FIA World Rally Championship 2004 Wales Rally GB FIA Pre-event Press Conference 16.09.2004 Present: Guy Frequelin (Team Principal, Citroen) Malcolm Wilson (Team Principal, Ford) Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) Francois Duval ...
FIA World Rally Championship
2004 Wales Rally GB
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Guy Frequelin (Team Principal, Citroen)
Malcolm Wilson (Team Principal, Ford)
Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot)
Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru)
Francois Duval (Ford)
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen)
Q: Malcolm, there has been a lot of speculation about the future of Ford in rallying. What is the latest situation?
Malcolm Wilson: I think everyone is aware that I flew back from Japan (to have talks with Ford). Since then we have been looking at all aspects to find a solution to keep Ford in the World Championship. It's fair to say that at this moment in time we haven't got that but we are working at all sorts of different avenues. I think the one positive thing is that if we can find a solution, at least it will be for the long term. We're looking at a four year project, because obviously we have a new car to develop and the investment required to do that means that we'd need to stay in the sport for a reasonable length of time so that's a positive aspect. I think that one way it could be made easier is if Guy (Frequelin) here and Corrado (Provera) gave me five million dollars each, I don't think we'd have a problem! And we'd still have four teams in the World Championship... I think being realistic it's probably looking at end of September early October before a decision is made.
Q: Guy, what is your reaction to Malcolm's comments?
Guy Frequelin: I think it's very very important to keep a big brand like Ford in the World Championship. It's very important for Malcolm and it's very important for the Championship.
Q: If Ford pull out, can the PSA group justify a competition between Peugeot and Citroen?
GF: I hope so! It's difficult to tell you and to give you the answer because it's not up to us!
Q: Malcolm, How did the decision to release Francois Duval from his contract come about?
MW: It's quite simple really. Francois had a clause in his contract in that if we couldn't commit to the whole World Championship the following year at that particular point in time, which was the end of August, then we had to notify him and release him. As I've already mentioned we're not in a position to make a decision about going forward and really to be fair to him we had to release him. It's the last thing I wanted to do because at the end of the day we've worked with Francois for the last two or three years now and I think it's there for everyone to see that he's the most improved driver in the Championship this year and for sure if we can find a way to stay in and if he hasn't found anyone else, then I'll certainly be the first person to come knocking on his door.
Q: Can you clarify the situation with Markko Martin?
MW: Marrko is in a similar situation in that the option on him runs out at the end of September and so I think its fair to say that Marrko will be in a similar situation to Francois at this moment in time.
Q: Guy, has there been any contact between Francois and Citroen? Is he likely to drive for you next year?
GF: For sure I have had contact with Francois. It's difficult to say something about this because it's not already decided for Carlos (Sainz) first. It's difficult to understand why Ford will stop rallying with Malcolm because they have such very good results. It's a Ford decision I know, but for us nothing is decided for the future. I am speaking with Carlos and also with Francois.
Q: Has Carlos made a decision about his future yet? He said he would do so in September....
GF: I think he'd like to continue but he needs to speak with his second boss, his wife (laughter) if he does a complete Championship or only some rallies. He doesn't know at the moment how much he'd like to do but he needs to make a decision quickly now. I hope to have everything decided by the end of the month.
Q: Malcolm, has there been any work in progress for a future evolution of the Focus? A revised road car is scheduled to appear later this year...
MW: The answer is yes. We were in a similar situation last year in that we didn't really know what our future was literally until a few days before the FIA registration closed. Even with the current car we're using now we've been looking at ways of improving it for next year and now, we've got the CAD data for the next generation Focus so yes, there's been a lot of work going on because if you keep waiting for a decision you'll never catch up.
Q: Guy, the new Citroen C4 recently made an official appearance in World Rally Car guise. What can you tell us about this car? A: We've only just started looking at this car but haven't done any tests yet. We will be testing with the development of it next month. I hope that we can rally with it at end of next year
Questions from the floor:
Q: Malcolm, speaking today Corrado (Provera) was suggesting that one of the problems with the World Championship was that there were too many rounds and not enough cars. He says the public and media interest in the series was dwindling. Would you say that that is going to play when Ford make a decision.
