Pre event Press Conference

FIA’s pre event press conference gave drivers one more chance to express their expectations and plans ahead of start of Rallye Monte Carlo’s first leg tomorrow morning. Top drivers from all three categories of World Rally Championship attended the conference.

Click to read lengthy but very informative transcript of top rallying elite first media “grilling” of the season.

photo: A. Guygrand / Rallye-sport.fr

Present:
Sébastien Loeb, Citroën Total World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford World Rally Team
Dani Sordo, MINI WRC Team
François Delecour, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

SEBASTIEN LOEB

Q:
Sébastien, we return to Rallye Monte-Carlo after a three year absence. You were keen to get this classic event back on the WRC calendar, how do you feel now that it has returned?
SL:
For sure, I am happy to see Monte-Carlo back. It’s the most dramatic rally of the Championship. We lost it a few years ago, but it’s normal for it to be back. I like this rally and have good memories and some good results. Still it’s a very difficult rally. It’s a nice one, but difficult.

Q:
The rally spans five days and will take in the legendary Col de Turini in darkness, what do you think of the route?
SL:
It’s the same as last time I did it, four years ago it was nearly the same. For sure there are some interesting roads. It depends on the conditions. If it snows then we’ll see; it can be tough.

Q:
You have a new team-mate this year with Mikko Hirvonen joining Citroën. After so many years as rivals, how does it feel to now be team-mates?
SL:
I think it’s not because we are team-mates that we will not be rivals. I am happy to work with him and for sure he has a lot of experience and he can bring some interesting things in the team. But when we are in the car, it’s like every driver – we fight. It’s interesting for Citroën to have him in the team.

Q:
Last year there was equal footing in the team between you and Sébastien Ogier, what is the case this year?
SL:
It [number one status] has to be designated when it’s the right time. At the moment we start the season, so each driver will have the same car and the same team and each one does his best for the position.

Q:
Do you feel confident for this event?
SL:
It’s difficult to be confident when you start Monte-Carlo. It’s not because I won that I’m favourite – it’s as easy or difficult for me as for the other drivers. I will try to stay concentrated and do my best.

JARI-MATTI LATVALA
Q:
Jari-Matti, you have competed here four times previously and with your new-found confidence that we saw last season on asphalt what do you think can be achieved here in Monte?
J-ML:
We have to try and challenge Citroën, but if our speed is not to match them, then the top three would be a good start to the season. If you push on the limit then making an error is much easier than in Sweden, you need to balance with yourself more on this rally.

Q:
You will take number one status within the Ford World Rally Team this year; do you feel under any more pressure than normal to perform?
J-ML:
It’s like Sébastien said: every driver in the team wants to do his best. When Mikko left to Citroën, the main testing was done by myself – the situation wasn’t very clear until close to Christmas. I have done more development on the car, so I have been a little like the team leader. But, as the rally starts I’m not going to think about this. We will do our best and fight for the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles. To do that, you need to get everything right and everything perfect, but that’s why I’m here.

Q:
Last year you showed some really good speed on asphalt, are you looking forward to that element of this event?
J-ML:
I enjoy the tarmac. When you get the feeling and you have learned it, I like it. This is a different rally though; this is not like Catalunya or Rallye de France. The set-up here is quite different. We’re in the mountains here. We have wet, dry, ice, snow and the set-up is always going to be mixed. Still, okay, the character of the tarmac roads is quite the same, and on this rally the same things matter as on a normal tarmac rally. It’s just when it snows and its full snow that it becomes more like Sweden.

Q:
Tell me about the available options to you in regard to tyres for this weekend and how crucial getting it right is.
J-ML:
The tyre choice decides whether you win or lose the rally. François [Delecour] did some very clever choices here last year. The information from the team is crucial. You have to think a lot and this makes it stressful, you make the choice in the Service Park and wonder if it will rain or snow in the mountains when you get there later.

DANI SORDO
Q:
Dani, you return with the MINI WRC Team this year, it will be great to see a MINI compete again on Rallye Monte-Carlo!
DS:
It’s been a little bit busy start to the season: everybody knows nothing, but then you get the call and everybody is there. Okay, we miss Kris Meeke, but I am here and I am happy.

