WALES RALLY GB Pre-event FIA Press Conference 4 December 2008 Present: Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Valentino Rossi Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Andreas ...
WALES RALLY GB
Pre-event FIA Press Conference
4 December 2008
Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Andreas Aigner, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Juho Hanninen, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Matthew, Wales Rally GB is your home event, you are nominated to score manufacturer points and it marks the 50th WRC outing for the Stobart team; a big weekend lies ahead for you then?
MW: It's fantastic for Stobart to have achieved 50 world rallies. If you had thought back in 2004 that we would have done 50 events it would have looked a long way off. It is a big event for the team and for me it a home rally and carries a lot of pressure -- but it's no different from previous years in that respect.
Q: You have been there since the start of the Stobart team's journey in WRC. What does the future hold for the team? Will we see it continue in 2009?
MW: To get the news last night from the Ford side was a big help and yes, it is looking really promising and I hope we will be here next year. There are a few little things to sort out and I think at the minute it's looking good but it would help even more if we could get a good result here. But like I say it is looking strong so hopefully we will be there in 2009.
Q: This event has always been tough and this year we see the re-introduction of the classic stages in Mid Wales, Sweet Lamb and Myherin. What did you think of them when you did the reconnaissance? Is it going to be tougher than last year?
MW: If you look at the weather we had on the recce it is going to be tougher this year for sure! I think it's a shame that the conditions are bad up there because the stages look really nice. They are fast in places and it would have been really nice to drive them in normal conditions.
Q: You have tested for this event, how did that go?
MW: It was good. We did about 200 kilometres and even had Mikko (Hirvonen) up there on the Friday for a couple of hours, giving me a little tuition if you like! It was a great benefit as straight away you come to the shakedown and you're not using it as a test any more. You are making sure everything is okay so you can start the rally with a bit more of an advantage.
Q: Your best result at this event has been sixth; what is it going to take to better that this weekend?
MW: I'd like to! That would be the plan but conditions will make things a bit of a lottery but you never know what can happen -- everything can play into your hands or whatever but definitely we will try and it would be good for Stobart on it 50th rally to come away with some good points. Finish the year on a high if you like.
Q: Alongside you in the team this weekend is Valentino Rossi. What's it like having him on your team?
MW: Obviously it's fantastic. If you look at the Stobart side there are five cars in a row which looks pretty impressive. I think the whole atmosphere this weekend will be fantastic. There will be more hospitality than normal and more people so yes, there is massive interest and that is a brilliant thing for Stobart and I hope they can capitalise on it -- it stands us in good stead for next year.
Q: Looking back at your 2008 season are you pleased with what you have achieved this year? Is everything on track?
MW: Like Jari-Matti said, there have been highs and lows. Sweden was a definite high and okay, we didn't finish how we wanted but the speed was good. Jordan was another good rally so yes there have been some really good rallies but some really bad ones too.
Q: Good news for the team last night with Malcolm Wilson confirming that Ford will continue its participation within WRC.
J-ML: It was very good news to hear that Ford will continue in the WRC in these difficult economic times. Rallying is a very expensive sport and I want to continue in this business, so I was very happy to hear this news.
Q: You have contested this event six times previously and considering you are only 23 that's a pretty impressive record. You began your WRC career in Wales; does this event hold special memories for you?
J-ML: I started the first time here in 2002, the same time as Valentino (Rossi) actually and I remember we started and he beat me by a couple of seconds on the first stage! It is like a second home rally for me now, as I have more experience on this event than any other round of the WRC. Last year we had a really good speed and I hope we carry on from where we left off.
Q: It's been, by your own admission, a rollercoaster of a season for you; your first WRC win in Sweden then 'Black August' where noting seemed to go right. A win here would be a good end to the season -- are you chasing that this weekend?
J-ML: From Sweden it has been a long time! We had a few good results in the springtime but then in August I had three accidents in a row so confidence was really on the bottom. But we got back and second place in Japan boosted my confidence for sure. This is one of my favourite rallies and I hope we can fight for victory -- I am ready for it! I also know, though, that Petter wants to win this rally as much as me - and of course Mikko too! Nothing is easy. Q: You have of course the Manufacturers' Championship to think about, Ford ideally need to score maximum points here. How much pressure do you feel to help achieve that?
J-ML: The pressure is great. It is very important for the team to win the title but we have to think about Citroen who are in a stronger position than we are. But these conditions are very challenging and we will fight to the end, thinking more about the Championship than individual wins. When you are pushing maximum through the stages you always have to bear that in mind.
Q: Some of the classic Rally GB stages have returned this year. It's a long road section to get to them -- is it worth it when you get there?
J-ML: The last five years have had some very similar stages in Rally GB so it is nice to have something new and different. Those stages on Friday are fast, open and quite wide and I really like the character of the roads, but on the recce they were covered by two to three centimetres of snow. I don't know what it is like there now but still there will be ice patches in some places and it will be quite slippy. It will be difficult to find the grip in those stages.
Q: Some of the current WRC drivers haven't seen these new stages but you have, of course, back in 2002. Will that give you an advantage?
J-ML: In 2002 I did some national rallies in the Sweet Lamb area and I loved it but the stages are in a different way than when I last drove them.
Q: Petter, Wales Rally GB may not be your home event but for many people it is your event; your first WRC win was here in 2002 followed by the Championship title here the following year. In the grand scheme of things how does this rally rate for you?
PS: It's a very good rally -- actually incredible. I think we have a chance to be good here and fight for victory again. We did some good testing before the rally and we improved the car before Rally Japan also, and saw some stage wins there so it would be nice to get a victory here. It will be tough, very hard, but I am going to go absolutely mad on this rally to get a victory for the team and the mechanics who have worked so hard. We will have to see what will happen. The weather will play a big part on this event. We have more snow here than we have had in Sweden for the last couple of years and we had studded tyres there! We will see -- the first thing we have to remember is the safety.
Q: The new car debuted in Greece, the team have been developing it through the events and in Japan we seemed to see a step forward again in terms of performance. Is it ready to take its maiden win?
PS: Obviously it has been quite hard for everybody. We should have been faster and that's it. We can tell exactly where and why. A lot of things have been down to homologation and the car came early -- a lot of excuses, but now we just have to work hard at getting Subaru back on the top and fighting. But we have done some good things to the car while testing for this rally which should help with consistency in terms of fighting for stage wins.
Q: I believe the car has caught the attention of Royalty, with His Royal Highness Prince Phillip visiting Prodrive last week. How did that go?
PS: It was very fascinating and it was very nice for him to look at the David Richards museum. He was interested in all the technical things and it really opened his eyes I think to how advanced this sport is. It is good that people like that have an interest -- it is the same in Norway where the Royal family are interested in motorsport.
Q: The team has been through difficult times, but how difficult has it been to remain upbeat and positive?
PS: I have been very loyal to Subaru and I know I can get them back to the top again next year. Things have improved and we have been in good times and bad together. Unfortunately it's not been a great year for me but it can happen to anyone. That's how it is. I am looking positive and a lot of good things are coming now for the winter testing.
Q: Valentino, welcome back to the WRC. The last time we saw you in rally action was New Zealand in 2006, it has been a while! How much are you looking forward to this weekend?
VR: I am so happy to be here because it is a great rally and first of all I have to thank Ford and Stobart for this opportunity. I drove the car in the forest also with Mathew two weeks ago and it was good and I now have more experience with the car. I will try and get to the end this time and to get more experience.
Q: How did the recce go? Have you ever competed in conditions like we have here?
VR: The stages are beautiful -- a lot better that in 2002. They are flowing and the corners are faster and wider. For sure the weather conditions, especially with the one tyre rule, will give us a lot of problems with the ice and snow. I will have to go slower and try to control the car better.
Q: You finished just outside the top ten in New Zealand but the last time you competed here it was an early retirement for you. What are you hoping for here?
VR: In 2002 here I made a mistake in the second stage but in New Zealand I was clever and started slower and was able to make some good times towards the end and I think I will be like this. I will learn the feeling in the car and hope that the good times will start to come stage by stage.
Q: How passionate are you about rallying? Could we see you in the WRC full time?
VR: I have a great passion for it, because after my father had finished racing bikes he started with rallying. I started my career with go-karts before I went for bikes, but the passion remains very high for cars. I have had more experience on this car and realise that to understand the car is very important. I am used to racing on the track where you can get used to getting the perfect line, but here it is different. You have to listen to the co-driver and it is so important to get the right notes in the recce, so I think this is the hardest part of this sport -- it's harder than racing a bike on a track. I have just signed for Yamaha for another two seasons, but after that we will see. I am in a good moment in my career right now so after two years I will decide. Maybe it is possible in the future but I am not sure at my level it will be possible.
Q: I remember when you competed here in 2002 the only thing you didn't really like was the alarm clock going off so early in the morning! We have some really early starts here this time around, are you prepared for that?
VR: It is like being back at school! I like to sleep a little bit more but I know this is a difficult week for me with a lot of early morning stages - but I am ready.
Q: How crucial is getting a result in this event when you haven't done many rallies this season? Which is the rally you would most like to do?
VR: I would really like to do a Tarmac rally -- like Corsica perhaps. For me now it is impossible because it is in the middle of my racing season. I have a lot less pressure to get a result here so I have a little advantage, but it is not important to win, it is more important to learn the car and get more experience in order to remain at this level.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Andreas, it's been a great season for you but now you go into the final round six points behind Juho. Even if you win the event Juho could still take the title; what is your plan for the weekend?
AA: The situation at the moment was my own fault so the only thing I can do is to be in the top three to have a possible shot at the title. The only thing I can do is to push and see what happens.
Q: You didn't compete in Japan and obviously had to watch from the sidelines to see how Juho would do. What did that feel like?
AA: It was not easy! At the start I decided to go to sleep and not watch but in the end I was on the computer all night and watched the event live on wrc.com! There was nothing I could do so I just have to do my best here.
Q: The last time we saw you in competition was in New Zealand which was in September, quite a while ago. Will you be a bit rusty this weekend?!
AA: This is the first rally for a while. We did a two day test in Austria and the confidence is starting to come back. But a rally is so different from a test and there will be some surprises tomorrow, that's for sure.
Q: The weather could make it very difficult this weekend, with possible ice and fog. How confident are you at driving in those conditions?
AA: I think for me it is good when it is wet and slippy. It was like that in Argentina and I was good. But these weather conditions are very hard because when the fog is coming some drivers get it and some don't. The conditions change so quickly. Like Juho said it is difficult with remote servicing when you can only carry so much spare parts.
Q: And what of next year? Is anything sorted for 2009?
AA: For the moment I don't know and at the moment I am fully concentrating on Rally GB. I am not even thinking of winning the Championship this weekend but if I do I hope it helps for the future.
Q: What have your highlights been this year?
AA: For me all three wins are the highlights. I made a few mistakes in Sweden and New Zealand but that's the difference between Juho and me. When he made mistakes he came again in the points in the SupeRally system -- and that has been the biggest difference in our teams.
Q: Juho, you have the advantage points wise going into this event, leading Andreas by six. You don't have to win this event to be crowned Champion, what will be your approach this weekend?
JH: It depends a lot on Aigner's speed and what he will do on the Friday and Saturday. We will start normally and maybe it will be better like that.
Q: You have had more recent outings in the car the Andreas and better results at this event in previous years. Does that make you feel a bit more confident?
JH: I am quite confident now. We have a good set up in the car and in Japan we drove in very slippy conditions and we did that rally with very few mistakes, so I am hoping we can drive like that over here.
Q: For this year Wales has brought back some classic stages but some long road sections to get to them and just a remote service. You will have to be cautious maybe as to how you handle your car. With a remote service there's not a lot you can do if you have a big problem?
JH: Exactly. A whole day of long stages with only 15 minutes remote service is a big pressure. We have quite a lot of spare parts in the car because the stages are quite demanding with the ice. You cannot make any mistakes. It will be a long and demanding day. I like the route and especially the stages tomorrow as they are quite fast.
Q: How much would it mean to you to be crowned Champion this weekend?
JH: Good question! I don't know. I am not thinking about that yet -- we will see.
Q: We hear the conditions on the stages are the toughest drivers have seen for many years, what do you think?
JH: The recce was very hard with so much snow and ice on the stages. I am hoping it will have melted a little bit if there is still ice anything could happen.
Q: What have your highlights been this year?
JH: For me it was Rally Finland. During the whole event I was wanting to win the rally but not make mistakes and losing points. In the end I managed to win, so for me that was the highlight.
Q: What about next year? What are your plans?
JH: We will see. There is a long time before the new season so we will see what happens. I hope that I will drive something.