FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE FIA Post-event Press Conference 04.06.2006 Present: Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team Timo Rautiainen - BP Ford World Rally Team Sebastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroen World Rally ...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
FIA Post-event Press Conference
Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Timo Rautiainen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
Daniel Elena - Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Jarmo Lehtinen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Representative of the winning Manufacturer BP Ford WRT -- Malcolm Wilson/Jost Capito
Welcome to the post event FIA press conference of the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally.
@!MW: Thank you. On behalf of Ford, I would like you to be upstanding for a one minute silence following the tragic loss of Edouard Michelin.
Q: Marcus, congratulations on another fantastic win, your third of the year. Was this one of your best wins yet? You led from the front and won by a margin of nearly two and a half minutes; does this make up for the disappointment of Sardinia? How was the super special at the end?
MG: Of course it feels very good, after many rallies we didn't have luck. It's one of my best rallies. It was not an easy one; it was rough and difficult, now we have a fast and strong car. It looks very good now for the rest of the season. Yes, of course, we had a good test before this rally. We were trying to smash the car and find weak points before the rally. Now it's good to have a small break. Then we start in Germany and I hope I can give Sebastien a good fight. The spectator stage was okay; it felt like we could have won an Olympic medal, but okay, good!
Q: Congratulations Timo. In many ways the story of the rally was the roughness of the stages. Just how bad was it? How relieved are you to get to the end? Did you and Marcus have any experience of these stages from before?
TR: It was quite bad. It's been bad in many rallies like Cyprus and Sardinia, but here in many stages I was sat in my seat wondering: "How can these tyres resist those impacts?" We come very fast into the corners and there are sharp stones and rocks waiting in the corners. I really have to thank BF Goodrich for developing such strong tyres that they could last. Many times we were on the limit, with rims bent and holes in the tyres, but we did it with no time loss. We have done before part of the Kineta stage -- SS9 and 12 -- and also stages 3 and 4 were partly familiar from 1999. I really am relieved to get to the end. It's what we expect on the gravel events; on all of them we have the chance to fight with Sebastien, but we could not all of the time, partly down to our own mistakes and some small technical probs. I feel relieved, yeah.
Q: You were one of the victims of these rough stages. Talk us through what happened yesterday. Were you worried that you would have to retire? What was it like on the road section? Was the car perfect today, or did it still have some scars from yesterday afternoon?
SL: We had a puncture in the stage. We had to finish the stage like this then do all the road section on three wheels, not so easy as it was very long. It was difficult for the car and when we arrive here it was a lot of damage. But the [fuel] tank was not damaged and all the pieces that were broken, we could change in 45 minutes. It was okay. Today we had a new car, the mechanics did a good job. It was completely perfect, like new. Of course we could finish the rally, but today it was really really rough. If the car had not been perfect, it would not have been possible.
Q: What was your tactic today and were you confident you could hold on to second place, or was Mikko a threat behind you?
DE: It's more important to be at the finish. This morning we drive slowly, we look at the time as Mikko, we take the same time -- when it's rough, we brake. There was no attack, it was most important to be at the finish line. If you push in this condition it's easy to break the car and it's not the position you start the day.
Q: Congratulations on your second consecutive podium finish, and a very well-deserved one in tricky conditions. How difficult was it to work out how hard you could push? Did you start the rally with a plan of keeping out of trouble, or did you have a bit of luck as well? How tricky was it to steer clear of punctures?
MH: Well it was definitely a lot easier than Sardinia. I had a good lesson in Sardinia, and on Friday we find we can't fight for the podium. We took it steady and tried to be faster than those behind. The podium was a small present from Petter. It worked well for us. We had a little luck as well. We had no problem with the car on the stages, but then there was a lot for the mechanics to do. I really have to thank the team; they did a good job to fix the car every time. I don't know; maybe I drive slow enough to avoid the stones. Today we broke all of our tyres in both loops, so maybe that was luck.
Q: Was there any pressure from Dani Sordo, then Henning Solberg, on the final day? You started it just under a minute ahead of that battle, but was that a comfortable gap? Of course, on the final day in Sardinia you already had some practice at driving safely to a podium finish.
