FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE FIA Pre-event Press Conference 01.06.2006 Present: Mirco Baldacci -- FIA PWRC Nasser Al-Attiyah -- FIA PWRC Sebastien Loeb -- Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Mirco Baldacci -- FIA PWRC
Nasser Al-Attiyah -- FIA PWRC
Sebastien Loeb -- Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen -- BP-Ford World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson -- Subaru World Rally Team
Henning Solberg -- OMV-Peugeot Norway
Welcome to the FIA pre-event press conference.
Q: Nasser, welcome. You are just back from winning the Jordan Rally, an official candidate event for the FIA World Rally Championship. What did you think of it and is it ready to move up to World Championship level? What are your thoughts about this rally?
NA: The Jordan Rally is fantastic; it's completely different this year. Last year, 80 per cent of the route was in the desert with a few stages in the mountains. This year it was completely different with some really interesting stages. We didn't change a lot of spare parts on the rally, which made all the drivers happy! It's smooth. I hope it's in the WRC next year; it would be fantastic for us. Yes, there are things to do, but everybody loves the sport and supports this race. I hope very much it happens next year. Last weekend I drove for three days and we tested a lot of things for the Acropolis. Okay, today was only one time in shakedown, but I feel more confidence. When you lead the Championship it's difficult, you keep good pace and we will try our best at this race. If we can take maximum points, it will be good.
Q: Mirco, welcome. It's your third rally of the year here; how do you feel the season has gone for you so far? Last year you drove a Super 1600 car in the Junior World Rally Championship, so how difficult is to make the switch to the Production Car Championship? At the moment you are third in the series, can you improve on that here?
MB: The first two rallies went really well for me. With only six events counting for points in this year's PWRC, it's very important for me to take points from the rallies. The Group N car is quite easy to drive. For me, I want more points from this rally -- that's what I need if I am to improve on where I am in the standings.
Q: Nasser, you're currently leading the Production Car World Rally Championship. How does this affect your plan on this rally? Will you be driving flat-out to try and win, or is it more important to drive carefully, in order to be sure of scoring some points and protecting your advantage?
NA: We will try our best for this rally, but it's still a Group N car. In some places the roads are very rough and it will be easy to break the car. I don't want to do Superally; if we do that, then it's a problem for us. A good job for me would be a top three position and that would be fantastic for the Championship. I will try, I will be pushing.
Q: We have a totally new route for the Acropolis Rally this year and the indications appear to be that some sections will be quite rough. Will this make the rally particularly difficult for the PWRC cars, which still use many standard road-going components?
MB: This is the sixth time I have done the Acropolis Rally, so I know it quite well. This time, though, we are going onto some older stages which are rougher than last year. It will be very hard for the car. Doing well here is a question of using your head.
Q: This rally is also going to be run in very hot conditions; does your experience of the Middle East Championship hand you any advantages in coping with this? How much more difficult is it to drive a rally car when it is very hot? Does it place a lot of extra demand on the car and driver?
NA: If you have a good shape and you are physically good, then it can be okay. It will be no problem for me. Last weekend, on Jordan Rally, we were driving in 46 or 47 degrees, so it's not a problem for me to deal with the weather. I hope it's the same for everybody, as when you lose energy you can lose your concentration. We drink a lot of water at the end of every stage. You have to keep drinking, it's good for the body. You lose so much water from the body through the stage, you need to replace that.
Q: You are driving the latest version of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. What in your opinion is the biggest advantage that this Mitsubishi has over other cars?
MB: I am very happy with the Mitsubishi, it's particularly great in the fast sections. In the narrow parts of the road, we still have some work to do before I have the car how I want it, but otherwise it's very good.
Q: Seb, here we are in Greece, where you have a 31 point lead in the Championship and a current total of 25 career victories. If you win here, you will equal Carlos Sainz's record of 26 victories and you will stand a strong chance of going to Rallye Deutschland -- effectively your home event -- with the opportunity of becoming the most successful driver in the history of the sport. How strongly focused are you on that goal? Is it something you think about a lot?
SL: I don't think about it so much. This rally looks difficult, all the stages are new. We had a lot to do in the recce, so I just concentrate on my race. Sure, I know about the record, but I'm sure it won't be easy to win. There will be a big race between some drivers and after that maybe I will count. It's the most interesting record for me, but no, I try to stay concentrated and think to my race. It will be a long way to go before I win it, it will not be easy, but I will try my best.
Q: Sardinia was a strong rally for Ford -- your team-mate Marcus Gronholm had a considerable lead before he hit a rock, and you were second. Can you repeat that form here? Do you think that you could be in a position to challenge for victory? From what you can see of the roads, will they suit your driving style?
MH: Well it's going to be tricky, but for sure we'll try. It's more important for Ford that we concentrate on getting points to catch Citroen in the Manufacturers' Championship. It's not going to be easy, but we'll try. I like the rally and it suits me, but it can also suit everybody else. It looks different to Lamia; the stages are faster and more flowing, but also rougher. It's going to be hard on cars and drivers.
Q: Chris, Sardinia two weeks ago was clearly a very big disappointment when you lost fifth place with an off on the final stage. Are you over that now? How difficult is it to get your confidence back when you have a set-back like that? What's your plan here? Do you like the look of this rally?
CA: It's probably the biggest disappointment of my career. We'd backed off and were distracted by dust in the car. I'm over it and focused on this event. It's going to be a tough rally, we need a consistent approach, but the speed is there for a top five and that's where we're aiming. It's challenging, but probably better for the younger guys like Mikko and myself. The other drivers who have been around longer have done the other stages more than us; we're all new here which makes it the same for everyone.
Q: Henning, you've not got so much experience on this event, having done the Acropolis for the first time last year. Now, the route is all-new. Does this make it more equal for everybody? Are you confident you can do well here? You've had a streak of bad luck recently. Is the most important thing for you here to get to the finish, or will you be pushing for the podium that slipped through your fingers in Sardinia?
HS: If you see the stages, you cannot go flat-out. You have to take care of the car. The main thing here is to have very good notes. I'm afraid for all these stones, but I will try to cross them. Sardinia was not bad luck; I had wrong notes - I had four, I should have had three, it ended in a tree, which was not good. We will try very hard. We will see about the podium, I am always quick on new stages, like in Sardinia and in Argentina, where I'd never been. Shakedown is hopefully representative of the pace, but it's good to know where we are with the car and tyres. It's only up to the driver now.
Q: What do you think of the new format for this year's Acropolis Rally? Do you like the stages? It's also the first time that a WRC event has been based in a capital city -- do you see any problems with this? How about the super special stage in the Olympic Stadium -- do you think that will be fun?
SL: The new stages will be interesting. It's faster than last year and you have a bit of everything. Take the long stage, it starts with very fast, then at the end, it's tricky and tight with a lot of rocks in the road. It's not really easy for the notes when you have only two passes in the recce. Some big stones, I think, can be a problem on the second pass. Our new tyre is for the hard and hot stages, especially for the second pass. It's wider -- not narrow. I'm sure from what I saw from the recce, this rally will be hard on the tyres, which is why it's good that we have this new one. It's not like the change for the BTO last year. The BTO was an evolution of the construction, but in the same size. This tyre is wider, it looks different and the sculpture is different. It's another evolution.
Q: You had a test before this event, so how did it go and what did you discover? Are there any new developments on the car from Sardinia and what sort of advantage do you think they might give you? You've also got a completely new tyre from BFGoodrich from this event -- how much is that going to help you here?
MH: The test was just to make the car stronger for all the rocks we'll find here. In this test we didn't improve the speed, but the strength of the car -- that's what we needed. There are no engine changes, but we will have some in the future. The new tyre is good, we get more performance from them and they will last longer than the previous ones. So far it's good to have the rally based here. I am little worried about getting to stage two, but if the organisers can keep the spectators in the right places it will be great. And the super special will be a fantastic atmosphere.
Q: Chris, it's not been a brilliant start for the Subaru World Rally Team this year. How much pressure has that created? Does it mean that your mission here will be to get to the finish at all costs? You had big problems with dust inside the car in Sardinia -- do you think that's fixed now? You've got a new evolution of the XR tyre: how is that likely to perform here? Do you think that gives you a performance advantage?
CA: It's the same pressure, we all want results. The team is focused on improving and that's the main thing. The team knows Petter and I are working hard. We need consistency and the second half of the year suits our car/tyre package better, so I think we can be at the front and fighting. It's going to be tough here, a consistent pace will get a driver to the front, but you can't afford to take big risks. The team has worked flat-out on the problem we had with the dust on the last event. It was difficult in Sardinia, it would have been tough here -- particularly on the second leg, which is going to be dry and dusty. The more focused the driver, the better the result, so it's important not to have the dust distracting us. As I said, the team has worked hard and I'm sure it'll be good on this rally. The tyre is not a massive leap, but it's a step forward. On the first pass we'll take the XR, then on the second run we'll take the other tyre. Like the other guys said, it's going to be hard to make it last the distance, but hopefully this new tyre will do that.
Q: Have you made many changes to the car since you started driving it at the beginning of the year? This rally is also your brother Petter's 100th WRC start -- is there going to be a Solberg family party here on Sunday?
HS: I also have the new tyre, which I tested this morning, and I like it. And of course you want to do things to the car all of the time, but if I went back to what I was doing last year it wouldn't be good. It is easy to drive this car, it's a little bit big and maybe the first time we're not so fast through the stages -- but the second time we can be fast. We have to hope so for the party, but this is a very long rally. I hope for Petter all the best too.