CYPRUS RALLY 2009 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 03.12.2009 Present: Evgeny Novikov, Citroen Junior Team Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford...
2009 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Evgeny Novikov, Citroen Junior Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Nasser Al Attiyah, FIA Production World Rally Championship
Martin Semerad, FIA Production World Rally Championship
Michael Kosciusko, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Martin Prokop, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Evgeny, you are competing with the Citroen Junior Team this year, your first outing was in Norway. What did you think of your performance there?
EN: It is a very fast car. On a technical level we are trying to get a good set-up. The last race in Norway was quite good for me. I wanted to reach the finish and I did that. The stage results on the first day and the Sunday stage times showed that we could go fast.
Q: We are used to seeing you in a Group N car, what did you think of the C4 WRC?
EN: It's another level. It is not going to be easy to take a result here. I will try my best to do what I can.
Q: We saw some impressive displays from you last year, most notably in Japan where you almost took away the win. Will we get to see that kind of pace from you in WRC this year?
EN: Of course, my aim is to finish the rally. It will be a very difficult rally. It will also be my first time on tarmac roads on gravel tyres.
Q: It will be your first time competing in Cyprus -- what did you think of the stages from what you saw on the recce?
EN: They are very nice and technical stages and they will be very hard for the driver and the co-driver. The roads are very twisty, but I like such roads.
Q: You are part of the Citroen family now, what has the support been like? Has Sebastien (Loeb) been giving you any advice at all?
EN: It is a good opportunity for me to be in a team with such a friendly atmosphere. 'Seb' and I have not spent that much time together until now but, hopefully, he will give me some advice, of course.
Q: Sebastien, we are back in Cyprus after a break of two years and the drivers are faced with a mixed surface event using gravel tyres on tarmac on the opening day. You have tested the tyres on tarmac, how was it?
SL: It's going well. No special problems. The only thing is it is very slow compared with what we usually do on tarmac. It is not dangerous, just a case of adapting a different driving style. We will see tomorrow. On the shakedown there was a lot of gravel on the road.
Q: You are reported in the press as saying that you will go flat-out to try and build a big lead on the opening day. How much of a lead would you be comfortable with to sweep the roads with on day two?
SL: I don't know if I will be able to take the lead. I am first on the road. I will try to do my best and drive as fast as possible. It is very difficult to know how much of a lead would be comfortable. We will see.
Q: The forecast is for rain tomorrow; that could make it even trickier out there...
SL: So we have to take rain. I have no idea about the tyres in wet conditions. It doesn't matter.
Q: Do you think it's a good move to bring back mixed surface events?
SL: Yes, it's not a problem. I was happy to hear we have a tarmac day in Cyprus. The tarmac stages are very nice. I would prefer to drive them on slicks, but this is a question of budget and it is more important in these economic times to save a bit of money.
Q Are you thinking about the 50th WRC win?
SL: Not really, 50 wins is a nice thing, but I will just concentrate on my preparations and my rally. This rally is totally different to the first two wins of the season. Here we are in another quite specific rally.
Q: Marcus Gronholm will compete in the next event in Portugal, what do you think about him coming back to the Championship?
SL: I am really happy to see him back. It has been a long time not to see him. If his Subaru is working well it could be another driver in the fight.
Q: Mikko, Sebastien has said he will push for a big lead on Friday, what will your approach be on the opening day?
MH: I'm sure he will push to try and get away. I will try and stay close. There is nothing much more we can do. They are forecasting some rain. If he gets a big lead, it will be difficult to catch him.
Q: Ford had what was described as a marathon test for this event; what did you learn from it?
MH: It went okay. We never had a big test in these conditions before with a gravel car on tarmac roads. We needed to get a feeling for how it worked. It all went well. We will see tomorrow when we get into the action.
Q: We have talked a lot about mixed surfaces but the sting in the tail of this event could well be the final day; only three stages, but incredibly long...
MH: There are long stages, quite technical stages and they take lots of time. It will be imperative to stay focused and attack in every corner. You can easily lose some time.
Q: You told us in Cyprus that to beat Loeb you have to be perfect on every corner; with gravel tyres on tarmac that could be asking a lot!
MH: There are plenty of corners to be perfect on! Hopefully it works well.
Q: Matthew, you have completed the recce, what did you think of the conditions?
MW: Yes, it's going to be a tough weekend. It is totally different. You go to Finland and it's really quick and you come here and it's really slow. I hope it stays dry. The stages will be less muddy. It was difficult on the recce. We will see.
Q: With the various aspects of this event; gravel tyres, the weather, Sunday's long stages -- do you think this could turn out to be one of the trickiest events on the calendar?
MW: Yes. Tomorrow is a bit of an unknown for everyone. No one has tried gravel tyres on a wet tarmac road and a 40 kilometre stage on Sunday will be a tough finish to the rally.
Q: What is your plan for the weekend?
MW: Like I said it is a bit of an unknown. The shakedown was not representative of the stages. We will see what happens on stage one. We had no test before the rally and it will be an unknown in the morning. Rally GB was the last time we drove on gravel. We are looking for points to keep the run going. I will be happy to do this.
Q: You have been competing in WRC for four years now. Can we see you get on the podium this year? What will it take from you to get there?
MW: That was always the plan. I am in a more fortunate position than a lot of people and have been able to drive a WRC car from the age of 18. Not many get that opportunity. I wanted to use that the best I could. This year will be a big year and I intend to up the pace on certain rallies. We have had a good start to the year so far.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Nasser we see you return to the PWRC for another season, but you have a new co-driver this time around; Giovanni Bernacchini, who sat alongside Gigi Galli, will be with you. How's it going?
NA: Yes, actually I am so happy to be back to the PWRC this year. I signed for three years with new sponsors in Qatar and I made a good deal with Giovanni. I am so happy with the way it has turned out. We won last week in the Kuwait Rally -- this was the first win with him.
Q: You have an incredible amount of experience at the Troodos Rally, winning it six times, the most recent just last year. Parts of stages in that event are covered here -- do you feel you have a distinct advantage over the rest of the field?
NA: Yes, actually I have a lot of experience for this race. We know what we need to do to win this race. It is more about the driver and the co-driver. Speed means nothing. You need to keep the car in one piece all the way. The first day will be tarmac, but it is the same for everybody.
Q: Last year was maybe one to forget in PWRC, with only one event completed -- can you turn that around this year?
NA: I hope it will be a good year. We improved the car a lot. It is much better. Last year we had a few problems. We have been working a lot with the N15. It is quite good. We tested last week and we won the race in Kuwait. I hope it will be a good race for all the drivers.
Q: The last time we saw you on the top step of the podium was back in Greece in 2006 -- can you change that statistic this weekend?
NA: Yes, actually we came here because I want to win this race. It will not be easy. But I think we have a good chance. We have a good car and a good team. It is possible.
Q: Martin, you are the youngest driver in the PWRC this year but you are, of course, also the winner of the Pirelli Star Driver competition which gave you part funding for this year. You have found extra funding to make it a full season -- what do you think you can achieve in 2009?
MS: Well it's amazing and all new for us. I hope we are going to gain as much experience as we can. That is the goal for the year. Even though we made troubles in Norway, we are on our game and finished that race. We want to improve and keep going this way.
Q: We saw you in Norway - it was your first PWRC event, what did you think?
MS: Driving on snow is always enjoyable. I always like the slippery conditions. It was very funny. I made some mistakes and lost a lot of time. I need to make less mistakes.
Q: As part of your Pirelli Star Driver programme I believe you took part in an intense training session in Edinburgh last week -- how was it?
MS: It was very exciting. We were in Edinburgh for three days. They talked to us about how to drive, make good pace notes and how to work on media relationships. It was a new experience for us. Then we moved on to Italy to try the new Evolution X for the first time. We found it very nice.
Q: This is a mixed surface event, have you done any testing with the gravel tyres on tarmac ahead of the event?
MS: Yes. It was our first experience of gravel tyres on tarmac. We found it quite funny, like snow in Norway. You do not know how many stones or mud are around the corner. We are going to take it easy and give our brake system a rest. It will be tough for them.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLYCHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Martin, last year it was a lack of consistency that hindered your chance of Championship glory, will your approach be different this year?
MP: Yes we hope it will be better. We changed our strategy. We started last season flat-out and started to win the first rally and we crashed. Now we start a little bit more slowly and we have eight points in Juniors and six in Production, so we can start to go a little bit faster. We will also try to finish as much as possible and start really fighting in Sardinia.
Q: Again you will be competing in the PWRC and JWRC, will one take precedence over the other?
MP: I think Juniors is most important for me. It is my last year and I would like to make the best result to make the title. In the last years we were very close to the title and we would like to do it.
Q: What is the strategy for this weekend from your perspective?
MP: I don't know. It is not easy to get to the finish. This rally is not for my car. It is very hard. The best option is to stay in the hotel and go to the finish on Sunday! On the recce I drove no more than 25-30 km/h and I totally damaged my recce car. I don't know what we will do with the race car - maybe destroy it. On stage numbers one and two we can make nice times. I think we will lose all the time on stage number three. It is like a gravel stage and we have to change our speed on this one. We will see.
Q: Michal, we saw you battling with Martin on many events last year, do you think he will be your biggest rival this year?
MK: Of course he will be fast. It is difficult. There are only three of us (in Cyprus). It is easy to score points but only if you finish the rally. I hope to be the fastest one.
Q: The Juniors can use a tarmac tyre -- which will make things a lot easier for you compared to the rest of the field?
MK: To be honest it is a disadvantage. The roads were full of gravel. It was easy to get a puncture. It is a difficult decision for us. Tomorrow the roads will be cleaner, but the World Rally Cars will put a lot of stones on to the road and we will have to drive slower to avoid a puncture
Q: What is the strategy for this year - you were up at the top end of the field battling last year; can you get the title this year?
MK: I will drive wisely. I don't want to make any mistakes. On my first event of the year I try to find the limit and how competitive we are. We did some good results last year, especially on gravel, and I want to survive the first day and push on the next two days and score 10 points.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Martin Holmes - Martin Holmes Rallying (GB)
Q: Sebastien, what do you think about the Super 2000 route and the change of cars for the future of the WRC?
SL: For me, on the driving side, I would be happy to have a turbo. We would not have a lot of torque with the new car. On another side it is a difficult moment with the financial problems for nearly everybody. Maybe the most important thing is to save the Championship and to take the chance of having new manufacturers joining us. The best decision now could be to take the Super 2000 regulations without the turbo. It is not for the drivers to decide at the moment.
Q: Will you be taking part?
SL: Why not!