JL: Seeing what happened in Sardinia and on Friday and Saturday here, I was confident. The stages were so rough. Mikko learned his lesson -- I was confident. It helped a lot, it's not easy to control speed and not have full attack all of the time -- it helped a lot.
Q: Malcolm, congratulations on another fantastic result for Ford. Looking at the number of fastest stage times set by Marcus, it was clear that the Focus was the fastest car here. Where does this superiority come from? Can Ford translate this form on rough gravel into the same sort of speed on asphalt and fast gravel, in Germany and Finland?
@!MW: You want to know Sebastien where our speed comes from? I couldn't tell you! What Marcus said, we did a lot of work here. I'm really struggling here -- sorry. (Jost Capito steps in, as Malcolm Wilson lost his voice.)
JC: We had the top management of Ford here and Malcolm talked so much to them, he lost his voice! It was all good talk, though. As Marcus said, we had a good test under difficult conditions. The speed was there before; it's not new news for this event. I think there will still be work to do, but the previous rallies have shown the speed is there. This is still our development year. We were caught a little by the calendar -- the asphalt rallies coming earlier. Now we have some time to improve the performance before the next rally on asphalt -- Rallye Deutschland.
Q: Marcus, Malcolm and Jost seem optimistic for the future. Do you feel the same? It's clear that you will be strong in Finland, but will you be in a position to win in Germany? You've taken two points off Sebastien's World Championship lead now but do you think you still stand a chance of winning the title this year?
MG: We have many improvements on the car for Germany and a test there. Well yes, I think we can do a good job, but Sebastien has won there many times. I don't know, but I will definitely try. It's quite difficult for the Championship; I need help from Sebastien in that case! We are fighting the next rallies, we have to try to win and we have a good chance for the Manufacturers' title -- that's the aim and the goal for me and the team.
Q: What was it like driving defensively with such a big lead today? How anxious were you in the car? Were there any tricky moments? Do you think the move to basing the whole rally here in Athens has worked or not?
TR: It felt good. We have had both experiences: we have gone to the last day with a big lead and to the last day still fighting hard. Okay, we follow Sebastien's split times, he follows Mikko's split times and he follows somebody's else's split times. It was quite a useless day for me. I suggested when we came in after the first two stages, maybe we could skip the next two and wait for two hours before doing the super stage. Those two were so rough, I didn't see any point to drive them. When you have a big lead you need to control it, we all agree the s**t can happen when you have a big lead. Yeah, today maybe it was a good idea to go slow. It's nice to be here in Athens, I like the nature of the stages, but driving them three and four times is too much. Some stages you can only drive once; with a good selection of the road, you could drive them twice -- but no way four times, that was far too much. We have lot of work to do before Germany, some tests -- luckily I'm not needed more than four days and I think just one PR day. For Marcus, I'm afraid more. For the rest of the time I will go to my summer house and turn off my telephone!
Q: We've seen the pace of the Ford now in Sardinia and here in Greece. How tough do you think it will be to beat it in the second half of the season? Are there any developments coming before the season starts again in order to make it faster? Are you confident that you will be able to control your Championship lead until the end of the year?
SL: Sure, we saw since the start of the season, every rally we are fighting together. We won some, he won some. It will be the same every time. We have an old car now, it's still really, really well, but we stop to improve it -- we have to work on the C4 for next year. Ford will continue. It may be more difficult for me. At the moment the fight is very close with Marcus. Germany will be interesting; we fought together two or three years ago. I will continue to push and do my best. There's not a lot coming on the Xsara, we have two more tests: Germany and Finland and then it's finished testing with the Xsara.
Q: It's the first time now that we have a 10-week break in the middle of the season. What do you think of this idea?
DE: It's a very good idea. It's more important for me: I wait for a baby halfway through July. In two months we have no rally, we have a break. It's perfect. Not for the constructor with a lot of tests, but for us we have two weeks of test -- that's not bad.
Q: You've recently made a jump up in the World Championship -- how confident are you that you can keep up this pace and be scoring podiums for the rest of the season as well? Do you have any particular target as to where you would like to finish in the drivers World Championship this year? Obviously your next objective will be to win a rally -- when do you think that might happen?
