Present:Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen MotorsportMalcolm Wilson, M-Sport World Rally TeamMads Østberg, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally TeamThierry Neuville, Hyundai Motorsport
Q:Sébastien, you continue to lead the championship as we come into this event. Argentina was a disappointment for the team - are the problems we saw there now identified and resolved?SO:Hopefully. I’m sure it’s over. It’s passed now. The team has been working to solve it and I’m completely sure they have found the solution so it’s not going to happen again.
Q:It’s the first time we see the stages here in the north of Portugal for over a decade. What are your thoughts from what we have seen so far?SO:It looks really nice. I like to discover new roads and new rallies. The profile of the stages is really beautiful and I would like to congratulate the organiser – they really worked on the road and have really prepared well for the race. It’s different to the south here, the surface is much softer and there will be a bit of a difference, some deterioration between loop one and loop two. The recce was quite intense, making the new notes, but it’s the same for everybody and I like that.
Q:Will we see different tyre strategies?SO:Definitely. The soft is faster up to a certain point, but we have to think of the distance, the temperature – we have to manage that. At our test here two weeks ago it was raining, so now we have to trust our experience from the other rallies in the past. I have to take risks in my position when I am opening the road.
Q:We’ve seen you win from the front now, it’s not too much of a disadvantage for you…SO:You can say what you like, it’s always a disadvantage. It’s really dry and we know already it is going to be a disadvantage. There’s no point talking or getting frustrated, we have no other option. I need to take extra speed to compensate and be more aggressive with the tyre choice – maybe we do that this weekend.
Q:Malcolm, a brand new Fiesta RS WRC will be seen out on the stages from this event on. Are you pleased with the way shakedown has gone?
MW:You never know until you come here how it’s going to be. Shakedown has gone well. We’ve had an indication… on his second run, Elfyn posted the quickest time and then Ott finished shakedown fourth. We have a lot of confidence coming here and, okay, it’s only the shakedown, but it’s nice for the team to see the step we have made. Elfyn’s normally four or five seconds behind in a new event and he’s not [here]. Now we’ll let the guys go and see what they can do.
Q:Where do you think the gains have been made?MW:From the outside the car looks exactly the same, but there’s no carry-over on the engine, the gearbox, differential [have been changed]; we have new electronics, which means a new ECU. And by doing all of that means we have been able to work on the weight distribution – the cooling package has moved further back. But the big step is on the engine.
Q:What of the performance of your drivers so far? Is there any pressure on them to achieve certain results this year?MW:No. not at all. This doesn’t alter our strategy for the rest of the year at all. All I would say is that, with the combination of the new car and a bit more experience for the drivers, in the second half of the season it would be nice to challenge for some podiums. But no, there’s no more pressure: Elfyn’s doing a great job and Ott has a great start number here. Let’s see what he can do with it.
Q:It’s early in the season to talk about the driver market for next year but you have been quoted in the press recently with regard to wanting Thierry Neuville’s services for next year - what can you tell us about that?MW:I think that’s a totally inappropriate question Miss Williams. Especially when I have the contract in my pocket! I have made no secret about this: we had a fantastic year with Thierry when he was with us and all I said is that if we had the manufacturer backing then we would try to secure his services. I don’t know his situation, but he did a great job for us and who knows about the future.
Q:Is it only Thierry you are looking at?MW:I’m always looking at everybody.
Q: Malcolm, you are the oldest and – obviously – the most handsome man we have on the panel here today! You remember these stages in the north. What do you think of them?MW:Even when I competed, there were some fantastic stages up here and there are going to be a huge number of fans and big support for the event. Everybody has got to treat the event with a little bit of respect. The second pass will be hard on the car, it always was in the past. Last time we were here [in 2001] it was with completely different weather and we lost the rally with Carlos [Sainz] to Tommi [Makinen] – I’m hoping it stays dry this weekend.
Q:Mads, what happened at shakedown?MO:We rolled. I rolled. There’s not a lot to say. I go flat where I am not supposed to, we touched something and rolled two-and-a-half times. That was a proper wake-up.
