WRC - Rally Portugal - Pre-event press conference transcript | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WRC - Rally Portugal - Pre-event press conference transcript

19.05.22

Transcript of the pre-event press conference organised by the FIA for the 2022 Rally Portugal on May 19, 2022.

2022 WRC - Rally Portugal - Arch

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Thierry Neuville (BEL), Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team
Sébastien Ogier (FRA), Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team
Sébastien Loeb (FRA), M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Q:
Thierry, you are second in the championship and have had two consecutive podium places. Now you are faced with the first gravel rally of the year. Firstly, how was testing? And what can be achieved here from second on the road?
TN:
it is hard to say. We saw the conditions on the recce were quite hard. We wanted it to be a bit more like last year, but unfortunately it isn’t. Tomorrow is going to be a tough challenge. We knew that before coming here. It is never good to be first or second on the road. My main target has to be Kalle who is leading the championship with 29 points. My main focus will be to be ahead of him this weekend.

Q:
You’ve won this event before back in 2018. Being second on the road and with the returning Sebs as well as Dani Sordo. How difficult will it be to achieve a podium this weekend?
TN:
To be honest I think to finish on the podium will be tough. Somehow we always keep believing. The rally is long and we need to set our goals and try to give the maximum from the beginning. A podium would be a good result to be honest, especially to be ahead of Kalle and Craig. I think it is going to be tough and hard to be in the top five. It’s nice to see them (Sebs). It is good for the sport. It should always be like this. It is more fun. For sure, it is good to have them back. Looking forward they can be a help for me for the championship and take some big points, especially Sébastien Ogier who has a better start position. He will be fighting with Dani and Elfyn for a top position here this weekend. We are going do our best and we will see where we end up at the end of the weekend. The main thing for me is that it is one of the first races of the season that will be quite demanding. I want to come away with some points. I am looking forward to it.

Q:
No mid-point service tomorrow and only a tyre fitting zone in the middle of the day.
TN:
It’s strange because after all the testing we have done this year, every time we come to an event we get some issues. The team is working hard and we know that is has not all come together yet.

Q:
Welcome back Seb. It’s a partial season this year and you have a good starting position for this rally. What are your thoughts ahead of the weekend?
SO:
For sure, it’s quite a relief to have such a hard event and have a good start position. It’s been a long time. That’s the way. Like Thierry mentioned, you have to look around and see what is possible starting further back where we can be a bit quicker. It is early on with these cars on gravel. It is the first rally and there are a lot of question marks regarding reliability and speed and I think it is difficult to make any predictions for the weekend. It’s true on paper that guys  like me, Elfyn and Dani have a better chance in these conditions. So, let’s see what we can do tomorrow. High temperatures are expected for the weekend. Many things can happen, but it’s good to be back.

Q:
You obviously tackled Monte-Carlo Rally. But you missed two rallies. Did you miss the WRC or were you pleased to have a little time away?
SO:
Definitely not when I was still in this weather forecast group for the rally and the team and I was receiving many pictures from Croatia... I thought I was so happy to be here (at home). At the same time, when I got back in the car on the test I was delighted. I am happy with the compromise I have at the moment. Still some races and more time for me. But it has been some months since I have been in the car. It is only two races, like you say, but you see things are evolving quickly. But, hopefully, the road position will help me find a rhythm early in the race.

Q:
First gravel event of the season. How is the Toyota Yaris feeling at shakedown? Were you happy with the ore-event test also?
SO:
I struggled a bit in the shakedown. This one is not always super important anyway. At the same time, I need to work on myself as well. I was first on the road last year and struggled all weekend. I need to be better as a driver this weekend. On paper, it is a good position with Elfyn behind me. It will give me a good picture of what I am doing and whether it is good or not. If I am to fight for the win, I need to be fast straight away. 

Q:
Can you tell us what other events you may be doing ?
SO:
Kenya, is not confirmed but there is a strong chance. Sardinia, not any more.

Q:
Seb (Loeb), we saw you win in Monte-Carlo. You’ve missed two events but you still find yourself in fourth position overall. Did you expect a better start order for the first gravel event of the year?
 
SL:
For sure, I was hoping for a better position. It is what it is, fourth on the road is not the best position. The whole thing is not easy for me. It is a long time since I did a rally and a one day test. I was struggling in the morning to get the feeling. It is going to be a tough weekend. Okay, it is good to be back in the WRC and always nice to drive on gravel and we will have  fun in the car and still have a smile at the end of the stages. I will try my best to be as quick as possible.

Q:
Everyone is here. There is going to have a huge competitive force out there. Is that good to be a part of?
SL:
Yes, for sure. Portugal is a rally that I always enjoy. Most of the time I did it in Faro. I was last  in this area in 2019. It is a country where people love rallies. The stages are nice and exciting to drive and I am excited to be part of it.