Q:
How much testing have you done in the car and how did it go?
DS:
We test for one day and a half. One day in normal conditions and then half a day in the snow for the tyres. We don’t have big new things, but the car is here and we have evolution in two months.

Q:
What would you say is the biggest challenge of Rallye Monte-Carlo?
DS:
I think the rally is really nice. After the recce, I can say: “Oh this stage is really nice, the sensation is really nice.” If it is snowing or ice, it can be tough, but during the recce it was okay and really nice conditions. We will see if it stays like this.

Q:
We saw you on the podium twice last year, is that the aim?
DS:
Why not? We are here to try and fight. It’s difficult for the victory when Mr Sébastien  [Loeb] is always at the top. Also Jari-Matti [Latvala] is pushing hard on tarmac, Mikko [Hirvonen] has a new car and Petter [Solberg] is also with a new car. There are lots of questions before the rally, but I want to be on the podium.

FRANCOIS DELECOUR
Q:
François, great to see you back in a WRC car! What do you think of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC and how glad are you to be back?
FD:
This is my life and this is the only thing I can do well, approximately. I love doing this, this is my job and it’s great to be here after 10 years or something [out of a factory-specification World Rally Car]. The last time was 2001 or something. I can feel the big gap. The new car goes very fast and to use it at the top – everything is very fast. This is what can be difficult for my job. Don’t worry; I know the gap will be there. Last year was not so bad with the younger drivers, but I am 49 and I am not so young compared with the other drivers at Ford. I look at them and they are all in their 20s; Dominique [Savignoni, co-driver] and I are over 100 years. And I didn’t drive so much; my last rally was one year ago. But I am so happy to come here. Using the car to the maximum could be difficult for me, these cars are very fast.

Q:
But on this event, you have to be clever as well – it’s not all about speed. You were clever last year?
FD:
I’m not sure to be clever. I call the people in the hotel on the col and they say it’s snowing a lot, so I said: “Okay, I’ll take the studs.”

Q:
Will you do more events in the WRC?
FD:
Why not? I love, this is my life and I would like to do some more rallies. I don’t want to do the full programme, I have the family and the children – I am happy like that.

Q:
What do you think you can achieve this weekend?
FD:
Top five would be great, like last year.

Questions from the floor:
Greg Strange; iRally, UK

Q:
Sébastien, are you confident the governing body can provide a workable solution to the current promoter situation? And what do you want the WRC to be?
SL:
For sure, there have been some difficult moments since last season, but I just think that it’s important to promote the Championship. We lost our promoter, but last year we didn’t see anything in France anyway, so maybe it’s not bad. We have to find a new solution. For me, it’s not important to do long rallies; here we have five days or anywhere in the world where we are going. It’s important to make a good show on the television and maybe with some live television, like we saw with IRC. In France, it’s difficult to understand why there is an eight-time World Champion, there is Sébastien Ogier growing up to the top of the sport, but we don’t see anything in France of the race. For me I drive, the rest is for them to find the good solution.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:

Michal Kosciuszko
Lorenzo Bertelli

Q:
Michal, we see you return to the PWRC for a second season. What did you learn from 2011 that you can bring into this year?
MK:
I am very happy to be here, it’s hard to get all the package together for the start of the season. For us, the aim is maximum points and to avoid the problems we had at the start of the season last year. We will take this year rally-by-rally, concentrating on driving and using our new toy – the brand new car which has just been built. We hope it will be faster than last year.

Q:
Have you done much testing?
MK:
We did some before the start of the season. I had the opportunity to try the car which was good. Unfortunately we didn’t find snow, so I hope not to find any on the event.

Q:
So there was no snow?
MK:
There was snow and ice for only around five kilometres and we have good notes for there. It will be just 2 kph on the slick tyre in this place, it’s impossible to race there. It’s nice to be here, I didn’t do this before. I did once the Antibes Rally, but I did not experience the changing weather – everything can happen. We need to focus and stay on the road.

Q:
What did you learn from last year?
MK:
That in Production, the drivers can always go faster than the cars – so it’s important to look after the car.

Q:
It’s a tough challenge here but do you enjoy the event?
MK:
I need to face the situation of no SupeRally [Rally 2, re-start after retirement]. I had bad experience of this last year, on one hand I score many points because of SupeRally – but I hope I won’t need it [because it’s not there on this rally].

