Rally New Zealand: Pree-event press conference

Pre-event FIA Press Conference Present: Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally Team Henning Solberg, Munchi's Ford World Rally Team Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Evgeniy Vertunov,...

Pre-event FIA Press Conference

Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson, Subaru World Rally Team
Henning Solberg, Munchi's Ford World Rally Team
Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Evgeniy Vertunov, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Chris West, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q: Last year the battle between you and Marcus Gronholm was epic, resulting in the slimmest winning margin we have ever seen -- three tenths of a second. Now that Gronholm is no longer around do you think it will be possible to re-create that magic?

SL: Maybe; if it's in my favour why not! I would be happy to have another great fight. Sure, for me it's still a good memory, even if I was a bit frustrated at the end. I remember the very good fight. One of us had to win, it was him -- but I won the Championship. Mikko [Hirvonen] is getting faster and faster and, for sure, he can give me a good fight. But as well as that, it's going to be very difficult with the road conditions here.

Q: You are now in the lead of the Drivers' Championship and Citroen leads the Manufacturers, but BP Ford have made a tactical change to their driver line-up for Spain and Corsica, nominating Francois Duval to score points. What are you thoughts on that?

SL: It's difficult to say about Francois. At the moment we are in a good position, leading. We have three gravel and two Tarmac [rallies] to come. On Tarmac Dani [Sordo] and me are going very well. In Germany we were both faster than Duval. We will see. It's five rallies to go, anything can happen.

Q: First on the road here and it looks like the dry conditions will continue into the weekend, which doesn't make it so good for you. From what you have seen on the recce how bad will it be for you?

SL: If it's not raining it will be nearly dry in the stages. In this condition, there's a lot of gravel. We saw a lot of gravel in the recce. We can lose a lot of time with that. We'll see.

Q: Tactics will probably come into play again this weekend for road position?

SL: It's always the car behind that can do what it wants -- everybody has your time. I cannot do anything about that. I will start as fast as I can.

Q: The camber on the roads here are unique to this event -- what is the secret to successfully negotiating them?

SL: I don't know, last year I lost...! There's no secret. When it's a big camber, you need to stay on the inside at the exit of the corner. It's a question of feeling. Some time on the brakes, you have camber and you need to be careful, it's easy to lock a brake and it's tough to turn. It's a nice feeling to jump from one corner to another.

Q: Is this an event where you have to win?

SL: No. It would be good to finish in front of Mikko. But, except for that, nothing is important. It's important not to lose the four point lead. We are at a moment when it's important to finish. If I retire, he can lead by six points, if it's him then the Championship can almost be decided. We will see.

Q: The team are talking about this event as a target rally, one they want you or Petter to win. Is that an achievable goal?

CA: I'd like to think so. We need to start winning. We've been pushing all year. Most of the time we try and drive fast. That's what you do at these events, but maybe we have to take more risks.

Q: It's a special weekend for the team, as it marks the 15th anniversary of the first win of the Subaru in the hands of Colin McRae. Is there extra pressure?

CA: It's important. But I didn't know anything about rallying 15 years ago. We want to win. We haven't won for three or four years. Colin winning 15 years ago is a big thing, if we did it this time, I'm sure there would be a big party. The team needs to win.

Q: What do you think about the new car after its performance on both gravel and asphalt?

CA: It takes time. You know, these guys around me have been in their cars for a lot more time, we've only had a few days testing. We need to accelerate the development and push as hard as we can.

Q: The winter weather has been particularly bad in this area and has affected some of the stages. How did you find them on the recce? How do you think they will hold up during the weekend?

CA: Generally it's not too bad. Occasionally, they've had to fill in the road or put more gravel down -- in some places that's been spread by road works through the stage. In terms of road damage it's not bad, there are a few landslips, but nothing special. You don't have to drive too differently and we haven't had to make any major changes to our notes.

Q: You will be receiving the silver fern tonight as part of the Maori ceremony you are taking part in. When Sebastien received it he went on to win the rally and then 10 in row after that. Are you hoping its going to be as lucky for you?

CA: I don't know. Does it work on Australians? I'll keep it if it works. Maybe we'll go hunting this afternoon instead and see what animals we can find...

Q: You come to New Zealand on the back of a confidence boosting performance on your least favoured surface of asphalt in Germany. You picked up your first points on that surface -- it was a good event for you...

HS: Two points; I was happy. No testing, just come and drive. I was happy. It's a very difficult rally. Last year, I helped Marcus Gronholm to win. "If you're going to win," I told him, "you need to keep right over the water on the super special." He did that and he won. It's true! He came to me and said: "Thanks to you." It's true, if you look at the in-car, Sebastien was leading half way through the stage, then they went through the water and Marcus won. I told him. It's not the same this year, there's less water. This year I'm going to help myself. It's a good story. I got two beers for that!

Q: A very different event here though, and you have yet to finish inside the points at this event. How difficult will it be to do that this weekend?

HS: I almost reached top three in the last gravel rallies. If I can be top three or four here, I'll be very happy -- that's my target.

Q: You are just five points behind Petter [Solberg] in the Drivers' Championship -- we know how you two love to battle, can you pass him here?

HS: I will try. This will be a tactical rally. I'm not sure how they think, but I will try to be tactical for Saturday.

Q: Is this a technical event?

HS: For me I don't love this rally. I struggle with the pace notes and have rolled two times -- and crashed in the Peugeot. This year I threw the pace notes away and started with new notes. I want to see if I can go faster.

Q: We are past the halfway stage in the Championship and people are already starting to talk about next year. There has been speculation about you changing cars to a Subaru -- can you shed any light on your plans for next year?

HS: I think and I hope I can stay where I am.

