WRC - Rally Estonia - Pre-event Press Conference transcript | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WRC - Rally Estonia - Pre-event Press Conference transcript

15.07.21

Transcript of the pre-event press conference organised by the FIA for the 2021 Rally Estonia

2021 WRC - Rally Estonia - Opening parade at Tartu City Hall

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Elfyn Evans (GBR), Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team
Ott Tänak (EST), Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team
Teemu Suninen (FIN), M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Q:
Ott, winner here in dominant fashion last year. Many changes to the stages we saw last time out, what are your views on this year’s route?
OT:
Luckily it’s the summer time and still we see there are some showers going around here and there but hopefully it’s getting less and less. Like this the roads should stay in a better shape and I guess that’s what was pretty much what was missing last year, it was getting rough and it’s smoother this year it should be much more fun. Otherwise, I think the new stages in the north are quite challenging and something we’ve never driven in an Estonian rally so it should be good fun.

Q:
Challenging in what way? Are they different to what we see in the traditional stages?
OT:
They are different because they are new, never driven. Everything that is new you always need to discover a bit. There is some new and special surface on top so it’s something we need to discover how it’s working and things like this. If it’s so fast, for the first time it’s always a bit exciting.

Q:
Last year you were the winner of this event and it was a great win for you here. Can you repeat that and really get this championship title kick-started with a win?
OT:
I don’t know what is kick-starting, I mean we are driving for points all the season, so definitely one event like this is not going to make a difference. We need to score well in every remaining event and let’s see. First half is done, second half is now to go and for sure we keep doing our best and we see at the end of the year.

 
Q:
As you mention you are scoring points on every round but maybe it hasn’t gone to plan for whatever reason on some events. The pace has always been there but maybe the final result hasn’t been what we have expected. How much of a concern do you still have regarding certain elements of the car?
OT:
These are the things which me personally can’t change so it’s not something I should think about as it’s not in my hands. The only job I can do is to drive the car fast and this is what I need to focus on.

Q:
Turning to Elfyn Evans, second in the championship for you Elfyn but Sébastien Ogier is now 34 points ahead and he’s starting to increase that gap rally by rally. How critical is it now, at the halfway point of the season, to turn things around in that sense?
EE:
Of course the gap had steadily been increasing a little bit, let’s say, but of course the win he had in Sardinia was strong for him. Then of course my mistake followed by his win in Safari was, of course, was what really opened up the gap a lot. It changed quite quickly over the course of two rallies let’s say, that gap opened up. Of course, it can equally come down just as quickly. But having said that it’s still a bit gap and it’s going to require us to focus on each event and try to get the most out of it. There’s nothing more we can do than that other than to come to each rally and give our best.

Q:
Jari-Matti [Latvala] mentioned last year it was obviously a Hyundai 1-2 and Toyota had the pace but not quite the pace to match the Hyundais. What was the feeling from the test, do you feel you are coming here with a better package this year?
EE:
Definitely I’d like to hope so, yes. There were some good changes on the test and I think we all left testing quite happy. You never know really until you come to the rally exactly where you are in terms of pace but, overall, where we were with the car last year compared to where we are now, we all seem to feel happier and I’m looking forward to the rally, to be honest.

Q:
Elfyn, you mark your 100th WRC event here in Estonia. Back in the day when you started out in 2007 did you think you’d reach this milestone?
EE:
I didn’t really think about it to be perfectly honest but probably not, especially when you think about that first Rally GB back in 2007, probably this seemed like a really long way away. But obviously I’m lucky to have the support of many good people to get me here to these 100 rallies and hopefully there will be a few more to add to the list.

Q:
The soft tyre is the selected Pirelli tyre this year, with the extreme temperatures we are seeing though and the fact it’s a softer and sandier rally than some of the events we go to will it be a case of saving the hard?
EE:
It’s true, it’s exceptionally hot here. But having said that you’ve already referred to the surface is very sandy. I don’t think we’ll be in a situation where we’re going to be saving hard tyres, but that doesn’t mean to say the hard tyre is going to be off the table completely. I don’t see an issue with quantity, the allocation here is correct.
 
