Present: Petter Solberg, Citroen Junior Team Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Armindo Araujo, FIA Production Car World Rally ...
Petter Solberg, Citroen Junior Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Matthew Wilson, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Armindo Araujo, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Patrik Flodin, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Petter, before we talk about this event let's look back to Spain because it was the first time you competed with the Citroen C4 and you proclaimed that 'you were back'. I take it from that you were happy with the car's performance?
PS: It's nice to be in a car where everything is new and everything works like it should. So yes, I am here to fight.
Q: You have really left your mark on this event, winning it four times previously. Do you believe that you have the right machinery to win it now?
PS: The car is working good, and I hope I don't need eight stages to be properly into the rhythm like in Spain, but it works good and the feeling in the wet and muddy conditions today was good. I hope to fight with these guys tomorrow. I think they have their own plan to attack so I have to be awake tomorrow morning, that's for sure.
Q: You have tested ahead of this event; how did it go?
PS: The stages are very good out there. It's quite hard and very slippery in places in shakedown. It will be very fast.
Q: And what about Petter Solberg in 2010? We hear many rumours of you heading a two- car team next year? What's the reality?
PS: Well I can tell you exactly like it is: we have almost half of the budget for next year, but if you can't get everything then there is no point to drive. I am looking to fight for the Championship next year and if I can't do that then the guys (sponsors) won't put in the money. It's quite simple. You need support from the manufacturers to have a chance. I was hoping to have it together by now but there is no stress involved and it takes a long time. If there's stress involved then maybe it can happen a little quicker like it did this year. We will see. I have been away from my son for six or seven weeks now and have seen him for just one day -- I have been working behind the scenes, I can tell you! I've been trying hard. The plan I have is for my car first of all, and if the second car is a Super 2000 car with another driver it can help everybody's budget and we share the mechanics. It can only help to get two cars, but I think one WRC car is enough!
Q: In 2003 you battled for the Championship title here in Wales and won, it was a final round thriller. This year it's between just Mikko and Sebastien; will we see you battling for the Championship next year?
PS: It's been good this year and I have enjoyed the whole season. But I have to get things together now and push on for next year's Championship. I want something more now for next year and want to battle for the World Championship. Hopefully we can get three or four drivers battling for the Championship instead of just two. If we get everything together we make a big impact next year and will be fighting, definitely.
Q: You have five world titles to your name, winning for the first in 2004. Is the pursuit of the sixth title any different a feeling from the first?
SL: For sure it's a different situation from when I won my first Championship title because it was not down to the last rally and it wasn't the same pressure. But OK, it is very exciting to arrive here like this. We have prepared well and the car is OK and the recce has been OK so we will see tomorrow.
Q: Team boss Olivier Quesnel has said that he believes you have an advantage because you have won five titles and have 53 rally wins under your belt. Do you agree?
SL: I know Mikko is very fast on nearly every World Rally now so it will be very tricky to drive flat out here in these conditions all the way through with no mistakes. I will try my best but it is really difficult today to know who will win on Sunday.
Q: Neither of you can make mistakes this weekend and I can imagine the pressure is intense with everything resting on the result of this one event. How do you handle that pressure?
SL: I just try to take this rally like any other. The result is very important and one of us will be happy on Sunday, and one of us will be disappointed. But that's the way it is. I have five world titles and I am hoping for a sixth one, but we will see.
Q: What will be your approach on Friday?
SL: You don't really have a choice when you are in front of Mikko. You have to push on the limit straight away.
Q: There have been a lot of questions over whether we will see you compete in the final F1 event this year, but I understand that will not happen as you have not qualified for a super licence to race -- are you disappointed?
SL: Not really, no. For sure it would have been a pleasure to go there and take part in something completely new. It was never a priority though. For me it was number one to win the World Rally Championship and anything else was a bonus. I'm sure there will be other interesting things to do in the future.
Q: Mikko, you lead the Championship coming into the final event here in Wales, how are you feeling? Have the nerves set in yet?
