ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE Pre-event Press Conference Thursday 11 June Present: Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team Henning Solberg, Stobart VK...
ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday 11 June
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Sebastien Ogier, Citroen Junior Team
Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Patrik Sandell, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Spyros Pavlides, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Sebastien, last week you were honoured in France by the French President and awarded the 'Legion d'Honneur'; what was it like to be recognised like that by your country?
SL: Yes, I received the Legion d'Honneur from the French President. It was a great moment. It's completely different from what we do every day. I drive for the French colours every year around the world and this was nice.
Q: What did the President say to you?
SL: He said he was proud and happy to give me this award. He looked honest, that's always nice to hear.
Q: The Acropolis Rally moves to a new location, Loutraki, which of course means some new stages. What do you think from what you have seen on the recce?
SL: It looks like great stages, but very, very rough in some places. In some places the stages are okay, but the temperature is high and the stages are abrasive. The second pass can be tough for the tyres. I had a puncture in Sardinia and it can be easy to have one here. The gravel on the road is also important for the first day.
Q: It was all about tyre wear at this event last year, and you seemed to make maximum use of your Pirelli tyres. Is tyre wear going to be an issue this year?
SL: I'm not sure I'm the master. I lost the rally two years ago when I destroyed my tyres; last year I remembered this. When you are in the car, it's hard to know how much tyre you have left -- you just want to push as hard as you can. You don't know if it's destroyed, all you can do is find the rhythm.
Q: What's your plan for the opening day?
SL: I'm sure I will lose some time on the first day -- it's not easy to be first [on the road]. What can I say? In my position, it will be hard to make some tactics. But I know if you finish this rally with a good rhythm and no mistakes, then it can be good.
Q: You only have limited parts available at the remote service tomorrow. How much of a factor will that be?
SL: Maybe you have to be more careful not to destroy anything. If you hit anything with the car you have to stop. It's difficult mentally to do this. But it's all you can do.
Q: It was a surprise not to see you on the podium on the last rally. Will we see you on the podium this time?
SL: For sure, I prefer to win than finish fourth. In Sardinia we couldn't do it. We were not so lucky: every time we tried to catch the gap, we had a problem and a puncture, okay it's like that. You can't win every time. I am quite happy to win five and I don't ask for more. I will do a good rally here, the motivation is the same.
Q: Jari-Matti you took the second win of your career in Italy in what was a great event for you. It's been an up and down year so far but are we seeing a reformed Jari-Matti now?
J-ML: Yes, it's been a difficult start of the year. A lot of accidents, but we find a good rhythm in Argentina and then we came to Sardinia and we were a bit lucky in the last day, when the other guys suffered in the dust. I took some time from them and won the rally. It was a big relief after a year and a half. It boosted my self-confidence. I really hope I have learned from those mistakes. Since we came to Argentina, correcting those small details with the notes, I think and I hope I am a little bit like a new man.
Q: Psychologically, has that win helped?
J-ML: When you win your rally, like when I won Sweden, it was good. But since then, I was fighting in a few rallies -- like Turkey, also in Japan and then again in Wales, but I lost those battles. I know how Mikko is feeling when he finishes second so many times. It makes you frustrated. You start to get negative comments, so that victory came in just the right moment. It's a more relaxed feeling now.
Q: You have a great road position here in Greece, what will be your strategy for the opening day?
J-ML: I try to drive like Sardinia. I have a good position. I will start the same. I will drive fast, but you don't need to take big risks in the start. Maybe in some points we need to go faster, but like Sebastien says, it will be hard for the tyres. The roads are very abrasive and Saturday afternoon will be very crucial.
Q: You have been competing recently in an older Ford -- the Escort Mark 2, and you picked up another win -- but it wasn't an easy ride was it?
J-ML: I was taking part in a round of the European Historic Championship in Lahti, Finland. I was driving a Ford Escort Mk 2 BDA. This was a winning car from the Seventies. It was really interesting. I went through the first stage and into the first corner 500 metres, with fifth gear, no power steering and the car moving about on the Bilstein suspension. I thought: "Ooooh, this is going to be interesting after the World Rally Car!" But, once I was used to it, it was good. I was too hard on the gearbox. I broke second and third gear, or broke the fork and the pin between those gears. Because of this, I did the rally with first, fourth and fifth -- it didn't matter so much, the roads in Finland are very fast.
Q: What's the plan from your perspective for the rest of the year in terms of the Championship?
J-ML: If you look at Drivers' Championship, I'm too far away. I try to bring points for the team to have a fight with Citroen. We are quite far way, but anything can happen. I hope I will be able to fight for the victories in the coming rallies
Q: Sebastien, your first time here in what is considered to be the toughest
event on the calendar. What do you think of the stages? SO: It will be a difficult rally for the mechanicals and the tyre. We want a race without mistakes, to conserve the car and the tyre. It could be a good race if we manage this.
Q: The heat here is extreme and obviously it is even hotter in the car; many drivers up their training to prepare for that; have you increased yours?
SO: I didn't do anything special for this rally. But all of the year I do sports training. In Sardinia, it was good for me, but I didn't do all the rally. I hope to do all of the rally here. I will drink a lot. It will be the same condition for everybody.
Q: I hear that you had a bit of training during the recce as the air conditioning wasn't working in the car -- so you have had a taste of what is to come this weekend!
SO: Yes, sometimes it wasn't working. It was good training, like Sebastien, I try to do without. It is good preparation.
Q: What about Poland, Sebastien [Ogier]? Will you be there?
SO: Yes I will be in Poland. For the rest of the season, nothing is sure. The team is working to find budget and I hope to continue to the end of the season.
Q: How much would you like to do the rest of the season?
SO: I want to continue, for sure. For me, it's important to do lot of rallies to get experience. I have just seven rallies in a World Rally Car and sometimes it's difficult to fight with the other guys who have many seasons. But I feel in a good way and I hope to continue.
Q: It has been an up and down debut WRC season for you, and the team have asked for consistent performances and to finish the events. How difficult a season has it been for you so far and how much pressure have you felt?
SO: Yes a little bit. At the start of the season, it was difficult, we did some mistakes and our position is not very good. But now, Citroen try to help me and I think we progress race after race and I hope it will be better from now until the end of the season.
Q: Henning, you were almost on the podium here last year, but engine problems on the final day dropped you down the order. Are you back this year to reclaim what should have been yours?
HS: I will try to get on the podium. I had a very good car in Sardinia and I was fast in the last day when Seb and Mikko were trying hard.
Q: How much training do you do?
HS: I do my training; I have my one hour per day of running. I am not looking fit, but I am fit! Fit, fat and fast -- that's what I say!
Q: Looking back to Italy and the final day, you were setting fastest times on a couple of the stages. Your pace seems to come later on during an event; why is that?
HS: I don't know. Maybe Sunday's not the best time to go fast, but then I want to go fast. We will try to have a Sunday on Friday; maybe that will help.
Q: You told us a few weeks ago after your podium in Argentina that you were going back to settings you used in 2007 -- has that been the case?
HS: Yes, it's working well. I have stayed with that.
Q: It's been a tough year economically around the world and many drivers have struggled to find or keep sponsors. How is your deal at the moment and will it continue in 2010?
HS: I hope so. I think it's great fun to drive and yes, I will be in the car as long as I can do it. If I have a sponsor, I will do the whole season.
Q: Your brother Petter has picked up a new sponsor -- could we ever see you compete in a team together, or would you rather stay with Stobart?
HS: Yeah, maybe, we have to see. We have had fights before but maybe it's a better story this time.
Q: Will you still be ahead of Petter in the Championship after this rally?
HS: I hope it will be more points after this rally!
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Patrik, normally when we travel about from country to country jet lag sets but you have come straight from competing in America to be here. What were you doing there?
PS: It's a busy time if you want reach the top in world motorsport, it has to be this way. We went to the States for one rally in the American Championship. It was not so good, we broke the engine on the first stage. But, it was good experience to see how it works and get some good contacts.
Q: Just a couple of weeks ago you were battling hard with Nasser Al Attiyah, who beat you to victory on the very last stage of Rally d'Italia by just 1.5 seconds. Are you fired up from that defeat?
PS: Yeah, absolutely. It was an amazing weekend, we were pushing really hard and Nasser was pushing so hard as well. On the final stage, he was a little bit faster; it was maybe not so good. But it was eight good points in the Championship and after Rally GB hopefully, it will be eight good points.
Q: How did you feel on that last stage?
PS: When we missed it, I realised he was faster on this stage. We did everything we could: we went over the rocks, we were flat out everywhere, but he found some small shortcut in one small corner and I have to say congratulations to him for this drive. We had the lead for one and a half days and then we lost it. That's part of the game some times.
Q: You are in the Skoda S2000 -- how well will the car deal with the rough conditions out there this weekend?
PS: It will be really good. It's a little bit faster roads than before, although I've only been here once. You still have some rough and some soft places, so after the World Rally Cars, we will have to take it easy.
Q: It's going to be hot, though, not quite what a Swede like yourself is used to...
PS: It's going to be amazingly hot and as you say I'm from 600kms north of the Swedish Rally -- we have winter all year. This is completely different, but I'm doing my training and it wasn't a problem in Sardinia, where it was hot also.
Q: The top three from PWRC are all here. It's going to be a tough event. Can you win it?
PS: Yes I think I can take the win, but it's not about being the fastest -- it's the cleverest who will win here.
Q: This is a pretty crucial round for you isn't it? Only one more event for you after this -- all three contenders are here in PWRC this weekend so it's very important that you take away maximum points?
PS: Absolutely. I think also you have to be a little bit clever. It's quite rough, look back in the past it's mostly not the one who wins the first stage who wins this rally. My plan is to win the Rally of Greece; I'll take it easy then go flat out.
Q: Spyros, you had a strong finish in Argentina, a great result -- what can you hope to achieve here this weekend?
SP: It's interesting; Nasser and Patrik are fantastic when they are driving. Actually, the top four are so fast and being behind them and seeing the times they can set is really mesmerising to see how they do it. Yes, I want to get to the end, but I want to get as close to them as possible. It would be brilliant to have Group N cars and S2000 cars and that's it for next year, you would have lots of entries in the WRC.
Q: Do you like these stages?
SP: They are fantastic. They are the nicest of the Championship for a long time. I could compare them with New Zealand. The drivers can take a lot of pleasure here. Okay, they might not be able to forget how hot they are and there will be a long road section on Friday -- but it's worth it.
Q: How does the heat affect you?
SP: Trust me, I'm used to it. I do some jogging in the heat, 30 -- 32 degrees. But, even I felt a little uncomfortable in the recce, but once you get into the mood, it's part of the event. Even the Scandinavian drivers come out of the stages and they look so fit, it doesn't affect them at all.
Q: Is there a toughest day on this event?
SP: Friday looks like a tough day, but Sunday will also be a shock for everybody. This is a proper day of rallying, not just a fill-in. I'm pretty sure both the PWRC and the WRC will be judged on Sunday.
Q: Forty per cent of Group N cars don't finish this event, why is that?
SP: Tell me about it! It's three times I have not finished this event. It's misleading. The road opens wide and smooth and flowing the then, suddenly, bang. You're coming out of a corner and there's a rut or a stone and you're out. You can't only think about not breaking the car. If you do that, you're going too slowly. If someone makes reasonable pace to the end of the event, he stands a good chance to making good points.