WRC – Ypres Rally Belgium – T. Neuville: “Rain will make it tricky for my rivals and me” | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile
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WRC – Ypres Rally Belgium – T. Neuville: “Rain will make it tricky for my rivals and me”

18.08.22

2022 Ypres Rally Belgium

Pre-event Press Conference

Present:
Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT – Thierry Neuville (BEL), Hyundai i20 N Rally1
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – Adrien Fourmaux (FRA), Ford Puma Rally1
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – Gus Greensmith (GBR), Ford Puma Rally1
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – Elfyn Evans (GBR), Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Q:
Elfyn let’s start with you. Ypres Rally is always a tough challenge on the calendar. We certainly saw that last year. We are going to throw in a bit of rain tomorrow morning. How confident are you feeling ahead of this weekend because, like Finland, this is another event where confidence is key?
EE:
Yeah, it is hard to be confident in a rally like this where there are so many new notes, especially with the rain that is coming, the grip changes which are likely to play a factor and the road will get dirty as well. Of course, we are focused on the job at hand and will try to do the best we can. It’s hard to know how confident someone can be with what’s ahead.

Q:
The last time we saw the championship on Tarmac was in Croatia. How much has the car changed since then?
EE:
Obviously there has not been a lot of time for Tarmac development as it were. There is not an opportunity to test outside your event day, let’s say. Not so much development as it were on that side. Of course, the rallies require something a bit different. A few changes but nothing major.

Q:
Freddy Loix, the 11-time winner here, said that the route is 70 per cent new for him. He has done this event, I have lost count how many times. So, is it also pretty much brand-new notes for you this year?
EE:
Yeah, quite a lot. Obviously, there’s 30 per cent or so that we carry forward from last year. I don’t know the exact number but there is a lot of new pacenotes, yes.

Q:
What did you think of the route from what you saw on the recce with the stage running in reverse direction and new sections. Is it more challenging than last year? Are there more cuts for instance than what we saw last year?
EE:
I think it is mostly quite a similar character. A lot of the stages are reversed. So then, it is more or less the same stage, but the pacenotes are new and you have to rediscover the cuts and everything again. Not so different from last time.

Q:
Finally, we are at a point in the championship now where everyone is waiting for Kalle to get the title. That is the way it feels. What are you feeling about your position in the championship on what you can achieve now, before the end of the season?
EE:
It has been the same from our side for quite a few events now to be honest. Kalle has been unreachable at the top, he needs a major disaster where he can’t compete in the last rounds of the championship. So realistically for us, it is about doing the best we can, to finish as high up the order as possible and, of course, do the best job we can for the team to secure the Manufacturers’ championship.

Q:
Elfyn, thank you very much. To Adrien and Gus. I think M-Sport is touting this as both of your home event, seeing as it’s the closest event for you Gus and you weren’t born too far away from here Adrien. Let’s start with you first. Let’s talk about the season because I know it was a tough start of the year for you and you went into a different mode, a different strategy to finish the events and where you pulled back the speed a little. How frustrating has that been? And are the team ready to let you go and do your thing again?
AF:
I want to try to build over a few rallies to build the confidence and we are going to fight back on the rallies that are coming. I am not so sure with this one as I know it is really tricky. With the rain coming it is very tricky. I think it was difficult in the beginning of the season but I am working on it.

Q:
You seem to be working well on it as well. Talk to me about this event. There’s not a push here and we know that things didn’t go too well here last year. What about the route this year? What have you thought of the changes made? How difficult is it this time around or is it the same difficulty level?
AF:
No, I think this year will be a proper Ypres Rally with some mud and cuts, with really tricky conditions. Last year was probably a quite an easy one as it was always dry. This year it seems to be a little more tricky. So we will have to play with it. It is not easy to find where to brake when you have a 180kph straight with a tight corner. It is not easy, and the cars will bring a lot of mud on the road, and it will cool down the tyres and will be tricky.

Q:
It will be tricky out there. As you told me there will not be a big push out there, what are you aiming for on this rally?
AF:
I think here with the conditions, if you want to push in the corners, you can easily make mistakes. I think my approach is to drive and still be fast but not taking too many risks as it is easy to make mistakes.

Q:
And Mr Greensmith, what about your approach to the event?
GG:
I think it depends on how much rain there is. Because if there is a lot, for me and Adrien it will be like driving through mud paths. It will be quite different to when Thierry is on the road. We will see what it is like. I think the less rain the better for us. But it definitely looks like there will be some there tomorrow.

Q:
We don’t know how much at this point. That is the crazy thing, you’ll find out when you head out there tomorrow. Last year you had some experience of what the roads were like, but they have changed things around. Does anything stand out for you this year, as being… oh that stage will be a tough one, or will it be a tough challenge across the board?
GG:
I think all across the board it will be a tough challenge just because of how much the grip changes during the stage. For sure the second stage tomorrow will be a very, very tricky one. Lots of the Tarmac is braking up quite a bit, so lots so loose bits of Tarmac and a high puncture risk. Couple that with big cuts and rain and it will be a big challenge. Saturday, more milage and some probably nicer stages. Sunday, that cobbled bit over the top of the hill [on the Power Stage] will be tricky if it is wet.

Q:
We saw you last time out in Finland, you really enjoyed the rally, but you seemed to get a bit of your joy back behind the wheel. Can you carry that on here?
GG:
That is the plan. The car felt nice at the end of the day of the test. So I am looking forward to shakedown.

Q:
In terms of testing, how many kilometres did you rack up during the day?
GG:
Not a lot

Q:
How many is not a lot?
GG:
I think about 60. Some small problems.

Q:
What problems did you have?
GG:
The car didn’t exactly want to go forward.

Q:
Alright, fair enough – you definitely need the car to go forward. Thierry, moving to you. We know last year we had emotional scenes when you took victory with Martijn alongside you. Can you recreate that magic this year?
TN:
If I would have the answer now, I would be much more relaxed about it! I mean it’s clearly the target. I’ve got good experience here on the event. Despite quite a few new roads, as well for me this year, I still feel like I know where I am, more or less. The pacenotes worked quite well on the recce. I am looking forward to it but somehow it will be a tougher challenge than it was last year. All the other drivers gained some experience on the typical Ypres roads last year. I think with that experience, they have had a better preparation. Everybody will kick off a bit faster than last year. If the rain is coming, it will make it tricky for them and also for me.

Q:
We saw on the last event, Tänak taking the win but he said he took risks from corner number one, moving all the way forward. Are you prepared to take the big risks out there to get the win?
TN:
I just launched a campaign ‘Braver at Home’! So obviously I have no choice to be brave and go for it. You always want to keep the car on the road and target the finish of the rally. If you can find a good balance between being brave and going hard and keeping control of the situation, that is the ideal match. But you never know how brave the others are going to be. I think, a couple of drivers are going to try to beat us this weekend. Like Ott was capable of beating the others in Finland, they are definitely going to try to be strong this weekend. I think Elfyn has a very good speed on Tarmac. Kalle has nothing to lose so he can go for it as well. Ott drove with great speed last year. The four of us at least will be in the fight and I am sure the Ford drivers have a good experience here as well and can go fast. 

Q:
It has been no secret this year that the team have struggled. We haven’t seen a win on the board for you. I know it was the same this time last year, but we were expecting to see more. With the win in Finland do you think you have turned a corner in terms of development and things are getting better?
TN:
I don’t know. We also won in Sardinia but obviously you have to take everything in account like the road position in Sardinia. In Finland probably Ott had switched off his brain and he was going crazy like hell and somehow it worked. If you watch his onboards you can see he was fighting the car through the stages. He managed to keep it up until the end and it was an incredible victory. I hope I can drive a little more calmly this weekend and have less fight with the car than he had. It’s a question that I had as well after testing. Okay, we have taken another little step forward on Tarmac compared to Croatia. Not the big step I was hoping for, but I think we should be comfortable enough though the rally. We still have shakedown left. It is a great shakedown, seven kilometres and it is a good opportunity to finalise the settings.

Q:
Question for all of you about the hybrid systems. There is a lot of chat at this event that this is the event that the hybrid system comes into its own and you can utilise it more than at other events because of the long straights. Elfyn, what do you think?
EE:
To a point but it’s just what happens. You know we don’t ultimately control with the switch when we want it or not. It is not so much down to something we can really control that much. Of course, you need a regen event to create a boost event. With long braking you tend to create a boost event. So yes, it is true that you will have them but if you have a one-kilometre section that is flat out, you won’t have an option to regenerate. So, it is going to be a factor but it’s not a lot we can do to manage it.

