FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP BP ULTIMATE ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE FIA Pre-event Press Conference 31.05.2007 Present: Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team Henning Solberg - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Guy Frequelin - Citroen Total...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
BP ULTIMATE ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Henning Solberg - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Guy Frequelin - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Federico Villagra - Munchi's Ford World Rally Team
Mark Higgins - FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Spyros Pavlides - FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Welcome Marcus. With a seven-point lead in the Championship, does this change your tactics for the rally? How hard do you think Seb will be pushing, after his mistake in Sardinia? Do you think he will be taking more risks than usual, and if so can you capitalise on that?
MG: For me, it's not so much, seven points; it is one retirement. I'm not changing anything for this rally, it's just like before. He (Sebastien Loeb) will go as before and that's already quite fast. We will see tomorrow.
Q: Henning, welcome. You were fourth in Sardinia: do you think this type of Mediterranean rough gravel event suits you? How well is the Ford Focus WRC06 suited to this rally? Before Argentina, you re-thought many of your ideas about set-up and your results drastically improved: what did you do? What sort of result can you hope for here?
HS: It suits me and now the car suits me. Yes. It's a big difference from the start of the year to now and I'm happy. The guys have done a big difference with the car. It suits me. I feel I can push more in the whole rally. In Argentina it was a big improvement in the car, and then I used the same set-up in Sardinia and here. Day one in Sardinia was a very good day. Apart from the first stage, we had good tyres all day. We start again tomorrow. I will try for the podium, but it's hard to fight with the same boys again. We will see.
Q: Guy, welcome. With Seb and Citroen behind in both Championships, how hard will you need to push here; more than usual? Is it a situation that worries you? Seb said before Sardinia that his aim was to head into the summer break leading the series: do these objectives have to be re-considered now? Seb has been very good in the past at bouncing back from his rare disappointments: do you expect him to win here? How disappointed was he by Sardinia?
GF: We know that it's a very difficult situation for us, but we don't want to change something about our philosophy. We must try to win some rallies, and both Championships are not finished for the moment. We have eight rallies more after this one to try to come back on Ford and Marcus. That's not really finished, but we know it's a difficult situation. I think probably that Seb will sleep a little less than he thought before in the summer time and in his holiday! But, me also! It was very disappointing at the end of Sardinia. Now he's okay, he knows he must push very hard. We also know it's very important to finish the rally. It's very rough in places.
Q: Federico, welcome. Sardinia was your first rally with the Munchi's Ford team and the Ford Focus WRC06 - what did you think of it? How hard was it for you to change from the Group N Mitsubishi you have been used to driving in the past? What was the most difficult thing to get used to? You also had to work with a new co-driver: how is that going? Is your aim to stay competing in the World Rally Championship for the future, or is this just a one-off deal for this year?
FV: It takes a while to get up there. It was my first experience of a WRC car. I was used to taking care of the car a lot, but with this one you have to look more at the road. I need to get used to the power. The car always feels fine, but when you are in the stages, you can lose time -- maybe spinning too much. They are very nice cars to drive, but you have to learn them to get the best. Like all new relationships, it needs time (with the co-driver). We went well in Sardinia and I'm looking forward to this event. We will try to do all the races and hopefully next year we can keep doing them again.
Q: Marcus, your Championship lead has increased speculation in some sections of the media that you might retire at the end of this season. What are your thoughts about this? Does leading the Championship increase your motivation or does it make no difference? You tested in Livadia before this rally -- what was that test like and did you learn anything significant? It rained when you were testing: did that make the test less useful?
MG: Next question; I don't know! I was just a few points behind in Sardinia, but I felt the same as now, and it's still nine rallies to go. We had a little bit of dry weather in the start of the test, then it was raining. It didn't affect our test so much -- maybe the tyres a little bit, but we know what we're doing here.
Q: You're beating your brother, Petter Solberg, in the series: is that something you expected? In Sardinia, your Stobart team moved back up to third in the Manufacturers' title race: how confident are you that the situation can stay the same for the rest of the year? Do you have any testing planned over the summer break? From Finland onwards the factory Ford team will switch to the 2007-spec Focus: do you expect to drive that car at any point this year?
HS: It's good. The whole team is working hard to keep in front of Subaru. It's a long season and anything can happen, but we will fight for that for sure. It's a long season, but of course now it feels good. I always take it stage-by-stage and event-by-event and then we'll see where we are at the end. I don't think I have any testing (in the summer), but I will drive some sponsors in England for a day. We have some hours in the car and that's good. I'm not so sure about the '07 car, my team manager will decide about that. I haven't heard anything about it, so I'll keep my car for now.
