FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY NEW ZEALAND 08/30/2007 Present: Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team Henning Solberg - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team Petter Solberg - Subaru World...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY NEW ZEALAND
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Henning Solberg - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team
Richard Mason - FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Niall McShea - FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.
Q: Welcome Sebastien. Are you feeling confident for Rally New Zealand after winning the last round in Germany?
SL: Yes; it is not exactly the same place as Germany but now, for the moment, everything is okay. But I know that Marcus has won here four times and I have only been here three times, so it shouldn't be so easy. The car is going well, good recce.
Q: Because of injury, you didn't compete here last year and only did the recce. How have you found the stages and do you think you could be at a bit of a disadvantage?
SL: No I don't think so. I have never done the stages in the race but my notes were okay and we will see. I hope it will not be a big disadvantage and hopefully I will be able to fight for the victory.
Q: You're back on your preferred surface Henning; do you see this as a good opportunity to close the gap to Subaru in the Manufacturers' Championship?
HS: I hope so, but we will have to see when we start rallying. I think that our car is working well. We have the right tyre package so it is looking good.
Q: What happened to your co-driver Cato this morning, he wasn't with you at shakedown? Are you confident he will be okay for tomorrow?
HS: It was the flu; he was very sick last night, we had to get the doctor in this morning and the doctor said that he has to stay in bed today. They say he will be okay for tomorrow. I am confident that he will be okay.
Q: Marcus, you are another one not feeling particularly well. How bad are you feeling from the flu?
MG: I am not in bed, at least not with Cato!
Q: You've won here four times Marcus, and finished second twice. Do you feel a bit of a New Zealand expert and confident you can make it five victories?
MG: Okay, I have been here many times and this is my tenth time I think. I really like this rally and I came here many years as a private driver as well. It is a good rally and good surface.
Q: Petter, you had a difficult time on the last gravel event in Finland, but your times from shakedown today were very good. Is the car better now, what has changed or are things just working better for you here?
PS: The car is a little bit better and we can change things through the rally, so we will just take it as it comes. It was a little bit difficult in the shakedown today though; but we were quite high in the timed runs.
Q: This is your eighth visit to Rally New Zealand and your seventh in a Subaru. You won in 2004, do you think you can challenge for the podium or even the win here this year?
PS: It would be very nice to say yes, but I don't know.
Q: Seb, we have always been in New Zealand either earlier or later in the year. What difference are these late winter/early spring conditions making to the stages and what type of weather would be most beneficial to you?
SL: I think if it's on gravel it is less important than on tarmac, whether it's wet or dry. For sure if it's dry, it's a lot of ruts and that's not so good being first on the road, but if it's wet then it's a bit more equal for everyone. But what's important is to choose a good tyre.
Q: The fight for the Drivers' Championship is now getting critical. Obviously you go into every event with the objective of winning, but do you now feel under pressure that you must win everywhere?
SL: No its okay, but it is important for me not to retire on the rally because that would be bad for the Championship. That makes more pressure, but for sure I cannot do anything else but to push and to try to win instead of Marcus. I hope also that we have solved the problems that Dani Sordo had with his car recently (engine).
Q: Last year wasn't a particularly good event for you Henning, and you don't have as much experience as a lot of the other drivers. Is that going to affect your pace from the outset?
HS: It was not such a big roll last year, the problem was to find people to get the car back onto the road. We had to run 800m to find six people. We will see for this year.
Q: Germany was another tough event for you, but you said you had learned a lot from the experience. Can you draw on that for a gravel event, or did you simply learn how to get more out of yourself and the car on a tarmac event?
HS: I think the car feels good today so I will try as hard as possible tomorrow morning and we will see. It is not easy for me as I have private sponsors so I also have to try and come through the three days. To finish in the top five or six would make me very happy. Germany was my first time on the dry tarmac so I have learnt some small things that I can bring to gravel, such as how to brake later and other things, but I need to learn more on the tarmac roads. Maybe it will be easier in Spain.
Q: First on the road tomorrow Marcus, would a bit of overnight rain help you out on Friday?
MG: It will come I think, it helps. Perhaps if it dries out that could be a problem, as there could be loose gravel but I'm not so worried, not yet.
Q: Tomorrow's Waitomo stage (SS2/4) is the longest of the event at 43.88 kilometres and the road conditions could be crucial for you. Could that stage be a bit of a nightmare and even a bit decisive as early on as day one?
MG: It is the longest stage, but it's not bad, we did it last year twice. It's okay.
