FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Rallye de France -- Tour de Corse Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference 20.10.2005 Present: Alex Bengue -- Skoda Roman Kresta -- Ford Gilles Panizzi -- Mitsubishi StÃ©phane Sarrazin -- Subaru Marcus GrÃ¶nholm -- ...
FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Rallye de France -- Tour de Corse
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
Alex Bengue -- Skoda
Roman Kresta -- Ford
Gilles Panizzi -- Mitsubishi
Stéphane Sarrazin -- Subaru
Marcus Grönholm -- Peugeot
Q: Welcome to both of you. Alex, Corsica is the event where people first noticed you two years ago. You set some very good times then...
AB: It's true that I made my first World Rally Car appearance in a WRC event in Corsica. Generally things went well, even though, unfortunately, I didn't make the finish. I particularly like this event. The roads are tight and quite bumpy, but you can get into a good rhythm. It's challenging and very enjoyable.
Q: Alex, your last rally in Germany ended, disappointingly, in retirement. How much more important does that make the forthcoming two rallies in Corsica and Spain?
AB: Germany was very disappointing because I retired early, which denied me a chance to gain valuable extra experience. That makes the next two events very important for me, but I feel good about Corsica and believe I can do well here.
Q: Thanks for the moment, Alex. Roman, is this a completely new event for you or have you done it before?
RK: It's not completely new. I was here in 2002, but for sure 95 per cent will be new. One stage I think goes in the opposite direction now, but I can remember the Sunday stages going in a similar way to 2002.
Q: Things have changed a lot since, then?
RK: Yeah it's completely different. For me it's now more difficult than it was in 2002.
Q: Back to you, Alex. You've got two events coming up in quick succession -- Corsica and Spain. How much does time spent in the car breed extra confidence?
AB: It's fantastic to do two rallies back to back like this. I hope it will allow me to build myself up, because I am still short of time at the wheel. I hope to settle down quickly during the first leg. If everything goes well here, it will give me a good platform on which to build in Spain, where I will be able to push to the limit and show my full potential.
Q: Roman, Germany was you first proper taste of the Ford Focus WRC on asphalt. What did you make of the car in those conditions?
RK: The Focus is definitely very good on Tarmac -- Germany was very good for us -- and I hope this event will be the same. It's a shame it was raining during the shakedown because Germany was a long time ago and we haven't done any testing. The second run today was good but we went very slowly on the first one because it was very slippery.
Q: What did you learn about the Focus on asphalt in Germany? What information will be useful to you here?
RK: The Focus is always very good on Tarmac, definitely. We saw that last year in Corsica and Catalonia, when Markko (Märtin) won.
Q: So do you think these two Tarmac rallies will be the strongest part of your season?
RK: I hope so, yes. I don't think.
Q: Do you prefer Tarmac to gravel or are you happy with both?
RK: For me Germany was very good, but Corsica and Germany are completely different -- this is much tighter and I prefer events that are faster, like Germany. But we will see.
Q: Alex, this is the time of year when teams and drivers begin to finalise their plans for the following season. Where do you see yourself in 2006?
AB: I don't know yet, but whatever happens I have to stay focused on the next two rallies. I think I still have time to influence what happens next season because I have only done two events so far this year -- effectively I'm still only halfway through my campaign. My goal is to do my best in the remaining rallies and we'll start looking ahead to 2006 after Catalonya. I would definitely like to do more events next year, though, and especially to build up my gravel experience.
Q: Roman, on the subject of next year, the new Focus is up and running already. You are certainly going to drive it in Australia, but do you think will we see you in it after that?
RK: (Laughs). I think so. It's difficult to say. I don't know. Many good drivers are waiting and everybody wants to go to Ford. It's very difficult to say.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: Roman, what kind of weather conditions would you prefer?
RK: For me it is better dry, but I think here there is no chance. Conditions are always changing here, which makes it very difficult.
Q: Welcome to both of you. Gilles, Corsica is one of "your" rallies. How confident do you feel in the car after your experience with it in Japan?
GP: The confidence for me is better than on gravel at the moment because driving on Tarmac is more natural. I have tested the car a little bit more and am starting with more confidence here.
Q: How much has the car improved since you last drove it on asphalt in Monte Carlo?
GP: It's difficult to talk about evolution and speed. For sure the car is getting better, but I will see tomorrow on the special stages.
Q: Stéphane, Corsica is also a special event for you -- it's one of the WRC events where you came to the front last year, when you finished sixth, just behind Petter (Solberg). How do you rate your chances of doing the same again, or even beating him?
SS: I don't know really. Last year it was a very good rally for me -- my second time in the world championship and the first time I scored points. I like this event. It's very technical and we have a good car. We tested for two days last week. We'll see, but it will be very difficult to beat Petter. He is very fast and has won once here before.
Q: How much do you feel you have improved as a rally driver since this time last year?
SS: I don't know, but I feel much more confident in my control of the car -- especially in the wet, when it's sliding, and on gravel. I have done three events on gravel this year and it's the first time in my career I've had to do that. But I now feel more confident and more at ease.
Q: A question for both of you. This is your home event -- the Rallye de France -- how important is it to succeed at home?
GP: For me this is already the best rally in the world on tarmac. I like to drive here in Corsica. I don't feel any more pressure than on other rallies -- I just feel a big, big pressure to drive in Corsica.
SS: It's a very good rally. We have many good, interesting tarmac rallies in France, but here it's more narrow and twisty -- more difficult for me, I think -- but it's very exciting. Also, it's better to be at home because we have more fans, more supporters. It's just positive pressure.
