FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Rally de Portugal FIA Pre-event Press Conference 29.03.2007 Present: Conrad Rautenbach - FIA Junior Rally Championship Josef Beres - FIA Junior Rally Championship Daniel Sordo - Citroen Total World Rally Team Chris...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Rally de Portugal
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Conrad Rautenbach - FIA Junior Rally Championship
Josef Beres - FIA Junior Rally Championship
Daniel Sordo - Citroen Total World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson - Subaru World Rally Team
Marcus Gronholm - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Manfred Stohl - OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team
Welcome to the FIA pre-event press conference.
Q: Hi Conrad. You've had quite an adventurous morning so far in shakedown; what happened?
CR: There was a problem with shakdown, I don't know if I wasn't concentrating or the focus wasn't there. We were taking it a bit easy, trying to warm everything up when I misheard a note and thought it was a flat-out corner but it was actually a junction, and came up there a bit quick. It was just a slow roll down the hill but it did quite a bit of body damage, but the car itself was fine, so that's the main thing.
Q: So that's not going to affect your participation in this event, do you think you'll have a car that's one-hundred-percent by the super special tonight?
CR: I hope so. The team's really great, they've done a lot of work already, it's looking good. The only thing is if the scrutineers have to check the roll cage and all that, but we've had a good look and it looks okay so hopefully it will all be okay.
Q: Lets talk, Conrad, a little bit more about that car. You're in a Citroen C2 now as opposed to the Renault Clio you drove last year. What were your reasons behind your desicion to switch?
CR: The main reason is the C2 Junior Experience; it's a great thing that Citroen have started with prize-money and a drive opportunity if you do well in the Championship and it's a stepping-block for the next thing, so I that that was our main decision.
Q: You've had the chance to do a bit of testing in the Citroen, Conrad, what did you think of it and how much running were you able to do?
CR: We were lucky, we could do like a full day's testing so it was really good to get in the car and fine-tune the set-up and that; the car is really good. I think it's not a big difference from the Clio; it's lots of little things, I think it's just been developed a little bit more and better. I think it's a lot of little things that add up and I think it's definitely faster, so we'll have to see.
Q: What with one thing and another Conrad you're building up quite a lot of experience now. How much of an improvement do you think you can make in your performance this year?
CR: We've got the experience now and we've also been working quite hard on the pace notes with David (Senior), and we've got last year's notes, so that's going to be one of the biggest things. The car's now really good and we've got a good set-up and I'm quite comfortable in it. We sort of know our pace and what we can do, so I think that we'll start finding a good pace and setting some good times and also keep it on the road.
Q: Josef, welcome. You were one of the drivers in with a chance of last year's Junior title on the final round in Great Britain. Is that your goal for this year as well, do you think you can be fighting for the Championship again on the last round?
JB: Well we had a chance, but it was more or less more luck than the experience and the performance of the car. So, this year we have a new car; I'm not very satisfied with the set-up at the moment because the car is not to my expectations yet. I have to get used to it, so we will try to do our best, but we're not really sure we can get as far as we did last year.
Q: You're stepping into a car that Conrad has just vacated, the Renault Clio; what are the main differences between that car and the Suzuki Ignis you drove last year?
JB: The engine is much better than we had in the Suzuki Ignis and the weight of the car is much less than the Suzuki Ignis of course. At the moment I feel that it's more difficult to drive the car as far as the behaviour on the road, but I think it will get better.
Q: Have you had any chance to do any testing Josef, or is this event completely new to you and the car?
JB: We did have a chance; about 30 kilometres back home, but that's not as much as I wanted.
Q: Let's go back to Conrad. A couple of weeks ago you won the Safari Rally in a Group N car. How much of a confidence-booster is that heading into this Junior season?
CR: Yes, it was really good, we weren't expecting it. We're doing the African Championship this year and that was the second round; we knew we could have a good chance if the Fiats had a problem or something, but we were right up there with our pace even on the first day when we had a problem with the car, so it was really good. We were sort of taking it quite easy, but I do have experience of those events and that was probably a big advantage, but like I said, we're feeling comfortable in the car now and I can go at a pace that I'm quite comfortable with and we know we can push a bit or back it off. I think that's the main thing and it's definitely boosted my confidence for this weekend, but obviously the thing in the shakedown didn't help, but the nerves are gone so I'm just looking forward to getting going.
Q: Portugal and Africa are very different places, but is there anything you can take from your African experience and use here?
