FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ADAC RALLYE DEUTSCHLAND FIA Pre-event Press Conference 16.08.2007 Present: Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team Francois Duval - OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team Mikko Hirvonen - BP Ford World Rally ...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
ADAC RALLYE DEUTSCHLAND
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Francois Duval - OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson - Subaru World Rally Team
Aaron Burkart - FIA Junior Rally Championship
Jozef Beres - FIA Junior Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Welcome Seb. Coming into Germany, 13 points behind Marcus Gronholm in the Drivers' Championship, the situation now is a little bit different to how it was last year. Does this change your mental approach?
SL: Not really. We are at a point of the Championship where we have to beat Marcus if we want to have a chance at the title. We will try to be faster than him and then see what we can do.
Q: Are you going to have to take a few more risks than you originally planned? How significant is that 13 point lead and do you think that is a big lead, or one that is possible to catch?
SL: Marcus has a big lead, it will not be easy for us to come back, but with seven rallies to go, everything can happen. Last year, I was able to win here without taking excessive risk. I hope this year it will be the same, but if Marcus is faster on the first day, we have to take more risks.
Q: Francois, welcome back. How did your deal to drive the OMV Kronos Xsara happen?
FD: This year started badly for me with my sponsor pulling out, but I am happy to have found a drive with the Kronos team which has a good record here.
Q: Have you had a chance to test the Xsara? Is it the car you remember from 2005? Is it different and if so, how? You have always gone well in Germany: how similar are these roads to the ones in your native Belgium?
FD: Last year, I had a good fight. This year, my position on the road is bad and that can be difficult when it rains. The car is quite similar to the one I drove in 2005, apart from two or three slight modifications. It is good for me to drive. I did one day of testing with PH Sport in Sardinia and this week I did one day with my rally car in dry conditions.
Q: It's the debut for the 2007-specification Ford Focus WRC on asphalt, and the big question has to be whether or not it has made the same sort of step forward on asphalt as it clearly has on gravel, judging from the performance in Finland. What do you think? Sebastien Loeb and Citroen have won every single Rallye Deutschland since it became part of the World Championship, but is the Ford package capable of beating them here now?
MH: On asphalt, the step is even a lot bigger, actually. Before Finland we didn't expect that much on gravel, but everything went very well. Hopefully the car is competitive here as well. I am sure that all of us will try to do well, but there are many drivers who can be quick. I am hoping to have a good weekend and a close fight with all of them.
Q: Chris, welcome. You had a really strong run in Finland, driving to fourth overall, which by coincidence is also the position you finished in on the only other asphalt rally held so far this year (Monte Carlo). Do you think you can equal that result, or is there even a chance of being able to fight for a podium place?
CA: Like Mikko said, there will be a tough battle for the final spot on the podium with at least five or six candidates. This will be one of the closest rallies of them all. We haven't had a lot of time for fine-tuning of the car on asphalt, but it feels better than in Monte Carlo. We are still developing and working on the car. It is better on asphalt than on gravel and we expect to benefit from that.
Q: There have been question marks over Subaru's pace on asphalt: can the Impreza be a top contender here? Does this event suit your personal driving style?
CA: The car is quick, no doubt about that. It is just down to us to drive as fast as we can. Two years ago, I did my first tarmac rally ever here. It is just a matter of learning, of getting experience. For many others, it is normal to drive in these conditions whereas for us, we keep on learning.
Q: Now that you have been in both positions, is there more pressure when you are defending the lead of the Championship or chasing it Seb? It's also important to remember that this will be the first 'proper' asphalt event for the Citroen C4; will it be as strong as the Xsara?
SL: It is easier to defend, because when you are more than 10 points ahead, it makes you more comfortable mentally. This year it is more difficult, but the challenge is also more interesting and it is more motivating. I hope the C4 can be as strong as the Xsara. The feeling was good and for the moment everything is okay.
Q: How much of what happened in Finland shocked you: were you expecting to be a lot closer to the pace of the Fords?
SL: For sure, I knew that Mikko and Marcus would be fast in Finland, but I was expecting to be able to fight a little bit more, which I wasn't. Now, we concentrate on the next rallies.
Q: You've not competed on asphalt recently: do you think this will be a problem for you Francois? Will you need some time to get back into a good rhythm? The Xsara is not the newest car here, but is it still competitive enough to finish on the podium, despite the fact that it has not been the best season for Kronos so far? Does it make a difference to have the active differentials on this event?
FD: I hope that the rhythm will come back quickly as this rally isn't very long. The Xsara is really good. I have the electronic diff and if the conditions remain like this, it is good. It is a small advantage in wet conditions.
