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

WRC - Rally Portugal - Pre-event Press Conference transcript

20.05.21

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

2021 WRC - Rally Croatia - A. Fourmaux

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Sébastien Ogier (FRA), Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team
Dani Sordo (ESP), Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team
Adrien Fourmaux (FRA), M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Q:
Séb, you are the championship leader heading into Rally Portugal. It’s always a tough challenge out there. The stages are beautiful though. We had a little bit of weather this weekend. Obviously you have been doing a little bit of a rain dance. Is that going to help at all?
SO:
I think when we recce the stages the conditions were looking not too bad. For sure, there was still some dampness and some mud in places. Opening the road at the time of the recce would not be too bad. Now two days of sun in between. I know that conditions can change quickly. I am not too sure what to expect tomorrow. It looks better, I believe, than it was two years ago. I hope for the best like always. Seems to be cloudy again tomorrow. This may bring a bit more humidity and maybe give me a chance to open the road.

Q:
A lot of people are talking about the new engine in the Toyota Yaris? Can you feel the power? Is it like a rocket now?
SO:
I wish I could feel it. We are playing with such small details. This morning the grip was so low. Maybe 100PS less would have been much easier to drive. I think it is good the team is pushing so hard and, of course, working on the future of the new cars. The team is preparing as best they can this last season of the generation of these cars. I really appreciate working with the team but now, every time you bring updates on the paper, it activates the talk and the buzz in the media. But the truth is the last rallies we also had some small evolutions, which were maybe bringing even more. This one is on paper and we talk more about it. We keep working on every area. We don’t mention the suspension – that is an open topic for every team keeps working on this – but you have seen some aero, engine obviously, differential and there are some difference compared to last year. Every area is still pushed forward. I like to drive the cars. This is a good feeling.
 
Q:
It’s a familiar route. There are two new stages, which a lot of drivers have mentioned feel like Australia. Sunday morning we have a brand new stage and Friday afternoon as well.  What are they like?
SO:
The stage seven from Friday is a little bit different and is definitely looking like Australia with the locality and the trees around. The profile is wide compared to the rally and fast. So yes, it reminds me in parts of Australia. Sunday morning is quite different. It is similar ground to the stages like Fafe and very sandy and a very nice profile as well. It is much narrower and a lot of camber and it looks like a very fun playground to drive. At the same time, not so much room for mistakes. With this camber road if you catch the wrong side of the camber it can be painful, I believe, so you will need to be precise with your driving. I am looking forward to driving that one.

Q:
Dani, welcome back. We saw you in Monte-Carlo. You have a new co-driver and we are back to a gravel rally here in Portugal? What are your thoughts?
DS:
I think it will be a challenging rally and we have new tyres and my co-driver, it will be quite okay. My co-driver, we work a lot together already before the rally. In the shakedown he was quite okay. But the real challenge is in the rally, like always. It will be difficult like always but it’s nice to be in Portugal.  

Q:
Let’s talk about tyres. Eight soft compound tyres this weekend. All kinds of things come into play. Does that make the tactics tough?
DS:
It will be interesting, for sure, to know with the tyres how many kilometres you can use these tyres. Because when you see the profile of these stages you need to use a lot these soft tyres. You don’t have. For the whole rally you have eight tyres. It will be a little bit like playing. Let’s see. We discover, a little bit, the tyres for everybody on gravel how they will work.

Q:
What was it like on the shakedown this morning in contrast to the recce? Because it was more than damp in places on the recce.
DS:
Yes, in the recce it was really damp, like Seb said. I think these two days made a big difference. Some places were a little bit muddy. There will still be a cleaning effect on many of the stages. Not like before, two years ago, but the temperature will also be a little bit cold so it will be interesting.

Q:
How much is your road position going to help on the first day?
DS:
For sure, a little bit less than in Sardinia. It is less dry but if it is not rain it is always a little bit advantage to go in the back. We are already playing this gamble. If you want to be faster than Sébastien Ogier, you need to play like this. 

