WRC - Ypres Rally Belgium - Transcript of the pre-event press conference | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
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WRC - Ypres Rally Belgium - Transcript of the pre-event press conference

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12.08.21

Transcript of the pre-event press conference organised by the FIA for the 2021 Ypres Rally Belgium.

WRC Rally Croatia - Thierry Neuville giving interviews

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – Sébastien Ogier (FRA)
Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT – Thierry Neuville (BEL)
M-Sport Ford WRT – Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)

Q.
Thierry, the WRC has arrived at your home country in Belgium to the famous Ypres Rally. Firstly, now that you are here and recce is done, how are you feeling about the fact that Belgium has a round of the championship?
TN:
I always came to Ypres as I like the event. I always enjoy coming here. There are special roads. There are a lot of straights, a lot of junctions, quite slippery tarmac in quite a lot of places. To come back here in a WRC, in my favourite car, it definitely feels good basically. I had the occasion in the past to drive in Germany - mainly my home event - as is actually closer to my home than Ypres. Now being in Belgium, with the support of the fans, driving on the roads I like, it’s definitely going to be a highlight.

Q:
You’ve completed here six times previously and won the event in an R5. We are using some same elements and same stages but in different directions? What is the route like for the WRC, does it measure up?
TN:
I am a little bit surprised actually, the bits they have chosen. There is a lot of new tarmac compared to the rally event two years ago. The roads were a much rougher and much more bumpy with more cutting than there actually is this year. I have done a lot of the bits in some way, in some direction. In the end, we only had 45 percent of pace-notes for this year’s itinerary. I think I know very well where I am all the time.

Q:
Tell me about the testing ahead of this event. You have done two tests here. Why have you done two tests – is it at a critical place in the season or did you have two tests in the bag? Or another reason?
 
TN:
Basically, Ott had two days in Portugal and I should have done two days in Sardinia but at that time, I didn’t see the need to test two times there. I wanted to keep one day available for another rally. Coming here to Ypres, I had a lot of rain on my first day. The target was to test a little bit closer to the rally again because we would have a better idea of what the weather would be like. So I used that extra day to test a week before the event.

Q:
I know you would love to get a win at home, any driver would. So how critical is it to get a win here Championship wise now for you?
TN:
Championship-wise for the Driver’s Title, it is going to be a tough challenge but you never know what is going to happen. We have seen so many things happening throughout the past seasons and everything is still open. It is going to be a tough challenge, I will need some help from the others as well but I can only concentrate on myself and do my best and see where I end up.

Q:
Seb, championship leader heading into what will be a brand-new adventure for you. It is surprising how many drivers have not competed here. Tell us what you have thought of the stages from your recce experience?
SO:
Like you say, there are a lot of things to discover. I think there was no real surprise from the recce because obviously, like everybody, we have watched the videos before coming here to have an idea what is coming. It has very specific roads. Really narrow most of the time and a lot of grip change, a lot of cuts even Thierry said there aren’t as many in the past but there is still a good amount, I believe. It has some big challenges also for the tyres, I would say. We have at the moment kind of weak tyres on tarmac and the puncture risk is pretty high, I believe, this weekend. I hope that this will not actually decide what happens with the results. But we have to keep in mind that this can be an issue for sure. But yeah, it’s maybe not the nicest profile you would like to have for a tarmac rally but it is still a challenge for sure. It is still a very difficult rally where at the end, the World Championship is nice as it is diverse. Every rally is different and this one is very untypical for tarmac. I think it is nice to have it in the Championship now. At least, I think one positive is that there shouldn’t be so much road evolution here. I believe that every guy that is starting at the top whatever, five – ten have a chance to fight without thinking about road position. It is always nice for the rally and for the competition. So let’s see what we can do. It is hard to say, we had a not a very good test. The roads were not very nice, honestly, not very representative. So we have to see a bit tomorrow morning with Shakedown, how the car is, to confirm that we feel good here. You mentioned the Championship, of course we are good where we are now but with five races there are many points to catch. I know very well, as well, that there is no time to relax yet and I have still give my best. At the same time, there is no absolute need for wins so I try to keep the clever approach I have had in my career, is a key word.

Q.
I don’t think I have ever seen you relax even when you have won the Championship to be honest. You still go for it. You mention that it is a specialised event in the Championship. You have seven titles; you don’t need advice from anyone. But when you come here for the first time, do you look for anyone different. I notice your route note crew includes Simon-Jean Joseph, who has been here seven times and been on the podium. Has he guided you at all?
SO:
Of course, he helped me a bit but it is already a long time ago that he competed in the event. So actually, we asked a local guy to help us a bit with Stéphane Lefebvre who has good knowledge of the roads. It was impressive to see that: he described many, many little areas with little tips of where to brake. I will keep my normal notes and not use his maybe, but it is nice to share a little bit of that as the grip change is not so easy to see everywhere! It can help a little bit even though it will be challenging to follow the pace of Thierry or Craig as they have the experience. But I always start the rally with the aim to win so let’s see what we can do.

Q:
Adrien, your first time competing here in Ypres and it is back into World car here. It is not your home event perse, but you don’t live too far away from here. How do you feel coming into this event?
AF:
I am really happy. It is not so far of course, it is just 40kms from my house. It will be really interesting and I will have my family and friends here so I hope it will be a really nice event for me. To come back with the WRC car, I am really happy. It will be my second event on tarmac with the car. It will be a big challenge, especially on these really difficult roads but I am sure we will enjoy.

Q:
Croatia was impressive with your result and you almost getting fastest times before Ogier made sure it didn’t happen. What are your targets here?
AF:
The targets will be to get three or four top three in the stages and fight for the top five. I know it will be a big challenge. It will be my goal for this one.

Q
Talk to me about the days here. Are there any days or stages that stands out for you for being the most challenging?
AF:
Honestly, the stages in Ypres are quite similar. It is in Spa that it will be different. It is bumpier and also the track will be a bit like Monza. It will be a bit challenging to change the set-up for the Sunday. For this type of roads, we will be cutting and we have to be clever for where the mud goes after the first guy on the road and just try to find a good working point. For sure it will be fast so it will be difficult to find it.

Q
Can you tell me about next year and what can you tell me about 2022, where you will be and what you will be driving?
AF:
Actually, we are still working on it. Probably the best thing to do is to ask M-Sport about it.

Q
When will there be a decision or when would you like there to be a decision?
AF:
For sure I would like a full season! If that is possible.

Q
You would like a full season and a decision as soon as possible of course!
AF:
Yeah, I would like a full season for sure. To do all the Championship in a Rally1. But actually, I don’t know. But even for this season I don’t know what my car will be for the next rally. I also want to know what will be the next rally and the rest of the season.
 
Q
On that note Sebastien, do you know how many rallies you will do next year?
SO:
I think I mentioned that it is very dependant on what will happen for me with the WEC. That I don’t know and that will take time before I know. I am sorry that I can answer this question for a while.

Q
I will stop asking when you make the decision!
SO:
I will have a test with the WEC car in November. I believe after that I can say a bit more.

Questions from the floor:

Thomas Michiels, RTC Télé-Liège

What are the big differences from Saturday to Sunday?
TN:
To be honest, it is quite a different kind of profile. Still the stages they choose are quite bumpy and some of the sections are greasy and muddy. But honestly, there has been quite a lot of rain in this area. For the rest, it is basically a circuit racing style of stage, using the track and the paddock and a bit of rallycross as well. So it is a bit of compromise and mixture. A bit of everything. To be honest, they could have chosen nicer roads.

Eric Dupain, BELGA Press Agency

Who is the local diver that helped you? You mentioned Stéphane Lefebvre?
SO:
Yes exactly.


FIA WRC2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Hyundai Motorsport N – Oliver Solberg (SWE)
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – Tom Kristensson (SWE)

Q:
Oliver, you are in brand new Hyundai Rally2 car, that makes its debut here. Tell us a bit about the process to getting to the rally and how excited are you to rally it here?
OS:
Definitely, I am very excited. It is a new era and a new beginning for the Rally2 project. It is very exciting, we have done a lot of testing and it looks quite positive. We will see when the rally starts. Personally, I have not done a lot of testing on tarmac with the car. I only had one pre-event test day on tarmac, and it was my first time with it on this surface. I have done all my testing on gravel and snow, so on that point it was very positive. We will see on tarmac this weekend but for sure I am very excited.

Q:

Sweden is well represented in the press conference! For both of you, it is your first time here in Ypres. What a fantastic event it is and over the years it has developed such a following. What did you think when you got out to see the stages does it live up to the expectations so far?
OS:
I think it is new for almost everybody. For sure it is a fantastic place first of all here in the town. There is so much passion and atmosphere. On the stages, of course, if you take away it is not wet this time but still you have the expectations with the huge cuts so it will be difficult tarmac. So it is a big challenge and very, very fun.

Q:
When you were out on recce and looking at the cuts, how muddy were the stage itself, was there a lot of dirt out there?
OS:
Still the road is very dry, the cuts are still very wet, soft and muddy. For sure it will drag a lot of mud out on the road and it will be a big challenge. It will definitely not be easy and we will experience something on the shakedown tomorrow morning very early.

Q:
It is quite a decent Shakedown stage tomorrow. It used to be a stage here. You have nine kilometres to get used to the car.
OS:
It is a long stage, you need to really wake up for sure for Friday afternoon. It is very representative of the stages and it has everything to have for the rally. Definitely, it will have everything for the proper stages.

Q:
What is the hope for yourself in terms of a result?
OS:
First of all, the goal for Hyundai, for me and Jari Huttunen is to finish, to get the car to the finish, to look good and to have the car looking good. For sure, that is the main priority and if the results come with it, that is fine for me.

Q:
It seems that a lot of drivers are getting guidance from Belgian specialists. Are you getting any?
OS:
That is secret!

Q:
Nothing is a secret!
OS:
I actually talked to Freddy Loix a bit last night and for sure, he gave me some advice. It is good practice, to get some advice. It is a good paddock, everyone is open, everyone is family.

Q:
Tom, It is your first season here so how do you assess your performance in WRC2?
TK:
Definitely, as you say, it was a very special start to the season and it was very special for me just to be able to do it. I am very happy to be here and I have worked very hard for that. For sure, we are improving time after time and we are trying to find the speed and find the confidence in the car. It is very difficult – more difficult than I expected to find the correct pace to be able handle the setups of the car and to try to find the speed on the stages and everything. To be honest, I didn’t expect to have this long way to go but I will keep pushing and keep working. I am really looking forward to this adventure. For sure I am more confident on the gravel, on the stones but I really prefer to do this kind of tricky things. For us Scandinavians, it is very fast stages with very tricky cuts and tricky, muddy places. For sure it will be a great adventure and I am really looking forward to it.
 
Q:
What have you been doing to get yourself prepared for this event, aside from watching the videos, what have you been doing to get yourself Ypres ready?
TK:
Basically, I am driving a lot on the simulator at home. So, I am putting quite a lot of time there. Otherwise, you have to focus lot on driving. I am also focusing on a lot of different things, like breathing in a special way to put more air into your body and focussing at the same time. I am spending a lot of time in nature, just watching some water to see how it moves, to see how it works. So that is also making me confident in my body. You can learn a lot from that. So that are some of my ways to do it.

Q:
You are like a life coach Tom. I love this. What is going to be the strategy, expectation and hope? It is going to be the first time here. As you said, you don’t feel quite as confident on tarmac as gravel so what is the hope this weekend?
TK:
As you say, this is a great adventure and a great opportunity to learn very much. So for sure we will learn very much this weekend. I can’t expect anything. I try to explain the stages and the surface for my engineer but I had to show him on video. You can’t even put it to words how it is. That is one of the main things you have to do. You have to be there and go for it. I think I need to do it step by step. Let’s see, you don’t know how the cuts will be until after the WRC cars have been through. So you will come there and in that second you have to take a decision and do the right thing and go for it


FIA WRC3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Yohan Rossel (FRA)
Ghislain de Mevius (BEL)

Q:
Yohan, we haven’t seen you for two events, yet you continue to lead the championship! First time here in Ypres and you are up against a number of strong Belgian drivers within FIA WRC3 - how are you feeling about the weekend ahead?
YR:
Yes, I think it is a hard weekend for me. I love tarmac but it is not the same tarmac that I know. I think its very challenging, but the local drivers are very fast. The tests are good. I think the corner is so difficult because the grip changes all the time. We will see.

Q:
It is going to be an incredible battle this weekend. There are so many local drivers in WRC3. What are you hoping to walk away with in terms of a result? Do you think that a podium is possible against these guys with their local knowledge?
YR:
I hope yes. It is the same as for other weekends, in Croatia, in Sardinia, in Portugal, the local drivers come in WRC3 and it is so difficult for the guys. You win the Championship but yes, it is not the same race but honestly, I have to beat the guys the same: De Mevius, Princen… We will see tomorrow.

Q:
What about the stages. When you have been out on recce, has anything stuck in your mind as being – woah, that is a really difficult stage?
 
YR:
Yes. I look at a lot of videos just before the event and when you are in stages, it is so different. The grip is not the same. It changes all the time. The fast road is just amazing. The corners are so fast but when you are at 200km/h it is not the same. I think it is so difficult for the first time here but I am ready for the challenge.

Q:
Ghislain, a WRC event in your home country of Belgium - firstly how does that feel?
GM:
Of course, it is very nice to have a WRC event for the first time in Belgium. It was almost the case last year but then it was cancelled. But it is very nice to have all the best drivers in the world in Belgium for the first time.

Q:
You’ve competed here four times previously. How much of this year's route is familiar, and how much will previous experience of this specialized event be crucial this weekend?
GM:
It is definitely a very tough event, I did it four times but still it is a little bit new when you come back and make the recce and see all the roads. It is very slippery, there is a lot of change in the grip and a big risk of puncture with big cuts, it is fast. It is very specific. It is not easy even for us as Belgians, we know a bit more of course but still it is difficult.

Q:
That local knowledge, will that give you the advantage over someone like Yohan who has not been here before but has huge talent? Is that going to be the extra edge you need this weekend to maybe get on the top step of the podium?
GM:
It could help a bit. We know the type of road and there are also other Belgian rallies that are like this one so that could help, and the other Belgian drivers have done Ypres many more times than me. As you say, Kris Princen is always fast. These kinds of drivers know very well the rally.

Q:
It looks like at the moment that we are going to have a dry rally. Is that a relief?
GM:
Well. It is not a relief for me as I like it when it is tricky. But when it is raining here, it is very, very tricky. If it was raining, I think a lot of people that are not Belgian would have gone off quickly as it slippery, almost like ice at times. It will be dry so you can push a little bit more and it is not the same.

Questions from the floor:

Eric Dupain, BELGA Press Agency

Will you go flat out to try and beat the WRC2 and WRC3 drivers or will you have a look at the standings and use your head depending on what happens with the Belgian Rally Championship?
GM:
Honestly I don’t know. I want to try to fight with each Rally2 car. Of course for me, the Belgian Rally Championship is more important but as this is the first time for this event in Belgium, I want to do my best and maybe beat as many Rally2 cars as possible.
 

FIA JUNIOR WRC CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Sami Pajari (FIN)
William Creighton (IRL)

Q:
Will, we will start with you. We know Sami is currently the golden boy but maybe you can be the golden boy here in Ypres as you have experience here, three times previously?
WC:
We’ve been here a couple of times before with the British Championships. It is nice to return to a rally that you have done before. It gives me a little confidence but like I said, the event, the class of drivers in the Junior Championship this year are pretty special. It is definitely not going to be easy but definitely nicer coming to a rally where you know what to expect. You know you can do slightly more preparation before the event, looking at onboards and things like that. The recce went well and I am just looking forward to starting.
 
Q:
What defines the Ypres Rally? In terms of the tarmac we have here, does it compare to anything you have experience in Northern Ireland or Ireland?
WC:
Yeah, not really. Of course, coming from back home, tarmac is perhaps my preferred surface. Here the tarmac isn’t abrasive, it is very smooth. There are a lot of cuts where the mud gets dragged out onto the road, it makes it even slipperier. Yeah, throughout one stage you can have lots of different changes of grip so it is about reading that and putting it into your notes as best as possible. I have been here a couple of times and still have not managed to master it. Perhaps this could be the year. It is not going to be easy but it is an amazing rally. The town is looking good with so many people around. It is just nice to be here.

Q:
What is it like with the route? I am sure it has changed a little from when you have done it. They have changed things around a little. Is it still as good as it was before and rise to the expectation?
WC:
Yeah definitely. It is going to be a big challenge for everybody. The route is good and it is quite compact which is nice. It makes the recce slightly easier for everybody. Yeah, it is going to be good!

Q:
I could see from the Junior social media this weekend that you have had a bit of a flavour for making chocolate. It is a very Belgian thing to do. Were you as successful chocolatier?
WC:
Yes, Sami and I were making some chocolate cars. Not great for the diet but it was good fun. It was nice of Calinor Chocolatier to let us in and give us a tour of their factory. I hope I can bring some back home.

Q:
Potentially a podium that you are aiming for here?
WC:
Yeah, its whatever we can do really. That would be amazing if we could get a podium but I think it is just going to be a matter of getting to the finish. If you can manage that you might not be so far away. I have said that every rally this year and everyone has gone as fast as they can and everyone seems to have gotten to the finish line. It is hard to know how to play it but a podium would be amazing.

Q:
It is your first season in Juniors, what have you thought of the experience so far now that we are at the penultimate event?
WC:
Yeah it has gone really fast. I have tried to enjoy each event. Now we are here and there is only one event after this one. It is so professional to be competing at this level and it has been amazing to be competing in this championship. I would love to be here again next year if that is possible, so we will just have to wait and see.

Q:
Sami, championship leader heading here to Ypres after an impressive win in Estonia. Now we switch to a completely different surface. What have you thought of the Ypres experience? What do you think of the stages?
SP:
First of all, I think it will be a really challenging event. I think, ok the Covid times have been tough but I think it has made these World Rally Championship calendar events more interesting. We have seen some really interesting and special events that we don’t normally see. So at least I think it is exciting to have new events. For me it is the first time here but I think it will be a good challenge.

Q:
The last time the Juniors were on tarmac was back in Croatia which you had a quite a number, the most stage wins there. So you are comfortable on this surface?
SP:
Yeah, Croatia was a nice experience. It was actually my first proper tarmac event. It was really nice to see the pace there also. I think here is quite similar to Croatia. It is difficult to say. Tomorrow we will have more thoughts about pace. I will do my best and I will try make a clean run through and not ruin it in the beginning. It is a long rally.

Q:
Are you feeling pressure on your shoulders? It is the penultimate rally. You are leading the Championship. Is there any pressure on you at all now or are you too cool for that?
SP:
Maybe I would feel some pressure, but I think the fight is still so close that it is not over by far yet. Its maybe even helping me as it is easier for me as I am in front fin the Championship but there are still so many different – two rallies so a lot can happen but it looks good.

Q:
Have you got any Belgian best friends Sami? Has anyone been advising you on how to drive these stages?
SP:
Sadly not. Of course I have been watching some on boards and this normal preparation you will do before new rallies, so for this rally it is not changing too much from the other rally preparation itself. At least I think it will help me as now, maybe I don’t need to win so I am just looking for a podium and solid points.\
 
Q:
You say that now, I don’t need to win and then you put the helmet on tomorrow morning and things will change.
SP:
Yeah, we will see. I will try to concentrate on doing my own pace and I will see where we are after that. I will need to think that, should we take some more risks or not. We will see.

Q:
How old are you again, remind me?
SP:
19.

Q:
Very mature approach for a 19-year-old. We don’t have any questions from the floor. Thank you very much.