FIA’s pre-event press conference in Sweden

FIA’s pre-event press conference gave drivers one last chance to share their ambitions and predictions ahead of rally’s first competitive stage later this evening. Attended by selection of “number two” drivers it somewhat looked like post-event press conference with all-Scandinavian lineup.

Weather in Sweden is to remain stable and no additional snow is expected and that might reduce the infamous advantage held by Scandinavians, and as expected each of the drivers present on pre-event press conference expressed their readiness for upcoming battle.

Full transcript of FIA’s conference after the jump.

Present:
Petter Solberg, Ford World Rally Team
Patrik Sandell, MINI WRC Team
Mikko Hirvonen, Citroën Total World Rally Team
Mads Østberg, Mads Østberg

Q:
Petter, third step of the podium in Monte Carlo just a few weeks ago, how are you feeling ahead of Rally Sweden?
PS:
Well, Monaco was a great rally with lots of good experience. The car was fantastic. We have had two days testing and it was very, very cold. Because the conditions weren’t quite the same, the feeling wasn’t quite the same at shakedown, but we adapted quickly and it got very good after that. We are ready.
MH:
Is it fair that all of the rallies are home events for Petter? We went from Monaco to Norway where he also has a home… The stage tomorrow goes right past his home!
PS:
I am always moving around a little bit, making sure there is always a round in my country! That first stage, I have a farm in the middle of the stage – don’t cut that right-hand corner! Actually, it’s great. This relationship between Sweden and Norway makes this rally very much stronger for the future. It’s just perfect for the future. The co-operation between them is very good.

Q:
We have, for the first time, ‘Qualifying’ for road position – how did you find that, did it generate a bit more tension and were there any tactics going on?
PS:
I can tell you there has been a lot of bull***t about the start position, you can’t trust anybody! I can’t say anything before this evening when we choose. But where Mikko chooses, I will be just behind him. It was good fun this morning. I think this is a great thing to have – you become a little nervous a little earlier, but it’s great for spectators and the media. It’s one more thing added like the power stage. Why not?

Q:
Jari-Matti is the team’s number one driver this year. What does that mean for you on this event?
PS:
Well… I have won the rally before. We are a team and we want to do well. We have to finish high and hopefully the Citroën guys will be far, far behind. I want the speed like Monaco, but we have to build it, not be a hero on the first day.
MH:
Come on, you have to win the stage which goes past your house…
PS:
Hey, no! You saw what happened on your corner last year in Finland. We saw what happened when you brought a few people to watch… I’m not bringing people, not anybody to that place!
P Sandell:
You said on Swedish television you would win the stage!
PS:
You are talking too much! Hey, I love this rally and we will have some fun.

Q:
Patrik, great to see you back as part of the WRC and at your home event – we will see you compete this weekend in the MINI John Cooper Works WRC, how much are you looking forward to it?
P Sandell:
It’s really good! I had a good feeling in the car straight away.

Q:
How much testing has been done with the MINI? Are you happy with the set-up?
P Sandell:
We did 200 kilometres in the test, so I feel quite prepared. Okay, this is not as much as the other boys, we need to take it step-by-step and build the speed through the weekend. The car is fantastic to drive, it’s so easy to get in and get into the rhythm. The balance of the car is so amazing.

Q:
Will we be seeing you again this year on the WRC or is this just a one off?
P Sandell:
For sure we will do more races. We have started the Swedish World Rally Team with legends like Bjorn Waldegaard and Stig Blomqvist and now we are building something which will bring more drivers from Sweden. I will have the first three years competing, so you will see me in the WRC for at least three years. We didn’t decide yet what car or rallies, but for sure you will see me.

Q:
What is the aim for you this weekend?
P Sandell:
I want to beat all those boys, but we have to take it step by step. Start with the first stage and then see.

Q:
What’s the major challenge of this event?
P Sandell:
It’s a completely different rally to last year. And it will be difficult one. For sure you have to stay on the road all of the time. You will have some snow on the surface, but you don’t know what’s underneath the surface. We will see some gravel coming through, but my experience with the studs is that they will stay there. I think staying on the road will be the key thing

Q:
Mikko, a brand new team for this year with Citroën; you took fourth position away from Monte Carlo and set three fastest stage times – how do you feel it’s all going so far?
MH:
I’m really happy. There are lots of new things and everything is going really well. We had a good test, the preparation has gone really well.

Q:
You won a rally in Norway last weekend; that must have given you good confidence?
MH:
I think Mads just let me win it to give me confidence!
MO:
That’s correct. I can confirm!
MH:
He will be flying in the rally, that’s sure. At the moment, I am doing all the mileage I can do with Citroën, it’s all good.

Q:
This is the first time we have had ‘Qualifying’ for road position – what was your tactic today and which position will be best this weekend?
MH:
You don’t want to risk everything over that stage. It’s not the most important thing to win it. If you are in the top five or six, it should be good enough.

Q:
Can you win this rally?
MH:
I want to do what I can to help the team, but if everybody is going to go flat out then we will go flat out!