Q:And the car is okay?MO:The car landed on its side, so we had a bit of a climb to get out. After that, we pushed it back on its wheels. Actually, I couldn’t understand that it had rolled, it looked quite new.TN: Maybe this is a good sign for your rally!MO: Yes, maybe. I am really happy, I have never been this happy after shakedown…
Q:But you like this event?MO:I like the rally, but maybe I don’t know this rally now. Maybe I should say I like the country. The roads are amazing. I was surprised to see the roads this nice, there are so many challenges, but all of them are nice – I will try to enjoy every bit of it.
Q:And we will see tactics with the tyres?MO:For sure. We all like the soft tyres, but we have some long stages and, like Seb said, with the temperatures going up it can be difficult. I’m sure there will be some last-minute changes. The wrong tyres can destroy quite a lot, but a good one can make it. I wish everybody luck with that.
Q:Do you need to be a clever driver to succeed here?MO:Yes. But obviously you can’t just be clever, you need to be fast as well. Everybody will try to push. Jari-Matti [Latvala] and Thierry [Neuville] are further back and in a really good start position – I think there are a lot of different factors. Sebastien needs to push hard and increase the risk. I’m not sure if I take that strategy.
Q:Thierry, what about these stories about you and M-Sport? Where will you be next year?TN:I think I have been quite clear on this in the last days. For sure, I will stay with Hyundai next year. I am two years with the team now and we are developing something together. It’s maybe taken longer and was a bit more difficult than we expected, but the future seems to be great for 2016. The new car is coming and we have big hopes. We are looking forward to that. Now, I always like chatting with Malcolm and he can call whenever he wants. We can discuss for many things… we have to see.
Q:Thierry, sixth in the championship - how would you sum up your start to the season?TN:It was okay at the start. Mexico I tried to push quite hard and I made a mistake, Argentina I had trouble getting to the end; that was a bad event for me. I know I can do better than this and already I am looking forward to this event.
Q:What about that final stage in Argentina? Did you have the information that Andreas Mikkelsen had crashed?TN:Of course I had the information, but I thought it was the right-hand corner before where he had crashed. On the next corner, I got the surprise! It was so fast and then pretty quickly I understand it was the left-hander. This stopped us, but that’s rallying. We continue and go forward, focusing on the next one.
Q:You usually go well on new events, looking forward to this one?TN:We make new notes, the stages are new for everybody. I have done my best so far, this is quite a nice event, the stages are really nice and better than I expected. The grip is not so high, but I am sixth on the road so I should get an advantage out of this.
Q:What’s going to be the toughest thing?TH:Getting the tyre choice right will be difficult. We have 16 soft tyres, everybody will try to use them to the maximum. But, it’s all new and there will be some surprises. We don’t know, it’s getting rough; is it better to be further back on the road? We will find out a lot this weekend.
FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
Present:Scott Pedder Esapekka Lappi
Q:Scott, you are a long way from home in Australia! First time for you in WRC 2 and a big challenge ahead! How much are you looking forward to competing in Europe?SP:Very much so. I like this position: top step in the middle here [in the winner’s seat in the press conference] – it feels good! It’s a dream come true, I have been competing for a lot of years, only in Australia and Asia Pacific. To make the jump and come to Europe is fantastic. To be driving the Fiesta R5 is unbelievable. I’m just looking forward to it and look forward to a great weekend.
Q:You and co-driver Dale Moscatt are 2014 Australian Rally Champions, so it’s a successful pairing. Dale has WRC experience, how much has he been able to help you in terms of preparation?SP:Very much. He’s done a season or two with Evgeny Novikov and he knows most of the rallies, okay not this area, but he’s been a fantastic part of my career in the last few years. I don’t have the experience here, but hopefully we can find some speed and get there in the end.
Q:There are 30 competitors in WRC 2 here, how does it feel to compete against them – and how do you rank yourself?SP:We won’t beat them, we know that – on pace – for the first few events, we need to learn the car and get faster and faster. We need to be there at the end. This is a long event and we want to run in the middle of the pack and then maybe have some luck and snag a top five. Hopefully, that’s going to lead onto some better results in the end.
Q:Have there been any special preparations?SP:Special preparations? Hmm, I’m Australian, so lots of beer, kangaroos! The rally maps website has been fantastic and helped us see a few stages on video. I’ve been doing this for quite a long time, so the preparation is standard.
Q:Esapekka, the brand new Skoda R5 will make its WRC debut this week, how are you feeling about getting behind the wheel of the new car?EL:I am really looking forward to it. It has been a long break for me and it’s great to be back in the series – especially with the new car. My stomach is resting now, because this is something I am looking forward to, it’s going to be something really good.
Q:How much testing has been done on the R5? What are your thoughts on it?EL:Okay, for sure the car feels good. I have some ideas what I would like in this car and they have made these things. But this is not only for me. But anyway we have taken a few steps from the S2000 to improve it and, okay, it’s nothing secret. It’s standard R5, we just have to hope everything is fine and it will be reliable. We just have to finish.
Q:Can you win?EL:I think after seven months break it will be a tough day tomorrow; I have been missing some races. That’s why I have to get used to it again tomorrow. This could be a rough rally, if we can finish, this will be a good position.
Q:You mentioned you have a secret in your preparation – care to tell us about that?EL:For sure, no! Then it’s not a secret anymore. I have tested around 4000 kilometres and we have done a lot of training camps – we have done what we can. With no races, we do what we can.
Q:What do you think of the stages?EL:The characteristics are good. The rhythm is changing quite a lot. Some sections are soft and this can be dangerous, especially on the second pass – we need to be smart and miss the big rocks. That’s why we won’t be going flat-out.
FIA JUNIOR WRC CHAMPIONSHIP
Present:Daniel McKennaKornel Lukacs
Q:Daniel, your season didn’t start brilliantly in Monte Carlo - a tough debut into the championship?DM:Unfortunately, we had a non-finish on round one. I was quite surprised that we were fastest on the first stage in Monte Carlo and then second fastest on the next and fastest on the third stage. Then we had a gearbox problem and retired on SS8. That was the first time I compete on snow, ice and it was my first time on studded tyres. I was really disappointed not to finish. We start the season with no points which is not ideal – the aim is to win this year. We want good points here.
Q:You have been using the sauna at home in your full overalls to prepare yourself for the heat - has that worked?DM:It’s quite warm today and when we were testing on Monday – in Ireland we don’t have these temperatures. I wanted get the body adjusted for the 25, 27 and 30-kilometre stages when it could be 40 degrees in the car. I needed to get my body ready for those extremes. I also did a bit of testing with the new Max kit on the car, it’s excellent. Like the other drivers have to play it clever, points are the objective here.
Q:What’s your best surface?DM:Tarmac for sure. I would have done double the mileage on tarmac compared to gravel. I have done the British Championship for a number of years and there’s a lot of good gravel rallies in there, but still there is some work to do. But I like to think we are getting better again.
Q:What’s the approach, flat out?DM:No, not flat out. But not too slow either.
Q:Kornel, what’s your approach to the FIA Junior WRC Championship going to be?KL:I can’t start as fast as I can – we need to be much more clever this year than last year.
Q:What did you learn last year that can help you? What’s different in your preparations for this year?KL:We have a new team for this year. I tested the Max kit and it’s very good, but we have a big hole from Monte Carlo to here – we have done many, many tests.
Q:What do you think of the stages?KL:The roads are really different. We start at 59, the gravel can be really deep – in the two-wheel drive it’s really difficult.
Q:But you have adapted well?KL:Really well, I feel at home. We have stages similar to this, so we have a good set-up.
Q:And it’s a good prize…KL:It’s one of my dreams to drive an R5 car – everybody wants this and I do, but we have to start slowly.
FIA WRC 3 CHAMPIONSHIP
Present: Teemu Suninen
Q:You have been announced as Toyota’s junior driver – that’s a great opportunity…TS:For me, it’s an awesome opportunity and I try to use it.
Q:Can you tell us anything about Toyota – reveal any secrets?TS:Of course there are some secrets, but nothing different to other teams. I have to be really happy for the car. We will see what we have.
Q:What’s the objective this season?TS:Now the plan is to get experience from every rally and do better next year. We are focused with the Oreca team to develop my skills here.
Q:The stages suit you?TS:They look really nice, but still there are some really rough sections where we need to be clever not to get the puncture or break the car