MH: I just can't wait to get started tomorrow. I think I need to go to a doctor and check my head because I am not panicking at all. Something must be wrong up there!
Q: You headed to the Cambrian Rally in North Wales last weekend, was it good to get out into some Welsh forests ahead of this event?
MH: For sure it didn't do any harm. It was good to get out and get a good feeling for how the car handles in these conditions and do some kilometres where I don't know the roads so well. I really got a feeling for the car and am confident with it. So from that point it served its purpose. We had a good weekend and it went fine and it helped me get the speed for what I need tomorrow.
Q: What will be the approach this weekend? Your co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen has said 'it's all or nothing now' -- is that how you feel too?
MH: That's the only way it can be now. It is the last rally of the Championship with only one point between us so there is nothing else to do!
Q: Every driver wants to be a World Champion, have you allowed yourself to visualise that or are you just trying to focus on the job in hand?
MH: For sure it has been on my mind but then again when people say the first world title will change your life I say well I haven't won it yet. There are still three days to go and then we will know better.
Q: You are first on the road as you lead the Championship, and the weather seems to be working in your favour. Have you done a rain dance before this event?
MH: It is easier than if it was fully dry. But then again it wouldn't be Rally GB if we didn't have muddy and slippy conditions. It has been so dry for so long here, that now we have rain it's really hard. I think it's not going to be as muddy and slippy than it normally has been. We will see tomorrow how it is.
Q: Matthew, Rally GB marks your home event so you are probably more at ease with these weather conditions. How tricky will it be out there this weekend after the rain we have had and the rain we expect to fall during the event?
MW: Rain is normal for Wales though, and coming from Cumbria I'm used to it!
Q: You were fifth in Cyprus, Argentina and Poland - your best results this season. Can you take away a top five position here in Wales and is that the aim?
MW: Like Petter said we will have to be awake in the morning because there will obviously be three guys here going flat out, but also you've got Dani (Sordo) and Jari-Matti (Latvala) who have nothing to lose so they can go flat out too. There will be a lot of people pretty much on the limit so it's going to be an interesting morning tomorrow.
Q: The rally ventures up to Mid-Wales again this year and the classic stages of Hafren, Myherin and Sweet Lamb. What makes these stages worth the journey?
MW: Like Petter said, the surface up in the north is a lot harder and today it was really muddy on shakedown. I don't think we will see it as bad on the actual rally so long as it doesn't rain too hard tomorrow. Hopefully it should be good conditions.
Q: What are your thoughts on your performance across the season?
MW: I have made good progress, with some definite high points and some low points throughout the year but I have made some good steps and hopefully we can finish off the year well here and have a good result on our home event, so that's part of the plan.
Q: What about the 2010 season, will we see you return to the WRC and if so what is the objective?
MW: We are working on it at the minute, although nothing is confirmed yet but we hope to be back in a WRC car with some Stobart backing and carrying on like we have been for the last couple of years. We will keep on improving and having upped the pace this year and found some more speed we want to do the same next year and string some real results together.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Q: Wales as a venue for the rally is under threat. What do the drivers make of Wales, the route, and of Cardiff itself. Would you like to see the rally stay in Wales in the future?
SL: For me it has always been a nice rally. The stages are very interesting and very special compared to other events. For me I am happy to come here. I always like this rally and if it moves, I don't know where to, I will go where it goes -- that's not my decision.
MH: The rally has a long tradition in Cardiff and for as long as I have been in the WRC it has always been based here. For sure it would be good to see some new stages in other places but then again saying that it has always been good here -- I have nothing bad to say about it.
MW: I think Wales has done a good job but I think in some ways it would be nice to see stages in another part of the country. I think Kielder or somewhere like that, there is fantastic scope. There are so many roads and such an amount of mileage you could have. But I definitely can't fault what this rally's done -- it's always been a good event and hopefully it will be another good event this year. But I think it wouldn't do any harm to try somewhere new.
