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

WRC - Safari Rally Kenya - Pre-event press conference transcript

23.06.21

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

2021 WRC - Safari Rally Kenya - T. Neuville/M. Wydaeghe

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

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

Q:
Séb, the return of the iconic Safari Rally brings a whole new challenge to the competing crews. What are your initial thoughts after the recce? What are the stages like?
SO:
It is going to be a massive challenge, for sure. At the same time, we need to mention we are in an amazing country where the nature is beautiful but the people as well. We have really enjoyed the welcome that we got. It was amazing to see how excited the locals are to see the rally back in their country. They are very proud to organise this event. It is very nice to see. But we know we have a tough weekend ahead. The biggest challenge for me will be to find the right rhythm. There are some nice sections where we can push. So far so good. The recce went well and I am happy with the car. Shakedown was quite representative this morning and it gave us a chance to test a little bit and adjust the set-up for the rally. I feel ready but are we really ready for this kind of event. I am not sure. 

Q:
We have all seen Safari rallies of the past. Is it different to what you expected?
SO:
I’m getting old but still too young to answer if it is the same as it was. I’ve never been here before. I have seen a little bit of footage. Honestly, I had hardly any expectations coming here. I knew it would be very different to what we know and it is. At the end of the day there is some very rough sections but I still prefer to drive here because they are quite identified. You know where to find the rough compared to Turkey, for example, last year. There were some places there that were even harder for the car than what we are going to have here this weekend. It’s going to be interesting and I am excited to start this event. 

Q:
Let’s talk about pace notes. A good recce notes-wise is paramount, as is the reliance on those notes this weekend. Did recce go well?
 
TN:
Compared to other rallies there is a lot of keep left and right to avoid the big holes in the road. We have a new pace note as well that tells me in the corner I have to be out of the line. But only a few. Other than this, sometimes you have a big stop in the notes where you really have to right down your speed, especially mainly to avoid damaging the car. In general, in all the other places, we try to have really precise pace notes to allow you to push to the maximum.

Q:
Do you feel this is going to be the biggest challenge that you have ever faced?
TN:
I don’t know if it’s going to be the biggest challenge but definitely the biggest adventure we have experienced in WRC so far. First of all the rally is new for everybody and nobody has any experience of how it is going to be this weekend. We will see a lot of things happening, I am sure. Hopefully not too many cars breaking down and we are going to have a nice fight out there.

Q:
Adrien, this is the third time we see you now in a World Rally Car and what an event to come to. How do you think you will do this weekend?
AF:
It will be a really difficult rally for all the crews and especially for the cars I would say. For me, it is my third rally so I don’t even know the reliability of the car in the rough sections. I will discover everything. It is really challenging and I like it. It’s a new rally for me so it will be still good.

Q:
You saw the stages on the recce. Were you surprised with the conditions?
AF:
Honestly, I have seen a lot of footage before looking at the past. I expected this rough section. But it was already rough in some sections in the recce. I can imagine after our rally car will be completely destroyed, It will be really rough for the second pass. I am not sure what to expect for the second pass.

Q:
It is so important to have a good recce here and make sure those notes are precise. There is going to be a huge reliance on those notes?
AF:
It is really difficult for the pace notes. Some times the landscapes are the same and you have some corner and you don’t really know where it is. You need really precise pace notes. Even with precise pace notes, I am sure we will have some hot moments, but the thing will be to carry some speed and continue on the weekend, for sure.

Q:
Any pressure on your shoulders Adrien for a result?
AF:
To be honest on this rally I am fighting more with myself and not with the other drivers. I know that many things will happen. I want to finish. Let’s see where we will be at the end. For sure, I want to improve my pace.

Q:
Takamoto, let’s talk about your thoughts on this event after the recce. How would you describe the Safari Rally?
 
TK:
For sure, it is going to be a really challenging rally. I felt pretty surprised that some sections you can push and some sections you have to be carefully on the car otherwise you break the car and you cannot survive. This is very good experience for the future. I just try to run and try to improve myself and which kind of sections where you can push and which sections you really have to have patience and things. This is the most important thing for this kind of rally.

