11.04.13

Rally de Portugal - Pre-Event Press Conference

Pre-Event Press Conference organised by the FIA for the 2013 Rally de Portugal

Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday 11 April

Present:
Mads Østberg, Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Motorsport II
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Motorsport
 
Q:
Mads, last year in Portugal we saw very difficult conditions which you seemed to really enjoy! From what you have seen from the recce will it be the same conditions?
MO:
For sure we are here to push this year. It will be difficult this year as well, from the weather last year we damaged a lot of the road and it doesn’t look like they have repaired the roads one hundred per cent. It will be a hard event this year, we need to be careful, but the plan is to push maximum from the beginning.
 
Q:
We saw some tactics from you in Qualifying. What can you tell us about that?
MO:
We decided to run the hard tyre through the morning. We don’t have too many [tyres] for this event, and we will need the qualifying tyres as spares, so we decided to go on the hard tyre. We knew this would slow us down a bit, but I’m quite happy with that and the others choosing the soft tyre is better for us.
 
Q:
We have seen your performance improve this year; you have upped your pace however you have had some technical issues out of your control. What is your thought on the season to date?
MO:
Well, it’s both good and bad things. We have had too many problems with the car, which is difficult for us, but we can see we have the speed and we can push on the high level. I’m happy with the speed, but not the results. We have only done three rallies, hopefully the results will come soon.
 
Q:
Last year, it was a win for you after Hirvonen was excluded. We are still waiting for the first ‘real’ win though. When do you think we might see that?
MO:
I’m trying this weekend…
 
Q:
Since we saw you last you have been a little bit of a ‘Dare Devil’ making a 60 metre jump on snow in your WRC car. Are there anymore stunts planned for this year?!
MO:
It’s was a show in Norway, in one of the biggest ski resorts. Basically, it’s a show for people to come and watch. We jumped just over 60 metres, it didn’t go to plan, we hoped for more. It’s difficult on the snow, you need perfect conditions and we didn’t have them and the jump was a little bit short.
J-ML:
No, it looked pretty nice, I saw some clips on the internet.
MO:
You can co-drive me next time!
J-ML:
I have been doing my stunt driving in a historic car, this is more my area.
 
Q:
Andreas, your first WRC event with Volkswagen; there has been a lot of build-up and preparation to this moment so how much are you looking forward to it?
AM:
For sure the feeling is absolutely amazing. It’s finally nice to stay for the whole rally, instead of doing the recce then going for the plane on Thursday morning. This will be the most difficult rally of season for me. I have only done it one time before in 2007 – I was quite a young boy then! The main thing is for me to get experience. I am here to learn the Championship, to get to the finish of rallies and get experience. 
 
Q:
You must have been about 12 in 2007…!
AM:
I had just turned 18. I’m starting to get old now…!
 
Q:
How does it feel to come here as part of a manufacturer team?
AM:
It’s a dream come true. It was a hard decision in 2008 when I stepped back, but I learned a lot. It was all about getting back to the WRC.  I have done two years in the IRC and I have learned a lot with Skoda, and I am very grateful for that. But now I feel ready to tackle the WRC again. To come with Volkswagen is fantastic, especially seeing what they have achieved. Now I need to be back – it’s indescribable. 
 
Q:
How have your preparations been?
AM:
I’ve tried to get ready as good as possible. I did a two-day test in the Polo and some development driving in Germany. I have also done some cross-country ski races and some other physical training; I have done what I can to get ready for this event. Also, I have a new co-driver. We have done some events in Norway, but this is with English notes. It’s a lot of new: new car, new co-driver, new language and new stages.
 
Q:
How are things with Mikko Markkula? Will having the notes in English slow you down?
AM:
It’s hard to say. It’s working really well now. In Norwegian I had quite lot of words describing the corners, but in English I am struggling to get them in – so I have had to make less words. Mikko is doing an amazing job. It won’t slow me down.
 
