Rally Japan: Pre-event press conference, part 1

FIA World Rally Championship Rally Japan September 29, 2005 Present: Toshiya Azuma (Subaru) Isao Torii (Mitsubishi) Jean-Pierre Nicolas (Peugeot) Q: Torii-san thank you for the welcome to Japan, how clever of you to organise such great weather.

FIA World Rally Championship
Rally Japan
September 29, 2005

Toshiya Azuma (Subaru)
Isao Torii (Mitsubishi)
Jean-Pierre Nicolas (Peugeot)

Q: Torii-san thank you for the welcome to Japan, how clever of you to organise such great weather. What does it mean for your team to have WRC come to Japan?

IT: As you may know, last year for the first WRC in Japan, Mitsubishi had several reasons they could not come and lots of Mitsubishi fans were so sad. We were sad also. This time we made it and this time we can come here and at last compete in Japan. This is our home land in Japan and we would like to show good performance to our Mitsubishi fans. We set up this event as the most important event in the year for our team and we have been preparing for this event so it's very exciting and also Mitsubishi are very excited and we have a chance to show our performance in our homeland Japan

Q: You have entered a three car team, what do you expect from each of your drivers?

IT: Of course our target is to get on the podium. Our car is getting more reliable, faster and improved and each driver is getting stable and confident in the car. Harri and Gilles and Gigi show their best performance and hopefully Sunday evening we will be smiling.

Q: How much interest at Mitsubishi the company is there in the team?

IT: In the case of Japan and Mitsubishi given that Mitsubishi are now facing difficult times, because of the problems last year and past, such as Ricoh and so on, so Mitsubishi are facing financial problems as well. We have to revitalise ourselves and also catch up to our good way. This is very important to us to show our appeal to the customers and ask Mitsubishi customers and fans to come back to our dealership so they realise Mitsubishi are still vital and we have to revitalise Mitsubishi

Q: Toshi you treated Subaru and STI to a very successful first rally in Japan. Can you repeat it?

TA: Yes. We are not satisfied with the results after New Zealand and I believe this is our turn. The preparation is perfect so we don't need second or third.

Q: Toshi, how popular is WRC in Japan?

TA: Last year even I was surprised that so many people came to Hokkaido! I think that a lot of people support WRC but it's still not enough. I think that it is difficult to understand. I think that the ones that do understand WRC are much deeper fans than circuit racing. So I would like to know how to improve the value of WRC. There is a lot to do still.

Q: At Shakedown, I found people still talking about Sunday in Wales, a tragic end to the weekend. Has it caused you to make a greater effort to make sure your driver and co-driver are safe when they compete?

TA: Of course. First of all I am very sad of the accident because 'Beef' used to be a team member. We should not repeat this. The most important aim is not just performance, safety is the most important thing to demonstrate. We should try to work very hard to improve the safety as much as we can. Of course we work hard with FIA to improve the safety features. Not only this, but we are willing to support everybody, work with the organisers - everything to improve safety, we support.

Q: Torii-san, may be we take safety for granted, we like the glamour, the show. Do you think safety has drifted away from the agenda?

IT: As a manufacturer, we have to concentrate on safety issues as well. We can't forget this issue. We will accelerate to improve safety issues working together with FIA and other manufacturer's and study how we can improve furthermore. We cannot stop and go behind. We will always go forward.

Q: Jean-Pierre Nicolas, it's been a difficult two weeks. How is the team, what's in their minds and what are they thinking?

JPN: As you may understand it's difficult to take the decision to come to Japan. Not for Japan because it's fantastic; it's a fantastic idea to have a world rally championship in Japan. But after the tragic accident everyone in Peugeot and everyone in the world rally business is very sad and very shocked and until I have seen the widow of Michael, I was very uncertain of coming. And when I spoke to Marie and when I have seen her I have seen a very strong woman, who had already decided that most important was Michael's memory and for that we must do Japan. If you had asked me last Sunday the same question, I would have told you we will not go, but after today we have recovered a little bit and each day more and more and now we are sure we had to come. We have to be sure that Marcus was ready because all the team was very shocked and that Timo was ready to come. They said they were (ready) on Tuesday evening and then Markko after speaking with him was not able to come mentally and physicality and we decided at the time to call Daniel Carlsson to ask him to come. I want to take the opportunity because most of the world rally journalists are present here, to thank everybody all over the world because we have received a lot of messages for Michael, for Peugeot, for Michael's family to see how much he has been appreciated all over the world. Thank you everybody, especially the messages coming from very far.

Q: Did you had considered pulling out?

JPN: Now we have decided to continue okay. The decision of the marshall in GB was a bit difficult to understand. Okay it was their decision. There was a proposal from the manufacturer's to stop the rally after the stage 15, after the accident. This could have permitted to have Marcus in the points because everybody can understand it was impossible to continue the rally in these conditions. The right decision would have been to finish the rally after stage 15. It has not been taken and now we are 20 points behind Citroen and only four rallies, with 2 asphalt rallies. I think it will be unbelievable to beat them. We will do our best on each rally. We cannot ask Daniel who has done only one rally for us this season, which was Sweden and after that he has not driven a Peugeot , he has done 4-5 events with a Subaru. We can't ask him to go as fast as Markko is going, but I am still sure he will do his best in this situation and Marcus will do his best in this situation. Marcus is still in shock and I know he will do his best and is getting better. He will do his best in Michael's memory.