Q: Matthew, your team- mate Gigi Galli was injured in Germany and I believe you and a few other drivers all went to see him in hospital in your underwear! Why did you go in your underwear? How is Gigi doing now?

MW: Good question! Blame the guy on my right for that one... [Henning Solberg]. It cheered him up a bit. He was in good spirits. Hopefully he can recover and be back as soon as possible. I'd like to keep in touch with Gigi through that. I went through a similar sort of thing and a lot of people helped me through -- I know how good it be to have people talking to you and keeping you going at times like these.

Q: How was the recce for you?

MW: Like Sebastien and Chris have said, there are a few places where they had to add extra gravel. Road position will be important, eighth or ninth on the road can be perfect for us. It's an event I enjoy, if we can get a good start.

Q: What makes this event special?

MW: The stages are really enjoyable to drive. The camber helps you to carry the speed. Saturday's stages are really quick. I've enjoyed the event from the first time I did it.

Q: You are nominated for Manufacturer points for the third time this year. What is the objective for you this weekend?

MW: I think, obviously, Francois [Duval] is going to take a bit of time to learn the car on gravel, he was quick at shakedown. We want to score points for the team and if we get drivers' points that's a bonus. It's about learning the car more and getting more confidence.

Q: Who will you be judging your performance against this weekend?

MW: It's hard to know. On road positions alone, it's hard to know. Until we get the first stage out of the way and see how the feeling is. If we've got the confidence, it's good. As long as we can get a good start, we'll see -- it should be okay.

Q: What you would you be happy with on Sunday?

MW: The aim is to get points. If we could finish in the top six, that would be a brilliant result for us. It's a technical rally and it's not going to be easy. The hard tyre could be difficult if it rains, hopefully the weather stays the same. I'd be happy with a top six place.


Q: Evgeniy, it's your second time here in New Zealand and it's the place where you began your PWRC campaign -- is this a rally you enjoy?

EV: It's a really good race. I like it; it's one of my favourites. It has really interesting roads. No other rally is like this. It's a good rally on good roads.

Q: You are the 2007 Russian Rally Champion -- it's your first full year within the PWRC; have you been pleased with your performance so far?

EV: Not really. In Greece and Turkey I know my results could be better. I made a few little mistakes. After that I had only sixth place in both races. I know I could be better.

Q: Has the competition been tougher than you expected?

EV: Yes it's tougher. To compare with last year, there are more drivers who are going really fast.

Q: Your best result was fourth in Japan last year -- can you better that here in New Zealand?

EV: For this rally my aim is to be on the podium. I know it will be hard to do. The roads are almost the same as when I was here in 2007. I hope I can fight for the podium.

Q: How do these stages compare to the ones you have at home?

EV: We don't have anything like this. It's hard to compare it with anything.

Q: How was the test on Monday?

EV: Good. Here we will drive the new car. In Greece and Turkey I drive N12 car, but here it's N14. It will be good for these roads -- it's not so hot or rough as Greece and Turkey.

Q: Is there any news on next year for you?

EV: Now I focus on this year. After this rally we will decide what we do next. This rally is very important for me.

Q: Chris you have a wild card entry for the PWRC here in New Zealand. It's a great opportunity for you to pit yourself against the rest of the production field...

CW: Absolutely. Both Hayden [Paddon] and myself have been fortunate enough to represent New Zealand on the home WRC event. It's up to us to turn it into the result it deserves. We're looking forward to the event. It's a great spectacle be part of and it's also a round of our home Championship.

Q: There is always a battle to be the top New Zealander; could that be you this year or will Richard Mason make it three in a row?

CW: I think it's not unstoppable. Richard is strong here, he puts a lot of focus and resource into it. We have been in the same position in 2006, but retired, and last year we stayed out of the Championship and we came to put some miles of testing in on the car, ready for this year. I hope it's third time lucky for us. We've got some good machinery, some good gear. I hope it's our year, but let's wait and see.

Q: The winter has been quite bad here, how has that affected the stages?

CW: I'm sorry to have to say this, but I think it's going to be the roughest rally we've seen for some time. That's down to the weather. It's really softened up tomorrow and Sunday. Even though it's sunny, there's going to be a lot of stones exposed because the roads are quite soft. Saturday's stages are in good shape, though. Okay, they're soft, but they should be good for those drivers further down the field. Put it this way, I wouldn't want to be running number one with all of that gravel around.

Q: Do you think it's going to be one of toughest events?

CW: The road conditions are not as smooth as in the past, as I said. There is a lot of exposed stone and conditions overall are rougher than we've seen in years.

Q: You tested on Monday, how did it go? Are you happy with the set-up?

CW: That was the first opportunity for us to run on the Pirelli control tyre. We had a good balance and set-up for the tyres in our championships. We put that [control] tyre on, okay it's changed some of the characteristics, but the balance of the car is still there. There's not as much tyre wear or grip, but overall it was a good opportunity to have a look.

Q: Who are you comparing yourself against?

CW: Obviously, Hayden and Richard. For ourselves, we want to go out there and do the best job we can. The Championship is very important, but there's also an opportunity to get on the podium. We'll say we're going for top Kiwi and that'll bring the result in the home Championship and the result at home.

Q: Is there any possibility of a bigger PWRC programme for you next year?

CW: Not at this stage. We're fortunate to be here. We need to make the most of that and what comes of that in the future only time will tell. If we can do it justice, who know what might come out of the woodwork.

Q: It's not just the PWRC you'll be competing in, this event is also a round of the New Zealand Rally Championship -- there's a lot of pressure on you here...

CW: It's included in the national championship. We have points on hand for Friday and Saturday's legs. It's important to achieve maximum points to put us in overall contention at the end of the year.

-credit: fia

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport