WRC - Kris Meeke "The feeling is good. What can I say – it has been a really difficult start to the year."

18.05.17

WRC - 2017 Rally de Portugal - Pre-event Press Conference

WRC, FIA, Motorsport, Rally Portugal, Portugal

Present:

Kris Meeke, Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team

Dani Sordo, Hyundai Motorsport

Ott Tanak, M-Sport World Rally Team

Esapekka Lappi, Toyota GAZOO Racing World Rally Team

Q: Dani, you were quickest on shakedown this morning. How confident are you feeling that maybe the next win in the championship may be yours this weekend?

DS: We have three really hard days in Portugal so the time in shakedown is not really important. But it is good for motivation – it is best to do the best time and not tenth. The car is good – I am happy with the performance of the car and everything so I am looking forward to the start.

Q: We have seen good pace from you on gravel on previous events. It was a shame what happened in Argentina and you lost so much time there. Are you happy with the pace you have had on gravel so far this year?

DS: To be honest, the car was better than last year and is much easier to drive and I have a lot of confidence with the car. In Mexico we had the problems and in Argentina, we broke the steering but the speed on the stages was good. So I am happy with that.

Q: Talk to me about strange goings-on happening today? You seem to have found clothing – underwear – in your car and everywhere you go. Tell me about this superstition you have.

DS: [Laughs] I always put the same underwear on when I drive in the rally car. I clean it every night though. So on the last day in Argentina, I cleaned but in the morning, it was still wet, so I put it in the car. After the rally, the mechanics found the underwear in the car, so I told them they need to bring to this rally. Because it is my lucky underwear. So the mechanics filled my car with girls’ underwear – it was everywhere. They must have bought this and spent a lot of money!

Q: We see a few changes to the route this year – a few new stages and some stages in reverse. What are your thoughts on the route this year?

DS: It is a little bit trickier this year in some places, as some stages are in reverse direction. So we needed to make new pace notes and in some places, it is a little difficult. Some places are a bit wider, a bit faster, as the organisers have worked a lot on the stages. Some stages are a little bit softer than last year so it might be difficult for the lines. But in general, the rally is nice as always. The last day, around Fafe, is different, a little bit more slippery, and a bit more difficult but it is a nice rally.

Q: Kris, moving to you. Any superstitions?

KM: I can confirm I definitely changed my underwear after Argentina!

Q: It was a heck of an accident on the last day. A testament to the strength of the car that you and Paul [Nagle, co-driver] walked away relatively unscathed.

KM: Yes, you don't have to make a big mistake to have a big accident when you're travelling at those speeds. I still don’t really understand what happened – we had a little bit of understeer when we turned-in and I still don't understand for why. It put me a little bit towards the outside. I thought it was fine but then it touched the left rear [wheel] and after that, I was a passenger. The cars are designed very strong and if there is such a thing as a perfect accident, it was a perfect accident for a rally car, as it rolled and dissipated energy. So we were able to walk away, which is the main thing.

Q: I guess you are raring to get going here in Portugal. How is the feeling coming in to this event?

KM: The feeling is good. What can I say – it has been a really difficult start to the year. We have had lots of technical issues and I have made a few mistakes so to combine that all together, it has been difficult. For sure, in Argentina, we were caught by surprise on the first day. Hopefully, here we have made some steps to improve that and won't get any surprises. Our simple goal this weekend is to try to get a clean run on all fronts – on the technical front and from my performance.

Q: What steps have you put in place?

KM: I think it's obvious if anyone watched the on-board footage from Argentina on Friday that we were having some difficulty, so we have tried to rectify that.

Q: Looking back to last year, obviously great memories of a very successful event for you. Looking at the route, there isn't a huge amount of change but there are changes and you did mention that on one of the stages, the trees are no longer there and that changed things for you when you went through on the recce?

KM: It's all in the same region and more or less the same roads but some are reversed direction, so it means some new pace notes. They have also cut down some of the forests and the trees are missing in some places, so it feels like you are in a different part of Portugal, as you always remember those stages with trees there. It's a bit like in Wales or Finland, where they cut down a lot of trees and everything looks so much different. But it's still the same region, the same surface. The organisers have done a lot of work and they roads look good for the moment but I’m sure when you put some rally cars down them, they will get quite rutted for the second pass. So it will be a big challenge.

Q: Ott, let's turn to you now. We have also seen some good pace from you on gravel this year. Things have happened, there have been some technical issues, a few little mistakes on the way and you are not quite there on the top step of the podium, where you should be. How are you feeling about this rally and the possibility of challenging for that win?

