Jost Capito -- Ford Jean-Pierre Nicolas -- Peugeot Stephane Sarrazin -- Subaru Armin Schwarz -- Skoda Gigi Galli -- Mitsubishi Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen --- Before the press conference, a brief obituary for the journalist David Williams was ...
Jost Capito -- Ford Jean-Pierre Nicolas -- Peugeot Stephane Sarrazin -- Subaru Armin Schwarz -- Skoda Gigi Galli -- Mitsubishi Sebastien Loeb -- Citroen
Before the press conference, a brief obituary for the journalist David Williams was read, followed by a minute of silence:
As everybody will be aware, David Williams, one of the most respected journalists to cover this championship, died at home last week. All of us who had the privilege of working with David know him, so now is not the time to list his many achievements and attributes. Suffice it to say that his loss will have a profound effect on the championship and all of us. It seems very strange and totally wrong to be at a press conference and not have David amongst us. We will all miss him greatly. Before we start the conference, let us take a minute to remember David.
Q: Welcome. Germany is an important rally for Ford, being just up the road from Cologne where there is a massive Ford presence. How important is a good performance in Germany to you personally?
JC: First of all, I would like to add my personal tribute on behalf of Ford to David Williams. Although I haven't been involved in world rallying for too long, to me as well, he had become a respected journalist and we must thank him for his contribution to the WRC. This rally is very important for Ford, as, next to Britain, Germany is the most important market for us. Cologne is just around the corner, as is Saarlouis, where the Focus is being built.
Q: Is there an extra pressure, an extra buzz on this event? JC:We have a lot of management people here and also many employees from Saarlouis who are building the Focus. They have the chance to watch their cars in action. I would say that the team is excited, but it is a positive pressure. In the past, they have proven that they are able to cope with it.
Q: Last year on asphalt, the Focus was the car to beat on asphalt. Do you think it still is?
JC: I think not only in the last asphalt events last year, but also in this year's Monte Carlo, where we finished second, we were also the car to beat. Then again, it isn't pure tarmac here. There is a lot of dirt and mud. But even in tricky conditions, I think the Focus is still the car to beat.
Q: You have a comparatively tight battle with Subaru for third place in the constructors championship -- you currently lead them by 10 points. With six rallies left to go, how much do you think you can extend that margin by? JC:nI think it will be a very tight battle for third. Ten points is a good position, but not comfortable, but we will fight hard to keep our third place. About this rally, a lot of things happened here in the past and we know that Seb is quick here, but we have had good testing and Toni is convinced that the Focus is good enough here to fight for the win.
Q: Jean-Pierre, on the last rally we saw a fantastic win for Marcus Gronholm in Finland. To what extent does a victory motivate the team, does it give the team an extra 'push'? J- PN: Sure, victory in Finland gives us an extra boost. It was our first victory since one year and it was a huge motivation, as was the good performance by Markko. Then again, we don't need an extra push, we have had it since the start of the year. Everybody wants to win the championship, the motivation is complete, but the competition has worked a lot from 2004 to 2005 and we have to work between every rally to remain competitive. All the team is confident, drivers, mechanics, engineers and we are happy and confident.
Q: You are in the middle of a tight battle for the lead of the constructors championship. Sebastien Loeb is in the lead of the drivers championship and we have seen that Marcus can often challenge him for speed, but recently Markko Martin has been comprehensively outscoring Francois Duval, in the second Citroen. Do you think this championship will be decided by the second driver'number twos'? What is your strategy? J-PN : It is not only the second drivers that will decide, also Sebastien and Marcus. We will have three gravel and three asphalt rallies. The fight will be very hard. If it is dry, Seb will be unbeatable here, but if it is wet, some others will be able to fight at the top level. On gravel, we will have fast rallies and our drivers will be able to fight: Marcus with Sebastien and Markko with Francois Duval, and the last rallies will see a fierce battle between Peugeot and Citroen. We don't have a particular strategy. If it is dry, we probably can't fight Citroen, but if it is wet, we will be in contention, as will be some of the others, so we will see a good battle.
Q: Stephane, welcome. You have mentioned before that this rally was your best chance so far this year -- tell us why and what sort of result are you looking at? Can you challenge for a podium now?
SS: It is the first real asphalt rally for me this year and I am competing here for the second time. Last year, I made my WRC debut here. I have good pace notes and I did a good preparation, so I am confident.
Q: How much of a difference does it make when you've done an event before? Is that in practical terms, or psychological confidence terms?
SS: Having competed here before certainly is an advantage. We have the pace notes and it was easier in recce. We did a few days of testing and development and I think we are sorted quite well.
Q: Although you've not competed since Greece, you've done some tests. What have you learned from those tests?
SS: It was the first test with this car and it was very productive. It was a good opportunity for me to gain some more experience on gravel.
Q: Are you approaching anything differently now -- for example preparation of pace notes? How much more confident do you feel since the start of the year, now that there is a run of events coming up which should suit you?
SS: I am happy with the situation as it is. We worked more on the pace notes and I have some more mileage now.
Q: Are you positive for the rest of the year?
SS: Yes, we now have three asphalt rallies and some of the rallies, like Japan and Australia, I know from recce last year, so I am quite confident.
Q: This is also the first time that we are seeing Subaru's 2005 Impreza on asphalt; in Monte Carlo you used the 2004 car. What are the biggest differences between the 2004 car and the 2005 car when it comes to driving on asphalt?
SS: It is not a big difference, rather small details in chassis, suspension. The balance is very good, but the difference is not big. Still, I am confident for the three asphalt rallies to come.
Q: Armin, Rally Germany again. Tell us what it feels like to be driving on your home event? Is it a different feeling?
AS: First of all, we treat every rally the same way. Here, there is more pressure from the press and fans, but also more support. The fact that I know Baumholder from the past helps me a bit, because I know the tricky things, but the others are good enough, so I don't have too much of an advantage.
Q: Is there any extra pressure ?
AS: Yes, there is some pressure, but it is positive pressure. The weather is obviously the main thing here, everybody is talking about it. I will try to set a fastest stage time
Q: The big news from Skoda recently has been that Colin McRae will join the team for the Rally Great Britain -- have you spoken much with Colin about the car? How do you think you will get on?
AS: I think I don't get on with him at all ! No, seriously, it will be nice to compete with Colin on his home ground. The Rally GB was the first WRC event I ever did, I like the event. We haven't spoken about it yet, but he is coming here, so we will certainly talk about the Rally GB.
Q: Are you worried about him beating you?
AS: I will be quicker than him, at least I will try. Colin hasn't been in a World Rally Car for a long time and we will have to work out a strategy that is best for Skoda as a team.
Q: Do you think the Fabia will be suited to his driving style?
AS: I think that the Fabia is suited for Colin's driving style and I have no doubt that he will adapt to the car very quickly.
Q: Armin, you grew up here so nobody knows the local conditions and these roads better than you. What is the key to mastering these conditions?
AS: The first key to success here is to have the right tyres at the right time. You have to be fast on many different characteristics and surfaces on one day and that is what Sebastien did in the last few years.
Q: Stephane, last year, here and at Catalunya, you were on the same pace as the works-Subarus. At Monte Carlo, you weren't satisfied with the tyres. Have you made progess with Pirelli?
SS: Monte for me was the first rally in the works-team and I had to learn a lot. Additionally, we were still driving the old car. Now, I have the new car and I have more experience. About the tyres, I have a good feeling. I prefer dry conditions. The most important thing is the balance and our balance is very good.
AS: I would like to take the opportunity to announce here that I am having my last season in the WRC as a driver. I want to thank all my supporters, sponsors, industry partners, journalist and drivers for having had a good time. I have a young family and I want to look after them more than I have in the past. Moreover, there are some new opportunities waiting for me in the future.
Q: Gigi, welcome. Last year you were leading Group N here -- do you think you can show the same sort of pace in a World Rally Car?
GG: I don't think I can be as fast in a World Rally Car. It is our second race with a WRC and in the wet, it is very tricky, so I use the event to improve everything for the team and myself.
Q: Is it a surprise for you to be driving here, where many people expected Gilles Panizzi to be driving?
GG: I was happy, not surprised to be chosen for this rally. I am looking forward to the future and I am glad that Mitsubishi is giving me the opportunity to gain experience here.
Q: Many Italian drivers in the past have said that asphalt is their favourite surface: do you prefer asphalt or gravel?
GG: Ice and snow, I prefer ice and snow.
Q: Gigi, tell us a little more about the Mitsubishi Lancer on asphalt. Can you see an improvement? GG : We did some tests with the damper and the centre differential. Personally, I have mainly been working on the driveability of the car.
Q: The fact that Mitsubishi is nominating you for points here is a big vote of confidence. Are you close to a deal for next year?
GG: Yes, being chosen for this rally seems to be a good indication. But to be honest, I don't really know. For me, the most important thing is to drive and to be able to improve. I don't think too much about the rest.
Q: Seb, welcome. We were speaking earlier to Armin Schwarz as Germany is his home event. But do you consider this a home event for you too?
SL: It is not really a home rally, but it is the closest to where I live and it is the rally where I have the most fun and where I have achieved my best results. It is always a pleasure to come here. A lot of friends are coming over, it is nice.
Q: Is that what has helped you be so successful here? What do you like most about this event? Is it your favourite rally?
SL: What I like is that the rally is different from the others. It is not my favourite rally as it is very tricky. In bad conditions, I am usually good. I have won here three times and also in Monte Carlo, where conditions were also difficult. It is difficult to stay on the road, to know where you have to be careful etc. I want to challenge for victory again.
Q: In Finland you finished second after a fantastic series of wins. How does it feel to be beaten when you are used to winning all the time?
SL: For me, to be second in Finland was a good result. I was fighting with Marcus all the rally and I was happy, as I was more than a minute behind the leader after one day last year. You can't win every rally. Here, I think it is more a rally where I should be able to fight for victory.
Q: Of course, Marcus was always going to be fast in Finland, but how hard do you think he and Peugeot can push you here in Germany?
SL: I think that Marcus can push me very hard here, but he is not the only one. Every year, it was very close. Three years ago with Burns, two years ago with Marcus and last year with Francois. It is not really a rally for asphalt experts, there are a lot of drivers who can win here.
Q: From what you have seen of the recce, how will this Rally Germany compare with the ones in the past, where you have been so successful? Is there anything new or different? What can you tell us about the condition of the stages?
SL: Generally, the roads are the same. There is a little bit more gravel at Baumholder, but the weather will be the most important. If it is raining, it will be worse than last year, when we already had some stages with a lot of rain. I prefer less rain, that will make it a lot easier.
Q: How about your future Seb, are your plans for 2006 any clearer? You have mentioned in the past that you would like to stay with Citroen if it would be possible -- have they given you any indication of their future plans?
SL: At the moment, I don't know what I will do next year. At the moment, it is a bit too early to tell. Nobody knows exactly what they are going to do, so I don't have a lot of offers yet.