Rally Ireland: Pre-event press conference part 2

Continued from part 1 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 Team QUESTIONS FROM THE...

Continued from part 1

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


Q: Can you tell us all about Renault F1 and are you going to make this your future profession?

SL: I hope yes. I have the opportunity with Total to try the Formula One from Renault so I'm really happy and hopefully it will be a great experience. I have a few experiences of circuit racing with Le Mans and it was a very impressive sensation and I'm sure it will be really exciting.

Q: Sebastien, if my list is right you only did two loops on the shakedown this morning. Are you so confident or did you have a problem, what is the reason?

SL: The reason is your list is wrong because I did three.


Present: Niall McShea Mark Higgins

Q: This is your first PWRC event for some time since New Zealand, and not on tarmac since 2004; do you think you'll be able to get straight back onto the pace?

NMc: I hope that with the rally being here in Ireland I really do know the character of the roads here so I expect - I don't know whether I'm sensible to expect - but I do expect to be on the pace fairly quickly.

Q: Being from the area, how much help have you received from local companies to make this happen?

NMc: That's probably the biggest thing for me this weekend. One and a half weeks ago the original programme that I had been doing stopped; I've had one and a half weeks to put this together myself. I'd like to say a huge thank you to GT Exhausts, they were very interested with myself having been the former PWRC champion and their key market is the young guys out there with sports exhausts on their cars. They gave me a big hand up to do this rally and without them it wouldn't be possible, I'm very grateful to them. Hopefully with it being a home event we'll be able to get as much coverage for them and as much exposure as possible and that's really how come this has happened, but it's been a very long and tricky week and a half. I've got a new co-driver for this event, as my regular one Gordon Noble is the Assistant Clerk of Course. I'm really, really, really looking forward to this rally. It's been strange; we came back from a few of the stages yesterday evening and we came back and called into my house, that's the first time I've been able to do that on a WRC rally. It's been a while since I've been on tarmac; Corsica 2004 was the last time.

Q: Describe to us what it's like here in Ireland. A lot of the drivers say they've seen nothing like it that it's very different to other tarmac rallies?

NMc: Indeed. This rally is like three rallies in one weekend. Corsica is similar tarmac all the way through, so is Catalunya, but Ireland really you've got surfaces that could change three times in one stage and the character of the roads change quite a bit over the three days. The stages change over the three days, they are quite fast, very bumpy some are narrow some are muddy and others have amounts of grip even when wet so it does take experience to know when it's best to push and not to push. It will be very tricky for a lot of the European drivers to come here and go fast because normally you can set your suspension low and very hard and try and drive as fast as possible, but here you have to drive the same speed but over bumps and the cars are in the air an awful lot and it means huge amounts of changes to the suspension. I don't think a lot of the guys expected that but I expect that there's going to be a few holes in the hedges, I just hope that I'm not one of them.

Q: You competed in Japan with a broken collarbone Mark; firstly how did you cope all weekend and secondly how is it feeling now?

MH: I think looking back on it I don't know how I did do it, but adrenaline is a powerful drug so we're over that now I've been improving every day. It's still not 100 per cent okay; it's okay on the quick sections and there's a lot of quick sections, it's just when you get into the really tight junctions. But luckily I've got a co-driver that helps me with the handbrake so it'll be alright.

Q: Your team created a special assistance tool on your steering wheel to help you in Japan, and Scott was nimble with the handbrake for you; will you still need that help here?

MH: We're going to start with the car as normal. The knob we had on the steering wheel was a big help but generally everything is fine until the car snaps unexpectedly and then it's hard to get it back. We're going to try and start without it but we've got it on standby in case we need it. Scott will definitely be on the handbrake, he's getting good at it now.

Q: Your Championship title hopes are back on, following the exclusion of Armindo Araujo in Japan, but you do need to win both here and on Wales Rally GB. How tough will that be?