OT: Obviously the target is always to do well and to win the rally. Now the championship is very tight and many drivers are going fast, so you need to do a perfect rally to win. We need to try. I have done Portugal several times and we have already some experience, so the feeling so far on gravel has been good, so let's see what happens.

Q: Everyone is working to improve what they have with the new cars now. What have you been testing to make the car more suited to you??

OT: I think the car has always been suited to me - that has not been the problem. But to improve the performance. As we are now linked between the rallies, we cannot change too much but inside the box, we try to improve everything and find some new bits. In Argentina, it was the first time we were at full power on gravel, so we got a lot of good feedback. So I will say we are still learning a lot more in the rallies than in testing, with so many different conditions – some extreme places you learn quite a bit and then, after the rally, you try to improve these areas and try to get a proper package.

Q: So the target, as always, is to go out and win. But as we have seen this year, you can’t predict what will happen next. How does it feel to be part of that kind of championship?

OT: It feels exciting. For a driver, you never know what's going to happen. The aim is always to do our best, prepare as well as we can. The recce is important and on the rally, after a couple of stages, you start to understand where you are with the feeling and your pace and you can see what is possible but many drivers are pushing hard. So we need to do the same.

Q: Esapekka, welcome back to the WRC and to the WRC itself. You are making your competitive debut in a world rally car here in Portugal. I know you have been waiting for this for a while now. We are almost ready to go with the first stage – how is the feeling for you at this point? Are you excited?

EL: Yes, I am, to be honest. I am surprised that I am not nervous at all. Let's say that it is a comfortable feeling. Maybe it will come – tomorrow perhaps.

Q: Tell us about your preparation before the event. How much testing have you done on gravel??

EL: I have done three days. Last week, we had a pre-event test here in Portugal but there was heavy rain for two days, so we couldn't do any set-up for the dry and this morning, I was struggling a bit as the conditions were fully new for me. We made some big changes between the two runs and now it is getting better but I think we still need to work during the weekend to get it a bit more suitable for me. But generally, it is a question of fine-tuning – the big things are already correct. It's just building up the confidence.

Q: Given that you are still working on the car set up, what are you hoping for this weekend and who will you be comparing yourself against– your team-mates only or the rest of the field?

EL: If I need to compare, I think the team-mates are always a fair guys to do that because it is always good if you can beat at least one of them. Maybe for Jari [Matti Latvala] it is a bit too much but Juho [Hanninen] is a good benchmark, I would say. If I can be behind Kris in the standings, it would be mind-blowing! The target for the results – let's say I am open-minded. It takes time to understand the level of the competition, how hard you need to push all weekend and I just want to have a problem-free rally and the finish is what it is. The position should hopefully be OK but I need all the kilometres and the team needs them as well.

 

FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:

Miguel Campos, FIA WRC 2 Championship

Max Vatanen, FIA WRC2 Championship

Gus Greensmith, FIA WRC 2 Championship

Q: Max, WRC2, we’ve seen success for you before in Portugal but in a very different vehicle. So tell us about the R5 and how you’re finding it?

MV: It feels good to be back. Especially here because it’s a country I really like. The fans are really passionate; when you’re out there you really feel it’s a special atmosphere. And this is where I started my WRC campaign four years ago in the R2. In 2015 I won the class and now to be here at the start of my WRC2 campaign it feels really special. We’ve done a few days testing with the car and I can tell you when you’ve driven the R5, you don’t want to go back!

Q: How are you finding the car? Is it set to your preferred settings?

MV: I feel it’s a car I enjoy a lot. I like how I can drive it, how we can push the limits much further than the R2, but of course it will take time to adapt to that. But of course, that’s the point of this weekend. To go step by step and to learn.

Q: It’s a huge field in WRC2 – it’s the first mandatory event for WRC2 registered competitors – so you have this huge wealth of competition to judge yourself against. What’s the plan from you, and who are you going to be comparing yourself to?

MV: Yes, there are a lot of people, but the point is really to get experience. The focus is only on myself. To give the best of myself and not take any pressure. We just want to learn as much as we can. We’ll be taking the rally stage by stage while trying to improve, so let’s see where we are at the end.

Q: How many more events are we going to see you on this year?

MV: Hopefully as many as we can, but it’s always a problem of budget! Hopefully we’ll be at Finland at least. We’ll just see with the other ones.

