FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Supermag Rally Italia - Sardinia FIA Pre-event Press Conference Thursday 28 April 2005 Present: Joan Sureda - Skoda Jost Capito - Ford Gigi Galli - Mitsubishi Francois Duval - Citroen Marcus Gronholm - Peugeot Petter...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Supermag Rally Italia - Sardinia
FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday 28 April 2005
Joan Sureda - Skoda
Jost Capito - Ford
Gigi Galli - Mitsubishi
Francois Duval - Citroen
Marcus Gronholm - Peugeot
Petter Solberg - Subaru
Q: Hello Jost. You are here with four cars, while back at base the team is working on the all-new Focus for 2006. How is progress with the new car and when do you expect to run it? Do you think it will have a debut before the end of the year?
JC: It's getting well developed. We concentrate very much on design and CAD to get this very detailed, so we don't have to re-design. We are very close to producing and manufacturing the first parts. We expect to run it in September or October. It's too early to say when we will run this year. We want a proper development programme and we have to do this before we decide about a rally. In principle it's good to have rallies before WRC. This allows us experience in competition, so fingers crossed we can do some rallies before next year.
Q: Welcome Joan. It is the European debut of the 2005 Skoda Fabia WRC here in Sardinia. How do you rate the performance of the car? Are there areas where it can still improve?
JS: The first time in Mexico we started with the new evolution with many improvements -- the car is a little bit lighter and with some new aerodynamics. We didn't do a big step with any specific area, we have some way to go in some small places. But with this step, we are on the way with the Fabia. There is not a specific area for a big step, but in many areas: the suspension maybe the engine, we can do a little bit. Not a big step, but in a few small details we can make a success with the Fabia.
Q: Sardinia is also a round of the Junior World Rally Championship, but there is no Super 1600 Fiesta here. When do you think we will see it out on a JWRC round again and what are thew latest developments with the car?
JC: At the end of last year the S1600 programme was handed to M-Sport. The car was developed further. The car was homologated on April 1 and did a rally in Turkey the week after. Now we have the full homologation and the teams who have the car from last year have the uprated parts. I hope we will see the car on JWRC soon, but at the same time we want to see it more in national championships -- it's well developed for those.
Q: Skoda has recently announced a three-car line-up for the Acropolis Rally. Are there any othere events when you anticipate running three cars? There has been some speculation that Alex Bengue may get his chance on gravel -- can you tell us anything about that?
JS: Well, we decide this week we will run three cars in Acropolis. The main reason is that in Acoipoilis we think we can get more chance -- this is why we take Jani Paasonen. Another reason is that the company has a big interest there -- this is intersting for Skoda. Always there is plenty of possibilities with all our drivers. We will try to find a programme in France for Alex. We already made conversations with them, if they can find the budget we will make one national rally with Alex in France.
Q: Some people said that Ford's driver line-up was a brave choice at the start of the year. Now that a quarter of the season has passed, what are your thoughts on the decision? Will Ford be looking for new drivers at the end of the season?
JC: We are still very happy with the decision. We had fantastic start, much better than we expected. We were leading both championships after the second round. On the last two rallies we had two crashed cars, but we are getting back to usual. If the two drivers develop the way we expect and the way we are seeing them develop, they will be our future. At the moment we are happy with progress, we have options next year, but if our current drivers take their chances then we have a great line-up for the new car.
Q: There have been some changes to the rally route here in Sardinia, designed to make it more fast and flowing. These are the sorts of conditions the new Fabia has concentrated on in terms of improvement: how competitive do you expect the car to be?
JS: Now in Sardinia to Greece we feel, with the test we have done, we will be more competitive in these kind of stages. We prefer narrow gravel stages than fast ones. We feel we have one place from fourth to sixth on this kind of event. We must fight to be as close as we can to the podium.
Q: Francois, New Zealand was an important result for you -- first points of the year and for Citroen. How much does this boost your confidence here in Sardinia?
FD: I am very confident and sure NZ was a very good result for Citroen and for me. I was very confident on the the first three rallies that the time is good. But then I had a good road position in New Zealand. The Citroen worked well in New Zealand. It worked for me.
Q: Gigi, everybody remembers your amazing drive to sixth place in a Group N car here last year. What are your objectives for this year? Is it possible to be on the podium?
GG: So, we start this season very good and our plan is going well. If I have to say my dream in front to my people, to my fan, to that very passionate italian -- I would like to win, but we have to stay with the foot in the ground to know there is still a lot of work to do. We are quite happyt about the car, it improves all the time. Just for now we have a new damper set-up, the shock absorbers, okay we know there is still a lot to do. My dream is to do the rally and really focus on our goal and to stay away from the mistakes. It's very diffciult, very narrow, but we will try to do our best.