Q: Guy, there has also been speculation about your retirement, after a very successful career at the top of Citroen Sport. How long do you think you will remain in charge? Just a quick word about Dani Sordo, who was on the podium in Sardinia -- what do you expect from him here?
GF: I don't know. It's nothing decided for the moment. I have to try to win the Championships with the team and it's more important for me to think about this. Dani's objective is to try and score maximum points, but it's difficult to say with the drivers in front. We will see after one day, two days and three days. It's very hard to say before the rally about Dani.
Q: Federico, what do you think of the stages on this event? What will be the biggest risk here that could catch people out? Do you have any experience of this rally?
FV: It's my first time here. For me, it looks like some stages are very rough and will get very rough on the second time. It's going to be hard on the tyres. It's good to be here for the first time. I'm trying to learn from every stage and make miles, so we're not pushing very hard. I can keep the car in one piece if I don't push too hard.
Q: Mark, it's been a very busy time for you this year as you're doing the British and the Irish Championships this year, as well as the FIA PWRC. Are you match-fit and ready to go on this event? It's a bit of a contrast from your last rally -- the all-asphalt Jim Clark event in Scotland last weekend -- that you scored maximum points on. How easy is it for you to adapt yourself from one event to another?
MH: I'm definitely match-fit, we've been driving a lot of the time. Things are going really well, we're getting a lot of time in the car, but they're very different: we have a World Rally Car in the Irish Championship, a right-hand-drive car in the British Rally Championship and then a left-hand-drive Group N car here. It's definitely a contrast. This rally is more similar to Mexico, but a lot rougher and hotter. On tar you drive at 100 per cent, here we have to drive at a lot less to get to the finish.
Q: As a Cypriot, do you have good experience of driving on these sorts of roads -- or are the stages here completely different? Are you at least used to competing in the heat? What will be your approach to this event -- is it one where you feel you can challenge for the podium and a win? Your co-driver is the vastly-experienced Denis Giraudet: what does he bring to the car and in which ways does his experience help you?
SP: People might think they're completely different; it's a slightly different event here, it's rough, but quick rough. Here if you cut a corner you're more likely to damage your car than in Cyprus. Like Mark said, it's a different event, you can't go flat out, you have to pace yourself and hope you don't go into SupeRally. Even today we said the weather was very comfortable. The last event for me was the Middle East in Jordan, with 37 degrees -- this is like Sweden in comparison! It's my first year in the PWRC. The aim for this year is to get the knowledge. I have a very good co-driver, he's helping a lot. The aim is not to SupeRally. These guys are so fast: it's finding a pace between not breaking the car and keeping a reasonable pace. How can you quantify 25 years of experience? As a co-driver and character, Denis is encouraging and very competitive. If you lose a super special, trust me, he's not happy about it.
Q: You won the last PWRC round you entered, in Mexico, your first win at WRC level in the category. How much more confidence does that give you? Is that result going to influence the way you drive here? You've taken 10 points out of two rounds: how does that put you in the Championship, bearing in mind that some drivers have contested more events than you? Is it realistic to hope for another win here?
MH: I think quite a bit of confidence. It took us three years and we had a lot of nearly wins and a lot of dramas. The team, me and Scott (Martin) are working very well. If we can get a podium, it's good enough to keep the Championship going, but a win would be nice. Mexico gives me confidence. We need to get out and do the job, you don't think about things like that during the rally. After Sweden it was a downer, but it all turned around. Even though we didn't do Argentina, it turned out well for us. Toshi (Arai) is a real threat, he's got a lot of points, but nobody is in quite such good shape. We have a good feeling from shakedown and we're not here to come second. Let's see what happens.
Q: The Acropolis has a very tough reputation: how difficult will it be to avoid punctures, given that the PWRC crews are not allowed to run with anti-deflation mousse? Is there a particular tactic with which you approach this event?
SP: We'll find out. Yokohama has produced a tyre which is much, much harder and more tolerant to this condition. It's going to be a balance between performance and not having punctures. I'm very confident that the tyres will be resistant to punctures. I'm not saying we won't have a puncture, but it's going to be interesting to see the compromise. The guy who wins this rally will be a clever guy who can judge the pace. Definitely, we'll keep a moderate pace for the first day and see what happens. If we lose time on the first day, then it's not good. It's only my fourth event in the car, so we still have to find out what the car can do. We'll push harder on the second day.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: I wanted to ask the drivers and Mr Frequelin if they are happy that after Finland, there might not be any safety tracking devices in place?
MG: Maybe we need for safety yes, but split times, I don't care. Safety side it's not good and hopefully it won't happen.
HS: The same for me.
FV: Pretty much the same, they're good for safety.
GF: It's important for safety, but it's not only safety, it's the split times. It's possible to have times and really good times.