Q: Let’s turn to Gus Greensmith now. Tell us about the love for gravel here in Portugal, Gus. We saw you compete in Rally Sweden, a surface you were not used to at all. Yet you set very competitive times. Now you come to a surface you are familiar with, what can we expect from you?

GG: I think at the start of the year we all made the plan that this year would be a learning year for me. I’m just approaching each rally at whatever speed I decide is safe, so that I don’t make a mistake and don’t lose experience by spending it in a ditch. I’m just driving at a pace I feel comfortable at. Obviously gravel is something I’m familiar with and Portugal is my favourite rally. I don’t know why I like it here so much, but everything just seems to click. I think my pace will be a lot closer to the front. Maybe not looking at Andreas [Mikkelsen] but we’ll just see how it goes.

Q: What about the test before the event? It was quite extensive. Are you now familiar with the car and the set-up?

GG: We are, we spent a day testing on Monday with Pierre [Loubet] and Teemu [Suninen] and it all went very well. We tried quite a few changes on the car and we found something that I think is probably the best set-up I’ve driven on since I’ve started rallying, so it’s gone really well for me. Obviously we’re in the new Evo 2 R5 Fiesta, which is another step forward. I think it will make a difference here in some of the medium-speed, technical stages.

Q: You said you’re going to be comparing yourself to the guys at the front, which is always a good thing to do. With the pace that we’ve seen from you, what are you hoping for? Are you hoping to fit into that top five?

GG: I don’t really have a place I’m looking at. I’m more focused on comparing my times. Obviously I’m driving against people with a lot more experience than me. Teemu has been doing this for a couple of years, Eric [Camilli] has been in WRC so he’s a very experienced, fast driver. At the end of the day, this is only my second event in WRC2, so to be consistently comparing myself against them is possible optimistic, but I have a strong belief in myself and my capabilities. I think we’ll be able to produce some good times.

Q: Now to Miguel. Tell us about your plan for this weekend. What are your hopes this time around?

MC: I hope to have better luck than last year, when I had some problems. This year is the first race that I compete, and it’s very special for me because it’s in my country. I would like to take the first place in the Portuguese drivers and get a better position in WRC2.

Q: There’s a strong field of drivers here. What have you been doing to get yourself ready to compete?

MC: This is the race that I’m competing. But of course I would like the better position. The competition is very hard, Every driver has lots of experience. But we’ve done a lot of kilometres in test. I will do my best to take the best place for my country.

Q: So have you done any testing before the event?

MC: Yes of course, but only for this event. I’ve been driving every week, every month.

Q: What about the route? This is your home event. We have some new stages, some are in reverse. What are your thoughts?

MC: For me, I like the rally too much! The roads, in my opinion, are very good. We have one or two that have had some work. So we might have more gravel for the second pass. But in general the stages are very, very good.

 

FIA WRC3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:

Nils Solans, FIA WRC3 Championship

Enrico Brazzoli, FIA WRC3 Championship

Q: Nils, great to see you here in WRC3. You’ve competed here before, once in the north, once in the south. What do you think of the stages up here in the north?

NS: Well, here in the north stages are a bit more difficult, more broken. But at the same time it’s more technical and more difficult to go fast. But we will see what happens with the new WRC in the front because we don’t know yet what the road will be like – destroyed or not. It looked good in the shakedown so we’ll see in the stages.

Q: What’s the objective for you here this weekend? There aren’t a lot of WRC3 drivers here, but there are enough to go out there and compare yourself against. What are you hoping for? Do you think you can get the win in WRC3?

NS: For sure, we’ll try it like everybody. We know it’s a difficult rally. We’ll see what happens on the road with conditions and the car. But yes, we will for fight for the WRC3 win when we know we can push, but where we can’t we’ll take more care.

Q: In terms of getting ready and preparing for this event, what have you been doing?

NS: Not too much. We had the Corsica rally that was very good for us. And we did 20 or 30km with our new car, so not so much. But we know that car from last season and it’s quite the same.

Q: Now to Enrico. What do you think of this event?

EB: It’s a fantastic rally. The spectators are very warm and for me, I enjoy it. I’ve been here three times. The special stages are very difficult, but the rally is very important. Tomorrow for us it is important to have maximum concentration. The target is to enjoy it, and to get on the podium for WRC3.

Q: What do you think of the new stages?

EB: Very difficult, but the rally of Portugal is – for WRC3 – very tough because of the big ruts. But that’s the rally!