Rally Australia – post event press conference
- 31st October 2006, 9:43am
1st - Mikko Hirvonen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st - Jarmo Lehtinen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Petter Solberg – Subaru World Rally Team
2nd - Phil Mills – Subaru World Rally Team
3rd - Manfred Stohl – OMV Peugeot Norway
3rd - Ilka Minor – OMV Peugeot Norway
Malcolm Wilson, Representative of the winning Manufacturer BP-Ford World Rally Team
Welcome to the final FIA press conference.
Mikko, many congratulations on your first victory. It’s been very well-deserved; how do you feel? When did you know that it would be possible to win? How much pressure were you driving under, as it was a proper fight with Petter Solberg, but you also had to make sure you finished and scored manufacturer points. Were you taking a lot of risks, or would you have been prepared to let Petter go past if he pushed you hard?
The possibility was there on Friday, when I saw Marcus (Gronholm) went off. It was a big shock for me to see him off the road. Then again, we had the dust on the last stage on Friday, I saw Petter had it as well. After that I thought ”Okay, there’s a chance”. You should know how many times Malcolm called me in the car telling me not to slow down, but telling me what to do! I had to bring the points, but I had the chance and didn’t want to let it slip. I needed to take a few risks, it wasn’t easy. Okay, I couldn’t really control my speed until Sunday, the rest of the time I went flat-out.
Your win came on what has been one of the most difficult rallies of the year. How much did you struggle with lack of grip here? Did you have any big moments during the rally, or were you able to control your pace to the finish?
We had a moment on the very first corner on Friday, we were so close to going off. After that it was completely under control. We have been in the same situation all year. This time the opposition was tougher and the stakes were higher. It helps to be in this position so many times this year, we could control our speed.
Congratulations on second place Petter, a very good result. Is this a sign that the Subaru Impreza is improving? How much better was the car than it was in Turkey? You’ve been struggling a lot with traction this year and there were several very loose surfaces, so how did the car cope with them? Did you have any reliability issues or was the car fault-free from start to finish?
It’s improving and it’s rough, we have been pushed hard. On the fast, we have been at the same speed, but struggling with the grip. I enjoyed the fight and the weekend. We needed this second place. It’s been six months since I stood on the podium. It was nice to get that feeling back. In Turkey we did some improvements and a small improvement for this rally. The team knows what it is, but we can’t do it all at one time; we do small steps. I hope it will be sorted for next year. We have a very good team and I’m confident we can take it to the next level. It would have been hard for us to fight for victory on the dry stages. I’m very happy for Mikko.
You and Petter were leading this rally last year before an accident involving a kangaroo. Was there any sign of wildlife this year? On the first day you were in a battle with local hero Chris Atkinson, did you think that you would be able to pass him or was he a serious contender for victory here?
We only saw one kangaroo this time and that was on a road section. We fitted the ’roo away’ on the side of the car - obviously it worked very well! It cost two dollars from the local fuel station, the boys thought it was good, it worked very well! Sure, Chris could have won. He showed his colours, he was pushing very hard and leading the event until he was caught out. He had the pace, no doubt about that.
Manfred, congratulations on another podium place. On the second day you got past Xavier Pons to claim third; how confident were you that you could keep him behind you? Did he put any pressure on you after you had passed him? You’ve always performed well in Australia, why do you think that is? Do you have a particularly good feeling with the roads here? How about the car; do you think that the Peugeot is well-suited to these stages?
I mean I was so happy with my road position on Saturday. I pushed like hell, we had a good Saturday and at end of the day I was quite confident we could make the podium. The stages are quite fast and tricky, I can find a good rhythm. I like also think the rally is very well organised – it’s a shame it is not in the Championship any more. I like the car very much all the year, but on this rally I think we have too loose rear; there was too much oversteer. At the end of the first day we made some changes and the car was better on Saturday and Sunday.
Congratulations Ilka, another excellent result from yourself and Manfred. With two rounds remaining, OMV Peugeot Norway is still a few points behind Subaru in the Manufacturers Championship and the team has said in the past that the aim is to take third place; do you think that will be possible? And how difficult is this rally for a co-driver?
I think Petter and Chris will be pushing very hard. I don’t know if we can make third in the Championship. Actually it’s very difficult (for a co-driver), you never know what’s coming in the next corner. You have to deliver the notes quickly to give the driver confidence. It was quite a stressful rally for me.
Many congratulations Malcolm. There’s a lot to talk about, but first of all Mikko’s victory. You must be very pleased for him. Did you think that he would win this year? How satisfying is it for you to see him here as a rally winner, a driver who really came into the World Championship with Ford in 2003, and then joined the factory team this year after a bit of a rough patch earlier in the season. How much do you think he has improved as a driver? And of course, subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA, Marcus has not won the Drivers’ Championship this year; how much of a disappointment is that for you?
He joined in 2003 and we could see the potential then. It was a decision that surprised a lot of people to have two Finns in the team. But the age Mikko was, he could learn a lot from Marcus. Everybody has seen his performance when he’s under pressure from me to try and maintain a good position. It must have been a lot harder on this rally. I could see the glint in his eye, he wanted that win. He’s been the star of the season for the job he’s done. It’s not going to be the last time he’s on the top step of the podium. In fairness, it was only one blot on his copybook in Mexico. For the team, it was a brand new car and Mikko suffered with the technical issues at the start. I think it’s eight from nine that he’s finished on the podium. And remember, a lot of these rallies he didn’t even compete on before; he didn’t compete on this one last year, which makes it all the more remarkable. I’m disappointed for Marcus. At the end of the day there was a slim chance to take it (the title) from Sebastien; he did the work at the start of the season, but it was a slim chance. I’m disappointed for Marcus, I know how much effort he has put in for the team. It would have been the icing on the cake and we all know what Sebastien has done. To win with two rallies to go is remarkable.
Mikko, what was it like having to control a World Championship rally lead for the first time in your life? How much more enjoyable was it for you, having a real fight from start to finish, rather than having to defend a podium place, which has been the case for you a few times in the past?
It was fun from Friday morning. That’s how it is, when I get behind the wheel, I enjoy it - especially when there’s a fight. When it all works, it’s like a movie, the car just goes around the corner. Such a fantastic feeling!
What will be your biggest memories of Rally Australia in Perth?
If you had asked me last year (after retiring), you would not get a good answer! The organisation in Perth is absolutely perfect, it’s one of the best in the Championship. It’s all well-organised, good promotion, and a good super special. That’s important from a marketing point of view. You should raise the standard to this rally, there would be more interest straight away. I hope it will be the same level next time. I want to say thanks for a brilliant job in Perth. Very good.
On a different subject, now that deals for next year are beginning to fall into place, how are you fixed for 2007? Do you think that you will be competing in the entire Championship again?
I have many, many plans! No, I mean nothing is decided. I feel very confident with Bozian and Peugeot. I feel very familiar in the team. We cannot manufacturer any new parts as a Manufacturer 2 team, but we still have a car capable of top results. Look at me here and (Henning) Solberg in Turkey. I hope it’s like this next year. I would like, of course (to be doing 16 rallies), but you have to ask our supporters. I am optimistic for it. I hope, yes.
Malcolm, let’s talk about the Manufacturers’ Championship. Ford has extended the advantage over Kronos in the series; can you win it in New Zealand? Do you know what you have to do to secure it?
Well, we’ve been in this position before and it’s always slipped away. It’s my tenth year since we took the team on and there have been frustrating years. We are 16 points ahead, if we get three more than Kronos in New Zealand then we go to Britain as Champions. I’m sure Mikko would be very happy to do that, there would be no brakes on him! It would be great for the final event to have them all fighting for victory. Everybody in the team is very focused on the job, it’s in our grasp and it’s been a big effort to get here. We can only throw it away now. I hope we can give Ford its first manufacturers title since 1979.
Petter but for the dust at the end of Friday, could you have won?
To be fair, Mikko did a good job. I think it could have been closer, but I think he would have done it anyway. He was a little bit faster and I was limited. It’s more important that he had a great feeling. He won the rally, without the dust. He was the real winner, that’s it.
I want to say for Sebastien Loeb, congratulations to him. lt’s well-deserved. He has done three impressive years and been fastest of all. He is the real winner. Very good.
FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1st - Jari-Matti Latvala
1st - Miikka Anttila
Jari-Matti, congratulations. There was a very exciting final day, with the retirement of Marcos (Ligato) and the fight between you and Aki Teiskonen. What were the final three stages like for you? Do you think that a Group N car is harder to drive on slippery surfaces like this; when you get into trouble there’s less power to pull you out? How difficult was it to judge your braking?
It was an interesting morning. I tried to catch Marcos (Ligato) then in the second stage I made a big mistake going off the road. I broke the right-rear wishbone; we lost 30 seconds with that. We were lucky to carry on. Then we came to service and find Marcos has retired. I had big pressure, as the drivers behind were close to me. In the long stage I was so nervous, I felt I can’t brake, I can’t trust myself. When I came through and heard what happened to Aki (Teiskonen) I was a little more confident as the next guy wasn’t so close to me. The first time through, it’s quite difficult, there’s still gravel on the road. It’s all the time cleaning, but the first time it is difficult, the second time is more easy. On the line it can be good grip, but go a little bit off line and you will have a moment. In a way yes, the World Rally Car is in another world. There is more power and if you do a mistake you fix it with the throttle: there’s more power. But World Rally Cars are going faster, so things are happening faster. The Group N cars are fast, but not as fast. The Group N cars are coming closer all of the time.
A big fight in the Production car class; what was your plan at the start of the rally Miikka? Were you aiming to be flat-out from the start or did you have any particular tactics?
I think the strategy was as in Japan; drive the stages without problems. Second time through, increase the speed then see how far we can go with those tactics. I was very amazed. It felt in Japan we had very bad luck. Now it seems fortune is smiling to us a little bit. All of the time, I knew Teiskonen was coming very fast behind us.
Was this one of the most difficult rallies you have done?
I would say it’s not the most difficult rally. Germany has been the most difficult since 2003, but this has been one of them. The speeds are fast and the roads are narrow. If you make a mistake, you can destroy your car. We were here in 2004, but retired in the first stage. I had a little bit of experience, which helped me to drive.
From your point of view, was everything under control from start to finish or did you have any moments?
The only moment was today when we went wide in one corner today. We were unlucky that we broke the rear. We were lucky to change and fit a new link before the next stage.
You’ll be driving in New Zealand with the Group N car then on Wales Rally GB with 2006-specification Focus; what will those events be like for you? What are your plans for next year? Are you planning to stay in the FIA PWRC or will you step up to a World Rally Car full-time?
Just before the rally, I heard very good news: I am able to drive the Stobart 06 Focus in Britain. My co-driver said to me to keep my concentration! I’ll do New Zealand first and then think about GB. It’s great news, though. I have done three tarmac rallies with Stobart and made three mistakes. Tarmac is not my strongest surface, so I am very glad to have this opportunity. We have been driving now for three years Group N cars and one year in Super 1600 then some rallies with the World Rally Car. Maybe in my career we have good experience of the rallies and now we look forward to try and get the World Rally Car on more rallies next year. I think it depends on how we go in GB.
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