MH: Yeah it's a big ask but there's no pressure because we've got nothing more to do than win, we don't need to worry about anyone else having any problems; if we don't do good enough that's it - it's black and white. It was a real mix of emotions in Japan; first we weren't going to start then we did, then we were going to pull out but Toshi (Arai) went off so we carried on. Then we had the road penalties which did not get scrubbed so we lost the points, then we got a phone call on the train from Matthew Wilson to say that Araujo had gone. But then the phone went dead so we didn't find out for another hour and a half, and to come up with the points and be in with a fight still here is good. I really enjoy Irish rallying; the roads are new to us and they're a real challenge and you know it's going to be a really long event. Then we go to Rally GB and it would be great to go to GB with a fight on. But it's going to be tough and there's some very stiff competition here, with Niall especially.

Q: Niall, you told us about the nature of the roads and how tough you think it's going to be for some of the drivers, but how well do you personally know the roads and how often you have competed across them and what kind of success have you had?

NMc: I've never actually competed on any of the raods here. In my whole career I've only done about seven tarmac rallies in Ireland, so Mark has done an awful lot more rallying in Ireland. And, as he explained about his shoulder and cars snapping sideways, that happens a huge amount here and that's probably going to be really bad for Mark. I've never competed on any of the roads. There's one stage that's only about 12 miles away from my house; I've never actually driven on the road the stage is on but the character of the roads are very similar. But again the first day is very different to the third day and the second day is different again. There's a lot of surface changes. It'll be tricky for everybody; it's going to be a mixture of going as fast as you possibly can without getting any problems. It's very hard to get time back from someone if they've gone up the road ahead of you, if they've taken the time out of you it's hard to speed up, so you have to start flat out and hope it'll get you to the end.

Q: How important is it that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are hosting a WRC event?

NMc: It's hugely important. There's been some amazing events here in the island of Ireland recently, with the Ryder Cup and some other things. The introduction of this rally to Ireland and with the situation being in both the north and south of Ireland, it really shows what's happening in the North of Ireland, how well it's come along and now that we have the new assembly up and going and the rally starting there it's a boost to the whole country and a credit to all the organisers who have been able to pull it together. It's been a huge mammoth effort for it to happen; we had to get a huge amount of people who didn't normally talk to each other to talk to each other to make it happen and it's amazing how motorsport has pulled both of the sides together, so that's been really, really encouraging and it's a sign of the times and the future for Northern Ireland.

Q: You've been competing in the Irish Tarmac Championship; how much help is that going to be for you on this event?

MH: It's just learning the nature of the roads, these roads are pretty much new to everyone here but it's just knowing what to look for with shiny tarmac and where the grip is, and generally the nature you know and what to expect and how roughly to attack the event. As Niall says, if you attack hard too much here you go off very quickly; if you get frustrated it makes it worse. It's getting a good rhythm and a comfortable set-up with the car. You feel you've never got a car that's perfect here, it's a compromise but so long as you're comfortable with it and you know what it's going to do, that's very important to make it work for the rally. My Irish experience will be very helpful and will turn up good here.


Q: Niall, it's great you got here, are you going to drive on Wales Rally GB?

NMc: I've not decided just yet. Obviously the title situation between Mark, Toshi and Gabriel (Pozzo) will have a big bearing on that. If Mark wins here there's a good possibility he can win in GB. If I win here and Mark doesn't then Mark can't win (the title) but if Gabriel finished second he could win the championship and from a Subaru and Prodrive point of view, they're giving me a lot of support for this event so to be totally selfish I would like to win here and Gabriel come second which would possibly put me in a situation to go to GB. I'm trying to find the funds to do GB myself but I'm running out of time quickly. It's been a big struggle for this week and a half and there's not long. I've thought about it but I've not been able to put much effort into it so we'll see what happens.

-credit: fia.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Mark Higgins , Marcus Gronholm , Sébastien Loeb , Henning Solberg , Matthew Wilson , Niall McShea , Chris Atkinson , Armindo Araujo
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport