12.09.13

2013 Rally Australia

Transcript of the pre-event press conference organised by the FIA.
2013 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Kris Meeke, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Motorsport
Thierry Neuville, Qatar World Rally Team
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Motorsport II
 
Q:
Kris, this is your second opportunity in a WRC car this year and this time you are with the manufacturer team. It has got off to a good start so far, quickest at Qualifying! 
KM: 
For me it was a nice morning and quite a nice stage actually, I think it was still probably a little bit slippery in places but a lot cleaner than we will expect tomorrow. It’s going to be a very difficult and technical rally but I knew road position was going to be quite important especially as it’s so slippery. It was nice to do the best time because the best choice is where we want to be. 
 
Q:
And what is that choice going to be? 
KM: 
I think that maybe it will rain at some point over the weekend but we have to see this afternoon what develops, and also it’s quite important what decision the organisers make for the dust and I think it’s at a point, it’s not for competition, it’s for safety. We really need to put gaps out there, it’s not hurting anyone to have a larger gap but we need that.
 
Q:
Talk to me about that run this morning because you had your free practice runs and you were one of the last drivers to go into that Qualifying stage. You would have known what Ogier’s time was, did you think you could get a few seconds on that, or did you go in with an open mind?
KM: 
I had a good run in the first pass. Free Practice 2 wasn’t so good. I knew I made some mistakes so there was more to come. I heard Seb’s time over the radio and thought that’s going to take some time to beat it.
 
Q:
And how are you feeling ahead of the weekend in terms of pressure? 
KM: 
I think it’s fair to say this is what you work for all your career, to try and get into a factory team. There will always be some pressure from some angles. If you’re performing at the top, you need to keep performing at the top and prove you’re good enough. I’m just happy to be part of the team, and to be part of a factory team for the first time is a nice opportunity. 
 
Q:
It is your first time here, what have you done to prepare?
KM: 
To be honest we’re limited to what homework you can do before the rally. I think there are only three stages the same as 2011, so in that respect, it’s quite new. It’s always better and this is only my eighth or ninth start in a world rally car so I don’t have so much experience but it always helps when it’s new stages for everyone. It’s more of a level playing field but it’s surprisingly tricky in places. Quite narrow and bad drops in places and in some places the forestry roads are not clearly defined. It’s a bit difficult sometimes to make the notes, and you have to drive around with feeling. 
 
Q:
Sébastien, the possibility of taking the title is getting tantalisingly close for you. How are you feeling coming into Australia?
SO: 
Good. I think it’s nice to be in this position, of course. Okay, I will approach this rally just like another one and I just want to get another good result if I can. It could be good for the Championship but also we need now the points for the Manufacturer’s title because it is getting close, and that’s so far also on target, so definitely I will try to do my best if I can.
 
Q:
When you were in Germany a couple of weeks ago it was mathematically possible for you to win at that event, but it really did depend on what Thierry (Neuville) and Jari-Matti (Latvala) did. This time around it’s closer, it’s more on your shoulders, on what you can do this weekend as well as what they do. Do you feel more pressure coming into Australia than you did going into Germany? 
SO: 
No more pressure, but like you mentioned, because we are close for the Championship this weekend, but in Germany it was not depending only on me, and of course I didn’t do a good rally and it was not possible. But this weekend it comes very close with Thierry. 
 
Q:
I can imagine you are pretty motivated to have a better weekend?
SO: 
Of course, it has been very good for us until Germany and then okay we did our first mistake of the season. It was not a huge one, but okay that’s finished and now I just want to restart this weekend and do a good result again for the rest of the season. As I mentioned, it is important for me but also for the team because that battle is raging all the season and to get the Manufacturers title I will do my best to win that; I have to.
 
Q:
You’ve been in Australia for two weeks now. Is your jet lag completely gone?
SO: 
Yes, I had two weeks in Sydney, so it has completely gone for me.
 
Q:
Thierry, after a fantastic battle in Germany just two weeks ago you now head to an event that you have never contested. Do you feel you will be able to fight as close to the top as in Germany?
TN: 
Obviously I don’t know because this rally is new for me, so Malcolm (Wilson) is telling me to be careful. Okay, everything is good in the Fiesta and I feel very comfortable, so maybe it is possible to be competitive this weekend. This is mostly a new event for everybody so the disadvantage is possibly not so big. We try to do our best, of course, and I hope to go to the finish because we need the experience. 
 
Q:
What preparation have you done prior to the event? 
TN: 
Honestly I feel like I’m not really well prepared because there is really nothing to do here. Only two stages are the same as last time so at home we tried to watch some of the in-car footage and get some videos. At the end we all face the same conditions, but the most important thing is the recce, the notes must be good so we can be confident. 
 
Q:
Did you have a good recce?
TN: 
It was not an easy recce with the dust hanging in front of you, it was sometimes difficult to see but we’ve done very well I think. The pace notes are very good. I’m really looking forward to the start this evening and especially tomorrow. 
 
Q:
I guess you’ll be aiming for the podium, I’m sure Sébastien Ogier will be keeping an eye on where you are in relation to himself of course – what’s your aim?
TN:
Like I said before, my aim is to keep my second position in the World Championship. I will definitely keep my eye on Jari-Matti because he is my closest competitor. If there are no problems for Sébastien and he does well, he will be World Champion anyway so for me it doesn’t matter. It’s important to stay second in the Championship. I will keep my eyes on Jari-Matti and be ready when we have to fight. 
 
Q:
Your performance in Germany had many people talking, is there any news on where you will be next season yet?
TN: 
I have a good position for next year of course. But at the end, it’s me who will make the decision. 
 
Q:
Andreas, Paul Nagle is taking over for the injured Mikko Markkula here in Australia. You tested with Paul before the event. How is the relationship working so far?
AM: 
Things with Paul are working really well. I didn’t have a doubt he was the man for the job. I’ve competed with him ever since I was 17-years-old and I started off my rallying in Ireland so I know him from some time before. The choice was quite natural that he could take Mikko’s place when he had his back injury. And things have been working really well. His calling is good, his speaking is nice and we did two days’ test as well and we adjusted ourselves together; so, yeah, I am confident that he will do a very good job.
 
Q:
How about Mikko’s recovery? Have you spoken to him? 
AM: 
Yeah, I have talked with Mikko. He is slowly recovering but it is one of those injuries that takes its time, eight or nine weeks, and at the same time it is better to wait a bit longer time than be too quick.
 
Q:
So what is your plan for this event?
AM: 
I will take it as it comes. If I can help Seb (Ogier) in some way, or for the Manufacturer’s title, of course I will do it. But at the same time that means I need to finish, so we will take it stage by stage and I’m sure I will have a new goal for each day.
 
Q:
Is there any stage that particularly stands out as being incredibly difficult here or is it a tough three days?
AM: 
It is three very different days. Obviously the first day is very technical; the second day is much more open, quite nice roads, and the last day is super-fast inside the forest. So, three very different days but I must say the really long stage has a small place inside of it which is about five or six kilometres long which is really narrow, over crests, where we go uphill and that is a really good section.
 
 
FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Hayden Paddon
 
Q:
Abdulaziz, it is a welcome back to the Championship for you. You missed Finland and we didn’t see you in Germany either. Is it good to be back on the WRC?
AA-K: 
Yes, of course, it has been three months since Sardinia and it went very quick so we are back, but it was good that we did some testing at M-Sport two weeks ago to get back into the driving seat again, so I’m looking forward to this rally, to be in good competition. This is my first time competing against (Hayden) Paddon so it will be really good to see what the pace is against him. Yazeed (Al-Rajhi) is back in the Championship after his injury and two (Ford) R5s. It will be really good to see our RRCs against the R5s so it will be good competition, I think.
 
Q:
In the Championship itself you are in second position to Robert Kubica. He is not competing here this weekend, so do you see this now as a chance to reclaim the lead?
AA-K: 
Yes of course we are keen to get the lead again and I think Kubica is using all his bad luck in Poland... I think surely he is the fastest in WRC 2, plus Paddon and some drivers like Lappi, but I think he should win the Championship.
 
Q:
Do you think this is a rally you could be successful on, from what you have seen of the stages from the recce?
AA-K: 
Yes, I think you have to be careful with some stages. We have some notes where you have to be careful, and some stages are very fast, like one stage or two stages on Sunday. You have to drive very fast to be very close to the guys at the front and also you have to be very careful to finish because honestly I came here to take some points, not to just go flat-out on three days, so I really try hard to finish this rally.
 
Q:
You’ve made a great start in WRC, had some great results. What are your plans for next year? 
AA-K: 
I don’t know. I would like to come back to do WRC 2. Before I can drive a world rally car, I have to win all the stages in a WRC 2 car or at least to lead all the stages but I am not doing all that well at the moment, honestly. There are many faster drivers than me, so if I get the budget for next year from Seashore then I think everything will be the same, yes, WRC 2, I will do it again.
 
Q:
Hayden, this is as close as you are going to get to home this year on the WRC. You competed here in 2011 and sealed the Production Car Championship on this event. Does it bring back good memories being here?
HP: 
Yeah, it’s always been very kind to us this rally. Even two years prior to that we won Group N in 2009 so we’ve certainly got a good track record here. Obviously we’ve got this weekend but it’s as close as we’ll get to home and you know, it feels like you’re at home. I know the Kiwi’s won’t like me saying that, but everything is very similar. You don’t feel so much culture shock as you do in some places in Europe. We’re feeling good, feeling comfortable and the car is great.
 
Q:
Are there similarities between the roads here and New Zealand?
HP: 
Nothing compares to New Zealand’s roads! But there are some stages here that are very nice. Particularly the long stage; it’s one of the best stages in the Championship. It’s got a bit of everything, a lot of very fast flowing stuff, some technical stuff in the middle and opening up again at the end. Some of the other stages I’ve compared to Portugal, similar bedrock, so there’s a variety of stages which is going to keep the drivers honest. Even things like car set-up and stuff are going to vary as the weekend progresses. 
 
Q:
You are the only WRC 2 driver in an S2000 here, up against RRC and R5 cars - how much of a difference will it make?
HP: 
Here it won’t be as much of an advantage as it is in some other rallies. The Skoda has a very good chassis and what we’ve got is speed and momentum and our car is just as good, if not better, than some of the others. Where we’re missing out is engine power and torque, being able to get out of the tight corners hairpins, and Germany was a prime example of that. Here it’s not such a problem but it is interesting how Super 2000 cars have become quite obsolete over the space of two or three months which is not good for the sport, but hopefully there’s a few of them still sitting around in sheds and a few more will hopefully come out.
 
Q:
What is the objective for you this weekend in Australia?
HP: 
Of course it is to try and win but that’s not going to be easy. We have some tough competition. We’re going to have to try and set a good pace from the word go and probably our biggest hurdle this weekend is with the car. It’s our own car that we’ve got and we’re using our own New Zealand team. But we’ve basically got no spare parts for the weekend so it is going to mean on the rougher sections we’re really going to have look after the car. And that’s down to budget, we don’t have the budget to be buying expensive parts so it’s going to be a fine balance trying to drive fast and trying to look after the car. 
 
Q:
When you say no spare parts, none at all?
HP:
We’ve got little bits and pieces but no suspension arms, gearboxes or diffs or anything like that. So we’ve got to be very very careful.
 
Q:
So a definite element of caution over the weekend?
HP: 
Oh definitely. But in saying that, in some of the stages which are smooth and fast, they’re not car breakers so you can push 100 per cent and as long as we keep in the middle of the road, it shouldn’t be a problem. 
 
Q:
At present I believe the plan is not to return to Europe due to budget restrictions this season, could a win here help to secure extra budget?
HP: 
It will certainly help. We’ve obviously out of France, we’ve missed the entry cut-off for France but we are still working on trying to do things for Spain and GB. We’re never giving up. Of course we would still like to do the full Championship, but that’s maybe not so possible now but we will be heading back to Europe where we have some testing and some things involved when we head back over there and hopefully we can keep working on a budget and maybe we’ll get to Spain. 
 
Q:
Is there anything in the pipeline for next year, can you tell us anything about 2014?
HP: 
It’s very early at the moment. We will have a lot more substantial program for next year and we simply haven’t been in the WRC enough this year. So there are several things that we’re working on which are proving positive and things are looking much better now than they did six months ago.