Q:
Adrien, what an incredible debut you had at Rally Croatia a few weeks ago. You were second fastest twice there. You achieved the targets that you set yourself. Are you still on a high after that?
AF:
It will be a completely different rally for me. I will be the only one with no experience of the rally. It will be a big challenge. I want to enjoy and try and improve my pace. If I am able to do one or two top five I will be happy. I will be the same goal as before. This is a completely new rally. We did not have the best test for this rally. We had wet conditions and the big rain. The first time on gravel with the car. The first time it was not easy to find the good set-up. I will maybe be a bit struggling but I will try and find a good way in the rally.

Q:
It’s your first time on the rally. What were your thoughts on the recce?
AF:
Honestly, I was enjoying the stages. It was really nice. Amarante is the only one I have done. Last year, I did one rally in Portugal and 23km of the stage. There are many different stages that are very interesting. I am sure we will enjoy a lot because we can have a lot of speed and it is quite narrow sometimes and we need precise pace notes. Hopefully I will have the good ones.

Q:
What target have you set yourself for the weekend?
AF:
I would say two or three top five and final position, I don’t know, maybe top six or top seven.

Questions from the floor

André Gonçalves, Record newspaper (POR)

Q:
Can you tell us about your plans for 2022 and the future?
SO:
It’s a question I answer very often at the moment. I don’t forbid myself anything about the future. My plan is clear. That will not change. I will not be fully committed to the full championship next year. If I do some rallies and how many is not clear yet. Nothing is impossible. I mentioned already Monte and let’s see if I have some more. At the moment, one of my dreams was also to go racing on circuits and maybe go to Le Mans. If that happens I have to see how much time that takes me because, one of the main reasons I want to step out of the championship, is because I want to spend more time at home with my son and family. If I start to have a double programme with some rallies and some races, I will not like this option. Give me a bit of time and I get more plans for the future.

Q:
Do you think that you could become the next big French driver in the WRC? Are you feeling any pressure?
AF:
This is quite loud over my head. I am just trying to do my career and be the best possible. I know it is a big challenge to try and do the same as the two Sebs, so I will try. Let’s see what the future holds.

Q:
Seb, you are coming to the end of your career. Does that seem a little weird hearing that question?
 
SO:
Honestly, I’m not the first one but time really flies. It doesn’t seem so long that I was in his position. I was just starting the championship. Maybe it’s also because I enjoyed these past years so much and had the chance to have a lot of success. I definitely had fun during my career. It is kind of strange, for sure. I always say I keep focus on the present and don’t really think about the future. I am here to try and clinch the last title. If you think these years have passed so fast. Like Simon, my gravel crew say, ‘life is beautiful’. There are many things I will still enjoy. You will probably see my face a few times.


FIA WRC2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Mads Østberg (NOR) TRT World Rally Team
Esapekka Lappi (FIN), Movisport
Oliver Solberg (SWE), Hyundai Motorsport N

Q:
Mads, Croatia just a few weeks ago and victory there in WRC2. All change now on the gravel in Portugal. Did the shakedown go well this morning?
MO:
That was definitely a wake up call this morning to be honest. It was quite slippery. I came directly from a tarmac event in Hungary and I can tell you the grip level on dry tarmac and wet and muddy gravel is quite different. I thought I had done my internal adjustments to the gravel but I definitely hadn’t.

Q:
It is quite a switch isn’t it coming here for gravel?
MO:
We have done it in Rally Spain so many times and normally the opposite way. I thought it would be the same, no problem. But it was a problem. Okay, shakedown is done now. I got a bit into it. Conditions were very tricky on the shakedown today and will be on the rally as well. I think it will be just trying to do the adjustments to the car, to the driving and it will be all about tyre choice.

Q:
What an incredible line up we have in WRC2. Maybe it’s the category to watch this weekend?
MO:
A lot of strong drivers. And drivers you normally see in WRC cars. No doubt it’s going to be really hard this weekend with a lot of strong entries. If one has a problem then the others are there to continue the fight. We try to stay on top of things and make a good strategy for the event and try to push when it is safe to push. In one way you have to go flat out because, if you start to give away time, it’s complicated to take it back. You have to be a little bit strategic from the start, but less than normal. A lot of the rally will be down to a little bit of luck or bad luck. Something will happen to someone. You try to make sure it is not you. You have to commit to the lines and trust your pace notes. Maybe around the corner there will be a rock or something that will put you off. You can’t predict it and have to be ready when it happens.

