2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY JAPAN 10.25.2007 Present: Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Malcolm Wilson, BP-Ford World Rally Team Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally ...
2007 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson, BP-Ford World Rally Team
Henning Solberg, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: The Championship is getting very close now -- just 4 points separate you and Marcus. Just how critical is it for you to win here in Japan?
SL: For sure it's really important for me to win. It would change the situation completely. If Marcus (Gronholm) wins, and I am second, then he wins the Championship. It's really important to try and beat him. Last year it was a big fight with him and the last gravel rally was also a big fight. We will see, but this is a tough rally.
Q: It was a very close battle between you and Marcus last year. Do you think we could see a repeat of the battle in New Zealand -- will it be that close?
SL: Everything is possible. I hope it will be an interesting battle. Last year Marcus was a little faster than me, but then he did some small mistakes. There are a lot of different things, we have had some small evolutions on the car for this year, but things change all of the time. I think it will be interesting.
Q: The event has long road sections -- is it difficult to keep your focus between stages?
SL: It's a bit boring in the car to do more than 100 kilometres from the service to the stages. It would be better to have the (service) park closer to the stages. But it's like this. It's not for us to decide, but it's a long time in the car at 80 km/h or sometimes 40km/h.
Q: One thing Japan is famous for is its welcome. Do you enjoy the attention and the crowds the WRC attracts here in Obihiro?
SL: Yes for sure, it's always impressive to see, every year, more and more people with some flags. There are fans, we have a lot here and it's only the third or fourth year. For sure it's a great moment. We have a lot of gifts and we need more luggage to go home!
Q: BP-Ford is on course to claim its second Manufacturers' title; I believe you could do that here in Japan Malcolm. What will it take to win it here and how difficult will it be?
MW: The difference we need to leave here with is a five-point advantage over Citroen, Sebastien (Loeb) and Dani (Sordo). It's going to be a very difficult task. It would be fantastic to do it here, but we have to accept that this time last year Sebastien wasn't here, which made the job easier. And look at Dani's pace; he's shown some speed over the last few events. It's going to be tough. We do have a good back-up with Mikko (Hirvonen), though. If he can apply some pressure to Sebastien, it would be good, and if Petter (Solberg) can get in on the act, that would be nice as well. Like Sebastien says, it's going to be a very tough battle.
Q: What do you think has been the key to your current success with regard to the Manufacturers' Championship?
MW: The combination. The car has played a major role. We had always set out to build a strong and reliable car, but then when Christian (Loriaux) joined us we really looked at the performance side of the car. We made a good evolution mid-way through last year, but the drivers have also done a great job. The way Mikko has complimented Marcus has been fantastic. The car and the drivers have both done a great job.
Q: When Marcus retires at the end of the season there will be a seat free in the BP-Ford team. There have been rumours that you may go for a rotational option with regard to the second driver; have you made decisions on that front and how difficult is it to select a strong second driver?
MW: The first thing, sadly, is there's no Marcus (Gronholm) or Sebastien (Loeb) in the sweet shop that you can pick off the shelf. We haven't made a decision yet. It's been successful, for the past few years, having two fixed drivers and that's what I'd like to do. We might opt for what you suggest, with two rotational drivers, but at the moment we are trying to tie up the Championship. In late November or December time we will, hopefully, be in a position to announce what we're going to do.
Q: The World Motor Sport Council decided yesterday that from 2009 rallies can run mixed surface events, with two consecutive days running on the same surface. What do you feel about that decision and what implications could it have?
MW: From a team point of view, it doesn't really make any difference. Hopefully, if it helps raise the profile (of the sport) and makes it easier for the organisers to have a more compact rally - which is what Sebastien was saying about having the service park closer to the stages - we don't have a problem. It's important we run the asphalt first to limit the damage done to the car - like Sanremo used to. I can't think there are many current events which would do it; maybe there are some new rallies coming in which would like to do it. It doesn't make a big difference to the team, except that it does add some extra cost.
Q: Henning, this is the third rally in a row where you have no previous experience. How difficult is it to be competitive at an event which you have never been to?
HS: First, it's difficult. Second, I try to tell myself that it's not difficult and third, for me this is not a rally I need experience for next year, so I can go flat out. That's right, isn't it Malcolm (Wilson)?
Q: What kind of things have you been doing to prepare?
HS: I had some videos from Marcus (Gronholm) last year. I have Cato at the side, he speaks the notes and I try to prepare myself. When he (Marcus) is flat, I will try to keep flat. In theory it works well watching in the room...
Q: Is there anything you learnt on the previous tarmac rallies that could help you on gravel?
HS: I don't think so. I've been so slow; I hope not! Some things you learn, of course, but I have my driving style on gravel. Today I came into the car again straight and that was okay.
Q: This is your first time to the country of Japan. What do you think of it so far?
HS: I like it very much. They're nice people, always happy. Good food, okay on your stomach when you don't need two days on the toilet! I am looking forward to coming back here next year.
Q: Petter you won this event in its opening year in 2004. What does it take to win on the roads of Japan?
PS: That was a very good year. Now we hope we can have a chance to do it again. It's always a good rally and an important one for Subaru. We hope to surprise a few people and come out with a good result. We will try everything we can.
Q: Petter, you made a few modifications to the car, how did it feel at shakedown?
PS: It's been feeling better and better for a long, long time. It's hard to compare the super special we used for shakedown today with the stages. But first things have to happen, no matter what stage. It's given me a good feeling, but we'll see how big the improvements are tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting onto the stages now, though.
Q: It's Subaru's home event and the support yourself and the team receives is astounding. Is it special to compete here in Japan?
PS: Definitely. It's like I said, a very important rally for us. It's difficult to describe the situation because I have done a lot of promotion in Japan. Every time you come it's 10,000 people giving you a special feeling. The President of Fuji is coming on Saturday, it's going to be a tough time.
Q: We come to Japan later than normal in the year and the weather is a lot cooler than usual. Do you think this will change the conditions we normally see here?
PS: We heard a few days before there has been three kilometres with snow on the last day's stages. It could be very interesting. The other stages were quite dry and in good condition. There were a few loose rocks around, which could be bad for punctures. The last day there was a lot of leaves and some really muddy, shitty conditions. Hopefully no snow, though.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: What is the team's reaction to only 15 rallies next year?
MW: Judging by the fact of going to 12 (rallies) in 2009, there was a difficulty about Australia from that point of view, we're happy to accept 15 events. It's (Australia) replaced with Mexico, that wasn't on the schedule. There were problems this year (in Mexico), hopefully they will be addressed.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: This is your home event Toshi and you have won the Production Car in 2005. You can win the Championship here this weekend; how confident are you feeling going into the event?
TA: Of course I try to get the title, that's the first objective and then I hope to lead this rally. I just check Mark (Higgins) and (Gabriel) Pozzo's times. Then I try to win.
Q: This is your last nominated event in the PWRC. What do you need to do to win the title here?
TA: It depends on the other person's time. Also, I try to win, but not lose the points. I'll just check the times and then try.
Q: The rally is being held at a different time of year. How will it alter the conditions on the stages?
TA: I think will be quite difficult. Normally the grass is higher and deeper, which makes the roads more narrow. This year the roads will be wider. The road is quite hard in places. It will be quite difficult, it's easy to get a puncture.
Q: Your co-driver Tony Sircombe, his wife is expecting a baby this week -- is he slightly distracted from the job at hand?
TA: I don't know exactly, but he is trying to contact his wife. The time is big difference, I don't know, eight or nine hours, he is always concerned about it.
Q: You were second here last year Gabriel. What will it take to beat Toshi on home soil?
GP: Hello everybody. I am happy to be here. It's a difficult event for us, but I know it well. I was second last year. It's not going to be easy to beat Toshi. He needs some points for the Championship, but he is also hard to beat. We have a good car, with a good team. Other drivers will also be hard to beat, including (Fumio) Nutahara, but it's possible to win and then we will see what happens in the Championship.
Q: What do you think of the stages here in Japan, how do they compare with other gravel events?
GP: It's a fast rally, with fast stages. It's narrow and slippery under the trees. It's different, you have to keep on the line, but it's easy to go off the line. I like it. You have some parts with many stones. Some muddy, slippery and tricky places, but it's a rally I like very much.
Q: The brand new Mitsubishi Evolution is here as the course car. Have you had a chance to test it? Would you like to?
GP: We saw the car before the rally in a test. The car is very nice. It's fantastic, but I cannot do any test. I tried to do one lap, but Mitsubishi said no. It's very nice and I will try to test the car in one month.
Q: The PWRC is almost over; have you made any plans for the 2008 season yet?
GP: Not for the moment. I try to do the Group N Championship (PWRC), but the problem is the budget. It's not easy to get the whole budget. It depends on Mitsubishi's budget. I will try to do my best here and finish the best as possible to see what happens. We will do the Argentina Championship with Tango Rally Team and try to do the Group N Championship (PWRC).