WALES RALLY GB
Sébastien Loeb, Citroën Total World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Kris Meeke, MINI WRC Team
Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team
Q: Sébastien you lead the Championship coming into the final round here in Wales, you don’t have to win the rally to win the title – what is the plan for you this weekend?
SL: I feel okay. I know it's a very important rally this weekend. We will play the Championship here and there will be a bit more pressure than usual. We will have a fight and I will try to do my best to win this Championship.
Q: This could be title number eight this weekend. Does it still mean a huge amount to you if you were to go on and achieve that?
SL: Yes, for sure, we are fighting hard and my motivation is still the same. It would mean a lot more this time because I would be the only one to win eight titles in motorsport but it is not my main motivation. I am fighting for the title, yes, but more importantly I enjoy what I do. I like driving, the fight, the rally and so that’s my main motivation. As long as I am driving I try to do my best for the best result possible. For sure it would mean a lot to be champion again but at the moment there are four days of the rally ahead and anything can happen.
Q: You don't have to win the rally to win the Championship so what will your approach be?
SL: The main thing for me is not to lose nine points to Mikko. My goal will be to try to be as fast as him, even faster is better as I know if he is winning and even if I finish second then everything will be played in the Power Stage. I know I will have to push. I have to find my rhythm, to see if I can feel confident. I usually have a good feeling here, good results.
Q: Wales has been very good to you in the past. You mentioned you are under some pressure, does the seven times FIA World Rally Champion ever get nervous?
Q: So you are feeling mentally, physically good before the event. You tested before you came here, how did that go?
SL: It was good, it was good to test just before the recce and get the feeling a bit again in this surface. It has been okay, no problem. The test was good, the recce too. We are prepared and now most important, we start.
Q: What do you think of the new stages here in Wales?
SL: Except the first one which is completely different, on Tarmac, the other stages look like Wales stages. Maybe a bit faster than most parts of the stages we know, but they are good stages, no problem at all. We've done the recce, some quite good conditions. I don't know with the rain, maybe the grip level will be different from what we saw. It is not easy from the recce to see where there will be more or less grip so maybe it will be the surprise in the rally.
Q: Mikko, Seb said he feels no nerves going into this one, what about you?
MH: He needs to check his head! If there are no nerves then there is something wrong! But no, I feel good, quite relaxed at the moment. Maybe when the rally really starts, maybe I will be a bit nervous. I definitely will be at the start as it is quite a nasty stage to start the rally but otherwise I feel really good.
Q: You've said yourself that you have been given a second chance to go for the Championship title. After Finland you thought it was game over in terms of your hopes. What can you do with that second chance? You remember back to 2009 of course, can you take it this weekend? Do you have the fight within you and the car to beat Sébastien Loeb?
MH: I believe so. I'm very confident about this rally. But okay it's maybe not going to be enough even if I win the rally and Power Stage and he's second in both - it's not going to be enough so we'll see. But as I've said, I'm confident about the weekend so all I can do is go flat-out and try to win it and then we'll see what's going to happen.
Q: Tell me what you thought of the stages and tell me more about Great Orme, you said it’s a nasty stage to start with, what did you mean?
MH: It's easy to break your car there if you get over excited. With gravel tyres on Tarmac, probably with cold tyres and if it's damp and wet it's going to be slippy in places as well, and a small touch on a kerb and it's easy to destroy your car. You would have to do the whole of Friday morning with a broken car as well. That's why it's going to be tricky and at least on those two stages I'm going to play it a bit safe. But then when we get to the forest, it's all or nothing.
Q: All or nothing, you've said this before "Win it or bin it!”
MH: Well, this is now. It's the last rally of the season so I don't really have any choice any more.
Q: Mikko, 2009 you had a chance but it didn’t happen. Now you have another chance to claim the WRC title. What would it mean to you if you could clinch it?
MH: For sure, for all of us it would mean a lot. It is something I have dreamed about for 15 years since I started competing. Now we have a second chance so definitely it would mean a lot for me and many people who have been backing me since the start of my career. I’m sure Sébastien will be taking it easy so I will be risking everything!
Q: Kris, firstly congratulations on picking up WRC drivers points in Spain after winning the Power Stage, was that a good boost to end the rally?
KM: Spain was quite good for us. I went there a lot more relaxed than in France where I was chasing to go as fast as possible. The pace was very good until we made the mistake of course, but yes, Spain we were a lot more relaxed and we just had a better learning curve and we found ourselves in fifth position at the end. The Power Stage, yes, we found ourselves on the right tyres at the right time. It would have been a hollow victory had I been the only one on soft tyres, but to beat Dani [Sordo] in the same car on the same tyres on his home patch was pretty good. But yeah, it was a small bonus at the end of the rally.
Q: The MINI has been strong on Tarmac, what can we expect now that we head into the gravel and mud of Wales?
KM: We have had results beyond our expectations this year on Tarmac. Dani has shown very good speed and was able to fight for the victory in France, but on gravel we don’t know and this is as much a question mark for us as everyone else. This event should be more of a level playing field. The first day in Spain was a little bit of a mess for everyone with the dust and everything so it was very difficult to be able to compare. But here everything is equal, with new stages, and we should be able to find out exactly where we are and learn for the future.
Q: What are your thoughts on these new stages? Do you think you will enjoy them?
KM: Personally I love them. I think my first ever stage in a rally car was stage number 4 about 10 years ago, so I don’t have any memory of the stages but for sure they are typical Welsh stages – really fast and you have to keep your eyes wide open as everything comes at you very quickly.
Q: How would you assess your performance within the team on the limited events you have done?
KM: To be honest I am probably where I want to be right now. Of course you always want to be further ahead than you are, you know? I have come into the WRC at this stage in my career – I have always chased to get a drive here, and to be honest what makes it a little bit difficult is that I don’t have the experience to do what I know I can do. We are now in a generation of drivers who have had two past recces. Back in the mid-1990s it was open recces and these guys here have been recceing two passes every year and it just takes one or two years to get everything under your belt and gain the knowledge. I have to be a little bit patient, but we have shown the speed when we have had to and we have had one mistake that can happen when you climb the ladder. But generally I am very happy and everyone has been surprised by the speed of the car but now we just hope that everything is in place to continue the development and push forward.
Q: What’s the most difficult aspect of the rally for you this year?
KM: I think reading the grip is a challenge for everyone here. The surface always looks the same colour and then all of a sudden the grip will disappear from you when there’s some mud beneath the surface or something. So reading the surface is the biggest challenge, but then of course so is the weather. We’ve seen on the recce that fog can play a good part on the rally – I had to make my notes in Hafren in fog and I’m a little bit apprehensive heading in there. But we got enough practice in Spain of not being able to see where we are going, so we should be fine.
Q: What about next year for you and the MINI WRC team?
KM: As the plan was set out at the beginning of the year, this year was six rallies and we’re at the end of that and we want to move forward into next year and the end target was to be competitive for 2013 to mount a Championship challenge, so next year the development will continue and we can carry on improving the car. I know the engineers have a long list of areas they want to get their teeth into the development so hopefully we can push that into next year.
Q: Petter, the final event of the season; is it true that you didn’t have the budget to able to compete here originally?
PS: It was decided before the rally to not do this event, but we had a meeting with the team and a chat with the sponsors and we came up with some more money so we are here now. Sometimes you have to say ‘stop’, but we got everything together and we are very pleased to be here.
Q: What is the plan for this event for you? Do you feel that you can try to win?
PS: Well, I think like Mikko says the first stage is quite tricky and I don’t want to do anything wrong there. I would like to go for a big push on this rally and we’ll see how we go. I know the rally well and I like the conditions and we were fighting properly in the top last year with Seb [Loeb] so I think… let’s see! I will start fast and go hard.
Q: And what about next year Petter? Is there anything you can tell us of your plans?
PS: I have nothing done yet so we just wait and see. It’s hard work but we will see. A lot of things can happen in the next week and a half and if it doesn’t go, it doesn’t go. We have to accept how the sport is – it’s very difficult for many others also so we have to be realistic. We will find a solution as to which direction I take. I will not stop driving though, but in what way I don’t know yet.
Q: Would it be possible to run the ‘Petter Solberg World Rally Team’ again next year or is it not possible?
PS: We are looking into every option and it’s tough for many of the manufacturers too! We will see. We have a different choice of other motorsports so we have re-think properly after this rally and we will find out. My passion for rallying is still there, that’s not the problem, but we have to be realistic and see in the next one and a half weeks.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Looking back to the last event in Spain, you rolled at shakedown, and you rolled during the rally. Now I believe you haven’t done shakedown here in Wales. Was that to avoid rolling here possibly?
HH: Partly I think, yeah. No we did Scotland a couple of weeks ago and we felt that the stages were quite similar, and some of the characteristics and especially the level of grip, so we took a view on the shakedown here and I was quite happy that we didn’t do Shakedown. But we’ve got a good car set-up from Scotland and we’re feeling quite confident and quite happy with the car.
Q: So in terms of preparation, you’ve already got that event under your belt. Similar conditions, maybe not quite as wet in Scotland as it’s going to be here this weekend. What else have you been doing to get ready?
HH: Well we just did the Cyprus Rally last week, so we are quite fresh from the pace and we are in the rhythm with the rally and we are on the ball, but it’s very different from Cyprus here you know. Cyprus is 30 degrees and rough and sandy and all different so it’s quite a big change, but I’m feeling quite confident and feeling fresh and ready to go.
Q: And what do think of the stages here Harry? We’re heading back for the first time in many many years to the Great Orme. Have you ever competed there before?
HH: Never, no. I’ve done the Cambrian a couple of years ago, but they didn’t run it unfortunately, so I’ve never competed there but it looks amazing from the recce. I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: You’ve had a new co-driver this year in Robbie Durant, how has that relationship developed?
HH: Really, really well. I really struggled to get to grips with pace notes at the start of the year. Robbie comes with so much experience from over the years from different drivers and he’s come up with all these different ways of trying things and done a lot of practice with it and the from the first rally we did back in March, we’ve come such a long way and I’m much happier with my pace notes and I’m much more confident with the driving, so I’m happy.
Q: So what are you hoping to achieve here in Wales this weekend?
HH: A finish. That’s definitely the main aim, a finish. I’m going to try not to get caught up in any battles with anyone and just get into a rhythm and settle down and just enjoy it, really enjoy it, you know. It’s the home event for my team as well, they’re all from around here and so they’re loving us going past their houses and all this kind of stuff, so they’re really looking forward to it and I think there’ll be quite a few spectators, so just enjoy it and have a good rally and get to the finish and just keep it neat and tidy.
Q: Your Welsh pronunciations are spot on then I take it?
HH: Not at all!
Q: Harry, what about you for next year? Have you got your plans signed, sealed and delivered?
HH: Nothing yet, nothing 100 percent yet, but it will be definitely still be in the same car, the Citroen DS3. I’m not sure what Championship exactly.
Q: Patrik, runners-up spot is what you are battling for in PWRC. You hold it at the moment, but we’ve got chargers behind you, but I suppose the crucial thing for this weekend is you’ve got a new co-driver. We’re not seeing Goran Bergsten alongside you. How are you going to cope with that?
PF: Goran was very busy at home with his work, so now I have a new one, Timo from Finland, but he speaks Swedish, so it works very good. It seems like he is a good co-driver. It was no problem on the Monday test, we had a good recce and this rally I have done quite many times, the stages in the past, I know them quite well, so I have good confidence. I like this rally.
Q: Wales has been good to you in the past. What for you will be the biggest challenge this weekend though?
PF: If we can finish the rally in the top it would be great. Of course, our goal is to win it, but it is a very, very difficult rally, so slippery and if it will be foggy it is going to be terrible. I hope the weather is staying quite okay and not raining much, it will be easy to enjoy.
Q: If there was a stage you could pick out here as being the most difficult, what would it be?
PF: Maybe the new stages. I don’t have experience of them and if you find the corners very, very slippery, it is easy to go off if you trying too hard.
Q: And what about next year, Patrik? I know we asked you in Spain just a couple of weeks ago, are you any clearer on your plans for 2012? PF: Not yet, but we are working on trying to move up. Maybe if we can do a couple of rounds in Super 2000 it would be great, so but that is a question I don’t really have an answer on. We have to keep working on it and we will see at the end of the year.
FIA WRC ACADEMY
Egon, you lead by 20 points over Mr Breen next to you. It’s been an awesome year for you with three wins under your belt and it all rests on this event. How are you feeling?
We didn’t feel so good after the last event, which didn’t go so well for us, but we had some time to think and some time to prepare and now it’s feeling good.
EK: The feeling is good. We didn’t feel so good after the last event, which didn’t go so well for us, but we had some time to think and some time to prepare and now it’s feeling good.
Q: So what kind of preparations have you been doing then ahead of coming to Wales?
EK: Well we have been here for three times so we knew what to expect and we had some ideas what we needed to work on and did some training and did some other different types of preparation, so yeah I think we are good to go.
Q: Other different types of preparation? What kind of thing have you been doing?