Q: Petter, the route is unchanged this year, but have you noticed a big difference in the conditions, due to the change of date?
PS: Well it is a little bit different every day but obviously tomorrow I don't think that it will dry out, there will always be a little bit of humidity on top. I don't think it will be too bad tomorrow even if it's not raining but these are really good stages, really good quality. The roads are really good driver stages.
Q: Last week you were in Australia at the launch of the road car version of next year's rally car. Is it the good basis for a rally car, and how is the development work progressing?
PS: Definitely, it is looking really good and also we are off to Japan after here for the new STi model and that could also be interesting. They (the team) are working very hard and we have to get back on track again with what we have now also.
Q: Richard, you're one of only three New Zealand drivers competing in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category. What would it mean for you to win here?
RM: Yes we wanted to see if we were up to speed with the competition. Although we got second last year there was a fair bit of competition and we weren't right up on the pace for the first two days. It would be nice to be in the front of the PWRC field if we can get there, and this round is also part of our New Zealand Rally Championship, so for the first two days we will be thinking about that as well. For the last day we will think about the PWRC. What it could mean to us is that maybe we could find a sponsor that could give us the opportunity to do the whole season, and that is what our aim is.
Q: You have competed in a number of overseas events. Do you think this type of international experience helps, or is competition the same the world over and your experience in New Zealand enough to give you an advantage?
RM: I think really that the international events certainly help, we've had good competition in China where we have been racing a bit, but maybe local knowledge will help in the way of conditions.
Q: Niall, your plans for New Zealand came together very late, just at the start of this week. How tough has it been arriving here late and making sure your preparations don't suffer?
NMc: We always intended to come to New Zealand and unfortunately for various circumstances we weren't able to go to Greece, so I was informed on the Wednesday before we left on the Saturday that we couldn't go to Greece. My co-driver Gordon went to Greece and organised everything with the FIA and the other competitors in the PWRC to let us go to Japan instead, but there was no problem at that time with New Zealand. Unfortunately after that something arose again and it looked like we weren't going to be able to make it, so last Tuesday at 9.30am they told me that I could leave the next day to come here, so it was a nice phone call. I'm feeling great, you know, as regards to preparation; you can do an awful lot in 12 hours. We did a good test and the car's brand new so no problems, I am really looking forward to the rally.
Q: Richard, I believe your fiancee is your co-driver and the partnership obviously works well. But in such a pressured environment, doesn't that put a strain on your personal relationship too?
RM: It's funny, quite a few people say that. Initially we were told that partners couldn't be in the car together but for us there doesn't seem to be a problem. Maybe it's better for us because we know each other better and understand each other a little bit further. We don't usually fight too much and we don't really fight too much in the car either. We just make it work in the car and together at home.
Q: You have a fearsome reputation for meticulous car preparation. Is it quite tough preparing cars for other people as well as competing yourself?
RM: It is funny that you say that, we do like to make sure that our car is well prepared and funnily enough we have been preparing a couple of other cars before the event and my car has been left to the side while everyone else's has been getting prepared. So now they are finally finishing mine off, so hopefully for the start of the rally it will be very good. But it does put a little bit of extra pressure on; we're mainly a non-professional team, most of our work has been done after hours and if there is extra work to be done then sometimes it gets a bit stretched.
Q: Your last event in the PWRC was in Argentina, back in early May. Do you think you can be on the pace straight away, or is it going to take you a few stages or even the first leg to get back into the rhythm?
NMc: I really don't know. To be honest I did Argentina and a small rally in Ireland and this is the third rally this year. To expect myself to be on the pace, I doubt it, but we did a good test. The times were fine on the test, but it's never like the rally, but it was great to come back here and see all the stages and have it on my mind that I can do the job here so I am certainly going to try my utmost to be as fast as I possibly can without making mistakes, as soon as I possibly can, with a reasonable amount of safety at hand tomorrow.
Q: What is your view of the New Zealand stages? Everyone always says they are some of the best in the world; is it the same for you?
NMc: I was here in 2003 and again in 2004 and it is quite a different rally than it was that time, but for sure I am one of those drivers that believe the stages are the best in the world. You can do some of them without a sump guard and some you can't, they are just fantastic drivers' stages so it is great to be back. It is a little bit trickier than I had it in my head; that we were going to try and gamble with going with one tyre, but I don't think we will possibly do that now because it's quite possible that we could take two tyres off the car on one stone. There are a few stones here now while before there wasn't so it is quite a different rally but still an absolutely brilliant one with lots of character and I'm really looking forward to it.