Rally Portugal: Pre-event press conference

RALLY DE PORTUGAL Pre-event Press Conference Thursday 2 April Present: Marcus Gronholm, Prodrive Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally ...

Rally Portugal: Pre-event press conference

Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday 2 April

Marcus Gronholm, Prodrive
Petter Solberg, Petter Solberg World Rally Team
Sebastien Loeb, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Armindo Araujo, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Patrik Flodin, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Hans Weijs, FIA Junior World Rally Championship
Luca Griotti, FIA Junior World Rally Championship

Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.

Q: Marcus, welcome back to the WRC. It's been nearly a year and a half since we saw you behind the wheel of a world rally car; how does it feel to be back?

MG: It feels quite okay. I didn't do much rallying or testing. It's a little bit new for me and the car as well. We're here and tomorrow we start.

Q: You were here last year in the 'zero' car; will that help you?

MG: Okay, a few stages are the same and new for the others, but okay, I don't know if it helps.

Q: You will be driving the 2008 Subaru Impreza prepared by Prodrive; what are your thoughts so far on the car -- how competitive is it?

MG: I have no idea! We'll see tomorrow. We have done a few changes and Prodrive did some before. In the end it felt quite okay.

Q: Physical fitness is of prime importance, have you been keeping yourself in shape since you left the WRC, or have you had to prepare to be ready to come here?

MG: In fact I haven't done so much for the last couple of weeks because I was sick. Before that I was in the best form ever because I was training for a ski marathon, which I could not then compete in. I have not done so much training recently, but it's not a problem.

Q: Will this just be a one-off appearance or do you want to come back to the WRC on a more permanent basis?

MG: For the moment, there are no plans. Just this weekend and then we'll see. I'll tell you on Sunday...

Q: What made you come back?

MG: It was a long discussion with Prodrive to do something and finally I was weak and I said yes. And okay, I wanted to drive a little bit.

Q: You have spent the last year and a half on the outside looking in, what has it been like?

MG: Some rallies it has been really nice to be at home and then on some others it would be nice to be at the rally. I follow some rallies. There are not so many teams left, that's not so good for the rally sport. I hope it will start getting better.

Q: Have you missed it?

MG: I missed it from time to time, not the travelling, but sometimes to drive and have the feeling. It's not easy not to compete after 20 years.

Q: Petter, after a great result in Cyprus I hear you had no time to celebrate as you were ill -- are you fully recovered now?

PS: Not really. I was in bed for one and a half weeks. I was hoping for a big party in Cyprus, but that ended two hours after the finish. I got some tests back and I have been getting better.

Q: I hear you have new dampers for this rally; how much of a difference have you noticed so far? And is a podium achievable here?

PS: We tried a different set-up this morning but I was not so happy. We went back to Cyprus [set-up] and it worked, but with the new dampers we should have had them in Cyprus. It's a different rally to Cyprus, I can't say we'll be as competitive [as Cyprus], but we'll see.

Q: You've recently tested an F1 car, how was that? And also you have decided against competing at Le Mans and in the series, why is that?

PS: That was great. We did the Le Mans test, but rallying is quite good fun. Maybe we have the chance to do it [Le Mans], we will see. The F1 thing was a brand new experience; it was good to have driven the Le Mans car in preparation for the Ferrari. The acceleration up to fourth gear was incredible, it gave you one hell of a kick -- and the braking points were very interesting as well. After that, you got used to it, though. I attacked properly and then I broke the gearbox, that's how it is. I will have another go one or maybe two times this season. Many things are good fun, but rallying is a little bit special, as Sebastien [Loeb] would know.

Q: Do you agree Seb?

SL: It's when you test something new, it's always exciting. The feeling on the track is not the same. I couldn't have as much fun as I have with my rally car here. But when you have the new feeling, it's quite different.

Q: What is it like watching Marcus compete in a car that you made your own for so many years?

PS: It's good fun to see him again. He has been waiting to get back. For him to be at home is not a good idea. It is a good car and they have done a lot of things to make it better. I hope they do well. I would like to be in a Subaru still, but that's how it is. It's going to be a great week.

Q: It was confirmed after Cyprus that from 2011 we will see S2000 based cars become the new World Rally Car. What do you think of the decision?

PS: Well, first of all, you have to look where are the most cars? Which manufacturers have the cars now? That's the main thing: getting the class with the most cars into the Championship. We have to build it with the manufacturers. Maybe we can have the turbo later. That's not the main things right now. We need to get the drivers in the cars and make the show and make the package of the show. It's a brilliant idea. There are just two manufacturers now; it's difficult to survive on that. Everybody wants the proper turbo and everything, but things change, we need to get back to basics. We are here for competition, attacking and good fun for spectators. That's what we have to do, then it's easy to get the seat -- there aren't many now.

Q: Sebastien, you have a new homologation of the Citroen C4 for this event with a few improvements which we will talk about in a moment. Firstly though tell me about the coffee cup holder [April Fool]! And what about the other improvements to the car?

SL: The main evolution we have, I didn't want to talk about it... I wasn't fastest in the shakedown, but it worked quite well for me with the coffee cup...! Seriously, we have something on the engine and a bit on the rear suspension. There is also something on the gearbox. The feeling with the car was good in the morning but I don't think it makes that big difference. We are on a level where it's difficult to make it much better. The feeling was good in the morning. We will see tomorrow.

Q: You won this event in 2007; this time around just over 50% of the stages are new, what do you think of the stages?

SL: For me the stages are really nice and very interesting also. It's difficult; I didn't remember it was so difficult to make the notes - so many crests and hidden corners. It's technical and on the driving side it won't be easy.

Q: You set the benchmark for the other drivers in terms of performance but what do you set yourself against?

SL: The other drivers. To try and be the fastest, to prepare as well as possible. We will see. I have had a great start to the year, winning the first three. Maybe it can be different now, first on the road, the conditions can be tricky. In Cyprus it was raining and not so much of a problem [for me to be] first on the road, here it could be different so we will see.

Q: You will be first on the road here, from what you have seen how difficult will that be? What about the second passes through -- with a healthy amount of competitors what do you think the stages will be like?

SL: Sometimes the second pass it is not perfect to be first on the road, sometimes you need to feel for the grip when they have not been sideways like us. We will go as fast as we can and see what happens.

Q: There is already talk of next year's calendar and most notably the Monte Carlo Rally. How important is that event to the WRC?

SL: It was the most famous and oldest of the WRC and finally, it's not in our calendar [this year]. It's important and for me, one of my favourites. It was, kind of, one of my three home rallies, with Corsica and Germany. And, of course, it was important for the French fans. For the rallying in France it's not good. I hope the calendar will change next year.

Q: Jari-Matti, there have been highs and lows already this season; a podium in Norway but mistakes that have led to huge time losses in Ireland and Cyprus. Is it a case of over exuberance?

J-ML: Yeah, I said at the start of the season I wanted to improve my consistency. That has not happened. The speed has always been there. I know how it looks and I feel stupid with mistakes. But it's not so simple when you fight with these guys. I have tried to push too hard and in Cyprus when we went off I had a little problem with the notes -- we have tried to improve that area with my co-driver. In the reading of the notes he is going to try and wake me up when I come from the fast places into the slow sections. This is where the mistakes have been coming.

Q: Is your co-driver going to shout at you?

J-ML: The idea is for Miikka to be more aggressive to wake me up. The other co-drivers are changing their tone and we try to increase this to find a solution which will help me.

Q: We know you put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform but now the weight also comes from the expectation and need from your team to start scoring consistently. Can you be the strong second driver they require?

J-ML: Basically, I know some people might have doubts, but I believe I can be the strong second car and I can build my self-confidence up and bring the points. That's why I'm here. I need to believe that I can turn a new page. That's what we need to do to fight Citroen. Individually, I'm quite a long way away already, but we need to fight with Citroen and I believe I can climb up.

Q: Malcolm Wilson has compared you to Ari Vatanen in his early years -- a great complement when you consider he became World Champion!

J-ML: It's kind of like an honour. I remember Ari in the old days, he had some mishaps and I start to recognise the same elements between Ari and I in the past. After that, though, he was able to do the experience and then build the good solid pace and be consistent. I'm sure I can do that as well.

Q: The team have upgraded the engine for this event -- is there a noticeable difference?

