ERC - Rally Poland pre-event virtual press conference | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

ERC - Rally Poland pre-event virtual press conference

19.06.21

Nikolay Gryazin, Alexey Lukyanuk, Miko Marczyk, Andreas Mikkelsen, Malcolm Wilson, Jon Armstrong, Victor Cartier, Nick Loof and Andrea Mabellini attended the pre-event press conference for ORLEN 77th Rally Poland, the opening round of the 2021 FIA European Rally Championship

In attendance:
Group 1:
Nikolay Gryazin
Alexey Lukyanuk, Saintéloc Junior Team
Miko Marczyk, ORLEN Team
Andreas Mikkelsen, Toksport WRT
Malcolm Wilson

Group 2:
Jon Armstrong
Victor Cartier
Nick Loof
Andrea Mabellini, Northon Racing

Q:
First round of the ERC, back in Poland, champion from last year, what are the targets this year?

AL:
You know I was thinking for some time how I should approach this season. Finally, I decided to focus on my own feelings and emotions and try to get as much fun. Because you should imagine that fighting for titles is pretty exhausting. To get more fun from the process, from the rallies, from the social side of this sport I think I will focus more on positive things and having fun. I hope it will also bring me good results, at the same time but let’s see how it works.

Q:
We can’t go through an ERC event without some kind of drama for Alexey Lukyanuk so talk us through what happened on Tuesday and then to now setting the quickest time in qualifying?

AL:
It was almost one year since we drove this Citroën C3 Rally2 on gravel, back in Latvia, on tests three days ago it was just misfortune that the dampers didn’t do their job properly and the car just launched from the bump outside of the road and we did like 20 maybe 30 kilometres only and rolled. Thanks to the team they made an amazing job repairing the car, actually bringing a new bodyshell from France. It’s a big story behind and for myself I decided nothing changed, only my budget went lower than ever. But still it’s not my fault. We thought how to set-up the car and it worked quite well in the Qualifying Stage. I feel strong, motivated. Of course, it’s not easy to fight with guys like this golden boy [Nikolay Gryazin]. We will try to do our best, push hard and give some fights to young stars, old stars and everybody. Let’s have some fun.

Q:
You won in the ERC back in Hungary last year so what are your hopes and aspirations for this year?

AM:
The hopes are high, obviously I am happy to be here because it was a bit back and forth if I was going to Safari or not. In the end we come here, which I’m really happy about, one of my favourite rallies of all time, good memories from 2015 and 2016 so it’s a good way to start the championship with this rally. Hopefully we can have a good show. The stages look nice, a lot of new stages since I done it in the past, but they look nice.

Q:
There’s a lot of big talent in the European championship, is there a target on your back with your world championship pedigree?

AM:
For sure people want to win the rally and I’m not the only one. There’s going to be big competition this weekend. Like you say, some very strong names and I think both of these two guys [Gryazin and Lukyanuk] will be really fast and I do believe Craig [Breen] as well, he’ll be in the mix and many other names as well, Miko Marczyk is always fast, especially on his home roads. It will be a tough challenge, this I think. It’s always tricky on these stages first time through because you have to be very committed but it’s all about trusting your pacenotes.

Q:
Turning to ‘Golden Boy’, Nikolay Gryazin, as he’s now called, a part programme for the moment, the first two rounds for sure and maybe other rounds coming but what is the target this weekend?

NG:
The target is also to get a good pace and drive against fast drivers. Normally my philosophy this year is to work against fast drivers. For sure here it’s nice to have Lukyanuk and Mikkelsen and, also, Breen, we’ll be able to fight each other. For me it’s good to prepare for WRC and overall in the future because it has some new stages here so for me it’s nice to test on the first run. Because normally in rally it’s important to be fast on the first run, that’s why we can here for the experience and also in ERC I have good memories from the past and it’s nice to come back again and see all of you. Here it’s more friendly like home. I would not say it’s like holidays for me but it’s good to have some time for the soul. But it’s a tough weekend because the temperatures are so high and we will sweat like hell. But we will need to show a good pace and a good fight against the guys. I hope we will have no problems and we will be in a good position, but I will not tell which one.

Q:
You mentioned problems so can you explain what happened in the Qualifying Stage, 14 minutes was not a very good stage time?

NG:
I just decided to have a rest because it was so hot. But in reality it was some gravel part when we came from the Tarmac. There were some deep ruts because of the really, really soft sand there. First and second practice was more or less okay and I was trying to go there quite slowly to avoid a big hit, but still every time I was digging some sand into the radiators. In the qualification I decided to go a little bit faster but more smoother and to not have a big impact but then it starts to get more and more sand on the radiators so it was full of dirt inside so no fresh air and the engine starts to overheat a bit so we decided to stop because there’s no sense to kill the engine. So we stop to clean everything and after we just slowly go to the finish. Luckily we got the car back home.

Q:
Next it’s Miko Marczyk, the home hero. How much pressure are you under given it is your home rally and what is your target this weekend?

MM:
It’s really nice to be here. In 2020 it was our debut in the full season of ERC. This year I hope we will manage to be in all eight rounds of the ERC. Here in Poland it’s special for us because my main partner [ORLEN] is the main partner of the rally. We are here for the third time and I used to be quite good for my experience on the Rajd Polski stages. Of course, I am not maybe talented like Alexey or experienced like Andreas, but sometimes, for example on the qualification stages, maybe in the second loops or on the stages which I know from the past we would like to push, and push as much as I can because this is the rally where I think it’s possible for us to fight with the best European drivers. But I think they are the best world drivers in the ERC. Because in 2020 that was for me not easy that every time on the list there were some guys from the WRC. But now it’s normal for me to fight and to develop with them. I hope in this season we will show good pace, much better than last year. And this season and next season I hope that one day we can fight for the best position there is.

Q:
You said this season and next season – you already have plans for next season?!

MM:
You know the first season for us last year was all about experience and knowing the roads. This season will be like a hybrid season because Rajd Polski I know well but still I don’t know Azores, I don’t know some other rallies. But this weekend I hope we will push and I hope it will be a better pace than mine last year and it’s possible to drive fast. Not as fast as Nikolay, Alexey and Andreas but I hope we will be not far, far away from them and we will wait and watch their fight somewhere from the positions behind them and then work to fight in some places with them.

Q:
Next it’s Malcolm Wilson from M-Sport. It’s a big weekend for M-Sport, particularly M-Sport Poland, a home rally and a new Rally3 car. What can you tell us about this?

MW:
Obviously, a lot of people are saying ‘why are you here?’, but, to be honest, I haven’t been to M-Sport Poland for over 18 months now. The last time I was there the car was basically still on the CAD. I thought it was a great opportunity to come to see the car in the flesh because we haven’t actually had any cars in the UK so I really wanted to see how the cars were going to perform as well.

Q:
M-Sport has cars in three different categories in the ERC so how proud are you of your ladder of opportunity and the chance you give youngsters to get into one of your cars and basically go all the way?

MW:
It takes me back basically to when I started driving because you had the Ford Escort and you could start with the 1300cc engine and basically keep the same car all the way right up to then what was a Group A World Rally Car. It is the first time what I class as being the perfect ladder of opportunity. The FIA have done a great job in defining the different categories of car and obviously, as you can imagine, I’m delighted that we’ve got a car in every category. When I started, for me it was always important to be driving a car that a manufacturer was competing in at the highest level. Because you knew that if you did reasonably well or were successful then there was a chance of you actually progressing and if you got the success then hopefully you got the backing. We’ve created that and we’re the only manufacturer to have a car in every category and it’s something we’re really proud of. Obviously Maciej [Woda, M-Sport Poland Director] has done a great job here and in Poland as well.

Q:
How important is it for M-Sport Poland to have a round of a high-profile championship in their home country?

MW:
It’s very important and you just need to see I think there are 24 Fiestas entered on the event and that tells you how important it is. And I must admit that it’s really opened my eyes at the end of the day as to how many good cars, teams and everything that are here. I’ve never been to a European championship event probably since I was driving and it’s great for us to see that this is where our customers are. For me not to have the pressure of a world event and come here and meet and talk to all the customers it’s great to hear their feedback and their comments.

Q:
Next up it’s one of your customers Malcolm, Jon Armstrong who is driving one of the Rally3 Ford Fiestas. Jon, obviously there’s a world campaign for you but you’re here in Poland for the first round of ERC Junior. What do you make of the car and what are your hopes and aspirations?

JA:
I really wanted to drive the car. I sampled it in February just around a race track and thought it was a great little car and wanted to try it on a rally. I really liked Rally Poland when I did it in 2016 and everything came together to do this rally. We just want to come here to learn and do the best we can. We’ve got stiff competition in Ken Torn, a very quick driver. It’s really good for me to develop myself as a driver against him and also enjoy driving the Rally3 Fiesta. I’ve enjoyed driving it so much in the test earlier in the week and today in shakedown. Compared to the two-wheel-drive car you can carry a lot more speed in the slower corners and it’s just fun to drive, that’s all I can say. I’ve just got a smile on my face.

Q:
Is this the kind of car we can see some giant-killing performances from and mixing it where it shouldn’t be? Has it got that kind of potential?

JA:
It’s hard to say. It doesn’t have that much horsepower than the Rally4 car but obviously it has a lot more traction. I’m pretty sure we can put it up there and put in some good stage times. Poland is probably a bit fast for this car. Where it might shine is the more technical, slippery conditions, maybe like the Azores Rallye. We’ll see. We don’t have any big targets this weekend, we’ll just do the best we can and see how we get on against Ken and see where we end up in the end.

Q:
Depending on where you end up in the end, is there an option for you to continue to drive this car in the European championship?

JA:
Yeah, for sure. It’s not in the plans at the moment but if the luck is with you as they say and if we got a good result it might be tempting to do some more rallies. For sure it might be a struggle going back to Rally4 now on Junior WRC events, but I’ve got a test before Estonia just to get used to front-wheel drive again. It’s definitely a really fun car to drive and I want to do more rallies in the future with it.

Q:
Next up it’s Andrea Mabellini, who is making a massive change this year, from the Abarth to the Clio in the new Clio Trophy by Toksport WRT. Coming here as a champion in the Abarth, why the change and how excited are you?

AM:
I’m really excited about this programme. Last year I drove the Abarth and this year we change it to the new Clio Rally5. It’s a really good car, a different car. It will be challenging but we hope to do some good results.

Q:
You started in circuit racing an in two years you’ve driven two different types of rally car. How demanding is that?

AM:
It’s different, especially on gravel where I don’t have a lot of experience. We are trying to learn something on the test and to the qualifying to do our best in the rally.

Q:
How exciting is it to be part of a new one-make rally series?

AM:
The guys in this trophy are really fast so it’s challenging for us. It’s what we need this year and we hope to do our best and do some good results.

Q:
Next it’s Victor Cartier, you’re new to the championship but also your car us. What can you tell us about the Toyota Yaris Rally2 Kit?

VC
I decided more than one year ago to build my own car. it was a huge challenge. I just finished my studies as an engineer and I begin this project. It was amazing, really hard. And now it’s the first time on gravel here in Poland and my first rally in ERC2. We have a lot to discover, a lot of set-up to do in the car, I have to progress in my driving because it’s the first time I drive in four-wheel drive.

Q:
How much work did it take to build this car?

VC:
One year and a half, six months of design behind my computer and almost one year of building.

Q:
You’ve competed on events in France in the past and you competed against one of our former winners, Adrien Fourmaux?

VC:
Yes, yes, I competed against Adrien during two years. I developed my driving in the French Junior championship and it was a good school that allowed me to progress. Now I step up in European level and it’s a great opportunity for me to be here. I hope to do the entire championship but it depends on the budget of course. We try to do our best.

Q:
Finally, last but not least it’s another newcomer, Nick Loof from Germany. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what drew you to the ERC?

NL:
My name is Nick Loof and I am from Germany. I am 19 years old and I started when in 2018 in the German championship. I built up some experience in the German local championship and now I felt ready for the next step, the international rallies. That’s the plan for this season and we worked really hard over the winter to fix this plan. Now I am standing here and I am really thankful to start my international rally career.

Q:
We know you’ve been working hard because you took on a very experienced co-driver in Hugo Magalhães. What was the reason behind that and how much of a help is his experience to you?

NL:
He’s a huge help, he’s working a lot and is helping me to improve a lot. It was the intention just to have a co-driver by my side where I can learn a lot from and learn fast because he has a lot of experience in international rallies. So the contact came to Hugo and I told him about my project for this year and from the first minute he was into it. We started pacenote training at the beginning of the year and now we are standing here together and making a good team now.

Q:
What would make you happy here in Poland and throughout the season?

NL:
I would say the big target is for sure is next season. This season is only for learning for me, I need to improve over all the rallies. I am just feeling like a beginning again but the goal is to improve a lot, learn everything, take every metre with me to learn and the goal is to win this ERC3 Junior Championship and that’s why we are here.