FIA Pre-event press conference, Rally Mexico

FIA released transcript of pre-event press conference, held today in Mexico in preparation to the start of third round of the World Rally Championship. Press conference was attended by Thierry Neuville, Sebastien Loeb, Ken Block and Jari-Matti Latvala.

Present:
Thierry Neuville, Citroën Junior World Rally Team
Sébastien Loeb, Citroën Total World Rally Team
Ken Block, Monster World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford World Rally Team

Q:
Thierry, this is your first time at Rally Mexico – I understand you have been watching lots of previous on-board videos; do you feel suitably prepared for this event?

TN:
Exactly, everybody knows I am a laptop specialist and look at everything I can find. When you see the stages it looks a little different and is more twisty than I first thought. It is important to have good pace notes.

Q:
From what you have seen on the recce what do you think of the stages, can you compare them to other gravel rallies you have contested?

TN:
I think Saturday and Sunday are difficult with very long stages and these will not be easy. Friday is a little bit easier to learn. Okay, the long stage will be very difficult. I will just try to stay on the road. Maybe I will try and push a little harder in some parts and set some good split times.

Q:
This year we see you in a Citroën DS3 WRC; how have you found the experience so far?

TN:
Okay, it could be better. I retired on the first rally (Monte Carlo) and finished 12th in Sweden. I want to do better. If the feeling is good we try to push a bit harder. I don’t have the pace of the top guys yet.

Q:
The number of events you will be competing on has increased, what is the aim for you this season?

TN:
I have been quite lucky and found sponsors to do two rallies more. Now I can go to France and Spain as well. This is good for me because I have experience of tarmac rallies where I can be faster and that is easier for me.

Q:
What will be your approach to this event? Who will you be taking comparisons from with your speed?

TN:
I need to compare but I know there might be a big gap to start. I will try to see how the difference is after a few days. We need to compare our speed to the fastest guys. That is our target to be like them in the future.

Q:
Sébastien, we see some changes to the route this year, new stages, some run in reverse and of course the 54 kilometre stage on Sunday. What do you think of the changes?

SL:
The roads are similar to the past. They are a bit wider in some places and there is a bit of concrete in the first stage of tomorrow. The new stages are a bit more twisty and there is more gravel and some slower corners. But the rest is a lot of stages run in the opposite direction and similar to previous years. It is more difficult to make the new notes.

Q:
You have won here five times in the past – many times from first on the road! You have selected to run in 12th position. Is it a relief not to be starting first on the road?!

SL:
Yes. We were pushing for this regulation. It is more fair. We were all fighting for our position and I will be 12th on the road and that is not a bad position. That means there will be two Fords and two Citroëns racing in the same conditions. Petter was faster this morning. I was hesitating a bit in some places on the qualifying stage. I did not have a perfect start. All drivers were fighting for a second, so it was not easy to be the fastest.

Q:
What would you say the toughest challenge of this event is?

SL:
What I remember in the past about this rally is that it has not been extremely hard for the tyre because of the lack of power. It is not a big problem. We will learn on the first two days about tyre wear, but I don’t think it will be a problem.

Q:
You have competed here many times, does the effect of the altitude still surprise you or are you used to it now? In terms of driving style do you have to change anything to adapt to the lack of power?

SL:
You feel it. It does not change the driving style. We are still driving the same way, but we just lack acceleration.

Q:
Ken, first WRC round for you this season. Mexico is where you have had the most experience, what do you hope to achieve this time around?

KB:
I’m hoping for more luck than last year. I was devastated when the engine died on stage one. A top 10 finish here would be great. I had no test before I came here. The last rally I saw a WRC car was in GB last time. It felt good this morning. But I made a little mistake in qualifying. For some reason I set up wrong over a turn and hit a rock on the outside and that cost me four or five seconds. I slowed to make sure the car was okay. It was a dumb little mistake, but you need to move on and get ready.

Q:
Congratulations on your recent win in the American Championship; does that put you in the right frame of mind coming here?

KB:
It felt good in the car in America and it was nice to win that rally for the sixth time. But it is just a national event and nothing like competing with these guys. That car drives a bit different. Nothing beats being back in the WRC car this morning. I have improved my times each time I come here. I am still a novice and need to keep working hard.

Q:
Just three rounds of the WRC for you this year, why so little and are you hoping to do more?

KB:
I wish I could do more. But I don’t have the time. I have so many events in the States and it is hard to fit all the events in. I will be able to go to Finland and New Zealand. Finland is my favourite event and it does not clash with the X-Games this season, because they have moved because of the Olympics. That means I can go to Finland.

Q:
Your co-driver Alex lost his voice earlier this week, did that affect the recce and is he okay now?

KB:
Yes. I think he feels a lot better now. On the first day back he was struggling and not feeling too good either. The recce went fine and he’s a lot better.

Q:
Jari-Matti, you went into Rally Sweden a few weeks ago with no driver points on the board after failing to complete Monte Carlo. Does the fact that you took the win in Sweden take the pressure off your shoulders a little now?

J-ML:
Of course, there is less pressure than I had before Sweden. Seb Loeb was 28 points ahead of me. That feels a lot but that win has bought me closer and also brought us closer to Citroën in the Manufacturers’ (Championship). The pressure is less but we need results. They do not come if you force them. I will try to balance my speed and not push too hard. Now I have a more comfortable feeling. Hopefully now I can enjoy even more my driving.

Q:
The team tested in southern Spain ahead of this event. How much did the conditions there mirror what we have here in Mexico? Was it a successful test?

J-ML:
We did. Our engine engineers were with us to simulate the altitude conditions in the test in Spain. It is never the same but the driving feeling is to get as close as possible. Also we did other work with different shocks and I found, for me, a good set up. We won’t see until the rally starts.

Q:
You have been on the podium here before but have never taken a win. How confident are you and the team that you can truly fight against the Citroëns here?

J-ML:
We have done a lot of work since last year. Not that the result was showing that. We were second and third when Ogier retired. But, we have been continuing with those improvements and I feel this year we are able to challenge. They are very strong here. Honestly, I would be happy if we can challenge.

Q:
How crucial will tyre management be here with regard to the long stages we have?

J-ML:
I think Loeb already mentioned that there are plenty of new stages. For me, it was the most difficult recce for a long, long time. The Portugal recce, the first time, was difficult and so was Jordan. It is now a challenge to get good pace notes here. A 42 kilometre stage is demanding. The 52 kilometre is not so bad and more flowing. But the 42 km is very twisty and there are a lot of light crests.

QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR:

Eduardo Olmos
Diarioup.mx, Mexico

Q:
Is it difficult with this being the first of a series of gravel rallies?

J-ML:
I think for us we have improved the reliability. We had issues with five or six gravel events in a row. Now I am more confident in that sense, but we need to keep working and developing the car.

SL:
It is the same for us. Now it is only little steps. The engine is different to last year and we make some adjustments on the suspension. But the base car is the same. Every time we try to adjust the set up.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Ramona Karlsson
Benito Guerra

Q:
Ramona, welcome to the PWRC – this is the first time we see you compete in this Championship along with your co-driver Miriam Walfridsson. You have a partnership with DMACK tyres. How did that come about?

RK:
I feel really excited for my first time in Mexico and my first WRC competition. It feels really good. DMACK contacted me actually to see if I was interested in testing the tyres. We have made the first test now and it feels really good.

Q:
How have you prepared for this event? Have you managed to test at all?

RK:
At the shakedown I tested the tyres. I have been very much involved with preparations with sponsors and the finance of the team and the logistics. Me and my team did it all on our own.

Q:
Have you ever competed in conditions like this before? Have you been surprised by the effects of altitude on the car?

RK:
It is nothing like the Swedish roads. It is very technical and I needed to be awake on the recce and will need to be awake (on the rally) to see the dangerous things on the road. The stages are twisty and fast. The rally has everything. Actually we have a good engine engineer from Finland, who made a great job. The car feels like it has good horse power and torque.

Q:
What do you feel will be the biggest challenge out there this weekend?

RK:
It will be a very good learning experience for me. The conditions make it a tough challenge for me here. The first goal is to reach the finish. The podium would be great. We aim for that. If we can be in the top five we will be satisfied. Next year we will aim even higher.

Q:
Benito, a home event for you! The atmosphere here is incredible and all drivers get such amazing support – I bet that is even more so for a Mexican driver?

BG:
It is fantastic to be on my home event. I really like the Mexico Rally. All my sponsors are here. It is our event and I have been waiting for our event to be in our Championship for five years. I am really happy to be here.

Q:
You have swapped teams this year and are now run by Ralliart Italia who guided Armindo Araújo to his two PWRC titles. Was that one of the reasons behind the switch?

BG:
One of my decisions was that I surprised what a good job the Italian team had done. My main sponsor Mitsubishi Mexico is pleased with the car. I am sure we will have a great season with them. We need to work a lot and we can be in the points. I know we can win the Championship but we will need a big effort.

Q:
There are some changes to this year’s route, new stages and old ones reversed. What do you think?

BG:
We are trusting in Michelin tyres. I am not sure that the hard compound will be enough for a long stage. But it is the same for all the cars. We have to manage the brakes and the tyres. The car will drive differently on the last parts of the stage. It will be very difficult at the finish of the stage and different to the beginning of the stage.

Q:
You competed within the PWRC last year, what did you learn from your experiences that you can bring into this season?

BG:
I think 2010 and 2011 were good years. In 2010 I won the Spanish Championship overall. 2011 was my first year in Production. It was a learning year. Now it is going to be different. I want to be PWRC Champion and will work hard to get it. I want to win in Mexico. If I can win here, I can be champion.

Q:
Tell us about your preparations?

BG:
I have been working with an extreme workout. It started on January 10th and I have been doing three hours daily training in Sport City and getting to a great shape for all the season. We are on our weight (ideal). Let’s see. It is a long weekend and there will be a lot of heat inside the car. I will try and give 100% all the time. One stage is more than 50 kilometres. That will be very tough for all the drivers.

Skip to toolbar