WTCC - Pre-event press conference

01.12.17

WTCC - 2017 Race of Qatar - Pre-Event Press Conference

FIA WTCC Race of Qatar
30 November-1 December 2017, FIA World Touring Car Championship, Rounds 19 and 20 of 20

Press Conference Room, Media Centre, Losail International Circuit, 16h00, 30 November

Present:
Mehdi Bennani, Sébastien Loeb Racing
Thed Björk, Polestar Cyan Racing
Tom Chilton, Sébastien Loeb Racing
Rob Huff, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport
Norbert Michelisz, Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team

Q:
Coming firstly to Thed Björk, leader of the FIA World Touring Car Championship by 6.5 points. How excited, apprehensive, nervous are you right now?

TB:
It feels great, nice to be here, really relaxed and I’m looking forward to start driving because that’s what we’re all here for. Everybody wants to go out on track and thinking about it before makes not so much sense. I think it’s great we are here, that we can fight until the last corner, maybe, hopefully. It’s a nice final, it feels nice to be here. So much effort has been put into this to be fighting for the championship and it feels good. The atmosphere is good and I like it.

Q:
Despite there being so much at stake you’ve got a smile on your face and there’s some camaraderie with you and Norbi. Is that for real, are you really so relaxed, is there not more rivalry between you?

TB:
I think he feels relaxed as well but hopefully he’ll be more nervous than me when we sit in the car, but I don’t know and I don’t see it but maybe he wishes the same for me. Until we start driving we don’t know.

RH:
It would be much more fun if you hated each other. Why are you both so nice?

TB:
Norbert doesn’t like me! He’s so polite, you can’t tell now but he really doesn’t like me! No, there’s a lot at stake but people outside Norbi’s car and outside my car are more nervous than we are.

Q:
Turning next to Norbert Michelisz, it’s 6.5 points you’ve got to make up. Thed seems very relaxed but how are you feeling?

NM:
Of course there’s a bit of extra excitement but, to be honest, it’s like a usual race weekend. Having Free Practice sessions today is not really much at stake right now. I really just try to focus on the job with being well prepared for tomorrow. If you ask me the same questions tomorrow I don’t know what my answer will be. But, right now, I feel strong, I feel confident. To be honest with you I was always trying to catch up. It’s a bit of a feeling like nothing to lose really. Two or three race weekends ago in Japan I was more than 30 points behind, now it’s six and a half so I just try to carry this momentum through the race weekend and then we will see.

Q:
And do you really hate Thed Björk?!

NM:
Yes, from the first moment we met there were some strange vibes around Thed! No, he’s a really nice guy. It’s difficult to don’t like him in the end. When we are on the circuit we proved many times we can fight quite harsh against each other. I don’t know. We are all trying to achieve the main goal, which is to win the world championship. You can like somebody outside the circuit but I think you have to separate what’s happening on the circuit and what’s happening off the circuit. In the end I expect fair racing, a clean fight and for me this is the most important thing.

Q:
Turning next to Rob Huff, now you know what it’s like to be a world champion having won this championship in 2012. So what will these guys be going through as we build up to the final weekend and how intense and tough is it going to be?

RH:
The first difference is I hated my team-mate! That was a bonus… I’m joking! It’s tough. They both said the right things and they both feel the right things. They can only go out there and do the best they can. They both thoroughly deserve it this year. They both performed very well over the year and what will be will be. I hope they get to truly fight it out between themselves and nothing else comes in the way and the races are clean and the way they should be.

Q:
At the start of the year it’s fair to say we thought you’d be in this position, fighting for the title but it hasn’t quite worked out like that so what would you put that down to and what were some of the highlights looking back?

RH:
I put it down to the fact these guys drove better than me this year! We’ve had some tough luck this year, I’ve made mistakes, the team has made mistakes. But we’ve had some great racing and coming off the back of my ninth win in Macau fills me with confidence so I’m just looking to finish the year in a strong way. We’re not looking at championships, I’m just going to enjoy what I do and enjoy the last race.

Q:
Coming next to Tom Chilton. You’re leading the WTCC Trophy for independent racers but you’ve never won the title before, finishing third and then second. But what about the big one, can you do it?

TC:
Obviously it’s extraordinarily close between myself and my team-mate Mehdi than it’s ever been in the history of the world championship with just half a point between us. As much as I’m in the lead going into the last one and you feel comfortable, half a point is nothing. It’s literally anybody’s. Both of us have to do the best we can this weekend and, like everyone has been saying, we want a clean fight. We don’t want somebody to win by hitting somebody off or somebody having a puncture. It’s not cricket as we say in England and we want it to be a fair fight. It’s a world championship with the best drivers in the world and it’s very competitive. It will be close, it will be exciting.

