2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Wales Rally GB
Marcus Gronholm, BP-Ford World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Manfred Stohl, OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Marcus: let's start with you. It's a very important event for you because as things stand it's your last rally -- and one where you stand a chance of winning the Championship. How do you feel? Sad? Excited?
MG: I just feel like it's a normal rally, no different. Maybe it will be a little bit different on Sunday when I realise it's over. I think it might be a good feeling...
Q: Of course Seb, it's a significant event for you as well, where you could equal Tommi Makinen's record of four consecutive Championships. To do that, you've got to survive three days of these conditions: how tough is that going to be? When Marcus is gone next year, how much will you miss competing against him? You've had some good rivalries and fierce battles with people in your career so far, but has Marcus been your biggest and best rival?
SL: It will be a bit stupid in my situation to take lots of risks to try and win here, so I need to find a good rhythm to be comfortable, and that's not the easiest thing to do. I've not started a rally in this position before -- normally when I start I want to go as fast as possible and go for the victory. For sure it has been a very nice season this year; a very hard fight against Marcus every time - very difficult and very exciting. But there are some young drivers coming up like Dani Sordo, Hirvonen and so on who will be a challenge. Marcus has been the biggest rival for sure, as I have never had to fight as hard right to the end of the season. We both have the same tyres, both of us have good cars and good teams so we are on the same level.
Q: Marcus, let's talk about the Championship. You have to win the rally in order to maximise your chances: how good do you think those chances are? You've got your team-mate Mikko Hirvonen and also Jari-Matti Latvala who is here with us on your side. How much do you think they can help you by getting between you and Seb? The result in Ireland means that you're not running first on the road: will that be an advantage for you here?
MG: My chances are not so good but there is still hope and I try to do my best. We will see how Sebastien will do -- maybe he will fall off the ramp tonight! We have never seen Sebastien running lower than sixth place in any rally so I don't think it will happen this time. Let's see -- I cannot say anything now. We will know on Sunday. It is very nice to be first on the road but there can also be surprises on every corner. He (Sebastien) is already very afraid now, I know! Honestly I don't think is such a big deal.
Q: Seb, how do you feel about being first on the road? Is it a problem? You have said in the past that statistics do not mean so much to you, but how would you feel about equalling Tommi Makinen's record here? Would it be the same sort of feeling as equalling Carlos Sainz's record of wins?
SL: I hope being first on the road is not a problem. What Marcus has said is true -- in Ireland it was a very tricky place where he went off and it could happen here but I hope not. For sure it can be tricky in braking so I need to be careful. As for beating records, I hope we can speak about that on Sunday...
Q: You may or may not be back to do a few rallies next year. If you win the Championship, does that make you more likely or less likely to want to do some more events in 2008?
MG: I am not coming back next year... for the moment! It will not change anything but it will be nice to win it in the last year.
Q: Seb, you didn't do this rally last year as you were still recovering from your broken arm: how much will that lack of experience hold you back?
SL: I don't think missing the rally last year will be a problem for me. The stages have been the same for a few years except one or two. It should be okay.
Q: Manfred, Wales Rally GB was one of your best rallies last year: you finished second. Do you think it might be possible to end what has been a somewhat frustrating year with a podium finish? Is Wales Rally GB one of your favourite events; you always seem to have a very good feeling on these roads.
MS: Of course it would be nice to have a podium finish but I have had bigger problems to think about, such as my confidence. I would love to have a nice finish on this rally, for sure. I like the conditions and the roads here. For me it is the best rally in the season. I don't like the low sun, but rain and fog I can cope with.
Q: Jari-Matti, Wales Rally GB was also a good event for you last year: you finished fourth. However, you went even better in Ireland two weeks ago and claimed your first podium. How much extra confidence does that give you going into this event?
J-ML: It's making my life a bit easier having already had a podium. I was calculating on one podium this year and I knew when I went off in Japan that my last chance for one would be in GB, but now that we had a good result in Ireland I don't have as much pressure on myself and feel more relaxed. I am looking for a good run with a good finish and then look for a good season in 2008. These two guys in front of me now (points to Loeb and Gronholm) are where I want to be. I want to get a good result near these guys.
Q: The forecast is for some more rain over the weekend and it has already rained heavily during the recce. From your experience of this rally, how difficult is that going to make the conditions this year?
MS: The conditions seem to be very difficult this year. There is a lot of mud and we were aquaplaning in places. I was quite surprised how difficult already some of the stages were looking in the recce. I don't know if it will get worse but they are typical Welsh conditions!
Q: There's a big fight for third place in the Manufacturers' Championship. Your Stobart team currently has 80 points and Subaru is just behind on 79 points. How much is that battle going to be a priority for you?
J-ML: Of course, we need to think about the Championship points so it's basically down to driving sensibly and fast and get to the end. I won't try to do a maximum attack but I will drive like in Ireland where I had a good rhythm. We need the points and I don't want to play a racing game like in Japan where I went off the road. We will just try to get a good balance.
Q: We heard earlier in the season that OMV, your principal backer for many years, is going to pull out of rallying at the end of this year. How important has OMV's contribution to rallying in general and your own career been over the years? Where does this leave you now? Do you have any plans in place yet for 2008?
MS: I have worked with OMV for 15 years and every year all I have had is a year's contract. I am not used to having to find a new sponsor so it is not so good to find a new sponsor and we are trying hard. But I would like to say thank you to OMV for a nice 15 years and for bringing me to this position. Whatever comes next will be a bonus.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Gabriel, the situation with you is very simple. You have to win this rally to win the Production Car World Rally Championship, otherwise Toshi Arai wins it from his home in Tokyo? Does that give you a bit of pressure, or does it make your life easier?
GP: It's very simple -- I have to win. It's the only way. I know that the rally is new for me, it's my first time here. It is very nice; fast and slippery. I don't know how the weather will be for the rally but I think it will be similar. I take very good notes and will concentrate hard and try to win. I know that there are some very good drivers from England like Mark Higgins, David Higgins, and Welsh drivers Evans and Wilks who all want to win, but I will try to do the best and we will see what happens at the end of the rally. I'm enjoying this too much, it's no pressure for me. I will try to do my best and not think that this is my first time here. I like the rally and I like the weather. I like the mud and the slippiness.
Q: Stuart, your first rally in the MG Super 2000 car. What's it like? Have you been able to do much testing? How well do you think it will be suited to this event?
SJ: My initial response when I first drove it was that I was very impressed. When I first heard about the Super 2000 rules I wasn't sure if there would be enough power for four-wheel drive, and when I drove the car I was hugely impressed. It's a fun car to drive -- very nimble, responds very well to set-up changes and is very rewarding to drive, you feel very involved. Where it's very muddy, the lack of torque will hold it back a bit. These are fast stages which do suit the car. The second and third day should see the car suited.
Q: Gabriel, how well do you think the roads here will be suited to you? The conditions are likely to be wet with soft ground: not so different to back home in Argentina sometimes? Who are the drivers who you think will get in the way of your plan to win the rally here?
GP: It's similar to Argentina, maybe a bit faster. When it rains the surface is slippery like Argentina but we shall see. I don't know how the grip will be on the first run but on maybe the second run I will have an idea. I know I need to be careful when I brake as the stones in the road are the same colour as the mud which makes it difficult to see.
Q: As always, it's going to be a big fight in Group N. Do you think the Super 2000 car can have an advantage over the standard Group N cars? What do you reckon they are? What would be a good result for you here?
SJ: It's difficult to say as they are two very different cars and they both have strong and weak points in comparison to each other. The lack of torque certainly hinders out of slow corners and when the surfaces are cut up, but in higher speed stages in third, fourth and fifth gears the Super 2000 definitely has the advantage over Group N cars. I am aiming for a finish. I need to learn to drive the car which will take about half a day on Friday and at the end of Saturday when we are comfortable I hope to be on the pace of the front Group N runners; then we will be happy. And then maybe on Sunday we will push. We will push in Brechfa and Trawscoed to see what the car can really do.
Q: How was the recce for you Gabriel? Are you going to approach this rally in a different way from how you would normally? What would winning the Production Car World Rally Championship mean to you?
GP: I think we will use similar tactics but after the first two stages we will see how fast the local drivers are going. We will try to do the best and push a lot -- I will be very very happy if I win the rally but if not I will be happy to have done my best in the group.
Q: Obviously, you being here in the MG is a very significant event. Will we see you out in it more often next year? Have you got any thoughts about 2008 yet, or is this run in the car a bit of an experiment for you?
SJ: We are looking hard to get a deal together for next year, hopefully to fund a repeat of last year again which is what I want to do; I want be in the World Championship. We are talking to MSD about using MG again and hopefully we will make an announcement soon.