FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY ARGENTINA FIA Pre-event Press Conference 03.05.2007 Present: Chris Atkinson - Subaru World Rally Team Luis Perez Companc - Munchi's Ford World Rally Team Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team Mikko ...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Chris Atkinson - Subaru World Rally Team
Luis Perez Companc - Munchi's Ford World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Gabriel Pozzo - FIA PWRC
Niall McShea - FIA PWRC
Welcome to the FIA pre-event press conference.
Q: Chris, welcome to Argentina. This is an important event for you as it's the first one you're doing with your new co-driver, Stephane Prevot. How difficult was it to come up with a replacement for Glenn MacNeall? Have there been any language difficulties, given that you are Australian and he is Belgian?
CA: Okay, it's not easy but the most important thing was to make the right choice, weigh up all the options and not rush into a decision. I think we've made the right one. Change can be for the better and so I'm looking forward to it. The language difference seems not to be a problem as long as Stephane speaks English and not French! Okay, there's an accent there, but all he is reading is a number and letter and as long as they're clear, it's cool.
Q: Welcome to your home event Luis. How does it feel to be here in the capital city of Argentina, at the River Plate stadium? Is this stadium a place you know well? What do you think about the whole idea of having the super special here on Thursday, and also the layout of the stage that has been constructed?
LP-C: My home event it always the most important rally to me. And now the first stage is in Buenos Aires, where I was born. So now I'm a local hero and so I have to go well. It's great to be here in the River Plate stadium. I've always been a big football fan and I have the colours on my car. I think the cars will be sideways a lot here and so the spectators will enjoy it.
Q: Hello Seb. You come here to Argentina leading the Drivers' Championship, after Portugal. Did you expect that? You're one point ahead: how much easier does that make your life and does it hand you a psychological advantage? If you win here this year it would be your third consecutive victory in Argentina -- equalling Tommi Makinen's record -- so how hard are you going to be pushing to make that happen?
SL: Sure it's always really a big battle with Marcus (Gronholm) and now we are leading with one point, but that's very little with 11 rounds to go. But I'm very happy to be in this position because we have a new car this year and it proves it is good on all surfaces. Psychologically it's not a big thing or an advantage. If Marcus finishes in front of me here he will be leading the Championship so one point is not a big difference. For me I'm not running after records. The most important thing for me is to do well in the Championship and get good results. Sure I want to win, but my aim is not really to equal Tommi's record.
Q: Welcome Mikko. You come here off the back of Rally Portugal, where you and your team- mate Marcus Gronholm both picked up a five-minute penalty for a technical issue at the finish. How big a blow was that to your chances? How do you try and bounce back from disappointments like that and does this increase your motivation for Argentina? What do you think it's possible for you to do here?
MH: Personally for me I lost two points, which is a shame. Okay, we had a small silly mistake in the team but we have to put that behind us and concentrate on this rally and the future. Okay, they needed to investigate what happened but we know that now and everything is fine. I really love this rally and the stage they have here but I don't have much experience of it. So I will have to just try to get as many points as I can and maybe challenge for the lead.
Q: Chris, what are your goals for this event? Is a podium place just possible, or a target?
CA: I think we go in with similar expectations as the last two events. Most important is to finish in the top five but I think it's hard for us to challenge any higher than that at the moment.
Q: Luis, tell us a little bit about the stages for this year. What are the conditions going to be like generally?
LP-C: You have many conditions: twisty parts, fast parts and loose rocks so I think it's a really tough three days but all the same, it's really fun to drive here.
Q: The Citroen C4 faces a new type of challenge here, with the softer gravel of Argentina and more uncertain weather. You have always performed very well in the past on events where the weather is uncertain -- such as Portugal -- so what will happen here?
SL: For sure it's a bit more slippery here than it is in Portugal and Mexico, so my driving style has to be different, but I hope the car will go well although we obviously have to adjust the settings for here.
Q: You've been testing as well Mikko, also in Sardinia. You tried out some parts for the 2007-spec Focus that will appear later this year: what did you think about it and how did it go? Was it just a development test, or were you also looking at some things that might help you here?
MH: Some small things we found out in the Sardinia test that can help us here. There are always small things that can do that but we were mainly testing parts for the new car. But I'm sure we are going to be competitive here anyway.
Q: Gabriel, welcome. You've got plenty of experience of this event: how strong are your chances of winning the FIA PWRC category?
GP: This is a very hard race but I like it very much and I think we have good possibilities because we have a great car and great team and we have worked very hard. Our goal is the Championship.
Q: Hello Niall and welcome back. You were PWRC champion in 2004 -- what have you been up to since then and why haven't you been back sooner? Many congratulations on securing a programme this year: how did it all happen? Was it quite unexpected? What will be the full extent of your commitments this year? Are you going to be able to get back into the rhythm of things fairly quickly, or do you think you will be a bit rusty to start off?
NMc: Everybody knows what my situation was with the lack of money. Unfortunately, I don't have a very rich father or anything like that, so I have had to work very hard to get money to compete. After 2004 and winning the PWRC title my main sponsor thought we had gone as far as we could, so he decided to do something else. But I must say he did a great job for me. However, now I am back and looking forward to it all immensely. The situation for me to get this drive arose because Anton Alen chose to go in the IRC with Fiat and that left an opening in this team and I was very, very fortunate that the chance came to me. My other rallies this year will be Greece, New Zealand, Ireland and Rally GB. It is fantastic for me to be back competing. I have really, really missed it. I suppose I should say I'll be a bit rusty but I hope I wont! The car is excellent and we have a really good package so I just hope I can do well.
Q: What do you think about the level of competition here in Group N compared to previous years? How strong are your rivals? What are your opinions about the super special here tonight: is it good for Argentina to have a part of the rally in Buenos Aires? Do you think it will make rallying even more popular all over the country?
GP: I think it's rather complex. Of course everybody will fight for the Championship but I am very confident. We have worked a lot after what happened in Australia. We have the same team but some new people and I am also very confident in the car. With the super special, all the travelling takes time and makes the drivers a little tired, but I think it is important for the rally. For sure, coming to Buenos Aires will help to build up the image of the rally and I think its well worth the effort to do this super special.
Q: How difficult is it for you to come back to this series as a former Champion: there's obviously some degree of expectation on you to do it again. Is that something you're aware of? Is your target to aim for the title again and will it be a big disappointment for you if you don't make it?
NMc: For sure I think things have moved on in the last two years. As I say, I'm very grateful to be back. I didn't want to leave in the first place. I do think I'll be a bit rusty and it is very important that I get to the end of this rally for my Championship chances. The stages are a bit rougher than I remember in 2004 and so I think there will be a fair bit of luck in the result.