Q:
Lorenzo, you will contest the full season in PWRC, we saw you compete last year on two events. How much are you looking forward to the season ahead?
LB:
It’s an honour to be here with these great drivers. I want to hone my skills. This is my 10th rally. I had the opportunity to do Monte-Carlo with the Mitsubishi last year, but unfortunately it wasn’t so good. I want to develop my skills and I hope for snow, it’s more funny for me and the spectators.

Q:
What have you been doing to prepare for 2012? We hear you have a rather famous mentor?
LB:
[1997 Rallye Monte-Carlo winner] Piero Liatti. My first five rallies last year, they weren’t major. I realise I need somebody to teach me. I had the chance to know Piero Liatti and Carlo Cassina; they became  like a mentor and I hope to do well.

Q:
Have you managed to test before this event?
LB:
Last week we did a test and we tried the new kind of tyre. Last year I was on Pirelli and now it’s the Michelin. I think I have found a good set up.

Q:
What are your hopes and expectations for this rally?
LB:
My objective for this race is to go fast, and safe as I can, and then we’ll see.

FIA SUPER 2000 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:

Craig Breen
Per-Gunnar Andersson

Q:
Craig, you took the WRC Academy win last year and now we see you compete as part of the SWRC. It’s been a quick turnaround since the win in Wales! How quickly did you come back down to earth after the win?
CB:
It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. The feeling of winning last year has lived long inside me. Last year was just an amazing year and one which provided me with this fantastic opportunity to come here and race the best drivers in the world. To come to such a special event as Monte-Carlo and begin the season is an amazing feeling.

Q:
The Monte is a very tough event to start the season, what are your hopes? Are you aiming for the win?
CB:
It’s incredible; it’s such a unique event. On many rallies you have a couple of landmark places which are quite difficult and stand out, but in Monte-Carlo, there are between 15 or 20. This event needs to be treated with some caution. There are a lot of road and stage kilometres and you are out on your own for a long time. But it’s a privilege to be on this event.

Q:
What will be the toughest aspect of this event?
CB:
It’s the weather, that’s a crucial factor here – especially when you remember what happened here last year: it looked plain sailing, but the conditions changed at the last couple of minutes. The weather looks okay at the moment, but anything can happen. It’s definitely not like at home here. You need to be aware and quite agile and ready for whatever is coming – and that’s in everything you do, not just driving.

Q:
It’s been a busy time for you; you won a place in the FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy for 2012 and I believe that programme has already begun? How has it gone so far?
CB:
I was at the first workshop in Edinburgh. We were working on fitness and nutrition, which is obviously key in rallying and has given me quite good preparation for this season. I couldn’t make the second workshop in Chamonix, as I was testing for this event. I was really disappointed to miss that workshop, which was based on teamwork – a really important element of rallying. But the FIA Institute is where I need to be, this is where the young talent is being nurtured into proper sportsmen.

Q:
P-G you will compete as part of the SWRC with Proton this year, what is the goal for the 2012 season and is it good to be back on the world stage?
P-GA:
We were here last year in the IRC, and it’s very special to be on the Monte-Carlo Rally. It’s a rally I love and hate. I’ve had success to start with, but not always at the end. I am going to try a different approach this time, the event is five long days and I need to be at the finish.

Q:
Tell me more about this different approach…
PG-A:
Well I try not to take too many risks straight away. I want to keep a slower pace than on normal rallies, so I won’t be quite so aggressive as on normal rallies.

Q:
Does the lack of SupeRally affect your approach?
PG-A:
For sure it does and Proton is new in the WRC. It’s really important to bring the cars to the finish, very important for the future.

Q:
How much testing have you managed to complete ahead of this event?
P-GA:
I did one day last week. The car feels much better than before. We are looking forward. We are making small steps before every event, but for sure it’s better than it’s ever been before.

Q:
You’re a two-time FIA Junior World Rally Champion, how does it feel to be back in the WRC and what’s the objective for the SWRC?
P-GA:
It feels like a long time since I was Junior Champion. For sure, we don’t know how many rallies we will do – the team will do all, but we don’t discuss what we will do yet. But of course, we will try to reach the top in SWRC.

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