Q:
And the fact your closest rival is also your team-mate in Mehdi Bennani, what’s the atmosphere like in the Sébastien Loeb Racing garage right now?

TC:
There’s no difference at all actually. But we both know what’s at stake. As much as Thed was only six and a half points clear of Norbi, I’m only five and a half points behind Mehdi for the main championship with Nicky Catsburg somewhere in the middle so I’m also looking at winning the WTCC Trophy. Last year I finished second, the year before I finished third so I feel like first is the right way to go. But anything can happen here, I just need to keep my head and focused and work really with the team this weekend.

Q:
You arrived in Qatar last weekend with the WTCC Trophy title in the bag and then produced one of your best performances with your first pole position and first Main Race win. So what about this weekend, you must be able to carry that confidence through, particularly after a great win in Macau?

MB:
For sure I feel good every time I’m in Qatar. It’s a nice track, it’s a nice country, it’s like my second country and the Citroën is good in this race. We are close in the overall championship but my goal is to win what we can win and I’m close to my team-mate Tom and Rob Huff in the WTCC Trophy. I am a little far from Norbi and Thed but we are still there and we focus on our race. After we see where we are but the first goal is to focus on the races.

Q:
Looking back on the season there have been a couple of races where you’ve dropped points and without that you could have been really challenging for the world title. If you do finish third would you be satisfied or do you think it could have been better?

MB:
For sure if it’s just about if, if, if then we can be good at the end of this championship. The crash at Monza between me and Norbi cost us a lot and also with Thed in China. If you take these points, then we could be focused on the top three easily. But everywhere you can find a driver in this situation. All of the drivers in this championship are very competitive this year and it’s very close.

Questions from the floor:

Q:
Question from Anita Tóth, Nemzeti Sport (Hungary) to Thed Björk and Norbert Michelisz: Before big boxing matches the fighters send a special message to each other. If you had to send a special message other right now what would it be?

TC:
Don’t stall on the startline!

TB:
I would like to have a nice fight with him. He’s a bit angry on the track so I hope he can keep it under control!

NM:
I would say it’s not a shame to come second in the end!

TB:
It’s not so bad, I agree.

NM:
I enjoy the year so far. Like I said we’ve had some tough fights on the circuit and in the end it’s what rivalry and the battle is all about. I really hope for clean racing, I really hope for a clean, good and competitive fight and that’s it.

Q:
Question from Neil Hudson, TouringCarTimes.com (Sweden) to Thed Björk and Norbert Michelisz: It’s the first time in five years the title will be decided at the final round and there are six drivers going for the title. Does that play on your mind at all?

TB:
For me I’m not really thinking about it. It’s 6.5 points between me and Norbi but it doesn’t really feel like that. It’s the title showdown, it's the last race and we will see in the end how the points matter, it’s more like the fight. If we would take out each other it would be very crazy because then we would hand over the championship to the others. But I don’t think we will do that. We would like to have a good fight through both races and see what happens. For me I’m not thinking about the fact it’s so close because everybody is trying to do their best.

NM:
It’s the same basically. For the past weekends I just try to focus on one single event. Of course it’s getting more and more difficult as you approach the last race of the season. But my target is not to look at what others are doing. Like Thed said, I don’t approach the weekend with the thought of winning the championship. I just want to do my best regardless of the points gap. If there’s a mathematical chance you are in contention and we saw many times in motorsport that a lot of things can happen so wouldn’t rule out anybody in the back. But right now my main focus is on doing the best I can.

Q:
Question from Mohammed Al Mohannadi, Al Sharq newspaper (Qatar) to Mehdi Bennani: Are you still able to fight for a good position in the overall championship or just the WTCC Trophy?

MB:
We are still there, it’s mathematically possible. In the WTCC Trophy we have a big fight with three drivers and for sure we will do our best to score maximum points. I hope. It’s like my second country here in Qatar because I’m Arabic and every time I try to do my best in Arabic races. That’s it. We will do our best and tomorrow we’ll see if we’re going out with a smile or not. I hope we can be fine.

Q:
Question from Raajiv Tripathi, Qatar Tribune (Qatar) to Norbert Michelisz: How important will pole position be?

NM:
In the end it’s worth to exploit what you have in qualifying. This season in the Main Race where it’s possible to score more points… for the second half of the season… also if I look at my performance I was able to come back in the points because I was strong in qualifying. With a good strategy you can also go for the maximum but I don’t know if it’s possible to fight for the pole position to be honest. Looking at least year Volvo was strong, Citroën was strong. Okay, we have some updates on the car but we will see how the Free Practice sessions are going if I will have the chance to show I can go for the pole position but I have to wait a bit for that.