Q: Stéphane, you first made your name in circuit racing. How much does your experience on the track help you on an event like this -- or doesn't it?
SS: I started my career in racing and this is only my second season in rallying. Everybody is expecting a lot of me after last year's results, but I need to learn -- especially on gravel. You cannot be at the top after just three rallies on gravel, for example. You need to learn and do many tests. This year I have done two days of testing on gravel, so I start to understand, but it's very difficult and I know I can improve a lot. On tarmac things are more natural for me, the same as for Gilles, because racing is on tarmac. I have quite a big experience of this.
Q: Gilles, last time you drove a Mitsubishi on asphalt, in Monte Carlo, you finished on the podium. Do you think it's possible to do the same here?
GP: I always look at the top and for sure I will try to do the same here. I will push the maximum, go the maximum. I am looking for a podium and hope to bring the car there.
Q: Stéphane, what do you see as the Subaru's biggest strengths on asphalt. You drove the 2005 car in Germany. How do you think it will perform here in Corsica, which is much twistier?
SS: Since Germany we have tested the car and improved it a bit, but in tests you don't really know where you are because you are alone and have no comparisons. For sure I am confident in my car. I think it has more grip and is more neutral, but we'll see early tomorrow morning when everybody is running.
Q: To both of you, what is the situation with tyres. Has Pirelli got anything new for this event?
GP: Yes, we have new tyres. They are for dry conditions, though. We also have some evolutions for the wet, but I haven't tested them. My test was on a dry surface. I am confident about our new dry tyres -- but I don't know if the conditions will allow us to use them this weekend.
SS: The same as Gilles. Pirelli has developed some new tyres and made some improvements, but we will see how they compare to Michelin. Pirelli is pushing massively and has made some steps, so we'll see.
Q: You've never won a rally on asphalt, although you've come close. Is this something you feel is a serious omission from your CV?
MG: It would be nice to win on tarmac, but this year it will be difficult. We have improved the car and tyres a bit, but I feel I cannot match the speed of the Citroën.
Q: So you're coming here with the thought of finishing second?
MG: Third, I think. I'd be happy with third this time. Normally I wouldn't, but this time it would be OK.
Q: Stéphane and Gilles have been talking about the latest tyre evolutions from Pirelli. What do you think? Will they work in the wet or do you have to hope it will be dry?
MG: The last test was for the new dry tyres and it was a bit better. There is a small improvement, but we will see on the rally how much it helps. We don't yet know the weather, though, so maybe we can't use them.
Q: What the biggest difference between the tyres you might use now and those you ran last year?
MG: The feeling is closer to tyres I have used in the past, so that's a good step.
Q: If we talk briefly about your team-mate for this rally, Nicolas Bernardi. He's done some testing before but hasn't used the car in a rally. What advice have you given him -- or would you give him?
MG: We have not been talking so much, just a little bit about the tyres he's used in the French championship -- he has quite a good experience of the Tarmac tyres. Otherwise we haven't spoken so much. He just wants to do a good rally and I hope he can do that.
Q: Do you expect him to go well?
MG: I don't know exactly. He's quite new in the car and it is not an easy position for him, but hopefully he can do something good.
Q: Do you hope it will rain or that it stays dry?
MG: I'd like consistent weather -- if it's dry it's dry and you don't have to think about the tyres. Normally when we leave the service park here it's raining somewhere. The best, I think, is that it is either dry or wet.
Q: Would you like to talk about next year or would you prefer to talk some more about the weather?
MG: We can talk about the weather.
Q: So will you be disappointed if it's dry here?
MG: No, no...
Q: Any questions for Marcus?
MG: No? Well, thank you -- and where is Loeb? (who did not arrive in time at the conference) We'll have to wait until he comes. Hopefully it will be the same tomorrow.
2005 FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Mirco Baldacci -- Fiat
Luca Betti -- Renault
Q: Mirco, what do you think about the Tour of Corsica?
MB: It is my first time here and it looks as difficult as I expected. The most important thing is that conditions remain the same for everybody.
Q: Luca, this is your first time here too, isn't it?
LB: Absolutely. Like Mirco, I think the conditions look tricky, but if it rains it could upset the formbook a little bit and create a few surprises. We'll have to see what happens tomorrow.
Q: Mirco, what about the difficulty of coping with a two-wheel-drive car if the conditions are mixed?
MB: The four-wheel-drive cars tend to be more forgiving. The important thing with a Super 1600 is to be neat and tidy and not to stray too far off the line.
Q: Luca, what is the biggest difference between your Super 1600 contender, a Renault Clio, and Mirco's Fiat Punto?
LB: The main thing is that, unlike the factory-backed drivers, I only get to drive during the shakedowns and the rallies, so I have less time to adapt the car to my own preferences. In terms of performance characteristics, they are on the whole very similar.
Q: What are Fiat's future plans in rallying, Mirco? There is a Super 2000 car on the stocks.
MB: I have already tested it, but my main target is to concentrate on the final two rallies of this season and to start thinking about 2006 after Catalonia.
Q: How do you see 2006 shaping up, Luca?
LB: My future will be conditioned by how much of a budget I can raise. I'd like to stay in the world championship, either in Super 2000 or Group N, but it is too soon to know what I'll be doing.
Q: Mirco, how do you look back on your 2005 season as a whole?
MB: It hasn't been the best of years. We have had some unreliability issues, particularly on gravel events. Also, the Punto is at the end of its development curve and rival cars from Suzuki and Citroën are much newer. I expect competition to be close here in Corsica, although I'm not in a position to fight for the title.