MW: In view of the situation, I have had to be doing work that I've never been involved with in the past. You start looking at all these sorts of aspects but in fairness that has no bearing on our situation at the moment. If we can sort out that we do have a longer term plan with Ford then I think it is in the interests of all the manufacturers to start discussing those sorts of topics. But I have to say that it is having no influence on us at this particular moment in time.
Q: Malcolm you are a major employer in the north west of England. What would be the effect in the Cumbrian area if you were unable to secure a World Rally Championship campaign next year?
MW: It's something I don't really want to think about because as you can imagine you don't build up a rally team in twelve months. You're looking at five years to build up your infrastructure, your resource, your people and the one thing that we as a company know is that whatever car we did we would be competitive and would be capable of winning rallies. So that is obviously a very difficult emotional thing for me at the moment when you've gone forward and built up a very successful operation. Having said that, we had a very successful business before we got the Ford contract but sadly we wouldn't be in a position to keep a number of people employed and being perfectly honest we'd be looking to lose 100 people based on a customer business and then we'd have to start looking for other areas of business.
Q: Mister Wilson, considering the cost of the season for one of the main major teams and considering the lack of media coverage for the manufacturers, would you say that a good operation from a manufacturer would only be if there is the title at the end of the season?
MW: No, certainly in fairness, in the numbers that we're talking about, to run the World Rally programme it's more than justified by the current level of TV exposure alone, without taking into account any normal media, so it's not a case of the Championship not delivering value for money. That it is doing, as far as that is concerned. It is purely down to the economic situation within Ford at the moment.
Q: Guy, if Carlos wishes to do less than a full Championship -- say, 8 or 10 rallies - are you prepared to keep him and have another driver. In other words, run three cars on many rallies.
GF: It's very difficult to answer this at the moment because if we want to have third car we would need to find a sponsor. It's too early to answer this but for sure it's very important to have a third car.
Q: Harri, Rally GB is an event you have some experience of. You've done British Championship before and you've been here a few times as well. What do you think you can achieve here?
Harri Rovanpera: This is always a long, difficult rally. Okay, some years ago there were more stages and we saw championships decided here in GB. But not much is changing this year -- the time of year has come forward two months but it all looks quite similar!
Q: Is this a rally that you like, Harri, or is it not one of your favourites?
HR: Normally I go well here, quite well. Okay, last year was not fantastic. It's a long, difficult rally and that means you need to keep concentration for all three days -- all four days, including today's start -- and you need a good tyre choice, the car working well on all of the days...
Q: You've been on the podium here before, of course, with the SEAT.
HR: Yes, in 1999 and 2001.
Q: And the aim is to do that again?
HR: Yes, we try really hard.
Q: Thank you very much, Harri. Mikko -- of all the teams, Subaru has the best recent record on this event. What do you think is possible for you?
Mikko Hirvonen: Like you say, the record here is very good -- quite impressive. The rally suits me; it suits Subaru and the tyres, so we'll see. It's going to be a really tough fight anyway with everyone on this rally. I'm ready for it. We'll see on Sunday.
Q: What is your tactic going to be? Are you going to be flat out from the start or is it going to take you some time to get the right speed?
MH: Well I haven't really had such a good history on this rally -- I've always retired on the same stage, on the Trawscoed stage. I'll try to survive that one and then I'm just going to push as hard as I can!
Q: Thank you Mikko. Harri, at this time of year people start talking about next season. Do you have any firm plans for next year or is this all still in negotiations?
HR: No, I don't know anything. If teams don't know what's happening for next year then drivers are coming after that.
Q: Mikko, what about you -- do you know your plans for next year yet?
MH: I think I just try to go rally by rally. It's quite an interesting thing to talk about at this time of year but everything has been working well at Subaru. The team has been happy about my improvement but of course, we never know. We will see what will happen.
Q: Harri, on the last rally in Japan you were going well but then you had some transmission problems. Do you think the problems have been solved now, or not?
HR: Of course everyone hopes that they have. I tested last week in Sardinia for one day and here on Sunday and we didn't have any problems. I hope it's working well here also but we'll see after the first few stages.
Q: Mikko, we've already talked about Subaru's record here. How much of that is down to you being on Pirelli tyres? You're the only team on Pirellis. Do you think a large part of the success is down to the tyres?
MH: I think for sure Pirelli is making very good tyres and usually it's been very good on the wet conditions. But I think Michelin have improved their wet tyres also. I don't think the difference is quite so good, but I hope that we are still in front of Michelin.
Q: Harri, now that this rally might be a bit drier, some drivers have said that the roads are a little bit like Finland. Do you think there's anything in common?
HR: Yes, yesterday was quite dry and that means it will be really fast in the dry conditions. I don't know if it's exactly like Finland but the speed is quite similar, that's true. We'll see tomorrow morning after the night to see what the roads are like.
Q: Some people have said that if it stays dry, this could be the fastest year of all the championship -- even faster than Finland. Do you think that's possible?
MH: We are in Wales so it's not going to be dry the whole weekend, that's for sure!
HR: It will be fast if it is dry, of course, but even when it is raining, there is not such a big difference in the speed. We will be fast in the wet also. Of course in some parts it will be a little slower.
Q: Mikko, in Japan you had huge support from the Japanese fans. Do you get support from the British fans?
MH: I hope so. Of course it doesn't matter where we are in the world. It matters that we have supporters and fans. Hopefully we have as many fans here as we had in Japan.
Q: Francois, Malcolm was here earlier saying that you were a free agent for next year. What are your plans for 2005?
Francois Duval: I hope I will get a new drive in a WRC car and I hope I won't come back in the Super 16. For the rest, I hope Ford continue next year. It's better for the world championship and for Malcolm. For me I don't know exactly, there isn't too much contact with me at present. Perhaps after Carlos' decision there will be more information.
Q: Seb, last year here there was a big fight between you and Petter. Do you think it will be you and Petter at the front again for this rally or can you afford to relax a little bit more now?
Sebastien Loeb: It is most important for me to finish the race in the points. Last year we were fighting for the victory and I hope we can do it again this year. But it's not easy and I have to keep concentrating, I know I don't have to take too much risk. The most important thing is not to win, it's to finish in the points. So I will try to drive like I feel and if we can fight we will try to do it. If we think it's too risky to try to win then I will try to finish in another position.
Q: Seb, how much pressure do you feel going into each rally? Some people say that the situation is now that you can only lose the championship and not win it. Does that give you a bit of pressure?
SL: Yes, we are in the lead of 30 points, that's very nice. And everybody thinks we will win the championship but it's not so easy. We have five races to go and in five races a lot of things can happen. I think the most important thing is that I keep concentrating and take one rally at a time, try not to think of anything else and try to finish every time.
Q: Francois, obviously the date of this rally has changed. It's now September and it used to be November. What affect do you think this will have on the stages and the conditions from what you have seen so far?
FD: For sure it's drier than last year, the road is a little bit narrower and the trees are a little bit different. On the road it's less slippery and for the rest it's maybe more easy to drive this year. If the rain is coming it's maybe a little bit better for me in the difficult and slippery conditions.
Q: Seb, as a driver, is this rally in dry conditions more fun to drive than it was in November or do you like the rain and the mud as well?
SL: No, for me in November it was good. If it's dry, and I don't know if it is, I think it can perhaps be more difficult this year to choose a tyre. Last year we knew it if would be wet and the tyre choice was not really complicated but this year, as we saw in recce, the conditions can change very fast. One time you can go into the stage and it's raining and after it's sunny, it's windy and it's drying, so it's not easy especially without our gravel crew. We will not have a lot of information so it will be difficult to complete the event without a tyre mistake.
Q: Francois, what is your plan here? You've got a bit of experience of Britain; do you think you can get a podium here?
FD: Podium is maybe difficult because it's only my second time here on the WRC. I hope I finish inside the top five because my experience is not very good here.