FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Corona Rally Mexico Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference 10.03.2005 Present: Guy Frequelin - Citroen Total Malcolm Wilson - BP-Ford World Rally Team Gilles Panizzi - Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports Jani Paasonen -...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Corona Rally Mexico
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Guy Frequelin - Citroen Total
Malcolm Wilson - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Gilles Panizzi - Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports
Jani Paasonen - Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team
Markko Martin - Marlboro Peugeot Total
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team
Q: Welcome to the press conference. Joining us are Guy Frequelin, Malcolm Wilson, Gilles Panizzi, Armin Schwarz, Markko Martin and Petter Solberg.
Guy, the last rally, in Sweden, was the scene of a rare mechanical retirement for Sebastien Loeb. Have you identified the problem, and do you think that it was directly linked to the new regulation requiring an engine to last for two rallies?
Guy Frequelin: For sure we have identified the cause; it was a head gasket problem. First we did many kilometers in the test before Monte Carlo Rally, getting ready for the new regulation to do two rallies with one engine. In the test we had no problem, but the rally is not the test. We had the problem in Sweden Rally. We knew also that this solution was a little bit at the limit and we prepare a new solution for the Italy Rally and we have pushed to put this new solution for this rally. We hope it's okay now. For the new regulation, for sure when you have new regulations, when you ask two rallies with the same engine, it's more difficult for sure. We knew the regulation before, but we didn't have much time to improve for the new regulation.
Q: Welcome -- you come to Mexico leading both championships, on the positive side. On the negative side, you have Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta with no experience of the event, and Toni has to run first on the road. Do the disadvantages outweigh the advantages?
Malcom Wilson: Toni has not done this rally before. For sure he's at a disadvantage, but in terms of the running order, it might be a small disadvantage. Obviously we have got Dani for the second driver. Dani has good experience of the rally and not a lot of experience of the car.
Q: Sebastien was leading here in Mexico, before retiring last year. Do you think that his chances of victory are better this year, now that he is not running first on the road on the opening day?
GF: It's very difficult to say. Normally it's easier not to be the first, but everything can happen. I am very cautious before every rally and for sure it's no less for this rally. You know we had a problem last year, it's dfifficult to say. We will see.
Q: You have promoted Dani Sola to points-scoring duties here. It's the first time he's driven a Focus but comparatively speaking he has a lot of experience of Mexico. What is your target for him here?
MW: The biggest problem I'm going to have with Dani is slowing him down. He's very excited about delivering a good result here because his next event isn't until the middle of the season. It's the same target as for most rallies this season and that's to get a podium position.
Q: Francois says he is still learning the Xsara WRC, but last year he finished second in Mexico. Is it realistic to expect him to match or improve upon that result this year?
GF: To compare our position now after two rallies we need to score points. Our target is to finish the rally. The team order this morning was very clear for both drivers: we have to finish the rally.
Q: Malcolm, are you going to stick with the policy of changing the second points-nominated driver for each rally? Is this a tactic that you think could win you the constructors championship?
MW: From now on, the next four or five rallies, we plan to nominate Roman. It was the plan to keep the pressure off him here, but then New Zealand and the hot rallies he will stay nominated. After that, later in the season, maybe Catalunya, Japan; we will have a look.
Q: Finally, a question to both team principals -- this is the first time that the FIA Junior World Rally Championship has ventured out of Europe. How important is it that youngsters gain experience of long-haul events? Are you surprised that only five JWRC drivers will take the start?
GF: For sure it's very important for a young driver to learn. The trip is very long and very expensive. Maybe it's difficult to force every young driver to come, but for sure it's very interesting to learn for a young driver.
MW: Absolutely. There's no substitute for experience. The objective is to get as many of the drivers to do as many of the events as possibe. Suzuki have highlighted how important it is for their young drivers by taking them on every event.
Q: This is a question for Guy Frequelin. Do you know how much damage was done to Sebastien's car at shakedown this morning?
GF: It was a big stone, a very big stone. It wasn't only Sebastien who had the problem there. We need to check exactly what happened on the car. We will work on the car to see exactly what happened. It's a very big stone.
Q: You are here with the new homologation of Skoda Fabia WRC. Can you talk us through those changes and explain what they mean to the driver? Have you done much testing for this event? How did it feel during the shakedown? There have been some aerodynamic changes -- can you really feel them on a fast rally like this?
Jani Paasonen: The rear bumper is new and the front wings. We have better aerodynamics and some small things in the engine: a new turbo, but nothing else big. I test in Sweden, in the very long corners I was getting better grip. The engine was better here, I felt I was getting better torque.
Q: An important development for Mitsubishi is the new active differential you will be running here for the first time. Is it a big change for the Lancer WRC?
Gilles Panizzi: Yes okay, we continue the development and for the first time we are using the active centre diff. It's completely new, but already good. I am happy and the balance of the car is good. The handling is quite good, for the first time I am happy with the car on the gravel.
Q: How did you find shakedown this morning?
GP: Shakedown is not really the rally. There were a lot of hairpins. It was not bad for Cyprus, we found the set up for Cyprus this morning.
Q: You are using Pirelli tyres for the first time. How did they work at shakedown?