Q:
Last year in the S2000 we saw some good battles between you and Ogier - what can we expect to see from you now that you step up to a WRC car?
AM:
The plan is to get to Sébastien [Ogier] and Jari-Matti’s pace, but not in the first rally, definitely not in the first rally! I take my time. I have a good contract with Volkswagen, which is not ending this year. I take no pressure, I take my time and build step-by-step. I will be quite confident when I have the car in my body and I have the feeling – I have the speed to be there. I could go very fast here and then make mistake on second stage and that would not be smart.
 
Q:
Yves, Citroën leads the Manufacturers’ Championship by four points over Volkswagen going into this event, but there has been only one win so far this season and that was for Loeb in Monte Carlo - what are your thoughts on the performance of Hirvonen and Sordo so far?
YM:
I will say, when we go to the rally we try to win, but when we are in a good position with two cars and we can do a good operation for the Championship then we do it like we do in Mexico. Mikko [Hirvonen] had a big disappointment in Sweden, the fact he went off in the first stage on a rally very important for him meant it took some time in Mexico to come again to be confident. And Dani [Sordo] was not so happy in the set-up of the car. We had a good test before Mexico, but we were not able to give him the parts for Mexico. After Mexico we tested again and it was a very good test, and now here he is qualifying first and [winning] Fafe last weekend. He seems very confident – we hope we can do a very good weekend.
 
Q:
As far as we are aware Sébastien Loeb is due to compete in another three rounds of the WRC. Is it possible that we could see more of him should you require his winning services?
YM:
This is not the plan, he don’t want to do that. We have four extra events and those are the rallies he is doing this year. But, if we need one more result for the title, I will ask him – but I don’t know if he will accept!
 
Q:
Last night we saw the launch of the Citroën Top Driver programme; can you tell us why Citroën has decided to provide this platform? 
YM:
Citroën is involved for more than 20 years in the development of drivers. When I come back to Citroën I wanted the complete pyramid. For the first time this year we have this. We have the [DS3] R1 in national championships and the top of the pyramid will be the last level before a driver moves on to be in the official World Rally Car. Last year, 10 drivers achieved this and I am proud we can do this and I hope we can again bring somebody forward.
 
Q:
Also here in Portugal we see Robert Kubica compete in the WRC 2 Championship - what are your expectations of him here and what were your thoughts on his performance on Tarmac in the Canaries a few weeks ago?
YM:
It’s his first event on gravel: we have to let him learn. In the test we saw what he can do, but the most difficult thing for him will be pace notes and reading the road. We need to let him have some time.
 
Q:
Last night the team unveiled the new R5, what can you tell us about the testing and development around it?
YM:
It started a couple of weeks [ago]. We are working on the car – it will be zero car in Rallye de France and homologated on January 1 to have some cars in Monte Carlo next year.
 
Q:
Jari-Matti, you are now heading into your fourth event with Volkswagen. How do you think it is going so far with the team?
J-ML:
I guess, yeah, everybody has seen I haven’t been on my best performance with the team. For sure, the car is quick and reliable, but it’s maybe the same situation as the one Dani [Sordo] is having. This is not having the confidence in the car and this is what I am suffering with. I know what I need to improve to get more confidence, it is in the front diff. Unfortunately, the current regulations say you have to use the same transmission for three events; I did Sweden, Mexico and now here using the same transmission. I can’t implement the change until Argentina. I need to get as good a feeling as I can with the car, then I can improve for Argentina.
 
Q:
How was qualifying?
J-ML:
It was alright, but there was a bit of hesitation. When you have to push, this is when I still struggle. It’s in the braking where I am not 100 per cent yet. It will come when I get the right balance. I need to accept that situation and drive the car as it is.
 
Q:
Are the team giving you pressure?
J-ML:
No, it is a very nice situation with the team. They are giving me a lot of support. But for sure they can’t give that forever and I have to show potential some time – that’s the reality of life. I don’t put pressure on myself here, but I hope to get a bit stronger after here.
 
Q:
What’s the hardest thing about this event?
J-ML:
For me, this is the most difficult gravel rally of the Championship, because of the characteristics of the roads. There are a lot of blind crests where it’s hard to see where the corner is turning – it makes it very hard to judge on the recce. As well as that, a lot of long corners have rocks inside or concrete inside and outside; there are many objects to hit and you have to find all of this in the notes. But at the same time, you need to make sure you are not giving too much information.
 
Q:
Have you got that yet?
J-ML:
I have got good experience on how not to make pace notes! I had quite a big accident here a few years ago, so it was 110 per cent concentration on the recce for me.
 
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:
 
Martin Holmes 
Martin Holmes Rallying, UK
 
Q:
Jari-Matti, why is the set-up of your car a disadvantage and will it be a disadvantage for Sébastien Ogier?
J-ML:
It’s not a disadvantage, there is nothing wrong with the transmission – it works 100 per cent and Ogier is very happy and he can drive it. But I have a completely different braking style and I can’t get myself familiar with the car as it is now. I need to change the set-up to get more confidence on the braking. I could try to change my driving style and brake differently, but this is long process, it can take a whole year so then I prefer to go set-up-wise. I can be more confident with the car like this, this is why we implement the change.
 
FIA JUNIOR WRC CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Pontus Tidemand
Jose Suarez
 
Q:
Pontus, the last time we saw you was in Sweden, your debut in a WRC car and setting the most amazing times! For the rest of the season you compete as part of the Junior WRC Championship, why did you select this Championship?
PT:
For sure it’s good to get experience of the rally. The competition is really high and we needed to be clever, but this is a good way to learn. It’s a good class.
 
Q:
You took some good results last year in the FIA WRC Academy, which events do you target for possible wins this year?
PT:
For sure it’s Finland and also the tarmac in Germany, France and Spain.
 
Q:
Will we see you in a World Rally Car again this season?
PT:
Yeah, we are working for Sardinia. We will see how it goes in Portugal and Greece first, but we work hard for that. The Junior WRC is the main target, but it will also be good to get Sardinia.
 
Q:
How much testing have you done pre-event? 
PT:
I have been in Italy and done two days of testing, 190 kilometres and that’s really good. I am well prepared.
 
Q:
How was the recce?
PT:
It’s okay. It’s going to be a good rally for everybody. It’s tricky and actually, with our car, it will be tricky in places – the most clever driver will take the win here.
 
Q:
Jose, you now have quite a bit of experience after two years in the WRC Academy and now you are back to contest the Junior WRC. How confident are you?
JS:
I am not too much confident. I will go flat out for the whole rally though.
 
Q:
What have you learned from your time in the Championship?
JS:
I learned much, but the biggest thing is to take care and not be hot. Sometimes you have to take things carefully.
 
Q:
You competed in the Canary Islands earlier this year and won your class, what preparations have you been doing for this event?
JS:
I can’t do the test, we couldn’t find the car – I do some small test on  gravel circuit, but only this.
 
Q:
Are you confident for this rally?
JS:
This is a hard rally, there will be a lot of rocks and the punctures can be bad. We have to take a good head. The Championship is long…
 
FIA WRC 3 CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Bryan Bouffier
Alistair Fisher
 
Q:
Bryan, you will compete in the Citroën Top Driver programme here in Portugal within WRC 3 - you are probably the driver with the most experience. What are your expectations here?
BB:
This is a great challenge for me to start the Citroën Top Driver. I will compare with the younger and faster drivers with more experience of the car. It is interesting and I am very motivated and, sure, you get a nice pleasure from the car. I have been involved in the development of the car from the start. The car is very strong.
 
Q:
How do the stages look?
BB:
These are rough stages. The car is strong, but we have to be careful with the puncture – the guys ahead will pull out the rocks. We have to be quick but careful, this is the compromise.
 
Q:
What’s that 52 kilometre stage going to be like?
BB:
I think it will be a great challenge. I feel very good on the physical point, it is a long stage.
 
Q:
Looking at drivers in the Citroën Top Driver who’s going to be your biggest challenger?
BB:
The list is quite long and there are young drivers who have shown they are very quick with the DS3 R3, there will be four or five very quick drivers.
 