Q:
Does it factor into your notes? Are there parts of stages where you think that there is opportunity to gain more boost – like you did in the stage in Monte, Gus?
GG:
I think it factored into how many times Chris [Patterson] was swearing on the test because he hadn’t been in the car for a while. It shocked him when he got in, especially coming out of the junctions when you have the full hybrid power. It is pretty much the same as Elfyn said.

Q:
Adrien, anything to add to that?
AF:
No, I think, we have long braking and will have it but on the long straights where we are flat, we will only have it at the beginning.

Q:
Thierry, what has been the experience of the hybrid system this year? Are you happy with the way it is now?
TN:
First of all, I understand as this is my home event, I can use a bit more boost!

Q:
I didn’t see that in the regulations, it must be in the small print!
TN:
The experience has been quite okay. I mentioned it yesterday that when we started talking about hybrid last year, the information we had about the hybrid system was very small compared to what it actually can do. At the time we were afraid it would penalise our driving and make it much more difficult. But finally, we learnt what the settings were able to do and the programming is something that actually helps the driving and helps the performance of the car rather than making the car more dangerous and more difficult to run. That is a good point and I think that is why we like it as well. It makes the car somehow faster. Its just the way it is a penalising it still feels disturbing, but we are getting used to it.

Questions from the floor:

Bo Christer Bofeldt, Worldrally.se (SWE):
Thierry, you know the country, you know the roads and you know the weather changes. It’s easy for you to choose the tyres?

TN:
To be honest no, I don’t think it is easier for me than for anyone else. I think actually, Adrien is the one living the closest to Ypres. Like I said, I come from 300 kilometres away from my hometown. Maybe Gus is closer than me! Usually, the weather comes from England so he should he know the weather better than me! He gets the big wet and we get the little shower from the same rain. So that could be the difficulty for the weekend, that some parts are wet, some parts can stay dry and that becomes complicated.

 

FIA WRC2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Toksport WRT – Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR), Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA), Citroën C3 Rally2
Freddy Loix (BEL), Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo

Q:
Andreas, it’s been a while since you’ve competed in Ypres, are you ready to be back and going for as many points as possible as you need to for the championship?
AM:
It has been 10 years since I did this rally the last time. I have done it three times and I was in the ditch two times! It is a very difficult rally. But I think I return after those 10 years with a little more experience and I am a little more clever and hopefully I can stay out of trouble this weekend.

Q:
When you’ve looked at the route, how much is familiar to you from 10 years ago?
AM:
I didn’t recognise anything to be honest. For me they all look the same! A lot of junctions and a lot of cuts. But also, some new stages this year. I tried to prepare myself on WRC+ as good as I can but a lot of the stages I didn’t find on there. It will not be easy, but we had a good test. The car is working very well on these kinds of stages. I think this Škoda is very stable and works well on short turns and in junctions. We had a good rally last weekend as a warm-up and a good test. We feel confident.

Q:
I was going to ask you about the test. How representative was it of what we are seeing this weekend?
AM:
I think it was a bit different, a little bit more village kind of roads, not so much out in the countryside. But still some similarities. It’s what we have done on the tests was also working on the rally. So, we have a good feeling coming into the weekend.

Q:
Again, in WRC2, it's another strong field and you've got people who are very happy to try and get some points away from you this weekend. How confident are you of being able to get maximum points when you're up against real specialists on the surface?
AM:
It will be very difficult, I haven’t been on Tarmac for a while in this car, probably the last time was Monte Carlo and I have done one rally in the new car. After the small test and the rally we did we are in the Tarmac spirit and it will be a good competition this weekend. We have the Citroën boys with Stéphane and Yohann and young Mr Loix is always very quick on these roads. I remember in 2011 and 2012 it was impossible to keep up with him. It there will be a lot of drivers fighting at the front.

Q:
Stéphane, you have dominated the Belgian championship this year, how confident are you of outright WRC2 success this weekend?
SL:
Yes, I am really confident for this. I know this rally quite well and the stages look familiar to me. Everything is in a good way to do a proper rally, a good rally and I think we are ready for the fight.

Q:
We are ready to see it. The organisers have changed the route from what we saw last year with some stages reversed and some new notes even for the field who were here last year. How familiar are you with the roads, even in the direction we are seeing some of the stages?
SL:
They are familiar roads for me because I live 45 minutes from here, it is not very far! The first year I was year as a spectator was ’85 so I am never lost!

Q:
How old were you then?
SL:
I was three years old!

Q:
You were young indeed. Some very nice memories, not great memories but just the cars going past. What are your expectations this weekend and how did the car feel in the test?
SL:
Really nice. It is like the same set-up as we have used in the Belgian championship. Directly when I jump in the car I am confident and we do a rally last week. Everybody was there and it was a fight with Andreas and Škoda. We are confident for this week and let’s see after the first loop where we are.

Q:
Talk to us about the weather. We’ve been talking with some of the guys about the potential of rain tomorrow and we know how difficult even without rain this rally is with all of the cuts out there. A bit of rainfall, how much more difficult does it make it?
SL:
It is going to be really tricky if it is raining. The grip will change at every junction and at every corner. If you add the mud it can be like the war.

Q:
We look forward to seeing how it all turns out. Mr Loix, an 11-time winner of this event. You are the man who holds the secret of how to win this event! Do you want to share your secrets to success?
FL:
Of course. The secret is to try to cut the corners in the right place and at the same time, not to make a flat tyre. I think a lot of people have always been quick in Ypres but never until the end as they always have a flat tyre. I think we found the secret 15 or 20 years ago about how to cut the corners and to get away from punctures.

Q:
It sounds so easy when you say it but in practice for many drivers, it is difficult. What are your expectations for this weekend?
FL:
For me the most important thing is to try to get to the finish and winning the Masters’ cup. I think I need the maximum points for the title and we will see what we will do after Ypres.

Q:
What do you think of this year's route? A lot of it is going to be very familiar. But what do you think of what the organisers have done to make some changes this year?
FL:
It’s fantastic. I have to say because we have been driving for so many years in the same direction. Even for me, 70-75 percent was new for me. So it is a mix of a little bit of everything and I was really happy for the stages.

Q:
So, a lot of new notes for you?
FL:
Yes. It surprised me to come to Ypres after so many years and I had to make new notes! So a surprise but a nice target.

Q:
As I mentioned to Stéphane, a little bit of rain forecast, but in the majority a dry weekend. How difficult does a little rain make it tomorrow?
FL:
If it is raining it is always very difficult. Especially this year with the WRC cars in front of us. They are going to bring a lot of mud onto the road. After so many years in Ypres and the Belgian championship, I think I know how to handle it!

Q:
I think you do and I think you are the man with the best experience. What is the future because it's been brilliant to see you back within the WRC this year. What's going to happen? Maybe next year, you can continue on? I know we're in August and it’s a bit early maybe to be asking but I've got ask.
FL:
I am going to try to finish Ypres and then we will make a decision if we are going to do more rallies this year, or not. For next year, I don’t know. I am driving for the fun. I have a fantastic co-driver, who at the same time is my sponsor. We have a lot of fun and try to enjoy each rally but it has to stay with four or five rallies each year but not more.

Questions from the floor:

Bo Christer Bofeldt, Worldrally.se (SWE):
Andreas, is it the last round we see you in the old Škoda? Will we see you in a new one in Spain?
AM:
I am not planning to do Spain. But I plan to do this rally and Greece and I am done. But it’s not been decided when the introduction will happen. Like many other manufactures in the world, they are struggling with the delivery of parts. When they feel confident that they have what they need we will introduce the new car, but you have to ask Škoda.

 

FIA WRC3 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Jan Černý (CZE), Ford Fiesta Rally3
Patrick Snijers (BEL), Ford Fiesta Rally3 – non-priority
Jos Verstappen (NLD), Citroën C3 – non-priority

Q:
Jan, it is WRC3 for you here in Ypres. You have been here twice before. We will talk about your experience in a moment but the biggest news story is the fact you have a new co-driver this weekend and for the first time in your career you have English pacenotes. Tell us what happened to your codriver and why you have Tom Woodburn step in?
JC:
It will be the first time with English pacenotes. I have been trying, about a half year ago with English pacenotes so it is not a brand-new thing for me. But it is the first proper rally with them. I am really excited. It is much better here than in Finland. In Finland I couldn’t imagine doing it with all the crests and jumps. Here you can see much more than in Finland. I did this race twice. I have been here with a front wheel drive car both times and crashed both times. I hope this time will be better.

Q:
There were two crashes. But that's a while ago. Now we're looking back to the early 2010s. As for that experience, you've learned a lot on Tarmac. When you looked at the route this time around. How familiar was it to you from what you've seen before?
JC:
Honestly, I am really surprised about the rally – the memories are a little worse, I think it is because of the crash! But now we have a few stages that have bits that have tricky bits which is really good for me. We have to concentrate on our driving and make no mistakes. Because we need the championship points because we want to fight for the WRC3 title.