J-ML: This morning, at the shakedown, the second time through I really felt good with the car. The engineering is a bit different. We used to have a water pump from the belt, but now it's electric and a lighter flywheel -- it felt good, but like Sebastien said earlier, these cars are at this level. It's so difficult to do big steps. I felt good, I can say that.

Q: You are surrounded by World Champions at the moment, can you see yourself becoming one of them?

J-ML: I work on myself at the level I'm at and that's it.


Q: Armindo, you come to your home event after an incredibly encouraging performance in Cyprus. Here you get the chance to perform for the home crowd -- what is that like?

AA: I'm very happy with the start. I make a very good result in Norway and Cyprus. Here is my race. All my fans and sponsors are here. I want a good result, but my target is the P-WRC. I want points in all of the rallies. I don't want more pressure from here. Of course Portugal loves motorsport. But like I said, I need to make my own rally and put these pressures aside and focus on my times and listen to my co-driver. I need to finish the rally with a lot of points,

Q: Do you like the stages here?

AA: The stages are very nice, with a lot of crests. But, it's easy to make a mistake on these fast stages. It's a very nice rally.

Q: You certainly showed your pace in Cyprus, can you be a contender this year for the title?

AA: I will say to you what I say to my sponsors: I say we will win. To take a good result we need points on all of the events. We don't need to win them all. We come from two good results and I want more of the same.

Q: You've had success on this event in the past, winning in 2006. What would it mean to you to take away a win this weekend?

AA: It would be a dream, but to do that I have to fight with [Patrik] Flodin, [Patrik] Sandell; it's tough and it will be a big fight. It's better to have four, five or sixth position with some good points.

Q: Patrik, last year we saw you on only a handful of drives, this year you have a full season of PWRC -- that's a big turnaround!

PF: That's great and it gives me the chance to show what I can do. I want to do my best and not make mistakes. In Norway I had the focus to win the rally. I drove too fast and went off the road and didn't score points. Now I want to finish the rally.

Q: You had some good results at the end of last year, did that help get your deal for this season?

PF: To get that first win for the new Subaru on the final round in Wales was so important. The team, from Russia, are very, very happy to be the first to win with this N14 car and I am happy too.

Q: What can you do here in Portugal; do these stages suit your driving style?

PF: I have some experience from the rally, but it could be very rough. To go at the same speed and in the same way, it will not work. Here you have to be clever and take care of the car. The car is not strong enough to go flat-out over the stones. We will take it a little bit easy.


Q: Hans, the last time we saw you compete was in Ireland at the start of the season. You had a big accident there, what happened?

HW: The rally was okay, but we had a crash coming over a hill. The stage was not dry, but not so wet -- in this point there was water. The corner tightened and we went off.

Q: Are you now fully recovered?

HW: No. My knee is okay for now, but I feel it was not completely okay. It's okay in a few weeks, I hope. It won't cause a problem; it's not a big problem. I can just feel it -- it will be okay.

Q: You showed a big step forward in Ireland now that you have moved up to S1600. What can we expect to see on gravel?

HW: I don't know. Tarmac is my favourite. I like gravel, but we will have to see.

Q: How did it feel to make the step up to a Super 1600 car in Ireland?

HW: It was great to step up. The rally was nice. The tarmac rally was nice.

Q: What's the plan for 2009?

HW: In the beginning, my target is to get the Championship. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't get points in Ireland. I want to finish every rally and hope to get the Championship at the end of the year.

Q: Luca, you are the only new full time driver to the JWRC this year. We saw you in Germany last year however, how are finding the Championship so far?

LG: It's very good experience. It wasn't so great in Ireland, but it's great to be here. I'm just trying to get the best out of it.

Q: You have a new engine for this event -- are you noticing a difference?

LG: We tried the new engine on Monday and it's very good. It's a good difference. The new engine has more horsepower and more torque -- I hope we can make some good results.

Q: What do you think of the stages in Portugal?

LG: I like the stages. They are very nice and the perfect style for me. They're quite harsh for the car, but they are nice. The first pass will be more fun and better for the car, the second quite difficult. Trying to find a balance between getting to the finish and setting good times.

Q: Who do you compare yourself against?

LG: I compare myself against everybody. I didn't have a chance to do this on gravel yet, but we'll see -- it's going to be a nice battle.

-credit: fia

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