Acropolis Rally: Post-event press conference

1st - Marcus Gronholm -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 1st - Timo Rautiainen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team 2nd - Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen Total World Rally Team 2nd - Daniel Elena -- Citroen Total World Rally Team 3rd - Petter Solberg -- Subaru World ...

1st - Marcus Gronholm -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st - Timo Rautiainen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
2nd - Daniel Elena -- Citroen Total World Rally Team
3rd - Petter Solberg -- Subaru World Rally Team
3rd - Phil Mills -- Subaru World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson, Representative of the winning manufacturer, BP-Ford World Rally Team

Welcome to the final FIA press conference.

Q: Marcus, congratulations. This is the 28th win of your career and it looked like you had no real problems; was that how it was in the car? With the win in Sardinia two weeks ago and maximum points here, you've extended your Championship lead; how significant do you think that could be going into the second half of the season? Looking at the stages here, it was both runs through the long stage yesterday that seemed to give you the advantage. Did it suit you and the car particularly well?

MG: Thank you. It was a really good weekend. There were absolutely no problems with the car and tyres, so I'm really happy we could score this win before the break. It's very good for me and the team; of course it's important, the next rally is Finland, which I know a little bit! Then we have a few tarmac rallies, where I'm not really so good, but we're going to work with that as well. It was okay (in the long stage); the others had problems there, Petter with the shock absorber and Sebastien with the tyres. We were lucky not to have any problems. Okay it is on the limit with the tyres, but I was saving them a little bit.

Q: In those two big stages Timo, the key was not to overdrive them. Did you have to calm Marcus down at any point to save the tyres? Where do you think you won this rally?

TR: No I didn't have to do that. Marcus was thinking about those stages before and where he would drive normal speed and where he should lift off a little. I didn't have to do anything before we received the information that Sebastien had problems. Then I reminded Marcus that we should drive a little bit slowly. On heavy braking, he was taking it steady. When we did the recce the roads seemed in good condition, and nice. A note for the organisers, though; stages like SS4 (Agia Sotira) should not be part of the rally, it's not nice to drive or co-drive that stage. And 48 kilometres (SS10/14), it's a bit too much, especially when there are those clever plans for next year when there's no mousse in the tyres. For me, the direction of the place to build this win was Friday when Marcus was on full attack and everybody was close to everybody. Sebastien had to drive on Saturday with two cars between us and that gave us a small advantage on the road, for cleaning.

Q: Sebastien, second position in a rally where you have not been 100 percent happy. Talk us through your set-up and tyre issues. With Marcus taking another win, you've dropped a bit further back in the Championship battle; how concerned are you about this and how are you feeling about the second half of the season? Will Dani Sordo be able to help you?

SL: On the first day we had a problem in the settings of the rear differential and I was not happy with the engine; we worked all day. On Saturday the feeling was really good. On the first stage, Marcus was really fast, so I lost some time. On the second loop I drove too hard and destroyed my tyre and then it was finished. I feel okay, as since the start of the season it's a big battle with Marcus. Sometimes we are in front, and sometimes behind. It looks really interesting. For sure the next rally it's Finland, which is not so good for me. After that, it's some good tarmac rallies, which Marcus maybe doesn't like. We will have to be in front of Marcus for that to work. It's going to be a good championship.

Q: Tyre choice has been important and watching the split times on the long stage yesterday afternoon it looked like you and Seb had made the right decision. Then you had the punctures. Was this a defining moment as far as your chances of victory were concerned? Did you think about stopping to change tyres, rather than risk potential damage?

DE: The feeling was okay, Sebastien was driving very fast. We had the splits and they said: Petter -19 and Marcus -7. That was very good for us. Then the tyre exploded eight kilometres from the end. We try to finish with the two front wheels exploded, but we lost a lot of time. He tried, but he lost. You are crazy? It's extremely hot in the stages; I prefer to finish with punctures!

Q: Third place Petter, congratulations. Overall it's been a much stronger performance from the team; what changes have been made that have enabled you to be back at the front and fighting? With the summer break ahead, and a lot more test and development work I'm sure, this performance must give you a lot of confidence for the second half of the season.

PS: It was good to get the feeling again. Marcus showed me how to open the champagne bottle, thank you! Well, things have happened after Sardinia, things have changed in the team and detail has changed. Many things have started to work. If you see at the start of the rally, I wasn't so happy with the car, but the times were there. We changed some things, then we had a good feeling and the car worked everywhere. I am very happy we're going in this direction. Me and Chris (Atkinson) can fight properly. It's good for the future of the Championship and good for these guys (Gronholm and Loeb); they have it a little too easy. When you're driving you want them (the team) to fix the car and make it work consistently over three days. That's what you need to be at the top of the leaderboard. Like this morning, you lose 15 seconds and finito. Over the summer I will be talking a lot to the team, I can tell you, my phone bill is massive, we live for this, rallying is my whole life. When things are not working, it's hard. Now we have the summer, it's great for us to make third place. The bosses from Japan are here and at the same time, they have the things to analyse from this rally. We can fight for victories in the second half of the season.