Q: Your team-mate Sebastien Loeb's victory in New Zealand proved the Xsara can be competitive on fast gravel. On this rally, everybody has more or less the same experience -- do you think you can challenge for victory?
FD: For me it's not my purpose, I have to stay on the road -- that's very important for Citroen. I don't like this rally. It's very narrow with lots of stones. I prefer to finish in the top five. Sure New Zealand went very well. Sebastien won, but here it is more slippery. With the Xsara is can be difficult to keep the grip in the rear; a lot of time the car oversteers, but otherwise it is very good.
Q: You are here in front of your home crowd. What does that mean to you and how much of a differnce does it make?
GG: Just for me, the first time I am really excited about that. I have one dream starting 15 years ago and after that I cannot say any more. I hope to be able to give some emotion to my people and to italian fans because this is what they want.
Q: You are coming up to a series of rallies which you really enjoy and have some experience of. Do you think this is where your challenge can really start? In New Zealand you said you were driving safely for a finish, will you push harder in Sardinia?
FD: Not pushing. I prefer to stay on the roads. This rally is really, really difficult, it's too much stone and easy to make a mistake. No, for me it's really important to finish the rally. For me and for Citroen it's really important to go up in the championship.
Q: In your last two rallies, Sweden and New Zealand, you were able to be very quick, but you had one or two problems with the car. What has been done to solve these reliability issues?
GG: So, I think if you work, something can happen. Maybe we were a bit unlucky, both times it was very small things which gave us a big penalty. This is the right time that if something has to happen, it happen now. Now we have to understand better how the car is improving. It's not important for me, it's more important for us to know what happened and to look forward all the time and to be ready in three months.
Q: Petter, you start this raly first on the road by virtue of a one-point lead in the championship. Do you think being first on the road will be a problem here? Is loose gravel an issue?
PS: Nothing is actually a problem. You just have to deal with it best as possible. You can't complain about leading the championship. You have to make the right set-up and tyre choice to make the best of being first on the road. I think it will be good fun.
Q: Hello Marcus. Some drivers criticised the route last year, saying it was too slow and twisty. This year it's been changed to be wider and faster, what do you think of these changes?
MG: Okay, not really much for me. They are still very slow and on top of this they are worse than last year -- but that's because of the rain. The second pass through will be really rough.
Q: Last year Sardinia was the scene of one of your most dominant victories. You were more than 10 seconds faster than anybody on the first stage (PS :16 actually!) and you went on to win by more than two minutes. How good are your chances of doing the same again this time?
PS: Obviously it will be much tougher this year. Maybe it came like a suprise, I don';t think it will happen twice. I know Marcus quite well, but we have to try. There are lots of rocks and to roads are rutted. We have to be a little cautions, it's more important to get to the finish. A lot will happen on this rally, but it's not going to happen to me.
Q: It's been your most consistent start to the championship for a while -- with a series of second places. How impatient do you feel to start winning? Is this likely to be the place, you were on the podium last year...
MG: Yes I want to win. But if we can't win, we are happy with second. Not really happy with second, second is second and there's always somebody in front. I hope this is our time to win, we still have time this season. But Petter is so confident now, we will see tomorrow.
Q: There has been a lot of speculation about the weather here. Which sort of conditions do you think will suit you, your car and your tyres the best?
PS: It doesn't matter. The car and tyre is perfect on every type of condition.
Q: What about you, Marcus?
MG: Yes, the same. But maybe, for tyres, it's better if we have some small rain. It's quite dry now. But still it could be okay, it's quite soft -- it can be good for Pirelli.
Q: It's an incredibly close fight for the championship -- on all the recent rallies the times have all been very close and your lead is not so big. Do you think it will stay like this all year? Seb and Marcus have shown the strongest pace all year, but who else do you think can challenge for the title?
PS: It's been a hell of a push on every single rally. You know Marcus and Sebastien, they will never give up the fight. It seems like Markko Martin found some speed in New Zealand and Duval is getting his confidence back and Chris Atkinson, we've seen him surprising with the speed. Then Galli is on his way up. There's a lot happening with all the teams pushing all the time. It's really coming on a high level now, it will be good for the championship for the rest of the year. He (Marcus) is one of them and Loeb, very consistent, always there. He is very big, they're the main guys we have to think about first of all.
Q: Marcus, Peugeot withdraw from the championship at the end of the year. Are you already thinking about 2006? There has been speculation linking you with other teams, are you close to a deal with anybody?
MG: No, not yet. There's still a long way to go this season. The talks will start later on. For now I have no idea.