Q: Mikko, you had the experience of trading tenths of a second with Marcus Gronholm in Finland. How does that help your self-confidence and motivation? Even Marcus says that Finland is his best event - does this mean that you can battle with him everywhere on equal terms from now on?
MH: I had motivation and confidence all the time. We had a good rally and hopefully we can keep the speed in other rallies as well. I will try to beat Marcus whenever I can. I have been quite fast on tarmac, but when it rains and it is muddy, we have to see how it goes.
Q: A big factor in this rally is the changing weather. How well do you think you can cope with the constantly changing conditions? Do you think you have enough experience of the BFGoodrich range on asphalt now in order to use them to their best? How difficult is this rally compared to the other asphalt events - is it the most difficult of the lot?
CA: We have only done one tarmac rally with these tyres. I need to go back and look back and get used to the tyres again. A lot depends on the weather information and the gravel crews. This one and probably Rally Ireland are going to be difficult in terms of car set-up and conditions, so information we gain here can be useful for Ireland as well.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: In shakedown this morning, the Fords were beaten by both C4s, both OMV-Xsaras and Petter Solberg's Subaru. Does that make Ford worried?
MH: In Greece last year, I didn't do the shakedown and I was leading the rally, so I am not worried.
Q: Francois, can we expect more rallies from you in the Xsara this year?
FD: I hope so. The team and the car are good and when I do well, hopefully we can persuade the sponsor to stay on so that we can do some more events.
FIA JUNIOR RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Aaron, it's your home event here in Germany. You've done some German Championship events over the summer to prepare for this rally: how did they go? Were they quite similar to the sort of conditions we might see here? How much experience do you have of these very specialised stages?
AB: We did two rallies, the Eifel and the Saarland Rally. We didn't have any problems and finished in the top ten twice in spite of having a puncture on one event, so it was a nice test for this event. Sometimes the stages were quite similar. The roads on the Eifel Rally are quite narrow and twisty and the Saarland is comparable to the stages we have here on Sunday.
Q: Which day of the rally would you say suits you best as they are all quite different?
AB: A pretty good question. I hope Friday, provided it doesn't rain too much. I like such corners where you don't see the exit and have to rely on the pace notes. I would say I like Baumholder, but Baumholder doesn't like me!
Q: Hello Jozef and welcome to Germany. Finland was a rally where you showed some potential but unfortunately you weren't able to make the finish: what exactly happened?
JB: We didn't have the pace notes as precise as we thought and we landed off the road.
Q: Do you think Germany will suit you better? Generally speaking, do you feel a bit more comfortable on asphalt or gravel? How much experience of asphalt rallies do you have?
JB: I am sure that asphalt is much better for me. I like Germany quite a lot, but some of the roads are very narrow, so it won't be easy to drive. I have quite a lot of experience, as all my home rallies are on tarmac; we don't have any gravel rallies at all. So far this season, I haven't been very lucky, so I hope this will change here.
Q: What is your realistic target on this event: is it possible for you to win? One of your main Championship rivals, P-G Andersson, is not competing in Germany now; does that help you?
AB: Surely, I will be happy with a podium finish. We were third last year in spite of having quite a lot of punctures. Hopefully, we can repeat that result. It doesn't make a big difference whether P-G is here or not, there are so many other good drivers out there.
Q: From your experience of Germany, what advice would you give to your fellow competitors here?
AB: Don't damage the rear axle in the vineyards and survive Baumholder without a puncture.
Q: Last year you were in a Suzuki Ignis Super 1600, but this year you are driving a Renault Clio. How do the two cars compare?
JB: You can't really compare the two cars, because the Renault is much better. Not only the engine, also the set-up. The only difference is that I have yet to finish a rally with the Renault.
Q: What about your plans for next season: are you going stick with the Clio and the Junior Championship, or do you have other plans?
JB: I haven't been thinking about next year yet. We will have to see how we are going this season and then take a decision.
Q: The Citroen C2 S1600 has a fantastic record in Germany, having won the Junior category for the last two years. What do you think makes it so good here? Do you think the other cars have caught up now?
AB: I think the car has been made for asphalt. The Suzukis are built more for gravel. And there were some good drivers in the car in the past two years. I am not saying that I can make it another Citroen win, but surely I will do my best
Q: Conditions here can be very slippery and varied: how does this affect a two-wheel drive car?
JB: It will definitely be difficult, but it is the same for all drivers, but I feel quite comfortable on wet roads, so I am not afraid.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: Aaron, did you ever dream about being the top-seeded German driver in the Rallye Deutschland?
AB: No I never thought that this would happen.