Present: Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg MSN Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Dani Sordo, Citroen Total World Rally Team Hans Weijs, FIA Junior World Rally Championship Simone ...
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg MSN
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Dani Sordo, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Hans Weijs, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Simone Bertolotti, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Mikko, you come to Spain in the lead of the Championship by five points. Citroen has dominated this event for the past five years -- what is the realistic hope for you and Ford this weekend?
MH: I'm glad I'm in a position to fight until the end. With two rallies to go, it's nothing. Anything can happen. I'll try for second and we'll see. I haven't been strong enough previously and Friday here has been a difficult day for me [in the past].
Q: How much preparation has gone into this weekend in terms of tarmac training?
MH: It's been the same as in previous years. We did our normal test and some training with a guy in the UK. It was just for one day, it gives me the chance to get my head into tarmac, just getting my thoughts again to driving on tarmac -- we'll see on Friday if it's been beneficial.
Q: Team Principal Malcolm Wilson calls you the 'Ice Man' because you are cool under pressure -- do you agree and do you feel the pressure mounting?
MH: It's really... I don't know. That's the first time I have heard of that. I'm from Finland, it's pretty cold with snow and ice... I don't feel the pressure. Anything can happen. It's been really good all year. I don't know how I do it, but the position doesn't bother me at all.
Q: On Ford's press release there's a quote saying you feel you have proved things to yourself this year. What did you mean?
MH: I have had a lot of experiences through this year. I have showed to myself that I can be fast enough. That's it.
Q: Petter, was it tough to miss out on competing in Australia?
PS: Definitely. It's not good fun to stay at home and see the guys enjoying great roads. But that's part of the game. We have to look forward and look towards next year. I was working while I was at home, I was planning these two rallies [Catalunya and GB] and it takes a lot of work.
Q: This will be the first time you get to drive the C4 competitively -- what is your aim position-wise?
PS: The car is great. I have tested it for two days. Many years ago, I sat in a car like that. It takes time to get the rhythm. I haven't driven a tarmac rally since Corsica last year -- it's coming. I hope to improve my speed through the weekend and then we will see what happens on Sunday.
Q: You will be nominated for Manufacturer points with the Citroen Junior Team at Rally GB -- do you believe you have the car now to go out and win that event?
PS: Well, I tried the car on gravel also and I came in after 15km; I could go flat-out and it was really good fun. Compared to the Xsara, it's a big difference. I hope to fight at the top.
Q: I'm sure Mikko will be watching...
PS: I'm sure it'll be really good fun. I'll be there, definitely.
Q: Where do you think you can get to on this rally?
PS: I don't know. It's hard. You need to find the grip. That's why I did so many runs at shakedown, I should have done more testing and more karting, but I didn't have the time. I hope to fight in the top three or four, maybe. I need time to warm up and we will see.
Q: Sebastien, you were fastest on the stages in Australia but a technical infringement incurred a penalty and lost you valuable points. You now trail the lead by five points; what are your thoughts on the Championship now?
SL: For sure, I feel disappointed about what happened. It's like that, I have to accept it. For sure, this was not [good] for me, it's a regulation and we have to follow it. Before this rally, I didn't want to be in the situation I am now. We have done the one-two with Dani [Sordo] for three years here and so it's possible to do it. If this is the case, everything is possible on the last rally. All we can do is fight for the victory and that's what we will do.
Q: Even if you win the next two events it will still depend on what Mikko achieves, in effect it's out of your hands. Is that frustrating?
SL: Yes, but it's something I can't change. I try to forget about that and do my rally. For the rest, we can't do anything else.
Q: It is the ten year anniversary of your WRC debut, which was here in Catalunya in 1999. You have won this event for the past four years -- is it a favourite and what is the secret of success here?
SL: This is one of my favourites. It is special compared with other tarmac rallies, because it's more like circuit racing. You need good lines. It's very difficult and it's what I like. You have the surface changing; it's a specific rally and I like driving here.
Q: What's the secret? Maybe you don't want to share this with Mikko?
MH: Please share it...
SL: The problem is that I don't know. I feel well on this kind of surface, but...
Q: Dani, this could be a big weekend for the Citroen team if you and Sebastien achieve a one-two - the Manufacturers Championship will be sealed and for the Drivers' Championship Sebastien needs you to finish second. Are you feeling a lot of pressure to perform?
DS: A little more pressure, but more because this is Spain and I have a lot of support. We need to drive well for the spectators and the team. I want to help Sebastien [Loeb].
Q: You have always seemed incredibly confident on tarmac and especially here in Spain, is your confidence high for this weekend?
DS: I feel confident. The car after the test was very good. We will see. The testing is not the same as the rally, we'll see tomorrow.
Q: You made your WRC debut in 2003 at Rally Catalunya; are you pleased with the way your career has progressed over the past six years?
DS: It's progressed a lot. I have come a long way. I will work more and try more and we try to go faster on every surface.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: On the opening day of the season, in Ireland, you showed your pace and form but a heavy crash on day two put you out of the rally. How did that accident affect the rest of the year for you?
HW: It was a disappointment not to finish. I was in a good position at that moment. What can I say? It was a big accident. It took a few months to rebuild my body, and then it was okay.
Q: Are you back to 100 per cent now?
HW: Now I'm okay. We are back on tarmac again. I hope it can be good again.
Q: This is the first time we return to tarmac since Ireland -- very different tarmac here in Catalunya; do you prefer this style of surface?
HW: It's nice. I hope the rally is dry, there's not so much risk. It's like circuit driving. You need to have good lines and keep the speed in. You need to make sure you look after the tyres; you can't destroy them straight away.
Q: Will you be battling at the top end of the field this weekend?
HW: I hope to get on the podium and to battle to win. We will see, everything must go well.
Q: Your team-mate Kevin Abbring sealed his first JWRC win in Poland. Has seeing him do that made you want to push harder to achieve a win this year?
HW: I want to win, of course. We are in a good way here, on gravel we were not in such a good way -- we missed a lot of testing. On the last rally I tried to win but so many things were not going so well. You can see on Sunday, I will push for the win.
Q: Do you have any news about next year?
HW: I don't know exactly. I hope to drive Juniors next year, it's a lot of tarmac. It's good for me. I hope I am here for next year.
Q: KNAF, the Dutch Federation, has a chance to retain the ASN Cup. Are there any strategic considerations?
HW: Yes, it will be good to win that. It's better for the next year.
Q: Simone, last year you were in an R2, this year the Suzuki Swift 1600 -- how have you found it this year?
SB: Of course, the Suzuki is better than my car last year. Now we have a little test and we find the solution for the tarmac. Now the car is fantastic and really fast. I hope we are also fast, like the car.
Q: We saw you on the podium in Ireland in third position; do you think it is possible to achieve a podium here?
SB: For sure, we are here to reach the podium. But the race is normally quite hard and difficult. In Juniors there are not too many drivers, but the level is very high. It's hard to make the podium when there is [Kevin] Abbring, [Martin] Prokop and drivers like that -- but I think we are in a good way.
Q: How much does the weather affect these stages?
SB: If it starts to rain on this type of road it can be quite tricky, but it's the same for all the drivers. You will just have to push and see who is the fastest.
Q: Are there any plans for next year? Could we see you back in Juniors again or will you move on to another category?
SB: I hope another year with Suzuki, but I hope. We have to see what we can do for next year.
Q: A good result here would help?
SB: For sure, good results help -- it makes it easier with the sponsors if you go fast. We have to see what happens. Now we have the rally to do, after the rally, we can see what we can do.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Martin Holmes - (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK)
Q: Could Sebastien tell us any more about his plan to test a GP2 car?
SL: It is next week in Jerez. It's a simple plan. I did a few Porsche races and one of the engineers is also on the GP2 team. He knows I like to drive everything, so he asked me if I would like to drive and I said yes.