Drivers: Chris Atkinson - Subaru Roman Kresta - Ford Sebastien Loeb - Citroen Janne Tuohino - Skoda Team Principals: Jean-Pierre Nicolas - Peugeot Isao Torii - Mitsubishi Q: Welcome to the press conference. The last result for Peugeot, second...
Chris Atkinson - Subaru
Roman Kresta - Ford
Sebastien Loeb - Citroen
Janne Tuohino - Skoda
Jean-Pierre Nicolas - Peugeot
Isao Torii - Mitsubishi
Q: Welcome to the press conference. The last result for Peugeot, second and third in Mexico, was the best haul of points for Peugeot since Germany 2003. Is this the start of a renaissance for the team?
JPN: I hope it marks the starts of a renaissance, but what it does is recognise the hard work over the off-season from the whole team, which has provided the drivers with a more manageable car.
Q: Mitsubishi were in the news recently after underlining their commitment to rallying with an approval for some budget in the future. What exactly does this mean?
IT: Mitsubishi is facing financial problem, as you know. But the good news is that our top executive has announced that Motorsport is our brand ideal, so I believe Motorsport can continue unless Mitsubishi stops our business. Motorsport is a tool to promote our brand outside and in-house and as well it helps for improvements on the road car.
Q: The strategy in Mexico was to bring the maximum number of points home, which seemed to succeed. Is the strategy the same here in New Zealand, or will your drivers be encouraged to try and win the event overall?
JPN: With the points systems the way it is there’s not enough of a gap between first and second places, so anyone aspiring to win the championship has to bring back maximum points. This was our strategy in Mexico and it will be here again. Marcus is the type of character who will always want to win, but Marcus understands the need for big points as well. If Marcus has the chance to win, however, we won’t hold him back.
Q: In Mexico, the Lancer WRC appeared with a new centre differential. What results have you seen from this system so far, and what result do you hope to take away from New Zealand?
IT: Okay, Mexico rally was the chance for us to introduce the new system. Logic or function itself is very simple, but we have to improve the precise detail control. So far it’s a basic set-up. This is the second event for Harri so he knows a little about it, but the first rally for Gigi, so he has to learn about it. We will continue to learn about the system and to improve it for different surfaces in the future.
Q: You recently spent a week testing in Sardinia. What were the results of this test, and in which areas have the best improvements been found?
JPN: The exact result of the test has to remain confidential, but the results were useful for this rally and Sardinia and also for Argentina. The goal was to allow Markko to get used to the car on gravel. As well as that, we had some solutions for the shock absorbers which maybe Markko hadn’t had the opportunity to test before. The same applied with Marcus, he experimented with some things he hadn’t tried before. We wanted to give the drivers the maximum opportunity to make the most of their cars.
Q: Harri Rovanpera has a lot of experience in New Zealand and has finished on the podium several times while for Gigi Galli it is only the second visit to this event. What are the different objectives that you have fixed for your drivers?
IT: I’d like to explain our goal for this year: the first half is still development and we need to finish the rally with two cars to get the data from the race. The second half we challenge for podium, then next year is our target year for the championship. This year Harri gave us lots of feedback from finishing the three rallies. The feedback is good for ongoing development. Most of the specification is the same as Mexico and I believe he will give us more good feedback. Gigi is on the way to improve himself, he needs more mileage, but in Sweden he showed his potential and then took the fastest lap in shakedown this morning. I’m very pleased to give him the opportunity. I’m expecting him to give us more good results.
Q: Marcus Gronholm has won twice here in New Zealand in the past. Does his road position on the opening day, where he will start fifth, hand him a significant advantage over his key rivals?
JPN: I think everybody is aware that on day one, when it’s dry, running first is a slight disadvantage. Marcus should have a little advantage, but it’s up to him to make the most of it. One of Marcus’ key rivals this year will be Sebastien, who enjoys a good road position for him.
Q: You are competing here for the first time although you completed the recce two years ago. Are you worried about your lack of experience here?
JT: I did recce in 2003 and for sure it’s nice stages here. It’s nice to drive here. It’s the first time in gravel with this car for me, so I have to learn the roads and the car this year. I try to do the rally without mistakes.
Q: You won’t be starting the rally after an accident in shakedown. What happened? Are you feeling OK?
RK: In the shakedown there are some fast places where the sunshine was, my eyes kind of switched off. I hit two banks and rolled the car. Big Mistake. I am feeling okay, but the car is destroyed.