Q:
What will the strategy be for the weekend given the complexity of the event? Sometimes when you guys put your helmets on it is difficult to take your foot off the throttle.
TK:
Mentally it is difficult but you listen to pace note and what pace note says and trust it. Sometimes you can be optimistic and you make mistake. But, hopefully, I make good pace note here and trust where I have to stop and slow down. Let’s see how it’s going after stage with the time. If I am going too slow, my pace note is not good…

Q:
You have been pretty close to a podium finish now on a few events. Is a podium possible here?
TK:
I don’t expect too much of anything because this is a survival rally, for sure. For the car it is really tough. For me, after this rally I have a bigger expectation for the rallies ahead. I try to run and improve myself and go with a very good feeling into the next rally.

Questions from the floor

Jose Luis Abreu, Autosport Portugal (PRT)

Q:
Taking into account the recent problems the team had with suspension is that something the team (Hyundai) looked at very carefully in their preparations?
TN:
I don’t know if you can really call that suspension issues to be honest. There’s always reason for something. We have seen in Sardinia that Ott’s suspension fell down but there was also a huge rock on the road. I don’t know if any of the cars would survive over there. It is something we need to keep in our minds. That is not only for us but all for all the drivers. We have seen Sardinia quite rough this year. Many cars retired and as well we know from Turkey and some other rough events that it’s not always the fastest that goes to win..

Q:
In Safari history, amongst many other stories, there is one where we can see a Toyota completely covered in mud. Are you prepared for something like this?
SO:
Luckily there will not be any sections like this this year, I think it could have happened after heavy rain but maybe not that deep that we have seen in the famous footage. This is well known all around the world. It is probably fantastic for Toyota’s reputation all around the world. This year, it is very dry. I think it has not rained here for a while. We have actually an opposite situation this time. Some sections are very soft and very dry, like fesh-fesh, and huge ruts were there after the recce. I am not sure if it will be easier to handle compared  with deep mud to be honest. We expect to collect a lot of this sand. Let’s see how our cars can survive this.
 
Q:
Do you think it would be possible to run rallies of say 1000-1500km like past Safari Rallly events for the current of WRC cars?
SO:
It will be. Honestly, we would need to have the same rules as in the past. We would need the chance to have service after every stage and improve the car. The stage length was very long. We will need to slow down to make 80km or a 100km stage because otherwise the tyre would never survive it. I think the car itself, for sure, would be okay. A lot of things have improved. The suspension is better than it used to be. Tyres are maybe the same. It is definitely possible. You have to live in your time. It’s already great that we can have this kind of event. It’s still a big challenge. It may be less kilometres that the past but it will not be easy to win it, I believe.


FIA WRC2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Martin Prokop (CZE), M-Sport World Rally Team

Q:
Martin, you are our sole competitor in FIA WRC2, but within the Rally2 category you have some great competition with the local drivers here. What is the plan for this weekend?
MP:
So far I am really happy that we decide to come here. It’s an amazing country. What you can see is so different. It’s a shame the other drivers did not come. I don’t know why. The stages are like we expected, so broken and so difficult and more a cross-country than a rally stage. That’s what I remember from the videos I saw. 

Q:
With you background now in cross-country rally, does that help you understand the terrain here a little better?
MP:
For me, it reminds me of what I saw on the Dakar in Argentina. It is very similar. But this type of power we are using in WRC, it is not the best. But with this car you have to think much more. The car is not so strong. It will help me to understand the road. I see the danger locations. I still don’t know how fast I can go on the difficult sections because I discussed with the other drivers. They are also a little bit lost. You want to go flat out but you don’t know how the car will behave. It completely different, like bumps and rocks and corners. It’s a different rally. It will be new for everybody and it will be really challenging.

Q:
As you mentioned, you are on your own in WRC2. But you do have the WRC3 category to look at in terms of times. It’s going to be a challenge to get through this?
MP:
That’s what I say. Everybody says there is only one (entry). But there are more than 300km of special stages and you have to go through. It’s not shopping, it’s a racing car and, of course, you want to enjoy and you want to drive some speed and want to have fun. You know it’s so close to make a mistake. You have to stay in the middle of the road. Once you start cuttings you are really risking a lot. You want to go as fast as possible to cut the corners but always there is something waiting for you. Don’t cut will be the key of the race. Let’s see what we will see on the race.
 
Questions from the floor

Jose Luis Abreu, Autosport Portugal (PRT)

Q:
Are these the roughest stages you have seen in your WRC career?
MP:
It will be much more easier with my Dakar car. It would be nice to drive with nice stages you know flowing all the time, so beautiful. But I think we will have fun as well with my Fiesta. If I ever saw such rough stages? I saw some parts like in Greece, Cyprus and Sardinia. But here you have a lot of mileage with the broken stages. Really a lot of danger sections and a lot of fesh fesh. This will also be difficult and the ruts will also be so deep, like in Poland. Already on Friday morning it will already be quite rough. 