GP: It's still difficult, it's the first time with Pirelli on gravel. We have to learn the Pirelli tyre. It's okay.
Q: Jani, you had a bit of a problem at shakedown this morning. What happened?
JP: I hit a very big rock and destroyed the sump guard, so they have to change the engine. Shakedown wasn't very rough, it was just one place which was really bad.
Q: Your last rally for Skoda on proper gravel was last September's Rally Great Britain. How difficult is it to get back into the car after that period and set fast times?
JP: It's no problem. I found the speed on the snow in Sweden and I can do the same here on gravel. I will find the maximum attack.
Q: How much work have you and all of the drivers done since Monte Carlo and Sweden with the car?
GP: We had one week in test for all the drivers to prepare for the next three gravel rallies. I am really concentrating to help my engineer for the development of the car.
Q: What sort of result is realistically possible for the new Skoda here? Do you think you can make the sort of big surprise like you did in Finland last year, where you finished sixth?
JP: It's difficult to say. I try to do the result I did in Finland, Sweden I wasn't very happy with that result. It's hard to say what is possible, the result is maybe sixth.
Q: What are the main areas for Mitsubishi to work on with the next developments of the Lancer WRC?
GP: We have to improve the suspension, the centre diff. We have a lot of small jobs.
Q: Your programme with Skoda this year is not fully decided. Which rallies do you think you will be doing this year?
JP: I know about New Zealand, that's the next event. I have good memories of that rally, but after that I'm not sure.
Q: And Gilles, do you know any more about your programme for this season?
GP: I am not completely sure. Maybe Sardinia. At the moment it's the next three after Sardinia: Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.
Q: As some people will already know, Mr Kuze, the founding father of the Subaru Rally team, sadly died yesterday in Japan. How important was his contribution to your achievements and those of the entire team?
Petter Solberg: Maybe you know, it was a long time before I started. He was very important. He was the guy in charge of starting Subaru in the WRC. I don't know if I would be sitting here driving a Subaru if it wasn't for him. He's done an awful lot for the team and the championship.
Q: You have a new car here: what are the changes that have made the most difference to the car? How big a step do you think it is over the 2004 version?
PS: How the car is now, every small detail is very important, you can always do small steps, that's where our speed is now. We have a wide track which is better on the fast stuff. And a better engine which is giving better traction. A little bit of aero has been done. I know the team is working very hard to get a better engine for NZ; a few more horsepower.
Q: You have also completed more testing with the Peugeot 307 WRC: do you feel more confident with the car now? As a former winner of Rally Mexico, do you think that the 307 will be well-suited to the conditions?
Markko Martin: Yes. Coming to this rally we have more experience than on previous ones. We had a very good test for three days in Sardinia. Unfortunately it was a bit wet and even some snow. I think we've made a big step, it's more predictable for me what the car is doing. I'm looking forward to the next stuff after this this rally. After this rally we know what we have to do and which direction we have to go in.
Q: Last year Subaru launched the 2004 car in Mexico and you were leading until you had an unforeseen electrical problem at the end of the opening day. How confident do you feel that there will be no repeat of these sort of teething troubles?
PS: The team have worked very hard to get everything absolutely perfect. We have to cross our fingers and hope it will be perfect. I have good confidence in the team and I think we can fight for the win. The rally is very different to last year. This year you need a lot of stability, it's a very hard surface and you could drive on tarmac tyres, you know, slicks. You can see what's happened on shakedown, it's easy to get one rock and it can destroy your rally, especially on the second and third days.
Q: Are you happy with your tyre nomination?
PS: Yes, everything is perfect.
Q: This rally is the shortest ever in terms of total kilometres -- less than 930, but there is a big percentage of stage to road mileage, as every stage is roughly within a 50km radius of Leon. Do you think this is a positive step forward? Or is the rally too compact now?
MM: We come to the rally to compete. It's good to do most driving on stages rather than the roads. It's no good to drive for hours on road sections.
Q: Petter, what do you think about this format?
PS: It's good. Less kilometers on road sections, this is how it should be.
Q: You said in Sweden that you were surprised to be second in the World Championship, but with leader Toni Gardemeister running first on the road here you stand a good chance of coming away from here in the lead. How realistic is that possibility?
MM: I don't know. I expected at the start of this season to lose points and be behind. After two rallies we are only one point behind. I have to admit it wasn't so much to do with my driving that we ended up in second position. Now we have to work hard to build on that advantage from the start of the year. Now I have the same points as this time last year, when I drove a lot better. I need to get the speed back and find the reliability. I think the challenge comes from behind, not in front of me. l have to make sure the guys behind don't catch up. This car is suited to every event, but for me I need to understand how the 307 works on gravel. I have only done today's shakedown on dry gravel and the first time on Pirelli tyres in the dry. I'm sure there's a lot to learn. I nominated tyres for here and New Zealand before I had even tested them. Tomorrow we will find out more about which compounds work and which compounds will last the distance.
Q: Markko, you have had a lot of changes in your life: new car, new tyres and new team. How are you handling this?
MM: It hasn't been easy. I expected it to be difficult, but it's turned out even more. I am working with the engineers to find the right solution for myself. I must say I am very happy with the team, but the one area I have to work