. For us, they can help us on Tour de Corse in a Clio S1600. I try to do the best result. In the first time I will try to make my mark with the team; everything is new, the car and the team. After this I will try to do the best result. For the moment, we only have this rally. It's a very important opportunity, before this I didn't have any programme. It's very important for me to be in this rally.
Q: Julien, your first race in the Junior World Rally Championship was two weeks ago in Catalunya. What did you think of the Championship and your Citroen C2? Will you be able to fight for the title this year and who do you think will be the key rivals?
JP: It's like a dream for me. I drive for the first time in WRC and JWRC with a C2 1600. The Citroen was a very fast car. I took a lot of pleasure, a lot of fun, you could say. I see Sebastien and all the other drivers on TV and now it's near me; it's fantastic, like a dream. No, I'm not in a Championship position. I have to learn, it's my first year. I'm a newcomer. If I push I could do a mistake. Slowly, to start with and then I could do some good times.
Q: It's the first time you've been on the Tour de Corse, what are the main difficulties for somebody making their debut on this event? It's also your first time in the Renault, what do you think? Have you done any testing?
YB: This rally is not more difficult than the French Rally Championship. You have to drive very slow as there are a lot of turns. I will try not to do a mistake and stay on the road. I tested the car at shakedown. I did approximately 20km, it's a good car. I will try to use it the most I can.
Q: You started your career in racing, what made you switch to rallying? Are there any elements in common between driving on a circuit and driving on an asphalt rally stage, and which discipline is more enjoyable?
JP: I do the French F3 Championship and that became European Championship and I didn't have enough money. I looked around at what I could do; I always watch rally on TV and I wanted to try it. I'm very happy to do rally, I'm a rally man. In F3 we have a lot of things for the set-up and that's easier than in Tarmac. It's good from a technical aspect for the rally, but on the gravel it will be tough.
Q: As Frenchmen, how does it feel to contest your home round of the WRC?
YB: The French can make two persons, it's Nicolas Vouilloz and us here. In the WRC, it's very good.
JP: All the spectators are French. In Catalunya we got a lot of flags from the spectators and it was wonderful, there will be even more here. Rally de France is another rally I have to learn, I have to learn the stages.
Q: Marcus, welcome. In Catalunya two weeks ago you seemed to be showing a genuine pace on the first day that was enough for you and Ford to be faster than Sebastien and Citroen? How much more confidence does that give you heading into this event? Is the Focus quicker than the Xsara on asphalt now? How much satisfaction would it give you to beat Sebastien here on home territory, where he won every stage last year?
MG: Yes, the speed was good in Catalunya and the times as well, but that was in Spain. Now we're in Corsica but the feeling is we can match this speed. Let's see tomorrow, but yes, I think we can. The Focus looks very good, I've seen some images. The handling is very good. We really have a good car. So, if it's faster than Citroen I don't know, I hope so. It would be nice to beat Sebastien and it would also be good for the Championship. Still, it's a long way and three days to rally. For sure, he's not going to win all of the stages.
Q: Harri, welcome back. Very nice to see you. What have you been doing since you finished second in Australia last year? When Mitsubishi pulled out, did you think your career was effectively over? How did the Skoda drive come about?
HR: Fishing! What I am doing... many things in the winter. I built a new house and it was a good break for me. Of course it looked like my career might be over. For me, it wasn't a big pressure for coming back though. I see the rally for many years and stay in top teams and I was okay with that. Then Armin called and asked me about coming back. I say, "Okay." A few months is quite a long time at home. It was easy, I say: "Okay, we come."
Q: What for you are the biggest differences between Catalunya and Corsica? You've said in the past that you prefer Corsica to Catalunya -- why is that? Are there any significant differences in terms of car set-up, and the way you approach the rally?
MG: Maybe it was in the beginning when I started with Peugeot in 2000. I was not good on Tarmac then, this was easier. Spain is sometimes like circuit driving. Here it's narrow, only one line. I prefer this one. The set-up is completely the same as Spain. The driving style is the same for me.
Q: You've had your first few kilometres in the Skoda Fabia WRC now -- what do you think of the car? How does it compare to the cars you have driven before? Is it the sort of car that you can jump into and be fast straight away, or do you think it will take you some time to get used to it?
HR: It's early to say almost anything. The first feeling is good in shakedown. Now we start the rally with a new car, but this weekend is about enjoying it and learning the car and getting some feeling before the gravel events. You can ask about the comparison on Sunday. I have some feeling this morning, but of course I need to learn more about the braking and the new tyres. General driving is okay. Everybody thinks I don't like Tarmac, but when it works well, it's okay.
Q: Seb, last year was the scene of a fantastic victory for you, where you won all the stages. How likely is that to happen again, or was it just a once-in-a-lifetime occasion? Marcus was telling us about how good the Ford Focus is on asphalt: do you think this means that you will have to push even harder than last year? Did Marcus's strong performance in Catalunya worry you?
SL: I think he is a bit right. Okay, last year it was possible to do it. I've done it now, now I don't want to try to do the same. If I can fight for the victory, I will do that, but not to fight for the best times. It will be harder, yes, sure I will have to push harder than last year. Marcus is really fast. We saw in Catalunya, it's very difficult to be faster than him. Now he has a good feeling with his car, he wants to win his first Tarmac rally. We will see, I try to do my best. Worried? No. It makes the race exciting. We knew before the start of the season the new Ford would be fast, but it's always very close. It's hard to go faster than him. It will be exciting and it will be exciting here.
Q: Petter, it's not been the perfect start to the season by any means. I am sure you have been working hard with the team to analyse the reasons: what do you think needs to be done in order to get your title bid back on track?
PS: Well, some of the biggest problems have been three Tarmac rallies. In Sweden it was really nothing to talk about. In Mexico we showed a very good performance, we had the chance to win. We will see here now in Corsica. The weather looks very good, it will be quite tough for us, but we'll see. We are working in every area, the Tarmac has been difficult, but on gravel it should be okay. We tested on gravel and now we found some good steps on gravel. Like I said, the biggest issue is not on the gravel and we haven't found anything special on asphalt for this rally.
Q: Speaking of title bids, did you expect to be nine points ahead at this point of the season Seb? Or did you think you would be further ahead or further behind? Of all the rallies in the calendar, is Corsica the one where you feel you are strongest? You are starting first on the road -- does that make any difference here?
SL: I am happy to be in this position. For me it's the best start I've ever done to a season. I have two victories and two second places, I think my position is good, perhaps better than we could expect. A nine-point lead is good if you think he has to win fives times, if I am five times second. It's a lot and very small at the same time. This is one of the rallies on which I have a good feeling, perhaps one where I feel strong, but you are never unbeatable anywhere. Last year I had a good opportunity to show we had a good car, tyre and everything was going well. A lot of other drivers didn't have the same tyre as us. This year, with Marcus on BF Goodrich, it's not so easy. On Tarmac the running order is not a big difference, it's better to be first on the road than 15th.
Q: Do you think the roads in Corsica suit your car and tyres better than those in Spain? People say that the asphalt is traditionally more abrasive in Corsica, is this the case? Which sort of work have you been doing with Pirelli in order to optimise tyre performance in these conditions?
PS: They are definitely better than Spain, but they are resurfacing the roads to new Tarmac here as well, which isn't the best for us. We have to have a better result than in Spain; we have to do that before we go to the gravel. Pirelli made a very good step for Spain. It's not easy, the competition is tough out there and it's many areas we have to work on to get things right. We will see.
Q: The weather in Corsica is always a big factor. Are you hoping for a completely dry rally? How slippery do these roads become when they are wet? Is it possible to receive accurate weather information, or do you feel that it can sometimes be something of a lottery?
SL: If it rains, it will be tricky. When the rain comes on the road, then you can have aquaplaning, which is not nice. It is also hard to choose the good tyre. The weather can change in a few minutes, but we pick the tyres three or four hours before the stage. Choosing the tyres can be very difficult. Now it looks like it will be staying a bit dry, we will see.
Q: Corsica was the scene of one of your most spectacular victories, in 2003. Do you think you need it to be raining to challenge for a win here? Otherwise, what sort of result are you looking for here?
PS: It was a long time ago, eh? We definitely need something, we need a lottery. It's our only chance, if we have a chance. There's no point complaining, we have to get through the rally and do the best we can. We will see. I don't care if it's raining or snowing, we just have to take what we can. I think we're going to have an enjoyable weekend for everybody. If I come on the podium, I'll be very, very happy. It's a long way before we can think about that one, but I'm going to try anyway.
Q: First time in Corsica here for you -- how does it compare to the previous experience of World Championship asphalt rallying you have had in Catalunya? Do you think it's easier or more tricky?
Matthew W: Yeah, I think here it's a unique place and one you have to treat with a bit of respect. We were fortunate enough to do the recce here last year, so I have some idea of some stages. That will make things a little bit easier. I would prefer it if it stayed dry, but I'm looking forward to it. As Petter says, we have to take what comes. In some ways, it is going to be more difficult than Spain. It is a more difficult rally. We have to keep learning. In Spain we got around the stages, if I can do the same here and get more experience, I'll be happy.
Q: Obviously you had the turbo problem in Catalunya that let you down: what exactly was it? Are you confident that it has been fixed now and how worried are you about reliability here? You have been testing -- what did you find that will help you for the future?
MW: It's been well recorded; it was the wastegate which controls boost pressure. The wastegate is in two parts and they separated due to the fixing. Okay, you can never be 100 per cent sure, but I am 99.999 per cent sure we have addressed it for this event. I'm confident we won't end up in same situation. Basically, it's what I said from the outset: there will always be something unique on an event. Nothing had been changed from October when the car started testing. It was the high speeds for long periods of time -- that's unique to that event. There are no long straights here. We didn't test for 1.5 km at 190kph. I always said something like that would catch us out, I just hope there's not going to be any more of them.
Q: The Ford Focus WRC you are driving was the winning car in Corsica in 2004 with Markko Martin. Do you think that the car is still up there with the best on these surfaces? Is it easy to drive? Are you worried about the weather at all?
Matthew W: Yeah, for sure. There have been steps made with the new car, but look back to this event last year, when it was late in the year. Toni Gardemeister was second last year. This shows the car is still capable of doing the job, but I don't think I will be capable of doing the job. We haven't done a test, we've come straight from Spain and gone for a similar set-up. We'll be making changes as we go and trying to improve things.
Q: What do you think of Matt's progress so far this year? What would you say have been the strong and the weak points of his driving? Is it difficult to remain objective when you work with him? What will be his target for this event?
MW: Do you really want me to answer that with him sat here! We have a plan in place which everybody in this room knows about. It's not going to happen overnight. He's gaining valuable experience at this point. I want him to finish rallies; that's invaluable to going forward. In relation to his performance, look at Mexico. He was 1.2s/km behind Petter in similar road conditions. If I look back to other young drivers we have had on the books, their performance was maybe not as good as that. Taking into consideration his experience, I'm very happy. We want more of the same here, maybe a bit quicker than in Spain, but as he said, getting to the finish is very important for experience.
Q: Like Monte Carlo, this is one of the legendary events on the world rally calendar. What are your thoughts now that you are here and actually doing it? There are some very famous people who have gone before you...
Matthew W: It's a fantastic feeling. Through the years it's changed a lot. It's more compact with less stages, like other rallies, but the classics are still there and the chance to drive them is fantastic. It's like Monte Carlo, and the same with the weather. The weather can change so quickly. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: A quick word about Mikko: so far he has just two points. Is that a big disappointment to you? Has that been his fault, the car's fault or just bad luck? How do you plan to rectify the situation?
MW: That was certainly not on the target we set him at the start of the season. But, in fairness, the majority of those have not been down to him, he has had more technical glitches than Marcus. Okay, he made a mistake in Mexico. Maybe we made the wrong decision, but he felt comfortable with his pace. In fairness, I'm not concerned in any way, shape or form. He has a three-year contract and everybody who has seen him on the stages is sure it's not going to be long before he's on the podium, and not long before he's on the top step. The points don't look too good from a manufacturers' point of view, but we have managed to take some points from the rallies.