Q:
To you Ott on the tyre front, is it going to be a case that we are going to see some interesting tactics with regard to those hard compounds this weekend, you probably have the most experience here to be able to give us some insight?
OT:
I think we have the same allocation as Elfyn and the hard is not off the table.

Q:
You don’t want to give us any more information than that?
OT:
What more can I give, I have no idea what’s coming?

Q:
But how many times have you competed on this event?
OT:
What do you mean? With this tyre? Never.

Q:
No but you’ve had tests on this tyre so you can at least give us some insight into what the stages are like and how they can possibly hold up?
OT:
The stages that are coming in the rally with this surface we were never able to test so these are handmade and specific, we don’t know, we have to discover during the rally.

Q:
Teemu, welcome back to the championship. We see you back in a WRC car here. Firstly, how hard was it to miss Kenya completely and do you feel ready for the ultimate speed of this event?
TS:
Yeah, I think so we can be in the pace because it’s one of my better rallies with Rally Finland. Now we had a test for the first time in one and a half years so I would say it’s even easier to start the rally now after the test than before like Sardinia when I didn’t test before the rally. It was a great feeling to be testing and get some driving. It’s good to be back in a WRC car.

Q:
How did the car feel this morning during shakedown?
TS:
Actually the handling feels really good. The fast rallies have been a bit of a struggle for us in the last years but it feels like we have been able to take some steps forward so that’s always positive. Also we have to understand that we can’t fully change the car in one and a half days but every step forwards is always a good thing.

Q:
What are your thoughts on the new stages we are seeing and the overall route we are seeing here at Rally Estonia this year?
TS:
Actually not super-interesting. I haven’t really seen like that narrow roads here in Estonia and it’s in the middle of really deep forests and sometimes I got the sensation that we are driving in the dark because you can’t see anything behind the corners and you just have to trust your pacenotes, But there the drivers can make some differences.

Q:
Talk to us about pressure for a drive next year and the need to deliver a strong result, are you feeling it or do you feel you’ve already shown that?
TS:
Of course I have shown my pace in fast rallies. I’m not really feeling like too much pressure because I don’t want to worry about what happened before in fast rallies. I just have to focus myself and do my best and hope it’s enough.

Questions from the floor:

From Gunnar Leheste, Delfi (EST)

Q:
What are your thoughts on the new stages here in Estonia, particularly the Power Stage?
OT:
Honestly saying, the new stages on Saturday they are nice. The short one in the south is quite demanding with a lot of vertical, it’s really a good catch from an Estonian forest. The Power Stage is quite opposite, it’s quite disappointing. To show Estonia it’s definitely… we don’t see Estonia and the Power Stage is the most watched on TV. Maybe the image is not correct, but I would say the other stages are good.

EE:
Generally a bit more technical, a bit more narrow, more hidden let’s say that what we were used to. Maybe not quite as fast as well so definitely a challenge with brand new notes and long grass on the sides of the road, that’s going to be a challenge. The Power Stage is not really what you think of when you come to Rally Estonia. It’s different, very, very slow, big stones to stop us cutting on the inside. It looks pretty soft and I expect it should be quite cut up as well by the time we get to the Power Stage.


FIA WRC2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
TRT World Rally Team – Mads Ostberg (NOR), Citroën C3
ALM Motorsport – Georg Linnamäe (EST), Volkswagen Polo GTI

Q:
Winner in 2020 in the FIA WRC2 category and previous overall winner of the event, are you looking forward to the challenge this weekend?
MO:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of the best rallies we see in the season and I’m really excited to see Estonia back in the championship again this year. I feel really good and it’s always nice to come back to Estonia. I do have a lot of good memories from the past as well when the rally was based in Otepää. It’s nice to be here in Tartu as well, it’s a good base for the event with so many nice stages so I’m really looking forward to it.

Q:
We see some new stages this year and they’ve changed things a little bit with some narrow and technical sections to get through. How much of a contrast is that to the normal fast, flowing stuff we see?
MO:
I think it’s nice to see some more technical changes. We did a lot of the fast stuff last year and we had some more narrow sections which were quite loose. Now we see a little bit of new type of roads now that are still quite narrow but more used roads so hopefully they won’t cut up as bad as we saw in some sections last year. I think they will be a huge challenge, especially the morning loop on Saturday when we see those new stages for the first. It will be a big challenge but I think it’s nice to see these types of stages.

Q:
Second in the championship so far, how critical is it to get maximum points on the board now?
MO:
It’s important anyway. We are second in the championship although we have done one rally less than Andreas so we still theoretically have a very good position in the championship. But the fight is really hard and I think we need to be on pace from the beginning. There is no chance to hold back and think about the championship. You have to do this rally stage by stage, just focus and be on the top speed all the time.

Q:
We saw on social media a couple of days ago when you were heading back from Finland from testing in Ouninpohja we saw some dampers in your back. Do you normally carry all that stuff to a rally?!
MO:
I like to bring stuff to a rally, especially when it’s new development parts. It’s always good and I’m happy that Citroën is supporting me like this and when we do the development tests they take the new parts off the car and give them to me and I can bring them here to our even team and then use them on the rally. For sure it’s the latest spec we have and I’m glad to have it here for the rally.

Q:
And they obviously worked pretty well for your test then?
MO:
Yeah, they did, they worked very well. I was very pleased with our testing in Finland. The rally here is slightly different so we had to do some modifications for our event test here on Monday but the feeling now is very good.

Q:
Georg, home event here in Estonia, firstly let’s talk about that because it’s the second time we see the WRC here so what does it mean to have the championship here in Estonia?
GL:
Obviously it’s very special because we’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Estonians in general are massive rally fans so it’s an incredible opportunity and I’m really happy to compete here in my home country on some familiar roads. It’s always special.

Q:
With that specialness does it bring added pressure to say you’ve been able to perform at your home event?
GL:
I don’t think so. Considering it’s our learning year and the first half of the year hasn’t been the nicest to me, it’s been quite shaky if I’m honest. But for now the main goal is just to enjoy, do better than the last few rallies, do better than last year and constantly try to improve.

Q:
We see a new co-driver alongside you for this event in James Morgan, who’s a solid co-driver. How is that relationship going so far?
GL:
So far it’s been going great. He’s very professional, we get along very well in the car and generally he’s just a nice person so so far, so good.

Q:
And what are your thoughts on the new stages we see at Rally Estonia this weekend?
GL:
They look great, quite technical. Obviously they can be a bit tricky but we are looking forward to the challenge. I think it will be the same for everyone but it will be great.

Questions from the floor:

From Christopher Krutto, Postimees (EST)

Q:
You’ve had a few co-drivers this year and now you’ve got James alongside you. Will it affect your pace?
GL:
I guess we’ll see. It’s been how it is but I think James will do a good job.


FIA WRC3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)
Egon Kaur (EST)

Q:
Second in the championship with two wins under your belt this year. You’ve had success at this event, but last year a good run ended on the final stage. How confident are you of success this year?
KK:
It’s good. We did three rallies and we won two. I did a mistake in Sardinia but now we are here I don’t worry about my skill and my speed. I have big respect for this rally and also for my rivals of course but this rally is a unique event and I love this rally to be honest, maximum speed, long jumps, flying corners, amazing.

Q:
We saw brilliant pace from you last year although quite go to plan on the final stage. But can you take confidence from what you achieved in terms of performance last year?
KK:
Yes, yes, it was good speed and a good rally for us not including the last stage. But we had a nice fight with Jari Huttunen. The goal was to keep him behind me. Okay, this is rally, but, now we have a new rally. I have a good car and a really good co-driver and a fantastic team. I am sure we can achieve something good here but I’m sure we need to be focused in every second. As I said the speed is maximum to what we’ve seen ever sometimes and it’s important. We need to be focused more than anywhere, you know what I mean because this is Rally Estonia. Okay, I’ve never done Rally Finland but I think here is much quicker!

Q:
We are seeing some new stages this year and changes to the route. What do you think of the itinerary?
KK:
I think Egon can say something more about these stages but in my opinion they are more narrow, twisty, maybe soft in some parts but I don’t know how it’s working after a few WRC cars. But, at the same time, it’s really, really fast through trees so it’s a demanding event. But I still love this rally, amazing, the stages give me goosebumps.

Q:
Egon, we have seen you compete within WRC3 this season, your best result being second in the Arctic. Home event here for you and you have competed every single year since it began in 2010 - what does it mean to you now that it within the WRC?
EK:
I think I missed one year. I think it’s a really, really great achievement that Urmo and his team have done to get the rally here, not just to do it but to do it really, really well. Hopefully it will be here not just for one more year but many more years to come.

Q:
Kajto says the stages give him goosebumps. Is it the same for you?
EK:
Yeah, it’s always you have to be 100 per cent concentrated and even a small mistake… it’s not going to end well for you. The stages are demanding and Urmo has done everything he can to make them more demanding.

Q:
Yeah, the Clerk of the Course told us they were trying to make it a little bit tricker for you guys this year, do you think they have achieved that?
EK:
They definitely are trickier, even the same stages we had last year. Last year we had some rocks that were stopping us from cutting. This year they removed them and put them in new places so actually we couldn’t really use the old pacenotes and had to adjust them so definitely tricky.

Q:
Are there standout stages that are particularly tough in your head that you need to be more than 100 per cent focused on?
EK:
I think the most tricky one is the one called Neeruti, which is actually a short one but it’s a very demanding one so you have to take extra care there.

Q:
Strong field of competitors within the WRC3 category, can you have the edge over them and how much pressure do you have on your shoulders?
EK:
I think it’s something similar that we had last year and at least we can rely on that and that we have the speed necessary and that we had it on the previous events in Portugal and Sardinia. We didn’t have a lot of luck there but we just hope luck is on our side this time.


FIA JUNIOR WRC CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Mārtiņš Sesks (LVA)
Robert Virves (EST)

Q:
Martins, championship leader in the Junior WRC after two rounds. You won this event last year - confidence high of a repeat performance?
MS:
I think every race is different and in every race… the drivers have their lucky rallies and for sure this one will be quite challenging as we saw from the shakedown there are five to six cars that are competitive here and potentially and competitive to win. So it will be a real challenge.
 
Q:
So that means you have to be on your limit all weekend as every driver will be in every category?
MS:
Yeah, for sure, it’s three long days and it’s not easy to be on the limit for 300 or more kilometres.

Q:
You’re a young guy, what are you talking about?
MS:
I know but every mistake counts quite hard here so you need to have your eyes open all the time and be maximum focused.

Q:
But you are ready for the speed, you’ve been competing at home in Latvia on another super-quick event so you’re ready for the speed we’re going to see out there this weekend, yes?
MS:
I think we are. For sure I am doing quite good on these roads. After last year’s win this year it’s a completely different story so I will just focus on my driving and just drive without mistakes. As we’ve seen on the last rallies it pays off.

Q:
We’re seeing a different Mārtiņš Sesks this year because last year there was a lot of fighting talk but now there’s a mature head on your shoulders. Where has this come form?
MS:
I don’t know. This year’s previous rounds show that if you have the pace then that’s excellent but it’s another story to keep it through the whole rally. So I’m just being low, not like I’m showing I can win and I can do it. It’s better to stay low.

Q:
We were watching the Junior social media channels this week and you were getting in on the football action, taking some penalties. Were you successful?
MS:
I wasn’t in the penalty shots, basically I scored the goal but they didn’t count it or show it!

Q:
Robert, let’s turn to you now. We have an Estonian driver in every single category this year, which is fantastic. Tell us what it means to you to have the WRC here in Estonia?
RV:
Sure it’s really special for me because my first memory of rallies in Estonia was when I was three years old and I remember exactly when I sat in a rally car for the first time.
 
Q:
That’s actually pretty special then to be competing here and potentially competing for a win in the Junior category. What are you thinking about the possibility of that?
RV:
For sure the possibility is always there, it depends how I can get the feeling, how fast will be the other guys. Every other Junior driver is really fast on these roads.

Q:
It’s going to be a huge fight for the top step of the podium so have all your preparations gone?
 
RV:
It could be a lot better but I am happy for what I was able to do before the rally so it’s okay.

Q:
Talk to us about the longer route and the new stages for this year, what do you think of the route?
RV:
It’s really difficult. Even the fastest and the most experienced guys will have quite a big challenge here. On some stages no one knows what’s going to happen and it’s good for the championship as well to have so many different characteristics on one event.