2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY IRELAND 11.15.2007 Present: Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally Team Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Marcus Gronholm, BP-Ford World Rally Team Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally...
2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally Team
Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Marcus Gronholm, BP-Ford World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: You competed here last year Chris, but in a Group N car, so you are one of few to have actual experience of the roads in this part of Ireland. What do you think of the stages here and how will it differ for you being in a world rally car this time around?
CA: I was probably lucky to be in a Group N car that's easier to drive than a world rally car, especially on these roads; you don't carry as much speed and the bumps aren't such a surprise. But I think in a world rally car it's going to be a lot more tricky and with so many more WRC cars there's going to be a lot more mess on the road and a lot of muck dragged out. I think the conditions at this time of year are trickier and the stages are different, so it's a whole package of trouble out there.
Q: What do you think the key to success is going to be in Ireland?
CA: It's all confidence, nothing else. If you're confident on these roads and can push you'll get a good time, but if you're hesitant or worried then the time won't be there so it's all about confidence.
Q: When you competed here last year we saw all types of weather. It looks set to be wet this weekend; what affect will that have on the rally and would you favour those conditions?
CA: For me it doesn't matter so much. Last year I drove in both conditions and we had much heavier rain on one stage than this year and it made it interesting with water running down the road, but for me it doesn't matter it's going to be interesting either way.
Q: Henning, you have a different co-driver this weekend, as Cato (Menkerud) is at home with his new baby. Will it make any great difference to you having a new co-driver alongside you? Goran has more tarmac experience than you do -- is he giving you any guidance?
HS: We speak the same language so I think it will be okay, he's a good co-driver. I hope that I won't have any problems with that, but he's good.
Q: Ireland marks the fourth event in a row where you have no previous experience. We know for Spain and Corsica you did some karting to improve your tarmac skills, and for Japan you used Marcus Gronholm's in-car footage to help you prepare. Have you done anything special to prepare for this one?
HS: No I just try to go as fast as possible and I put a picture of Marcus (Gronholm) on the bonnet and say follow this man as he will be very fast here, so we will see!
Q: Marcus what do you think of Henning watching your footage from Japan last year? Do you think it was a good idea; it must have been, as he was third.
MG: Exactly I don't know if it helps him, maybe a bit but still you have to drive and it's difficult to remember the stages.
Q: It's the penultimate round of the Championship and after neither you nor Sebastien (Loeb) scored points in Japan things remain exactly the same. How are you feeling going into this event?
MG: It's okay, of course it will be a tricky rally. I was surprised that the stages were not as bad as I was expecting. We had a test last week in the Isle of Man and we had difficult conditions there but the car was okay and I'm much more confident now.
Q: With just two rounds remaining there is no room for mistakes; how aware are you of the need to be as careful as possible on the stages without losing your speed and competitive edge?
MG: That's the problem; it's quite difficult to be fast and stay on the road here, that's the trickiest thing but just relax and no panic so it's okay.
Q: Sebastien, in Japan Marcus made a mistake but in your case it was the co-driver who made a mistake, a rarity. Is everything okay between you two?
SL: Yes for sure. The result is the same, we were off the road also and we didn't score any points so the situation didn't change a lot. I have still to win the two last rallies so we will try.
Q: Tarmac is your specialist surface but the tarmac here in Ireland is different from any we see on the Championship calendar. Do you think it will be a tougher challenge to win here than the other tarmac rounds?
SL: It's really difficult to know. For sure the conditions are so different from anywhere else but no-one has a big experience of these kind of roads and we don't know the speed of each driver so I will try to take it as it comes and we will see what we can do, but it's important for me to be in front of Marcus.
Q: You competed at the Donegal Rally and Cork in order to gain experience of Irish tarmac; do you think that will help you here?
SL: I hope so. In Donegal we weren't so satisfied with our settings so we changed for Cork and it was better, but here the conditions are so different from the last two rallies so we don't know. It's much more tricky here and muddy and narrow so we will see.
Q: There's a big field of local world rally cars; do you think it's possible we will see some surprises in the top ten?
CA: A few in the top ten, because there's going to be a lot of action on the rally. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a lot like Japan in terms of people retiring. For sure they're going to be in there but we saw in the local rallies when Marcus and Sebastien were there that when everything works out then the WRC speed is quite high and as long as we all have no problems it's going to be difficult for them to fight right at the top. But for sure they will be there.
Q: Your progress on tarmac throughout the year has got better and better what do you hope to achieve here in Ireland?
CA: It's hard to say. We weren't as happy with the results in the last two in Spain and Corsica. But when you look back to Germany we seemed quite good in those conditions when it's straighter and faster which we have a little bit of here, so hopefully the car will suit those conditions and it seems to suit my driving. So hopefully a better result than we had in those two and the same speed we showed in Germany without the mistakes.
Q: Henning after your podium in Japan what do you hope to achieve here?
HS: I don't know I have to start driving and see my times and then I have to take it step by step because this rally is not easy and I cannot say that I have confidence. I will start as the shakedown today, my times were okay and I will take it step by step and see how I go.
Q: Who are you going to be comparing yourself against?
HS: Again I cannot answer because I have to see tomorrow who I'm going to compete against.
Q: Stobart and Subaru are battling it out in the Manufacturers' Championship and you bagged the team good points in Japan. Can you pick up your first points on Tarmac here in Ireland?
HS: I think the manufacturer's points are much more important than my driver's points. Yes for Christmas Evening it would be good to have a podium point for my Christmas dinner together with Petter!
Q: Marcus we heard rumours that you and Sebastien were texting each other after you retired from Japan; is this true and what is the rivalry like between you both?
MG: It's very friendly, absolutely no problem. Yes we were texting a little bit and finally it was difficult to text so Seb called me!
Q: What did he say?
MG: I'm not telling you, nothing special.
SL: I just wanted to know how much money he gave to Daniel to make the mistake..!
Q: Would you be happy settling for second his weekend?
MG: Not really but if I have to yes because I am sure that I can win in GB.
Q: Sebastien, you have to win here to keep your Championship hopes alive?
SL: To be in front of Marcus and score two points more than him; after that result, it doesn't matter.
Q: The battle between you and Marcus has been very exciting for us to watch and sadly we will only see it for another two events, as Marcus retires at the end of the year. Would you say this has been one of the best fights of your career to date?
SL: It's not finished this year; for sure it was really an exciting season battling all the rallies, some different close results we are driving with the same tyre and we both feel good in our cars so it's really been a good battle this year.
Q: Chris you did the candidate event last year and it's the last new rally on the calendar this year. Are you glad the rally's come to Ireland?
CA: Definitely and you see the amount of people around and the enthusiasm for the rally here and the amount of media coverage and you hear it on the radio and you know it's an important event. In some countries you don't get that feeling but here you definitely do.
Q: Marcus the speed of the Focus on tarmac, do you think you can beat the Citroens this weekend and what do you think to the Focus' performance on tarmac?
MG: Very good question. I don't know, we have been close but I think the car is good. It's just up to the driver if I can win or not, the car feels good.
Q: Henning the super special stage in Stormont tonight will be a really big occasion. Are you looking forward to it?
HS: Yes I'm really looking forward to it and there will be a lot of people there.
Q: Sebastien, you are trailing Marcus by four points in the Championship, do you feel that Marcus may have a bit more pressure because you're chasing him? Would you rather it be that way at the moment?
SL: I think we both have pressure for the Championship this year, he knows that he doesn't really have to be in front of me here, I know I have to beat him except that the situation is nearly the same and we both want to win the Championship, so we will see but the pressure is very high for everyone.
Continued in part 2