CR: Yes definitely. I think in Africa you learn to drive around stuff quite a bit, with the rocks and the rough stuff and that. I think in the Junior cars you can't take the same lines as the World guys do, you have to drive around some of the stuff, and I think Portugal could be quite rough the second time through on the second loop of the stages. So I think that might play a part. Try and keep a good speed, but try and conserve your car and get it to the finish.
Q: You're driving a Group N car as well as the C2 this season; is it distracting for you jumping beween these two cars and to go from one very different event to another?
CR: It's not a problem; it's obviously better to stay in one car, but it's good for experience to get 2WD and 4WD Group N; it's a good thing to be able to change and we can do that no problem, it's just that to get that last little percentage of speed it's better to stick to one car and we're doing most of the events in the C2, in the Junior car, and I think that will be good for us.
Q: Josef, Portugal is a new rally for everyone this year, do you think that helps you that no-one starts with an advantage in terms of experience?
JB: For me this is a brand new rally; we've never done a rally as difficult as this. After the recce the guys said that this is the worst one they have ever been to. We've done about three years of rallying around the world, and especially because of the new car and not enough time to get used to the car, this is going to be difficult.
Q: Do you think that the stages will suit a 2WD car or not?
JB: Some parts are good for the 2WD, but most of them are better for the 4WD.
Q: And finally, what is your target for this event? Would you like a podium, points, or any other objective?
JB: I will be very glad if I can see the podium at the end of the rally, and to get a better set-up for Rally Sardinia; the next event that we are doing.
Q: We are now going to move onto our four World Rally Championshp drivers. We'll start with you Dani. You're probably the most experienced driver on the event for once. You competed on the event in 2005 in the C2, and then you were the zero car in 2006; do you think this extra experience gives you a realistic chance of winning?
DS: The rally is really, really difficult; last year a lot of rain, but I think these are special roads that are changing all the time; it's very fast, and after one corner it's very narrow. It's a good rally, but very difficult.
Q: Do you thinks it's the sort of event where a bit of experience of the stages will make a difference?
DS: Yes a little, but it's a very difficult rally. It was good for me, the first pass of the recce with the notes; this is important. But I think it will be difficult to beat Marcus, Sebastien and Petter Solberg because they are very fast drivers.
Q: How much do you remember from 2005 and 2006, are the stages quite similar or quite different?
DS: Three stages are new for me, but the other stages I remember.
Q: Chris, the Mexico event was very significant for you with the launch of the 2007 Impreza. You showed a good pace, but Subarus always go well in Mexico, do you think at this new event you could have the same sort of performance as we saw over there?
CA: No I think it's changed for everywhere now, it's not just for one rally. If you can have a car that's easy to drive, you can drive it fast everywhere. In Mexico and even here we're still working on fine-tuning the set-up and it's going to take some time. We said that at the start; we said it's going to be a few rallies, and we haven't done any testing, so we have to wait til after this rally to do some testing, and then when we find the right set-up and the right balance we can really start to push.
Q: From what you can see of the stages here during the recce, do you think they will suit the 2007 car as well as Mexico obviously did?
CA: I think it's not bad for us. For me personally, the stages are a lot like my home of Australia; the same surface, the same trees, no Koalas, but everything else is the same so the feeling for me is good.
Q: Now obviously your team-mate, Petter Solberg, had a problem in Mexico. Are there still any concerns about reliablity; this being a new car?
CA: No, like the team said, that was just a freak thing that can happen; he was just very unlucky. And the car has been good for a few events now and the team is ready and prepared early and we are all confident.
Q: Manfred, welcome. After four events now in the Xsara WRC, do you feel that you are unlocking the full potential of this car, or do you feel that you still have a lot to learn?
MS: I think we were very unlucky this year, especially in Monte Carlo where the car is very good. But we showed in Mexico the speed and I think on gravel the car is very good and I hope we can manage a good result here.
Q: This is an event where nobody starts with any experience, except possibly Dani; do you think this will help you?
MS: Yes normally I am good at a new event, because I get used very quickly to new stages, new roads and normally my notes are ok.
Q: From what you have seen so far, is there any stage or section that you think it will be very important to make a difference?
MS: It's very hard to say because I don't remember any part of the stages anymore because everything looks very similar. I think the tyres will be one point; we will see how they look after 70 kilometres.
Q: Marcus welcome. You are leading the Championship, but by a reduced margin after Sebastien won in Mexico. How important is it for you psychologically to win here or beat him here?
MG: It is always important to win and to beat him, so I don't know, we will try again. It's a new rally so we have a good chance.
Q: Do you think it's a rally you will like from what you can see of the stages?
MG: I like them and the notes are good, I hope so. Like Manfred said, it can be quite difficult for the tyres to last 70 kilometres; it's a little bit of a question mark tomorrow, but otherwise it looks good.
Q: You last competed in 2001 in the old Rally Portugal in Porto. Does this event have any similarities to the old one, or is it a completed new event?
MG: It's got different stages in a different place, but okay, it's got some parts that look a little bit the same, but I feel that this one is a little bit faster; around here there are faster roads. But sometimes it is narrow and slow, but I think it is quite fast.
Q: And do you always like fast roads?
MG: Yes it is ok; it's good.
Q: You are in a fight at the moment with Mikko (Hirvonen) for third in the Championship. Mikko is some way ahead, thanks to him winning Norway. Do you think you first win will come this year?
DS: I don't know. This is not the most important thing. For me, the most important thing is to take points for Citroen to win the Championship for Constructors. I will try of course but it is not so easy. The other drivers are very, very fast but I will try.
Q: Do you think this rally is one of your best chances to win or do you still feel more comfortable on asphalt?
DS: No, it's not my best rally, for sure. I prefer the rallies on Tarmac at the moment. The feeling on Tarmac is better. But step by step, it's better and better on gravel. The confidence is better.
Q: Normally it's your team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, giving you advice. You've been here before -- can you give Seb some advice?
DS: I know a little more than him but Seb is a big professional and I think that Dani Sordo is very small.
Q: Will you do the same times as Seb?
DS: I will try.
Q: Chris, speaking of team-mates, you're ahead of your team-mate, former World Champion Petter Solberg, in the Championship. What do you think are your chances of that lasting to the end of the year?
CA: Like Dani said, it's not easy when your team-mate has quite a bit of experience and has been World Champion before, so you have to respect that. But we keep trying and trying to get points. That's the main thing for me, like everyone. But Petter was unlucky with his problem in Mexico and we lost some points in the snow. It goes each way. But we're still a long way from these guys in points and that's the main worry. Not fighting each other, we need to get where we can fight Ford and Citroen every time.
Q: Are these new events, that no-one has done before, the crucial ones, where people with less experience, such as yourself, can really make the difference?
CA: There are definitely stages in the World Championship where you can see the guys have experience and know what they're doing. They come out first pass and do impressive times and it takes us a second pass to get up to that level and always a new rally will help, if you have a good feeling with the car. There's not so much difference but experience will go everywhere and just because it's a new road doesn't mean experience doesn't count. So always expect those guys to be right up there.
Q: So what is your plan -- is it a question of flat-out from the start or is it a question of building up the speed gradually.
CA: It's a bit like Mexico. If the car feels good, I'll push. And if it's not quite there, I'm not going to take any risks at this time of year. So until I get that proper feeling, a bit of caution. But if the car does everything I want in the first few corners, then that confidence can lead to good times but you never know. Let's wait till the first corner.
Q: Manfred, what sort of weather are you expecting on these stages? Obviously, as you know, last year there was a lot of rain but so far it seems to be quite dry. Do you have to be prepared for everything?
MS: Yes, I think we are very well prepared. I mean, the weather forecast is changing every two hours -- rain; no rain. At the moment, it says for Saturday a little rain. I think we are prepared. Anyway, in the recce, we saw it was raining all night and in the morning, the stage was dry. I think it will be more a dry rally than a wet rally.
Q: Also it's been foggy in the past. How do you feel about driving in the fog?
MS: Very nice. I remember Rally GB -- I like the rally. The fog can come -- no problem for me.
Q: Marcus, are you happy if the fog comes?
MG: No, it's not coming!
Q: How much of a difference does it make to you the fact that you come into this rally leading the Championship. Do you prefer to chase or be chased?
MG: It makes no difference. The only difference is I am first on the road. Otherwise I am not thinking so much about the Championship; just driving.
Q: Is being first on the road going to make a big difference?
MG: No, I don't think so. I hope not. We'll see tomorrow. In Mexico it was not so good but here it looks a bit cleaner. Today in the shakedown, it was getting better and better all the time but shakedown was very different from the rally, of course.