PS: It's been good for many years. The service area is very difficult for the fans this year which is the only minus. I think it should have been more together in one place, to get the atmosphere going. But the rally stages themselves are very good.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Q: Armindo, firstly we can congratulate you on becoming the PWRC Champion* for 2009!
AA: It is a fantastic feeling. We worked hard this year to win the Championship. I want to say one big thank you to Ralliart Italy because they gave me a big support this year. It was very hard because the other competitors were very strong. There were big fights in all the events but in the end we win and we are very happy.
Q: Did you do anything special at home to celebrate?
AA: Of course, a big party with my friends and family. I have worked very hard to be Champion and last week it was a dream come true for me.
Q: You have had a very consistent season and you picked up a win at your home event in Portugal; how confident do you feel of a repeat of that on the forest stages in Wales?
AA: We learned a lot in the last two years and to make a good result in this Championship you have to finish all the events and I think we worked very well through the year. We finished all the events, most part on the podium, and it was a good year for us with no real problems, fighting all the time for the victories and in the end this Championship victory is very good for our team and for the future.
Q: What have you thought of the stages from what you have seen on the recce? Will they suit you?
AA: It is a very difficult rally because of the muddy and slippery conditions. If the conditions get worse it will be better for the Group Ns but the Super 2000 is one step better than us and it will be very difficult for us in Group N to fight with them. The recce went well and on the Monday test. Now that the Championship is decided I can concentrate on giving information and help Ralliart Italy about the new Evo X. With a new car it is always difficult but I am very confident.
Q: What do you plan to do for next season? How much do you think winning the Championship will help you secure a deal for next year?
AA: I don't know yet. Everything is up in the air with the sponsors. Of course, the Super 2000 is a very good car for the PWRC but the cost is very high compared with Group N. I don't know what is possible for the future but I am very happy with this team.
Q: Patrik, you took the win here in PWRC last year but that was in December, with some ice and snow thrown in -- very different conditions this year!
PF: The rain is OK for me this year, I really like this rally and when it is slippery and difficult I think I will do well.
Q: You've tested and you've recced. Everything good?
PF: The test went well and everything was good. We just changed a few small things to the car which has helped and I am really looking forward now to going full throttle.
Q: Your best result this season was fourth in Italy -- what have you thought of your season?
PF: This year wasn't what I thought it should be and it was already wrong in Norway. I should have gone for just a podium there but I went for a victory instead and went off and lost a lot of important points. The same in Portugal; I was trying to make a good result there as well and made a stupid mistake with my notes and mistook a slow corner for a fast one and went off. In Italy we started well but had some problems with a driveshaft and lost three minutes and finished fourth. Greece was also difficult and no good at all -- too rough and too many stones for me so I couldn't find the speed. So now we are trying to finish this season with a nice result.
Q: You had a big fight with Patrik Sandell last year, could we see a repeat of that?
PF: I think I will definitely be trying for a win, maybe it will be difficult to follow Sandell if it's raining but we will see.
Q: And what of next year? Will we see you return in PWRC?
PF: We are working on it and at the moment trying to get sponsors. There is a long way to go but the plan is to do Super 2000 or Production next year. That's all I can say.
Q: How much are you both watching the WRC Championship fight this weekend?
PF: I will watch for sure and I cross my fingers for Mikko
AA: It is difficult to say, so I'd say it's 50/50
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
Martin Holmes Rally, GB
Q: This is the final rally in the PWRC with the 32mm restrictor. Next year we have 33mm. Will it make it fairer between the two types (Group N/Super 2000) of car?
PF: The gap will still be there.
AA: I agree. The gap in the weight is too much and Super 2000 is always better.
Q: Wouldn't it be better just to have Group N cars in the PWRC as the Super 2000s have the WRC Cup?
PF: I think so, because now everybody wants to go in Super 2000. It is cheaper to be in Production.
AA: My opinion is one Championship for Group N and one for Super 2000. To mix these two types of cars is not fair because we are fighting a completely different car all the way and it is more or less impossible. If you look at the stage times you can see the difference in the two cars.
* Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA