14.11.13

2013 Wales Rally GB - Pre Event Press Conference

Transcript of the pre event press conference organised by the FIA for the 2013 Wales Rally GB
2013 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
WALES RALLY GB
 
Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday 14 November  
 
Present:
Robert Kubica, Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team
Thierry Neuville, Qatar World Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport 
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Motorsport
 
Q:
Robert, after a successful year in WRC 2 and a Championship title under your belt, we now see you switch to a WRC car. How has preparation gone and how much are you looking forward to the experience?
RK:
It’s a bit different compared to the RRC I have been used to, but the biggest task is not really the car. The rally is a fantastic rally, but it’s very difficult to judge the grip level and read the road. There are a lot of places where there is a sudden grip loss and surface change. But the biggest difficulty is that I had to change co-driver. I am going with Michele Ferrara and I have to use Italian notes – he doesn’t speak Polish. It’s not easy after one year with somebody in the car speaking Polish and sometimes it happens on the recce – I was asking something [to Ferrara] in Polish. I have to control myself. Pace notes have to go through the mind very quickly and without being translated. This is not ideal. There are many new things for me and Michele: a new car, new system, we never raced together – but we have one mode here and that is to gain experience and try to learn as much as I can.
 
Q:
Are you feeling any pressure ahead of this event? How was the pre-event test?
RK:
I try to do my best, this doesn’t mean I try to drive as fast as I can, it means to learn and prepare as much as I can, but I got short notice – it was only eight days before the test and only 11 days before the rally starts that I have to find a new co-driver. And it’s not easy to find the right person. I believe Michele is the right person. There are a lot of things we need to take care of that normally happen automatically with the car and the pace notes. It's very difficult. The first loop in the night will not be easy, my confidence can only get higher and higher through the rally – at the end of the rally I hope I will be better.
 
Q:
What have you thought of the stages here in Wales? What will be the most difficult aspect of the rally?
RK: 
The stages are no more difficult than the others, they are all new for me this year; like every rally I discover new things and I hope I have a go in GB rally to learn as much as I can. If I am able to finish the rally then I will know much more than I do know now.
 
Q:
When will we have a decision on your plans for next season?
RK:
I said I will make up my mind after GB and I will try to do that. The time is running. If I want to move forward in rallying then I have to make decisions. The loss of co-driver is not helping with this; I have to find somebody – hopefully Michele will be the right person – if I stay. But if not I can always come back where I am coming from. I think some people will make huge welcome to see me back on the track, but maybe I don’t want to risk one year… next year would still be a learning process with rallies I haven’t done before.
 
Q:
Thierry, we heard news that you were moving to Hyundai as of next season. How tough was the decision to make?
TN:
I am not allowed to speak until December 10, this is an agreement. The only thing I can say is that every decision is not easy to take and this one wasn’t…
 
Q:
You have had a sensational season with Qatar M-Sport, when you look back across the season how would you describe it? 
TN:
I knew, and we have seen in the last year that I have the speed, but the consistency and expectation wasn’t there, but going in a new team this year I discover the car which suits my style and a very motivated team around me to make the car better. I have been quicker and quicker and my co-driver has done a great job. Together we have gone forward, sometimes we have the surprise to make eight rallies in a row – but it’s a nice way to finish.
 
Q:
You are battling for second in the Championship here, what will be the strategy this weekend?
TN:
I want to secure second, we have done this for four or five rallies. I have to stay on the road with no retirement. It would be a shame to take more risk this weekend and possibly lose this place. I’m sure Jari-Matti [Latvala] will be on the pace and we can’t go slowly – we have to calculate our result against him and I’m sure we will be close to the pace.
 
Q:
Can you win this rally?
TN:
If I could sign for victory now I would! It would be a great achievement for me and Nicolas [Gilsoul, co-driver] and the team. The last season when the team didn’t win was in 2005… Yesterday, I said to Malcolm [Wilson]: “Look, if the Polo and Sébastien [Ogier] weren’t there then we have some victories…” But it’s always like this when you have some new drivers. I can only do my best, but I’m not sure victory is possible.
 
Q:
Malcolm, next season draws ever closer, how are the plans for sponsorship of the team coming along?
MW:
It’s not the closing date for the registration yet, that’s not until December 14 – and normally in the last couple of years that’s when we have been in a position. Things are progressing well, but nothing is in place yet that I can disclose. Whatever happens, we will be there as M-Sport in the World Rally Championship.
 
Q:
You were keen for Neuville to stay but that is not the case - what is the plan now in terms of drivers?
MW:
You can imagine how we feel – the whole team. Thierry was a very late call to our team this year, but he’s done an incredible job and worked so hard to achieve his results. It’s full credit to him and the team and there’s no question we are sad to see him leave. The one thing we hope is that he remains in the runners-up position. Look where we were 12 months ago and to come here as privateers and with a driver who has not done the full Championship before would be one of our greatest achievements. But I can understand why he’s going and I respect his decision. For us with drivers, we’re going to have to think outside the box. I think everybody understands that we enjoy working with younger drivers and helping them. Everybody in this room knows the drivers who are available, but I have to get in a position to bring those drivers in.
 
Q:
Who’s on the dream list of drivers?
MW:
The dream list is on this stage here, it’s just a shame I don’t have the money to buy them!
 
Q:
Last night we saw a ‘show of unity’ from all the manufacturers at your Happy Hour function with regard to moving forward next season. What did that all mean?
MW:
There has been some confusion about the start order and we want to work with everyone, with the FIA and the Promoter to find the fair solution. We were united in the meeting last week, ourselves, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Citroën and along with Michelin. We just wanted to give our support that we are together to find a fair solution that’s simple and easy to understand.
 
Q:
Sébastien, the driver’s title came in France, the manufacturer’s in Spain. It has been quite an incredible season for you - are you ready to finish the season in style?
SO:
Yes, of course. It would be nice to finish the season with a victory. But I come to a rally where I have had good performances but never really been successful. It’s a challenge for me. With the experience of the year, I feel more confident on the road to see and anticipate the grip – that’s the problem here. The test was good and, like always, I love to drive the Polo on gravel. It’s been the same in qualification this morning.
 
Q:
You had sunshine for the recce, how are the stages looking?
SO:
When it’s not raining here, you are sure it is going to rain! I never did a race in dry conditions. The test was similar conditions, but the grip was a bit higher. But in the low-grip today the car was still good. I still don’t know about the position on the road – I have less than one hour to think.
 
Q:
What about the night stages, how difficult will they be?
SO:
They could be, especially if there is some fog coming. Hopefully it won’t rain so much and the visibility will stay quite clear. At night it’s more difficult. This is not a condition I like, but I prove in Spain that I can be fast in these conditions. I hope it’s the same tonight.
 
Q:
What about next year? Can you do better?
SO:
You can always do better – but I would be happy to do the same. Being World Champion was my dream and my target for two years. Now I reach it, but in January everything starts from zero and you have to prove it again. I want to prove my title. I also want to say one thing about [running order] regulations, that I hope we find something clever. At the moment, I would have to say that I think it’s quite stupid and it cannot be like that. It would be nice to have more competition and to reduce the gap between the best driver and the younger drivers, but you cannot do things so the best cannot win. If you have to open the road for two days in dry gravel conditions, then there is no chance to win and that’s not fair – I hope we find something more clever. I will face more disadvantage next year, but it has to stay fair.
 
 
FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Elfyn Evans
Mark Higgins
Eyvind Brynildsen
 
Q:
Elfyn, how much are you looking forward to competing at home?
EE:
Very much so. But this will be a tricky one as always, we have some tricky conditions on the stages. But it is nice to be home and on stages we know quite well.
 
Q:
What do you think of the event’s move north? Is it a good move?
EE:
For sure. I know some of the stages on Saturday are the stages I enjoy the most, and the others are enjoyable as well.
 
Q:
What’s your strategy here?
EE:
This rally is renowned for catching people out and you can’t really afford to go at it 110 per cent and expect to get through. You have to use your head on this rally and look for a good result – that means going harder where you need to and then carefully when it gets more tricky.
 
Q:
What about the night stages?
EE:
Well, there’s not a lot of mileage, but they are very tricky and I’m sure they will catch somebody out – let’s try and make sure it’s not us. 
 
Q:
We have heard Malcolm talking about young drivers for the team – could you do that job?
EE:
If the opportunity came about, I’m sure we could. We have had a great learning 12 months; driving for the team and stepping up to this kind of car has been great and the rate of development has been really high this year. I know the team well and that could be a great opportunity for me.
 
Q:
Welcome back Mark. How do you feel and how much time have you had in the car?
MH:
Thank you. I haven’t had a great deal of time, just shakedown this morning, but it’s great to be back. The car felt good and the tyres felt good. It is great to be back for the first time since 2008 – and that wasn’t a good one for me. But there’s a real buzz about this event. It’s a great challenge and a proper tough event.
 
Q:
How well do you know these stages?
MH:
I haven’t been in some of them since 1999! I do remember some of them, but they’ve cut some of the trees down and changed them a bit… They are great stages, though.
 
Q:
How would you describe the challenge of this event?
MH: 
It’s about the grip changes. We can all drive on the road, but under the trees where it’s been logged, the grip is changing all the time. Is it better further down the road or up the front? It's hard to know. Looking at the shakedown times, you’d say the road was getting quicker. There’s a lot to think about on this rally. If you get a misted window going through the water then this can cost you a lot of time – there’s loads to think about.
 
Q:
You competed in China recently, so you're not too rusty?
MH:
I’m always rusty! We had a good run on the APRC round, but that was in a different car – this is the first time I’ve been in a really modern car.
 
Q:
How is the car?
MH:
It’s a totally different animal to the World Rally Car I was driving a few years ago. It’s diving and dipping all over the place to get the grip; all of that was taken out of the cars a few years ago, but it’s back now and it really works for the grip. When I’m coming through tonight, the car will be like a nodding dog with the lights at the front. 
 
Q:
What about next year?
MH:
Well, Malcolm says he is looking at drivers, but I don’t think he dreams about me at night! We will do the best we can. We have some experience of the rally, but there are a good few boys here who are very quick.
 
Q:
Is it possible we could see you back next year?
MH:
I would absolutely love to, but I have to be realistic. I have pulled in a load of new sponsors for this rally and I’m not sure they would be there for the full programme. But, make no mistake, I’d chop off my left leg to do that!
 
Q:
Eyvind, this has been a tough season for you…
EB:
It has been a tough season, but it’s great to be back and the shakedown has gone really well this morning. 
 
Q:
What do you think of the conditions on the stages?
EB:
I have only been in the south [of Wales], but I did the Cambrian Rally a few years ago and it’s like the guys said, it’s tricky in a few places, where the logging goes from full grip to not so much. We have to go at 99 per cent to get through.
 
Q:
How was the test?
EB:
I was surprised, this was the first time for the tyre in these conditions and the grip was great and the confidence is good. The atmosphere in the car with Denis [Giraudet] instead of Maria [Andersson] is very good – it’s English notes again.
 
Q:
What about next year?
EB:
I hope I will be back and doing a full season in WRC. We were supposed to do many rallies in WRC 2, but we had some small issues with the car, which are now worked out. The car is perfect and I hope we can be back with the DMACK squad next year.
 
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
 
George Donaldson
WRC Live, wrc.com
 
Q:
Elfyn, is there a chance of a giant-killing act from an R5 car on this event?
EE:
That’s a big ask – the R5 is half the price of a WRC car, but that’s not to say it’s not competitive. But we have to be realistic, it’s a class below and I think we have enough to do fighting with the guys in the same class as us.
 
 
FIA WRC 3 CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Keith Cronin
Sébastien Chardonnet
 
Q:
Given that the Citroën Top Driver prize is a season with the Citroën R5, is this one of the biggest opportunities you have had to fight for?
KC:
Without a doubt. It's a huge weekend and huge battle. The rally is tricky, we need everything to go right. If anything goes wrong it will decide the battle because I don’t think there’s going to be much between us.
 
Q:
You are close to home, just across the pond – does this feel like home?
KC:
This is the only rally I have experience of or at least I have been in these forests before. I hope it’ll help, but it’s really difficult to read these roads. You have to take it as you see it and do the best.
 
Q:
Are you feeling the pressure?
KC:
I am trying to forget about it and just think about each corner and each stage. If I think too far ahead the pressure will get to me. Right now I’m just thinking about that first corner. 
 
Q:
What about the stages?
KC:
Some of them are awesome, really fast and flowing – it’s going to be good. Tonight’s stages are a bit tricky, but tomorrow are great.
 
Q:
Are the night stages the toughest test?
KC:
Without doubt, they’re a bit narrower and there are a few tricky places. Getting through the night will be important.
 
Q:
What’s it been like on Citroën Top Driver this year?
KC:
It’s been a great year. We have worked with the media and been to all of these rallies and had a great camaraderie. But now I just hope we can get the result.
SC:
It was a really nice year. We learned a lot of things, different ways and different countries – we learned the WRC world. It was really nice.
 
Q:
Sébastien, you have the advantage points-wise over Keith but it is all to play for here - how are you feeling?
SC:
Not too bad. The recce went very well and the test was really good for us. I feel quite confident and am really looking forward to the start.
 
Q:
Tough conditions on the stages here, how confident are you in these slippery conditions?
SC:
I think it will be a difficult race, some of the corners are very muddy, then there’s some grip – it’s hard find good grip in these roads. We had a good shakedown, I’m very happy with the car and we have a very good set-up. It will be a good race and a big fight. We are ready for the fight.
 
Q:
Are you feeling any nerves at all ahead of the weekend?
SC:
At the start of the week I was a little bit nervous, but now I am on my race and I think only about the performance and the end of the race – I take out anything negative from my mind. I feel good.