Q: A podium finish Phil, and one you've had to work very hard for. As a co-driver, what problems do the rough terrain and hot temperatures cause for you? Overall, how have you found the event this year?

PM: Like Timo said, it's a tough event. Stages 4 and 12 were very uncomfortable in the car. We went through with a broken shock absorber and that was not very pleasant either. Temperatures in the car are above 50 degrees. Is it the toughest? I don't know. You have to get yourself ready before the event, that's when the work is done for this rally. Like Timo said, I'm also not so sure about the long stage. It was a fantastic challenge, but you can't attack at the start, otherwise you pay for it at the end of the stage, like Sebastien. You have to prepare for it differently. I'm not sure about next year, going through there with no mousse; I really don't know how that will work.

Q: Congratulations on another win on the Acropolis Rally, Malcolm, and in fact Ford's 60th win at this level. This event has been good for Ford over the years; what do you put that down to? For the second half of the season the team will be running a new specification Focus; can we expect a lot more from that car? And how are you now feeling about Ford and Marcus' chances in the Championship?

MW: I didn't realise it was the 60th, but it's a special moment. It's six times in eight years that we have won and a pretty good record for us. There are a lot of key elements. The first thing is, in these conditions, you need a strong car, which we had with the original Focus. Then when Christian Loriaux joined we looked at optimising the performance. We've combined that with the reliability and we've ended up with the package we've got. It's exciting times for us. I know Sebastien is looking forward to the tarmac rallies, but we've got an evolution coming and it might not be plain sailing for him. I don't want to divulge details about the new car, Sebastien would get so depressed! Being serious now, we don't underestimate the task ahead, but it's a great position to be in and stronger than this time last year. But it's great to see Petter back in there. It's going to be a fantastic second half of the season. It's a welcome return. We just hope Petter can get ahead of Sebastien a few times and then it'll work...

Q: If we leave the final word with you Marcus. You have an asphalt test coming up this week and, with four tarmac events in the second half of the season, is this going to be the most important test of the year for you?

MG: Yeah, I need to practice a lot. I will do everything to really do better there. We will see then what I can do. On tarmac, when it's wet and difficult conditions, I am not comfortable in the car, I don't really like it. I hope it will rain in the test and then I can train and we will see what we can do.

Q: Sebastien, following what Phil said, what are your feelings about driving without mousse in the tyre next year?

SL: For me, the mousse is really good for a lot of things. We can fight without thinking of a puncture, especially like conditions here. You are lucky not to have the puncture here without mousse. It's also for the safety. My first big crash in a rally car came without mousse. I had a puncture, but I didn't feel that I had it. Then I went into a right-hander and in the following left, I went straight because I couldn't turn. For me, it's not nice, but what can we do?


1st - Toshihiro Arai
1st - Tony Sircombe

Q: Congratulations on your first Production Car victory of the season, and in fact your first win since Mexico 2006. You have had some good battles throughout the weekend and your win seems to have come from the experience of knowing when to push and when to back off. But how has it gone from your point of view? And you hurt your back last night after a heavy landing on the super special stage; has this affected your performance at all today?

TA: I had to push hard, but in some places not. It was a good battle with Juho Hanninen, but then he had problems and the rally was more straight-forward. It was very bad pain in my back, and not good for the concentration. Also I could not hear the pace notes. I missed two junctions, which was not so good.

Q: You've been strong all season Tony, but this win comes on what is probably the toughest event of the year. Did you adopt a particular strategy that has enabled you to have a relatively trouble-free run, as you have probably had fewer problems than most?

TS: We've been here before and have reasonable experience in both Group N and World Rally Cars. We know the guy who goes really fast without caution in mind; it's going to be hard. We also know that punctures can make a big difference to those who finish. If you look down, you see a few people who had them

Q: This leaves you with a good lead in the Championship Toshi. With one win and two second positions, how important was it for you to be leading at this point in the Championship?

TA: Now we have 29 points and second is Mark Higgins; it's a big gap (14 points). It's just the middle of the season, though. It's quite a good lead, but I finish in Japan and Mark also has Ireland and the most important event for him, Rally GB. We need good points in New Zealand and Japan. Every rally is very important, as we only have six rallies per season. If you lose one rally it can make a big difference to your total at the end of the season.

Q: With just Japan and New Zealand left in your 2007 PWRC programme - events where you and Toshi have previously gone well - you must be feeling reasonably confident about your Championship chances now?

TS: Yeah, Toshi has been to both rallies a number of times and we've won three times in Japan. We'll be hoping to make the most of that. The best thing is finishing, we have to do that, especially given that Mark has more rallies than us at the end of the season.

Credit: fia

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Mark Higgins , Toshihiro Arai , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Tony Sircombe , Daniel Elena , Malcolm Wilson , Juho Hanninen , Christian Loriaux
Teams Citroën World Rally Team