Q:
What’s the best place to be on the road?
MH:
As soon as I had finished the stage, I sent a text to Jari-Matti [Latvala/Qualifying Stage winner]. I promised to be right behind him, if he promised to pull over when I caught him in the stage! He hasn’t replied yet…

Q:
You have had great success in Sweden over the years, how confident do you feel for a win here this year?
MH:
It’s been a great rally for us in the past, but that doesn’t tell anything for this week. This is a new rally. There are no snow banks, so if you make a mistake there is nothing to save you. I believe we can fight, but let’s see if we’re fast enough.

Q:
Mads, last year at this event you walked away with your first WRC podium by taking second position, are you feeling pressure this year to replicate that or go one better?
MO:
Last year was great for me, to be able to put pressure on Mikko. Everything is possible again this year, but it’s a totally different rally. It will be quicker, but you can have more punctures with less snow on the surface of the road. There are many new aspects for the rally. I feel very well prepared. This is quite similar conditions to the rally we did last week in Norway. I hope we can fight again with Mikko. He has taken us sometimes on the snow, but he will not do it again!

Q:
Which stages have the most snow?
MO:
Probably the Norwegian stages. Finnskogen has quite good snow and there is some on the Swedish stages. I think you will find the best ice base on the Norwegian stages. I will take each stage as it is, there will be different tactics for each stage.

Q:
This is your first event of the year, is there more pressure on you?
MO:
Yeah, for sure, but I don’t feel it. I just try to focus on what I can do. I like to have some pressure and we have said some things in the media to give us more pressure. If I didn’t want this, I would keep my mouth shut. But I like it and I will do best to stand up to the pressure.

Q:
Do you have a fully-secured budget for the year? Will we see you on all the events?
MO:
We have funding for 11 rallies. We missed Monte Carlo and we will miss New Zealand as well. We are starting here and trying to build some speed, then maybe we can find the money for New Zealand as well.

Q:
What is the aim for the season ahead?
MO:
We want a better season than last year and we had a pretty good year last year. It’s definitely easier coming back to fight for the second time, it’s time to push really hard and the good thing is that we know many of the stages and the rallies having done them last year.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR


Marco Giordo
Autosprint, Italy

Q:
Mikko and Petter, what do you think about Saturday and Sunday when the running order will be in reverse?
PS:
That’s how it is. It’s the same for everybody, the first day is most important. Everybody will be close to each other. It can be tough with some of the tyres. Maybe we can take two spares.
MH:
I think the drivers prefer it this way. If there are any tactics it’s now, and then three days flat out.

FIA SUPER 2000 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP


Present:
Hayden Paddon

Q:
Hayden it’s all change for this season! You now enter the SWRC, with a new team and a new car – the Skoda Fabia S2000. What made you want to switch from PWRC?
HP:
For us we’ve been in Group N for five years and to keep moving forward Super 2000 was the next best option. The car’s a lot more similar to a World Rally Car, so it’s a logical step.

Q:
How are you adapting to the Skoda S2000? Have you tested ahead of the event?
HP:
The adaptation has been good, but the testing has been limited. I only did 100 kilometres of testing, so shakedown was a bit of a reality check. You go along and do your own tests, but then it’s a different kettle of fish when you get here and go up against the competition at shakedown. This is the only event I haven’t done before, so it’s time for me to get miles on the car and get the confidence back.

Q:
You had a nasty accident not long ago where you broke your collarbone, are you fully recovered?
HP:
Good as new. It was a slight set-back, but I’m fine now.

Q:
And your car is being run by a Spanish team?
HP:
That’s right, they’re new to this level. The team has run historic cars for Bjorn Waldegaard and Juha Kankkunen before. There is a lot of learning for us all, but the team has done a fantastic job so far. The team’s going to gel and get a lot better.
Q:
Do you think this is going to be a difficult year?
HP:
This is a new event and new car, so it’s not going to be easy straight away. At shakedown I subconsciously went back to driving like PWRC and you can’t do that. In this class it is all about committing to corners and I have to do that.

Q:
You’ve had an interesting approach to sponsorship, has it worked – do you have all the necessary budget?
HP:
Not yet, but there are a lot of people working very hard. We have about half the budget, but we’re in a better situation than 12 months ago when we had no budget at all. I’m sure some good results will help us get the rest of the budget.

Q:
What is the aim for the season ahead in SWRC?
HP:
To win. It’s always to win. The numbers are a bit thin, but the competition is very, very good. We have P-G [Andersson] and Craig Breen, plus the wild cards. And then there’s Sébastien [Ogier] as well, I’d like to think we could get close to him on our home event in New Zealand.

Q:
What do you think of the stages here?
HP:
Very nice. It’s like Finland on snow. Okay, there’s not so much snow, but as we have never driven against snow bank before, this isn’t going to be such a problem for us.

Q:
Will we see you doing any other events outside the SWRC this year?
HP:
We need to find money to complete the SWRC, so if we find some money we’ll maybe do some testing – but we do need to find more money for 2012.

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