Q:
That is still all to play for right now. And I love it when a driver says that, you know, we need to be calm, we need to be smooth out there. And then you put a helmet on and it all changes. Do you stick to the strategy?
JC:
Well, this time I really to concentrate on the points. You know that Sami Pajari will be really fast and it would be nice to fight with him.

Q:
Jos, fantastic to see you compete here at the Ypres Rally on the year that you have turned to rallying as the sport of choice. Tell me why you have chosen rally.
JV:
I started one and a half years ago with some track days with a Mitsubishi just for fun. We really liked it and with a couple of friends, I said we should do it more professionally. So I started this year in the Belgian championship and this will be my fifth rally so far. We aim high! But for me the most important thing is to learn and finish and get as many kilometres done as possible

Q:
Such a contrast, though, to your entire career in single seaters. Now you have a co-driver, you have notes coming into your head constantly, how much of a challenge has that been?
JV:
That was the biggest challenge. Normally in single seaters you don’t have any notes, no one talking to you, you are just with yourself, and you are driving in circles Here it is a lot different. You have to listen as you don’t know what is coming. I really had to adapt to it. In the beginning it was difficult as I had to concentrate too much on the driving. Now it is, I can relax a little more and listen to the codriver or try to listen to the codriver as much as possible.

Q:
What is your process to making notes?
JV:
That is one of the big steps to learn. Whenever you do more and more, it gets easier, you can add more to the notes. We are still improving and leaning so much every time I do it. What I said before, it is the fifth rally in my life. There is still a lot to learn but I really enjoy it. That is why I am here, because I really enjoy it and to see how we have come.

Q:
In the rallies you have done so far, in terms of a mixture of conditions, how difficult has it been? We are expecting a little bit of rain – are you used to those conditions?
JV:
I have driven the car in the wet. Every situation is different. You have to adapt to it like usual, in every kind of car. We will start off slower and gradually progress, I guess.

Q:
What does the future hold?
JV:
I will definitely do more rallies. This year we will do another four rallies in Belgium and one in Holland. Then we will see. We will make our mind up after that for next year. But if we continue to enjoy it we will probably do more.

Q:
From someone with just four rallies and to a man who has done this event, I lost count, I think it's over 36 times, Patrick Snijers?
PS:
They told me it is 37 times and I still have to make notes!

Q:
You've had success here. You've won here four times. You know what to do on the Belgian roads. What's the secret of success?
PS:
Belgian roads, especially Ypres are so difficult. The roads are always changing, if it starts to rain tomorrow and the guys after number 10 or 15 will be in the mud. It is so difficult to stay in the roads and the speeds are so high. I tis fun like hell and that is why I am still here.

Q:
We are glad to see you here. You are here in a Rally3 car this time. Why that choice? Tell me a little bit about the car how are you finding it?
PS:
It’s the category for the young drivers! It is because of my friend, Wim Soenens who is my co-driver. He had no driver and he said that we have to do it together. I did a small rally before and this car is fun. For me it is a fantastic car – the handling is good, there is not so much power. It is a small engine but anyway you can make good times with the car. The chassis is really good. It is another category to try to win.

Q:
Now you are the driver with the most experience here. How many of the crews are coming to you for a little bit of advice or insider knowledge or not? How much are you charging them?
PS:
A lot! I have to speak to Sami Pajari. He has phoned me a couple of times. He is my opposition just like Jan, so I don’t tell them so much!

Q:
Finally, what are we hearing about the weather for this weekend because some people are saying it is going to be raining tomorrow. Some are not. Do you have any insider tips?
PS:
I really, really don’t know. I hope it will stay dry. They are announcing light rain for tomorrow so it will be quite slippery. Even when it is dry, the roads are so slippery and after such a long time of dry weather and the rain comes, there will be some mud on the road and it will be tricky. It will be a tough competition.

Questions from the floor:

Sean Moriarty, Kerry Motorsport News (IRL):
Patrick, I know you have a great affinity with Irish rallying. And it's great to see you back here in your home rally. I am hearing you are considering an entry to the Banna Kerry Winter Rally in October.
PS:
I will go there if they ask me. I will drive a Millington Escort, right-hand drive. It is a fun rally, especially the party afterwards!