ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE Present: 1st - Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 1st - Jarmo Lehtinen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 2nd - Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team 2nd - Julien Ingrassia -- Citroen Junior Team 3rd -...
ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
1st - Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
1st - Jarmo Lehtinen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
2nd - Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team
2nd - Julien Ingrassia -- Citroen Junior Team
3rd - Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
3rd - Miikka Anttila, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson OBE, Team Principal, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Welcome to the post event FIA press conference.
Q: Congratulations Mikko on the eighth win of your career and for sealing Ford's 70th world rally victory. You have made it look easy this weekend, how was it really?
MH: I can't say it's easy, but it felt that I wasn't driving absolutely flat-out all weekend. I had to push hard, but you had to be careful all the time, not to make any mistakes. It went just like we planned before the rally. It's really, really good after all the second places -- it's nice to be here in the middle [for the press conference].
Q: There was a lot of drama yesterday -- how were conditions for you?
MH: It was a good day. For sure, it was going to be tough to keep the boys behind, with so many uphill hairpins, I thought we would definitely lose some time, but then things started to go wrong for everybody but me. I kept on with my own speed and it worked. The car was perfect, no problems at all. And no mistakes with Jarmo, it was perfect, the whole weekend.
Q: This win puts you just seven points behind Sebastien Loeb in the Drivers' Championship; the fight is back on. Do you believe you can still win with five rounds remaining?
MH: Yeah, really confident against Sebastien! At least we are back in the fight. It's good to be only seven points behind after what happened in Argentina. The rest of the season will be exciting and maybe we can put some more pressure on Sebastien. It's really good. It brings everything back alive again.
Q: Jarmo, it's the first win of the season, how important is this win in the grand scheme of things?
JL: I can't think of anything more important. The timing is perfect when Sebastien and the whole Citroen team has problems. We have delivered maximum points for the team. That's the main thing
Q: There must have been some relief when you crossed the finish of the last stage...
JL: Absolutely, it was long this morning, but it felt like a very long stage this afternoon!
Q: Sebastien, congratulations on the first WRC podium of your career in what is your debut WRC season. It's been a tough season, and we know you have been under pressure to perform consistently. What does it mean to you have finished on the podium?
SO: It's the perfect feeling for us to be here on the podium. We did a bad start to the season and some mistakes. It's difficult to come here and fight with the guys who have been here a lot of seasons, but now it's a good feeling in the team.
Q: It's been your first time here in at the Acropolis Rally, how challenging has it been? We hear you also had a run-in with a cow today?
SO: Yeah, it was a big pressure this morning, when I saw the cow in the road. I can pass close, but I had one small hit with the cow. The cow was okay, and we made it here.
Q: If the cow was okay, how was the car?
SO: No, no, the car was okay. We look to the temperature of the car and it was okay -- we continue.
Q: Will this result help with regard to securing rallies for the rest of the season?
SO: Sure, it will be more easy to start in Poland. The pressure will be lower than here and yeah, I'm very happy. I will be more confident in Poland -- I will forget the other events.
Q: Does this result silence some of the critics?
JI: You know we have to get experience. All the mistakes in the season and all the good things, this is the normal way to climb the WRC steps. We have a long way to go, but we are confident and we are here.
Q: The Citroen Junior Team has all gone well here...
JI: We are very happy for all of the team and, for sure, Evgeny [Novikov] did great times, Conrad was really regular and, for sure, we are happy to give this result to the team who have waited all year long.
Q: Jari-Matti, you take away third place, congratulations. It must be a relief after the mistake on Friday evening?
J-ML: Yes, it's a big relief actually. The rally started really well. We looked good after SS5 and I screwed it up in SS6. And I also screwed up the team's tactics and loaded pressure onto Mikko. I could do no more than forget about that and concentrate on the rest of the rally. I knew I could rescue something, some place between five and seven. When I do clever driving, I don't care about anybody else. I just needed to save my tyres and save my car -- these tactics really worked well. We were a bit lucky to be on the podium.
Q: The Manufacturers' Championship is now back open and the Drivers Championship is for Mikko as well. Can you become the strong second driver that the team require and provide the support that Mikko needs?
J-ML: If I can't be, then I can stop! I can become and I will become. Friday evening, when I see how quick Sordo is coming, I made a wrong decision. I thought I needed more gap. It felt perfect on that stage [six]. 'Thiva' hasn't been so good in the history for me. What happens, when you are going faster, you brake later for the hairpin. We got a little bit stuck, we got some spectators to help us, but we lost three and a half minutes. It was a big disappointment, but once again, I have learned something new.
Q: Were there any calls from Malcolm Wilson on this rally?
J-ML: No. Not really. When we come to the rally, we fight and we need first and second. We had to drive fast. Okay, you have to stay on the road, otherwise you don't get the results. We started as we finished in Sardinia, but after SS6, I knew the situation, I can't win. It's not the time to be fastest; it's the time to be clever. I have learned something more.