MH: We had the speed in other rallies this year, now it's more from the team. The car is reliable and very strong. We can deliver the podium from now on. On the fast gravel rallies we can improve the car and I'm very confident. I would like to be the first one, but Sebastien is too far away at the moment, maybe third is possible in the Drivers' Championship -- but that will be hard with Petter (Solberg) and Dani (Sordo). If we can get more results like this, anything is possible. Winning a rally; I don't know how far or how close that is -- at least I'm getting closer. Finishing rallies and getting podiums is important, for sure one day it will happen. It's not that far.
Q: Jarmo, how do you feel that Mikko has improved as a driver since he started this season? This was a very mature drive from him: how confident are you of more improvement over the rest of the season?
JL: I've always known his talent and raw speed, and it's nice to see him getting more mature. In Sardinia we controlled the speed, now we need the next step, It's always Marcus, Sebastien, Petter and then us, we are in the middle -- we need more speed now.
Q: Jost, as we mentioned earlier, Ford seem to be on something of a performance roll at the moment. What further developments do you have planned over the rest of the year? You've been quicker than the Citroen on gravel; can you be quicker on asphalt too?
JC: As I said already, we have to continue the development on all areas of the car, especially the Tarmac rallies. We are working on this for Rallye Deutschland at the moment. Also the drivers are getting used to the car and that's a great improvement -- we are very happy with the way this is working.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Nasser Al Attiyah
Q: Congratulations on a well-deserved victory. How tough were these conditions for a Group N car? Was the biggest problem avoiding the punctures? Are you impressed by the strength of the car?
NAA: In some places it was so tough, at some place it's not normal. We must work with the car and we don't have any problems for all three days. I have good experience for rough rallies. I'm happy for the 10 points. Actually we didn't have any punctures. Only today, the last five kilometres a flat tyre, but we tried to keep going as we didn't want to lose points. It's difficult for tyres here, but we finished the race.
Q: Chris: Are you surprised to be here after the events of the weekend?
CA: Very surprised! It took a couple of phone calls down the motorway to realise. Our Team Manager was calling us, we had to call him back three times to ask if he was sure we won. It still hasn't sunk in. I'd like to thank all the organisers, time-keepers and marshals for giving up their time in the sun. There was chat about it being rough and maybe shortening the last couple of stages, but we needed every kilometre, so we're really glad they didn't shorten them. A bit of rough suits us.
Q: You've got a good lead in the Championship. How do you feel about this?
NAA: You know, it's good when you win the race. You have more confidence for the other ones. Since we start in the PWRC, we were third in Monte Carlo, second in Mexico, won Argentina and won here. There is more confidence now. Now we can do much better in the Cyprus Rally; I'm so happy with this performance.
Q: How much of a problem was the heat on this event? Was it a big effort to concentrate on the pace notes?
CP: It was hot. But, we were in Jordan last weekend, where the temperature was 45 degrees at the Dead Sea, so when we came here we were looking for a fleece or a jacket! It is hard work. You have to keep concentration all of the time, but you do become accustomed to it. If you drink lots of water, you're fine.
Q: Was there a fight on the final day, or did you manage to control your advantage? There were lots of very competitive drivers here? How nervous were you feeling on the final day?
NAA: Today we started number three in the PWRC. We tried to do our best for the first two stage and see where we were. We took a good time, and in the second lap we try to push very hard. When we finish the last stage, we have a text from our Team Manager to say we were leading by 11 seconds.
Q: What are you and Nasser's plans now over the summer?
CA: Me and Nasser have a rally in three weeks in Lebanon, it's a Tarmac rally. We are off there and looking forward to coming back on Tarmac and gaining some experience of this surface. Then we have a six or seven week break before the Syria Rally. Syria is the same weekend as Japan Rally, so we'll miss that one. Our next PWRC outing is Cyprus. Nasser is off training in Russia, though. He'll be shooting in the Asia Games, so Nasser doesn't get a summer break, he's training for the Asia Games.