EK: Oh, for example, videos that we have watched because the conditions are so different and changing all the time and it can catch you out so, so easily because the grip is not so constant so you have to keep yourself really concentrated, and also the mental side.
Q: So you think you are ready mentally now for this one?
EK: Yeah, I’m feeling good.
Q: Talk to me about the stages themselves. Although you’ve been here before, we are travelling a bit further in Wales this time, we are heading North. What about the stages up there, what do you think of the northern stages?
EK: Yeah, they’re as tricky as the other ones. I’ve done the ones on Saturday, but the Friday and Thursday ones are new for me, but they are as tricky as you would expect from Wales, they’re muddy, you can expect fog, we are doing some stages in the dark, so, yeah, we have everything here.
Q: Egon, what would it mean to you if you could take away the Championship title this weekend and of course that huge amount of money to help you further your career?
EK: Of course it would be the biggest achievement of my career so far, and just to win and to come to the world arena would be just amazing, and also the prize would allow us to keep on going and keep on pushing and then go to the next level.
Q: Now in terms of points you are obviously ahead of Craig. What’s going to be your approach at the start of the rally?
EK: Well we would like to take it easy and keep the car on the road, but I am sure Craig doesn’t agree with that (CB: No!). So we try to go as fast as necessary as we have to follow what others are doing and then act accordingly.
Craig, final round, 20 points behind Mr Kaur and 500,000 Euros as a prize fund. Feeling the pressure?
You know it’s an outside chance, we are coming from behind. What better position to approach this event, a difficult event.
CB: No, no pressure on. You know it’s an outside chance, we are coming from behind. What better position to approach this event, a difficult event. Anything can happen and we need to start on Thursday evening with that frame of mind. We need to push from the start. We need as many stages as we can get. I’m really, really, really looking forward to this.
Q: We’ve seen you compete in Rally Scotland a few weeks ago, what else have you been doing in terms of preparation for this event?
CB: Yeah, we’ve done Scotland and then we went to Spain in the SWRC, another good event. We’ve got a good amount of testing under our belts with a couple of different things that we’ve tried out, like Egon, just to get that last little bit which we desperately need this weekend. So, we’ve been preparing a lot. The stages here have been good, they’ve treated me quite kindly over the last two years. With the north Wales stages, we’ve visited them in May for the Bulldog Rally so they’re still fresh in the back on my mind. Everything is looking good, we just need to keep in that confident state of mind and not be too cocky.
Q: Now, do you think you have a little bit of a secret weapon this weekend, you have a Welsh co-driver in Gareth Roberts. For his young years, he has done this event a number of times. Is he going to be the key to success?
CB: He is the little Welsh Wizard! He is the smallest man in the world. I think he deserves a medal for that. No, he is a fantastic guy. He’s kept me on the straight and narrow all year long and, for sure, to have him in his home event around people he is familiar with, it’s fantastic and he is certainly well received when he comes back here so to have him in the car with me makes me feel a little bit better as well, a little bit more confident as well. Yeah, he’s a very good guy and I’m glad to have him beside me.
Q: What do you think the most difficult aspect of this weekend is going to be, in terms of competition?
CB: It’s about keeping a level head. These stages have a weird demeanour, but they just lull you into a false sense of security so easily. You can get into a really good rhythm and then the surface has changed a little bit on the next corner and that’s it, so it’s about having the knowledge to know when the surface is changing and where the surface affords to push and where you need to be quite cautious, so I think that’s what makes the rally so special and why some people strive here and why some people find it a little difficult.
Q: Obviously for you it’s going to have to be flat-out. You need to catch him [Kaur] in terms of points. You’re getting points for stage wins as well and that’s going to be all important – thoughts on winning the title?
CB: Yes, you know, I’m a young kid from Ireland that’s been in a difficult place for the last couple of years and to have this achievement under my belt, it wouldn’t even be just a dream it would be something that I couldn’t explain in words if I could pull it off. To pull it off under the circumstances that I’m in now would be even sweeter. It’s a massive task ahead of me but we can only approach it with the most amount of confidence that’s possible and we’ll see what goes. The prize-money is life changing, so I want to do everything I can.
Q: Egon mentioned the mental attitude and that’s what he’s been working on. How are you feeling mentally going in to the event?
CB: I’m the kind of guy that if I don’t feel 100 percent confident in what I’m doing then there’s no point in coming. If I don’t think I can do it, then why come here? I need to be 1000 percent sure that what I’m committing to is possible, and everything is possible once you’re in the right frame of mind. That’s the way to approach it.