Q: Miikka, Friday night there was a cloud over the team after the mistake. You and Jari-Matti were both disappointed but you both turned things around quickly on the next day. How did you both deal with the pressure over Saturday and Sunday?
MA: Let's say that unbelievable things we do in one day and for miracles, we need two days! That's describing this weekend. After Friday we got some... feedback from the management! It was fair feedback and we thought, "Okay, we know we have screwed up, but now we have to payback." We have to be worthy of the trust the team has put to us. We made a strategy on Saturday morning that was, we won't be fastest on the road, but we will be more reliable and that worked on the stage.
Q: Malcolm, a great result for the team. The 70th victory for Ford and with Citroen's result it makes both Championships very exciting!
MW: It's the perfect weekend. Mikko has driven a faultless rally. He knew how to tackle this one from start to finish, it's definitely one of his best drives. There's been enough talk about Friday's incident and I'm really relieved to see the way they have pulled back and delivered the perfect result. It is Ford's 70th and M-Sport's 40th win. It's brought the Championship alive again. It's game-on in both.
Q: Are the tables starting to turn in your favour?
MW: If you look before Sardinia, people were saying Ford were out of it. As we always said, to be in a strong position we need both of our guys performing at their best, like they were in Sardinia. We nearly got that here on Friday night, but we got it back -- there are a lot of events coming that suit our drivers and one thing is sure, we won't give up.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
The Guardian (UK)
Q: Mikko, the first half of the season must have been frustrating for you. How do you turn the second half around against Sebastien?
MH: We have to turn it around if I want fight for the Championship. It's been frustrating, for many rallies we have been so close, but not perfect. I need to get everything right. The last two rallies have been really, really good. We want a good fight to the end of the season.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1st - Lambros Athanassoulas
1st - Nikolaos Zakheos
Q: Lambros -- what a weekend! You take the win in PWRC as a wild card entry at your home event. What does this result mean to you?
LA: It was a really difficult battle on the third day. We started eight seconds back from Nasser [Al-Attiyah] in the morning. This was because we had an electrical problem on the second day. It was very tense. We pushed a lot. We don't have such experience of fighting with the World Champion. We are very happy, that's why we were so emotional -- it's our first win.
Q: A fantastic battle this weekend between you and some of the top PWRC drivers; Al Attiyah, Araujo and Sandell. What was it like to be up against those drivers?
LA: I was expecting to be in the top five in times on the stages. Last year we did the PWRC here and we set good times and won a stage. In the Skoda I expected to be a bit faster and we were, we had the reliability and it worked.
Q: You were in the S2000 Skoda -- we believe Patrik Sandell gave you some advice on how to drive it, was that the case?
LA: Yes. He helped us a lot in the set-up on Monday, when we first drove the car; we only did 30km in the test. During the rally, he told us what we could do and before the stage he helped to fix it. He was willing to help us and we have to say a big thank you. But also, we helped him reduce the points of Nasser in the Championship.
Q: Tell us about the second day of the event.
LA: We were 50 seconds ahead and we went to the next loop of stages, planning to be a little bit more cautious, maybe to reduce the gap to 30 seconds. In the first stage and into the next one [in the afternoon] I started to think it's not accelerating as it should. At the end of the stage it started to misfire. I started swearing thinking that's it again and I lose everything. The next stage first gear, second gear, it was okay, we lost only 50 seconds and today we were able to make it.
Q: What do you think of the car?
LA: It's fantastic. It's a dream. It's much better than driving a Group N car, I don't have much experience. It's more like a Group A car, I would say. It's very well built with no reliability problems. We had a small problem with a standard part, it's very strong.
Q: Do you think this event was a success being based in Loutraki?
LA: I think so, but I didn't have time to see when I'm on the rallies -- maybe you have to ask the teams and everybody who works in the service park. For me, Loutraki is a very good place, it combines everything: the stages, the service and it's very close to Athens; it's the perfect place for the rally.
Q: How much will this win help you with getting funding for a bigger programme?
NZ: That would be perfect in a perfect world. We know it's very hard to follow the whole PWRC. What you need is a big sponsor. This is something hard for Greek drivers. It would be a dream to follow the whole Championship, maybe someone here would like to help us now we have won the Acropolis!
Q: Nikolaos -- emotional scenes at the stage end. What was the feeling like in the car when you knew you had won?
NZ: The feeling was exhilarating. Three days of very hard racing. Nasser is very fast and he fought to the end, and we knew he would not wait on the last stage, so we should drive quickly. We should avoid making any mistakes because the difference was very narrow. We could lose the race. When we crossed the flying finish we burst into tears when we saw the time at the control, we stood on the roof and everything was perfect.