Q:
Esapekka, you took the win at the Arctic Rally. That feels like a long time ago. Welcome back. Are you ready?
 
EL:
Yes, all is fine. I did the recce and some testing as well. One day, last Friday, in the Fafe area. It was all good. Dry conditions. I had a chance on Saturday and Sunday to continue but I said no. I have done that in the past on the debut with Toyota. We had one test day in rain and the rally was on dry, so I started with Hänninen set-up.

Q:
What is your objective here? Is a win on the cards?
EL:
For sure, we try. Like Mads explained with a very long explanation. It’s like Jari (Latvala)! Anything can happen. I don’t know what the car can take to be honest. I have not driven this kind of car in these conditions for a long time. I cross my fingers for the weekend and hope for the best. It’s weaker. I tried to, let’s say, mould these things during the recce already and change some lines to not be so aggressive. But I am not convinced it’s enough. We have to see. 

Q:
Do we know at this point what the plans are for the season?
EL:
Well, for me, it looks like this will be my last rally. You never know. No other plans at the moment.

Q:
Oliver, it’s your first time in Portugal. What a gravel event to come. It’s tricky. What are your thoughts?
OS:
My first time here so I just try to adapt as quick as possible. A race like this is amazing. Fantastic roads and the atmosphere is great. Recce was not easy when you have to do the pace notes for the first time compared with many other rallies. It’s very nice roads and it’s going to be tough definitely.

Q:
What stood out for you as being particularly challenging?
OS:
Every stage has its own thing. Every stage is very nice. I think there is one stage on Saturday which was been raining a lot. Maybe they have been grading it. It should be fine. Tyre choice is going to be critical and very difficult.

Q:
What is your plan for the weekend?
OS:
I will tell you that on Sunday evening.

Questions from the floor

André Gonçalves, Record newspaper (POR)

Q:
Can you tell us about any advice that Petter (Solberg) has given you for this rally? Do you feel the pressure being the son of a World Champion?
OS:
Yes, definitely, set-up, tyres, roads, where to be careful and where to push. I am definitely taking it all in and there is a lot of experience I can gain from it. No pressure.

Reiner Kuhn, Mootorsport Aktuell (DEU)

Q:
What is your opinion on the tyres and the numbers of hard and soft and the strategy that is needed?
OS:
It is how it is for everyone. We would maybe like more softs but that’s how it is.
MO:
Nothing to add. It would be nice to have a few more softs but we have what we have.
EL:
I am fine with this. Eight softs is enough. 16 hards, yes very good.


FIA WRC3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Nicolas Ciamin (FRA)
Armindo Araújo (PRT)
André Villas-Boas (PRT)

Q:
Armindo, brilliant to see you back on you home event. Are you feeling confident?
AA:
I am really confident. Since I stopped in WRC, I am racing in the National Championship since three years. I won the championship last year. This is my second race this year. My main target is to win the National Championship and to be the best Portuguese driver in the end. So it will be difficult and a big challenge. I think I am ready.

Q:
When you look at the Portuguese entry and WRC3 itself, there is such strong competition?
AA:
All the drivers are very competitive and the cars are really similar. For one side I will look for the Portuguese drivers and, for the other side, the international drivers and we will see in the end.

Q:
The weather conditions this weekend have been a talking point. What will that mean for the surface? How quickly will it dry out?
AA:
I think in the south the stages are very good. In the north, one stage is not so good (Cabeceiras de Basto). In the end, it is one race in the World Championship. It is a big challenge for the drivers and also for the cars. It will be good. The stages on the first day are really good condition. In some places we need to save the cars a little. Within three days we need to push in some places and be a little bit more safe to save the cars in other places. That’s the life. We find a lot of ruts in this stage (Cabeceiras). When we were there it was really difficult with some big rocks on the road.

Q:
Nicolas, talk to us about the challenge of Portugal. Have you tested pre-event?
NC:
Yes, I tested on Monday. It went quite well. We had some issue with the brakes but now it is quite okay. This is an event I have done in the past, four years ago, and in a small two-wheel drive car. So this is almost like a new rally for me. I think we will find a lot of surprises on the stages.  You have to read the track a lot I guess and try to avoid the punctures and be on a good pace.

Q:
What do you thin you can achieve this weekend?
NC:
The target is still to fight for the championship. We want to be at the top but a podium would be good already. The entry list is quite strong, not just for WRC2 but for all Rally2 cars. A lot of very fast drivers and some drivers who have raced in the WRC before. It is a good reference for us. 

Q:
Are you comparing your times to the likes of Suninen and Lappi?
NC:
I am comparing all the times because you have to watch the fastest drivers in the same car. My first reference is Mads because he has exactly the same car. Then the second reference is the fastest car. For example, in Croatia, it was difficult to compare because I had no gravel crew and the road was getting worse and worse.

Q:
André, there is a lot of chat all around Portugal. Famed for football and with a passion for motor sport. Where did this passion for motor sport come from?
AVB:
Everything looks like a dream, of course. My passion for motor sport goes back a long time. My father took me to Estoril to the Grand Prix and my uncle was involved two times in the Dakar and one time in the Camel Trophy. So it has been kind of bred up in the family and passed from generation to generation. I hope also to pass to my two daughters and my son. It’s very special. One of the things you only dream of. I used to go to rally with a friend of my father in the 1980s to see Miki Biasion and Carlos Sainz. As we were going to the shakedown, me and my co-driver, we were saying this is not possible. We are going to start the Rally of Portugal. We finished a smaller rally recently in Portugal and we had a good feeling. I have started my foundation recently, which is called Race for Good. So there are two things playing together. The importance of the Rally of Portugal, the Portuguese public and being around the prestige makes me want to do it and raise awareness for Race for Good. Hopefully everything will be okay. To take the car to the end is the most important.

Q:
As soon as you put a helmet on there is a fine balance between keeping it on the road and putting it in the ditch?
AVB:
This is the problem. I am almost confronted by two needs – the competitive one of football and the sensible one of an amateur rally driver. I think we are going to take it very easily tomorrow. In the north I know it a little better because I have passed it with my bike and cars. I can risk a little bit more over there. Tomorrow I need to take it lightly. Every stage that I pass is more awareness for Race for Good.

Q:
Has anybody given you any good advice? We saw you talking to Sébastien Ogier.
AVB:
We are so amateur. We are just two guys. I have known Gonzalo since three. We are living a dream. We are competitive people. Me in football and he is in the restaurant business. To do the Rally Of Portugal, the rally of our dreams, is very special. I took the opportunity to give to Ogier – he’s a big Marseille fan - a shirt of the club. He was happy and thrilled. He took a little bit more weight in his car. The shirt of Ntcham is really heavy. I think he told me to have fun and take it lightly. That’s the main thing.

Questions from the floor

Reiner Kuhn, Motorsport Aktuell (DEU)

Q:
How many kilometres of testing did you do?
AVB:
Not a lot. Biggest test for me was the local rally. It was very short. I think 50km. The other day, on a Sunday, we tested in Mortagua but it was raining and I skidded off and smashed the suspension skidded in to a wall. That’s why I found the grip today wonderful. Not a lot of experience and that’s why I need to take it safely and finish and have respect for the other drivers. 

Q:
Is this a one-off event for you?
AVB:
I think rally raid is more in my blood. The surroundings, the nature and I have a little bit more experience. Me and this guy, we finished sixth in the Rally of Morocco. I have a little more experience in SSV. Rally is a one-off. It is very difficult and goes very fast.

Jun Qian, Auto Fan (CHN)
 
Q:
After leaving Shanghai in 2017, you chose to do the Dakar. Now that you have left Marseille, you make your WRC debut. Do you think motor sport is a good way to find yourself and your future again?
AVB:
Totally different. Motor sport for me is my passion. Football is my job. Whenever I am off football, I’m off racing. You either see me in a race suit or in Portalegre or on my bike. This is what I love to do. This is where I get off the stress of football. Let’s see what happens in football. The market for us goes a bit crazy in May. Let’s see what happens. We have a very competitive market in terms of football coaches. Normally it’s around May when you start getting to know what is around.

Manuel Grill, Red Bull Radio Service (AUT)

Q:
What does the WRC mean to you? What was it like to be in the car at shakedown?
AVB:
It means a lot. It means I saw my heroes. I am a bit crazy sometimes. I was not one of the guys just in front of the car, but I went to see Monte Carlo twice. It gave me great pleasure to see Monte-Carlo in the evening. It is special. The power that these guys have to drive and the ability they have is extraordinary. To see them in the shakedown is amazing. You get these emotions from them.
 
Reiner Kuhn, Motorsport Aktuell (DEU)

Q:
How difficult a strategy is it going to be with tyre allocation?
AA:
It will be difficult because we only have eight soft tyres and we need to manage the best place to use the soft compound. The challenge is to decide that. I will use my strategy and we will see.
NC:
We only have eight soft tyres and we could have some rain on the stages tonight. We will see tomorrow. There is a lot to gain with it if you play it well. 

Q:
What advice would you give to André?
AA:
Simple. Enjoy the moment. He is not here to win so enjoy the moment.


FIA JUNIOR WRC CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Jon Armstrong (GBR)
Lauri Joona (FIN)

Q:
Jon, a great win in Croatia. Have you feet come back down to earth?
JA:
Yes, I certainly didn’t believe that we would come away with the win there. I still don’t really believe it to be leading a Junior World Championship. I’ve never led a championship of this size. It feels great but there is the added pressure of keeping the ball rolling. We’ve made a good start. This weekend is going to be very difficult. The roads, some are smoother than others. Generally there is going to be a lot of bedrock and loose boulders when we get there. It’s going to be a lottery and I think you need a bit of luck. I will try and take care of the car. I am going to take a similar approach to Croatia and see where we are at the end of the day.

Q:
You do have some experience. You have been here once before?
JA:
Yes, if it’s dry it’s better because it does become very slippery here. I have been here once in 2016. I’ve done some of the stages before but Friday is completely new and some of the other stages are too. I do like the rally. They are really nice stages. For me at the moment I am lacking a bit of experience in the Ford Fiesta on gravel and I’m trying to figure everything out. Even on shakedown I made little mistakes everywhere, just going off line. It is so crucial to stay on the line and in the ruts. You hear WRC drivers complaining about losing a little time. It’s true, you have to stay on that clean line and figure out where to brake. It’s going to be a long weekend. It’s not all about raw pace like Estonia is probably going to be.

Q:
Surely with a win, confidence comes your way?
JA:
Yes, I know I can win rallies now. I am not going out of my comfort zone like I may have done in the past and I’m not pushing too hard when I shouldn’t be. That’s what wins championships. 

Q:
It was a brilliant battle we saw in Croatia. What is your assessment of that? 
LJ:
Yes, we have a good practice for this rally and we get a good rhythm from the beginning and I think that is the most important for this result. It went very good.

Q:
Now a new challenge on gravel in Portugal. Have you tested pre-event?
LJ:
Yes, we had a test in Finland but you cannot compare together. Shakedown was the first test for us. No big mistakes. It was very slippery to drive. I think you need to drive very clever to get the finish to avoid all the mistakes.

Q:
Did you pick out any stages that were particularly tough?
LJ:
Yes, Friday is going to be very challenging and Sunday is the most best day in this rally.

Q:
On Friday there is no mid-point service, just a tyre-fitting zone. Is that in the back of your mind?
LJ:
Yes, a little bit thinking but you can think too much. You can drive fast but still clever. If we have good luck I think we can win. Among the top three will be good.