Q:
You tested two weeks ago. How did the Puma feel on gravel? Three runs completed at shakedown - do you have a good feeling with the car? Has the M-Sport team asked you to do anything in particular?
SL:
My strategy is I have none. We try to get the feeling and do as well as I can  I know the first day will be crucial because, if you have a bad first day, you will have a bad road position for the second day. We will see.

Q:
What about you are your next events?
SL:
The stages in Portugal tomorrow! I think the next one is Andalucia! Maybe Kenya as well.


FIA WRC2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR), Toksport World Rally Team
Teemu Suninen (FIN), Hyundai Motorsport N
Armindo Araújo (PRT)

Q:
Andreas, two wins already under your belt this season and leading the WRC2 category. No pressure, but can you make it three from three?
AM:
I am ready for the challenge ahead. Portugal is a rally that I have really enjoyed in the past. It is quite some years since I have done the rally. I missed last year because of Covid. I  did not come here in 2019, so 2018 was the last time I was here. We have a really long Friday with no service and it will be tough to drive fast and, at the same time, be clever. The competition in WRC2 for this rally is exceptionally hard and a lot of drivers will be pushing hard. We need to be clever because we have a championship to drive for and we have to get to the finish. We also want to win the rally as well. We had a good recce and everything seems fine so far, all good.

Q:
Tough days ahead, just a TZ on Friday with no mid-point service and Saturday is a long loop of stages. How big a challenge is this event?
AM:
Absolutely and also tyre choice is also quite crucial. It will be tough. I think Saturday and Sunday, I know the stages really well, Friday not so much but I always enjoy it here. I am looking forward to the stages on Saturday and Sunday.

Q:
Teemu, your first WRC event of the year within WRC2. Is it good to be back and are you ready for Portugal? You were quickest at shakedown..
TS:
Last rallies I have been commentating for Finnish television. The car felt really good (this morning) and we had one good test and the car felt good from the first corner, so it gave me confidence. Of course, the car is still new. We need to improve and find the balance between me and the car.

Q:
Portugal was been a good hunting ground for you. What is your target this weekend?
TS:
All the drivers are aiming for the win. I am happy if I can do it. Still it is important to focus on the rally. The rally is tough on Friday and we have to keep in mind not to take too much risk on Friday.

Q:
Armindo, it’s been a successful start to the season for you in the Portuguese Championship and in ERC also. What is the target here?
AA:
I am happy to be here. I am only taking part in the National Championship and I am leading at the moment. This will be the fourth race in our championship and I want a good result. It is the best race that we have in your championship and it’s a long race. It’s good for me. I have been racing in the WRC since a long time and it’s good to be here with these drivers.

Q:
There are so many great drivers here?
AA:
All the champions are here. To be honest with you, the National Championship, we are only  scoring points on Friday. I will be checking with times of the other Portuguese drivers until the end of the day and then I can go a little bit more free.

Q:
The stages on Friday are a little but further away than those we were on at Rally Fafe. It was full rain then. It’s dry and sunny now. How difficult are conditions going to be on Friday? 
AA:
Completely different to Fafe. They are a long distance and the weather will be hot and a lot of dust and rocks. We need to save a little bit the car. There is no service park in the middle so we need to be clever and have a good speed and save the car a little bit.

 
FIA WRC3 JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Lauri Joona (FIN)
William Creighton (IRL)

Q:
Lauri, you took your debut Junior WRC win in Croatia - have you come back down to earth after that yet?
LJ:
Yes, it is always nice to be back behind the wheel of the car along with Will (Creighton). We can adjust a little bit by checking the speed of the other guys.

Q:
This has been a challenging event for you in the past. How do you approach it this year? What is the biggest challenge?
LJ:
I think it is saving tyres and the car. We still need to drive fast and that is really to do together.

Q:
What do you think of the stages after the recce?
LA:
Actually it’s really trying this year. It was drier this year. Now it’s going to be really rough on Friday without the midday service. We need to save the tyres and the car.

Q:
What is the target for the weekend?
LJ:
In Juniors to get some points is the biggest target. That’s our biggest target. Maybe if we just focus on taking points. Otherwise the target is to finish without problems.

Q:
Will, you were here last year with the Junior WRC. How much does it help to comeback to an event which you have experience of?
WC:
It was really good knowledge for me last year but we had some mechanical issues. The pace was good for the first time here and I enjoyed it. The spectators and the fans, everyone is so enthusiastic. I am looking forward to this one. As Lauri said, I think the stages are quite rough. It’s going to be a big challenge, protecting the cars will be quite difficult. 

Q:
The nature of the Junior Championship means you are scoring extra points for stage wins. How much of a factor is that based on the fact you have no service tomorrow?
WC:
I still think you have to try and drive flat out to win the rally and not just getting to the end of each stage. Stage points will be important as well. It’s trying to find the nice balance and pick and choose which places to stay tidy and get the car through.

Q:
The Junior Championship, they were testing your reactions and skills just before the rally. How did you get on?
WC:
It was good. We have these things to improve drivers and it is was nice to do something like that. I found it very beneficial and useful for the next few events.