Q
Alistair, a great opportunity for you this year as part of the Citroën Top Driver. You step up from the FIA WRC Academy - are you ready for the challenge this year?
AF:
I think so yeah, I’ve had a few victories and podiums, but the experience gained will help me in the WRC 3 and in the Citroën Top Driver.
 
Q:
What do you think of the car?
AF:
The car is a lot different to the Fiesta R2. It has more power and of course it has the sequential gearbox as well. The driving style is slightly different; it’s more like a Group N car. I had a [Mitsubishi Lancer] Evo 9 for two seasons at home, it almost feels like that. Areas like the suspension is a massive step up. 
 
Q:
There are some strong drivers included as part of the Citroën Top driver - who do you think will be your main rival?
AF:
From home, Keith Cronin will be quick. He’s a three-time British Champion and he’s the person I know most about. Keith will be very quick and he’ll surprise a lot of people. 
 
Q:
What’s your plan?
AF:
I won the Academy here last year and this is my third time on this event. My notes seem to work well here – I’d like to push for the win.
 
FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
 
Present:
Elfyn Evans
Robert Kubica
 
Q:
Elfyn, this is the first time we see you compete on the world stage after winning the FIA WRC Academy last year; we will see you as part of WRC 2 Championship this season, firstly in the Fiesta RRC. Is it good to be back after quite a few months away?
EE:
I’m really looking forward to the event. It’s going to be a big challenge, this is my debut at WRC level in a four-wheel drive car and I have a lot to learn. I’ve been working on the development of the [Fiesta] R5 and it looks very promising. I am really looking forward to using that car later in the year.
 
Q:
Tell us more about the R5 car…
EE:
It’s looking very competitive. I have driven it on both surfaces and the feeling is very good, I’m looking forward to getting it into the stages later in year.
 
Q:
You competed in Portugal last year in very difficult conditions - hopefully it will be easier in that respect this year!  This was one of the few events you didn’t actually win last year - what is the hope this time?
EE:
We came here to take a cautious approach; this year we’ve had very limited testing in four-wheel drive car, so we come with a similar approach. We will be cautious and build on that on rallies to come.
 
Q:
What are your hopes for this year? Do you think you can win in WRC 2?
EE:
That would be my goal, but I know there is a lot of development to be done – but I hope to be pushing for event wins later in year.
 
Q:
Robert, welcome to the WRC. We will see you compete in the WRC 2 Championship this year in a Citroën DS3. Are you ready for the challenge of Portugal?
RK:
It will be a great opportunity. The last two years haven’t been very nice after the accident. I am happy to be here, but it’s a big challenge to compete in WRC 2. But we are ready and of course my experience on gravel is very limited. I haven’t done such a long rally in my life or such long stages as here. There are quite a lot of new new things for me, but I take it as good fun and a good opportunity.
 
Q:
How difficult do you think that 52 kilometre stage will be for you on Sunday?
RK:
It will be tough, but it was my favourite on the recce. It will be physically a big test for me. This weekend, I hope will give me good positive answers – in general as well as in driving. It is a big challenge, which gives big satisfaction: I hope to get to the finish and have a good weekend.
 
Q:
This is just the beginning of your WRC journey but is there a master plan - will we see you progress into the WRC proper?
RK:
Honestly, I hope not – it will mean I will be where I was before [the accident]. The goal is that I would like to come back where I was, and this is why I say: “I hope not…” in case I won’t come back to F1 – which might happen. If I continue to have fun in rallying then I will I continue. After a difficult period, it’s nice to have the good feeling in the car.
 
Q:
How much testing have you done?
RK:
Two days, around 300 kilometres.
 
Q:
How did the test go?
RK:
In testing, it’s always easy. You have a few passes and then I know the road, I know where to put the car, how the grip level is and I can play much more with the car and it seems easy. Then you go to the stage after two passes and you have to drive with good speed. Testing is definitely helpful, but the main difficulty for me and the main reason we are doing these rallies is to collect experience and gravel will give me hard lessons in the future and I can only discover them driving on the stages and not on the test. I will use the beginning of the season as just a good possibility to collect experience.