FIA WRC3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Onkar Rai (KEN)

Q:
Onkar, how important is it for you that the WRC is back in Kenya?
OR:
It’s been 19 years. I was 11-years-old going out to watch Colin McRae and Tommi Mäkinen and all the old boys. It’s amazing to have the big drivers here and to have competition with Martin. It’s a shame that some of the WRC2 guys could not come. The Safari is slightly different this time around, People criticise that the event is not 1,000 kilometres but times have changed and I think in these generation of cars it’s going to be a big challenge. I am sure for the big boys as well.

Q:
Using your experience, do you have any secrets you are prepared to share because you competed at the Equator Rally a few months ago over similar stages?
OR:
Well I was not very successful in the last rally. I don’t think I can share many secrets. One thing I would say is ‘just keep it clean’.  These guys always want to push. It’s that trigger in the head that sort of says to pull back a little bit and see what happens. I guess you can’t tell the top guys when they are trying to fight for milliseconds. It is going to be really interesting seeing the top boys and is it going to be seconds or milliseconds or 10, 20 30 seconds. Who knows? It’s going to be really exciting. I can’t wait to watch some of the stages on the phone before the start of the stage.

Q:
There is some strong competition in FIA WRC3?
OR:
Yes, Carl Tundo is one of the fastest drivers and we have got my brother as well and there are some other Fiestas. I was really looking forward to the other WRC2 drivers, not taking anything away from Martin. It is still an honour to try and beat his times and try and get the best of him. Let’s see how we fair against some of the international boys.

Q:
How have you been preparing for this event?
 
OR:
Just looking at the old videos and keeping fit and trying to get over the disappointment of the last rally. Hitting small rocks and breaking your car is not the best. But we have been through the highs and the lows. But that is rallying and to be part of the WRC is just incredible. I am so honoured to be part of the whole show.

Questions from the floor

Jose Luis Abreu, Autosport Portugal (PRT)

Q:
Do you believe that your Safari Rally and African experience can give you a podium result or a victory in your class?
OR:
I think in the class there is possibly but overall would be very difficult. You cannot get close to the big boys. We have just seen in the last five kilometres what time they have taken out of us. In the class and WRC2, if we can give Martin a run for his money and put him under some pressure, let’s see.


NON-PRIORITY GUEST DRIVERS

Present:
Nikhil Sachania (KEN)

Q:
Nikhil, incredibly we are seeing a WRC event in Kenya and you are competing. How do you feel?
NS:
It’s been a long time coming - 19 years. It is something that I used to watch when I was young and having to compete right now with the WRC is something pretty amazing.

Q:
It’s a special event for you also. Tell us about the backing you have had from the FIA and the ability to be able to compete here?
NS:
For the past year we have been working with the FIA to try and get me to compete. They have provided me with a lot of safety gear, which includes the fuel tank and fire suppression kit. Really grateful for that. The car has passed scrutineering. We are good to go..

Q:
How are you feeling about the event? We’ve heard the WRC drivers talking about what a challenge it’s going to be out there this weekend.
NS:
Well, most definitely with us being the backmarkers. I think the road degradation is going to be really bad. We have seen that before on previous rallies. I think we just need to push on. Hopefully we will get through.

Q:
What type of preparations have you been making to get you ready for this event?
NS:
There have been a lot of sleepless nights. We have been working through the past two weeks to make sure the car is ready for the event. A lot of cleaning up. Last month we were just in the same area doing a couple of these stages. We had a lot of damage last time. We have managed to get everything sorted and I hope we manage to get through all the stages.

Q:
Which stage stands out?
NS:
The one of concern is obviously the stage on Friday – Kedong.  It was quite bad after the recce. The one on Saturday, which is called Sleeping Warrior, I think the last 8km is very rocky and very tough and will be a car breaker. We will just be cautious and try and get through.

Q:
You are the first paraplegic to tackle the Safari Rally. What does it mean to you to compete here?
NS:
Just me being here proves a lot to anyone in my condition that motor sport is for everybody. It is mind over matter. My main goal is to complete the rally and I hope to finish in the top 20 at least. The main thing is to finish and get through all the dirt and make sure we are up there on the finishing ramp.