Q: This is a fairly fast and flowing rally and the first time you are driving the 2005 specification Skoda Fabia WRC. It was designed for extra speed on this type pf event: can you feel the improvements? In which areas?
JT: For me it’s hard to say. I know the difference, but I didn’t drive the old spec car on the gravel. In Sweden I drove the old car, but snow and gravel are a little different. The first feeling with the car is quite good. I’m just driving and we will see what happens.
Q: How much do you think this unfortunate accident will affect your confidence for the future? Will you find it quite easy to put it behind you?
RK: It’s so difficult to say. I think positive; okay everybody in rally makes mistakes. Before here I was testing Sardinia, now I’m looking forward to the next event.
Q: Skoda’s policy has been to change the second driver from event to event. Do you know where you will be driving next? Is that a rally you have any experience of?
JT: Sardinia is the next one, but after that I don’t know. Sardinia is also a new rally. I have a lot of experience in Europe, but not here in New Zealand or in Sardinia.
Q: You are not going to be driving now, but is there anything more you can do to help the team in any other way or improve your own experience? Or do you think you will just be heading straight home?
RK: Okay, yes, before this event I would like to finish, but now it’s different. It’s difficult to say, the mistake today for us – for me – it’s finished. Okay, now I’m going home.
Q: We saw several drivers with problems on the shakedown; was it a particularly difficult road? How representative was it of the rest of the rally? What sort of conditions are you expecting on this event?
JT: I think it’s a difficult rally. The stages are nice and fast, but there are only two lines. If you go off the line, something will happen. Maybe not going off, but spin or something. You have to be careful and stay on the line.
Q: Hello Chris. People have been surprised and impressed by your pace so far in the Subaru, despite your lack of experience and many people have called you a future champion. Has your rate of progress been quicker than what you expected?
CA: I’m a little bit surprised I didn’t expect that pace in Mexico or Sweden. It’s a good feeling, but we still have a lot to learn yet. We can’t be going flat out yet, hopefully we can keep improving and step the pace up through the year.
Q: You started first on the road here last year and said that it was impossible to win from that position. Do you think you stand a bigger chance of winning this year, when you will be starting further back?
SL: I don’t know. Sure when you have some stages with a lot of gravel then you will lose some time. If you can come back fast, then yes you can win. But when there’s a lot of gravel, it’s hard. I hope my chance to win is better, but last year I wasn’t so fast on this rally last year. I don’t know why, maybe not the best settings – it wasn’t my best rally. We have done some work on the car and this morning it felt okay.
Q: Apart from Australia, this is the closest you get to a home rally. How much experience do you have of driving on these types of road?
CA: It’s bit closer to Perth than home for me. I did the event last year in a Group N car, so I know a little bit more about the stages than I did in Sweden or Mexico, but this event is quite specialised, so like somewhere like Finland, it takes time to get the experience.
Q: For the first time on the Rally New Zealand, the drivers will not be based in Auckland but instead near Paparoa. Do you think that this is a good move?
SL: For me, I don’t know which solution is the best. The problem is every morning and evening we have to drive from Auckland for 1h30m. There is no hotel near the park, I don’t know what the solution is, but there is a lot of driving.
Q: You’ve set some impressive times this year so far but not scored any points yet. Is this going to become a priority at some point, or is your focus this year solely on gaining experience?
CA: I don’t think it’s an issue at the moment. We’ve got a long way to go and right now we want experience of the car. We’ll try some things on this rally like we have done on the ones before. Some times the stage times will be faster and some times it will be slower. We haven’t had any big problems on the two rallies we’ve done, just small mistakes. Once we’ve got them out the way and the results will come. Sure, a finish would be nice...
Q: It’s not been the sort of exemplary start to the season that you had last year. Are you concerned about your points situation or not?
SL: Atr the moment it’s not so bad. We are only five points from the lead. For sure we were not so lucky in Sweden or Mexico, but its okay. I think it’s just been unlucky this year.
Q: You spent some time at home before coming here. Has there been a lot of media interest in what you’ve been up to? Does that create any extra pressure for you?
CA: It was definitely good to get back home. A couple of months in England in the winter, climate wise, didn’t suit me. It was good to see the media interest back in Australia, but what was really good was that we were getting more interest in the main stream media rather than the specialised press. As for the pressure, that’s not an issue for me.
Q: Many drivers say that New Zealand is one of their favourite rallies. Would you agree? What do you like about it?
SL: It’s a very exciting race, very exciting to drive. We have some wide roads, very fast corners, one then the other. You get a very good feeling to drive here. The only thing missing for me so far is the result. I hope I can change that this year.