Q: Torii-san,Last year you did not participate in this rally. What would be the negative impact of that on this rally?

IT: Our first nominated driver Harri Rovanpera has experience with the Peugeot team last year so I don't think it's a negative. I think it's positive. I think he is in the same position as other competitors. However Gilles and Gigi have no experience in this rally but it's the same as Ford and other teams. I don't think it's a big disadvantage. The most important things is that this is our home land and there are lots of Mitsubishi red fans. That gives a lot of power for the drivers and then I think the drivers do a good job.

JPN: I am sure that Jacques Berger from FIA with all the safety commission they will improve the safety, however our chief engineer is in this commission and already before this rally they were working very hard to improve the safety of the car and I am sure this terrible accident will help all the teams to find better solutions on side shocks which is the most terrible today in rallies.

Q: Nicky Grist said that you would have to build a rally car like a tank to protect the car in that sort of situation. Do you believe that?

JPN: Since many years we have had a lot of accidents, very hard crashes and we have all seen the cars were very strong but only is very difficult when you have a side shock. Okay we will improve but not at any speed. There will always be a limit of the speed when you have a lateral shock. You cannot make a tank. This is impossible. You can have space in between driver and the side of car like F1. You can have the driver in the front and the co driver in the back but this is impossible. We have to drive with normal cars and try one more time to try and improve a little bit more the safety on the side of the car.

Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi)
Mikko Hirvonen (Skoda)

(Galli arrives showing the word GIGI emblazoned on the seat of his driving overalls)

Q: Why do you have your name behind you?

GG: You know Italians! It's some Italian fashion.

Q: Gigi, you have a big following here in Japan. You've met some of your fans - tell me about them.

GG: Three weeks ago we came to Yokohama and we did one rally meeting and it was a lot of fun with Mitsubishi for the rally. There were 3000 people more or less and it was one very exciting meeting because for one of the first times I feel a lot of support from the people. I never felt something like that.

Q: Were you surprised for the level of enthusiasm for the sport and the brand?

GG: Not surprised. I can say happy. I think it's something that we need. For me it's like some fuel.

Q: You are not nominated for points does that disappoint you?

GG: No, the reason for that is that Mitsubishi decided to show all three drivers for this event. I asked them to give me the chance to have number 25 because it's my favourite number, like in a race, my team asked and they kindly gave us the chance to have this number.

Q: Why this number?

GG: It's a number that I used in my first world rally event I did in Monte Carlo in 2000 and I have a good memory for that. It was a good performance and after that I did a lot of promotions for my fans and I used it for many things. That is the first time I had the chance to use it in WRC.

Q: Mikko, this is a terrific opportunity, back in a works team...

MH: Yeah, again I'm back in a new team and like always it's really nice to be behind the wheel again and back in a works car and one chance for me again to show what I can do.

Q: How did the opportunity come around?

MH: I knew Skoda wanted a driver in Japan who had been here before. I had the chance to drive this rally last year and got some experience. I am lucky they contacted me and here I am.

Q: You are the most experienced guy in the team as far as Japan is concerned.

MH: I agree. I don't know if it's good or bad.

Q: What did you tell them?

MH: I said enjoy your time. I really like the country and the food here; there is nothing to be scared of. Just enjoy the time and we will have a good weekend.

Q: What did you tell them about the stages and how to be successful?

MH: That's one thing we should ask Petter. He was quite successful last year, I am sure he knows the trick. One thing is that they are really fast and tricky. You have to be careful with your pacenotes. You have to be careful. There is no room for any mistakes like any rally but the roads here are so narrow.

Q: Your aim is obviously another full time drive. Have you talked this through with Skoda?

MH: We will see. It's still too early for that. Definitely, okay I am in a team now and behind a world rally car again now.

Q: You must have thought that if you do well it will help?

MH: Sure it will if it goes like that.

Q: Is that the aim? You are in the shop window again. Is the aim to produce a good result to try and get a drive.

MH: For me it's always been like that this year. Every rally I try to go as fast as I can and try to do a good result. I go one rally at a time. We will see what the future holds.

Q: Are you into Italian fashion like Gigi?

MH: Not yet, but it looked quite good. I have to think about it!

Present: Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) Peter Solberg (Subaru)

Q: Petter, you won here last year. What does it take to win in Japan?

PS: Obviously we have some new things for the car, for the rally. I am much more confident now than I have been the whole year so hopefully everything will work out perfectly and we can do a little bit better than we did on shakedown today. I think we have a chance to do it hopefully.

Q: What are your memories from last year?

PS: My memories for last year are incredible. It was the best memory from the whole year. The atmosphere, the show, the stages, it was really good fun to do and to get that feeling again. It was a long time ago. Hopefully we can give Sebastien a fight for this rally because obviously he needs it.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Harri Rovanpera , Sébastien Loeb , Daniel Carlsson , Nicky Grist , Jean-Pierre Nicolas , Mikko Hirvonen , Gianluigi Galli
Teams Citroën World Rally Team