Rally Finland press conference
- 21st August 2006, 9:23am
1st Marcus Gronholm – BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st Timo Rautiainen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
2nd Daniel Elena - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
3rd Mikko Hirvonen - BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd Jarmo Lehtinen - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Representative of the winning manufacturer BP-Ford World Rally Team - Malcolm Wilson
Welcome to the post-event FIA press conference.
Marcus, congratulations on your sixth win in Finland from the last seven years. You were in command from the start, although Sébastien Loeb got to within 12 seconds of you yesterday morning. How big a challenge did he give you and were you worried he might catch and pass you? It’s also the 50th win for a Finn in Finland; do local drivers still have an advantage?
The rally started well for me, we got a good lead. Sébastien was very quick for the rest of the day. We were fighting until Saturday and Ouninpohja, where we found a new stone. Now we all know there’s a big stone there! Then the big fight was over. Of course, I was trying to go as fast as possible. I was not worried, but anything can happen in this rally. We were driving so fast, hey… It’s difficult to say (if we have an advantage). Now I think Seb knows the roads very well. Next year I think it will be an even bigger fight.
Timo, congratulations. Sébastien lost time yesterday after an impact with a rock. Did you hit that rock as well? What was it like? You seemed comfortably in control, but were there any other moments?
We found the same rock. It’s been there all the years we have driven that stage, but this is the first year we have needed to go inside. The corner was tighter than usual. It was a big stone; we did not hit it as Sébastien did. We touched it with the side of the wheel and made a flat tyre, but the BF Goodrich ATS worked fine and we got through the stage without any time loss. There were no moments I can recall, except Friday - the last forest stage - the last right corner before the finish there’s a big tree. We’ve had that close in years before, it was quite close again this year, but the side of the car was so muddy we couldn’t see how close!
Seb, we were just talking about the rock on SS12. Did that cost you the chance of a win?
It was the thing which stopped the fight for sure. We were fighting, it was very exciting, but I had to be all of the time over the limit. To be faster than Marcus I need to do the perfect stage and it’s not easy to keep this rhythm all rally long. After the stone, it was finished. If I didn’t hit the stone, I don’t know how long I could keep it up. I did this mistake and Marcus did not make mistakes. That’s how it is.
Like last year, it was a big fight between you and Marcus. Relative to last year, do you think you were closer to his pace? Next year, do you think you will be able to beat him here?
Yes. Last year it’s a very good fight before the puncture and this year too. This year the stages were faster, I don’t know why. When you go flat out for the first time with Marcus through Ouninpohja, I am very happy at the end of stage. Now I know where Marcus puts the cottage for holiday next year. Sure, we’ll beat him next year!
Congratulations on third place Mikko. Are you pleased with this result, or were you hoping for more? Did things change for you after Petter Solberg retired?
I’m very pleased. Already on Friday I could match a little bit the speed of Seb and Marcus. On the last stage on Friday we got heavy rain and they got away a little bit. I backed off a little bit, but the whole rally was fantastic for me. Of course it always changes (when someone retires) – I really enjoyed a good fight with Petter. Maybe he could have passed me, but maybe not. After that Seb was so far ahead, I started to follow the split times and then try to keep the speed through until the end of the rally.
After a dry summer for several months in Finland, we had rain on the first day. How difficult did that make the conditions and the notes?
It doesn’t change the notes. They’re done on dry weather. Mokkipera and Vellipohja, second time through were very slippery. The only moment we had came in the long stage.
You said before the start of the rally that your hope was to do to Kronos Citroën what they had done to you in Germany, by finishing first and second. In the end you were first and third – not too disappointed?
At the end of the day, we did in terms of points what they did to us last weekend. Mikko has done a really good rally. We talked about it before the start, there were places where he could match Marcus, but with limited experience he couldn’t sustain it. Once Petter was out there was no point in him trying to keep with Sébastien. I’m sure that next season he will be further up the leaderboard. Marcus drove a faultless rally. There was no stress from him at all, not even when Sébastien was close behind him. And both cars were faultless throughout the event. There were no problems at all.
The Championship gap to Seb now is 31 points with six rallies to go – that’s 60 points on offer. Is there any chance of a Championship comeback or are you just working for next year now?
Yeah, there is no chance to catch him. We still fight for the manufacturers’ title - that’s interesting - and to win the rallies. It’s a good start for next year’s campaign, hopefully.
Malcolm, what about the Manufacturers’ Championship? Do you think it is a possibility? What’s your plan in order to try and secure it?
The important thing is that we feel in a position to win each of the remaining events. We have not been in this position for a number of years. It’s possible, there’s no question. We have to remember though, for Mikko, he missed New Zealand, Cyprus Australia and Turkey last year. He needs to finish those rallies to get the experience for next year. We have pulled back the points from Germany, which is great news, but things are still open. All I can say is that we will give it our best shot to do it before the end of the season. We have a simple strategy: get rid of Seb and Daniel on some rallies!
TR: Maybe they could wear the wrong underwear…!
Timo, why do you think Marcus is so successful on this event? It doesn’t matter which car he drives, he always seems to come out on top here. Does the expectation give you any extra pressure?
Obviously the key factor is the experience. It was Marcus’ 18th time on this rally. Look at Sébastien, it was his fifth and he’s already so close. That’s the only explanation. There is no extra pressure, of course there is a strong will to win here because we have done it before and we know we can do it if it goes well.
Finland is one of just three events that you have not won yet, along with Japan and Great Britain? Are these three events some of your biggest ambitions now?
I think for sure Finland; this is the one I would really want to win. Maybe I should wait until Marcus retires, when he is a bit older!
MH: I’ll be there then!
When I start a rally I won the year before, I always try to fight for the victory – it doesn’t change anything. I will go to these rallies with the same motivation.
Daniel, everybody says that Finland is one of the most exciting rallies for a driver. Do you think that it’s one of the most exciting rallies for a co-driver as well, or is it just a lot of hard work?
Sure, because of the fast speed and the jumps. The most sensational stage in the world is Ouninpohja. You have a 128 kph average and jumping all of the time, you have the same time in the air as on the road – it’s fantastic!
Mikko, moving onto Japan now. Your were there last year with a Škoda and you were setting good times before you were forced to retire. Do you feel optimistic that you can be challenging for another podium; you’re making a habit out of this now.
I’ll try to make it a habit! Japan is more difficult than Finland – I know the stages here. The car seems very fast on the stages here and it’s a little bit the same in Japan. I’m sure we can fight there also.
How did you find this Rally Finland compared to previous events here. Looking round the service park and the town, there seemed to be even more people here than usual. Did you have a lot of support on the stages?
Absolutely no problem on the stages. There were a lot of people, but they were all in the right places. There were no problems, everything ran very smooth.
FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHP
1st Guy Wilks – Suzuki Sport
1st Phil Pugh – Suzuki Sport
Congratulations Guy. You’ve taken your second victory of the year on what is probably the event that everybody most wants to win. On the first and second days it was a big fight between you and Kris Meeke – how did you see it? Kris was in front, but were you confident you could have caught him? After you took the lead you had your team mate P-G behind you – did you think he might put up a fight?
I’m still not sure what happened with Kris, I still don’t know if that’s what put him out. We didn’t do a test for here, which wasn’t great, and it meant we spent the first day and a quarter effectively testing the car. On the first stage on Saturday morning we took eight seconds from Kris and I don’t think he liked it. Yeah, maybe you could say we pressured him into it, maybe you could say we put more pressure on him. We pushed hard, but never really exerted ourselves through the whole event. The car wasn’t really to our liking, but once we got it right then the times came. As soon as the car was working it was much better. P-G and I have been team-mates for almost three years; we know what we’re capable of. You can never relax; we always try to pressure each other. We were confident we had the situation under control. Kris made it easier, but we weren’t without problems ourselves.
Punctures were a major talking point amongst the JWRC competitors. How badly were you affected and just how rough were the roads that were causing them?
You could say the second running is the major problem. The field is quite large with 120 cars. The first run is quite bad, but when we go back and the WRC boys have been through, it’s like a minefield. We had one puncture in Ouninpohja where we dropped 25 or 30 seconds – that put us on the back foot. We picked another one up in the long one, but that was only a kilometre from the end so we were quite fortunate. We took it steady at the start and pushed harder towards the end, we drove well with our heads.
This puts you third in the Championship – how are you set now for the rest of the year. You’ve got two rounds left – Turkey and GB – what’s going to be your plan of attack? You’ve come close before, but do you think that 2006 could be your year?
We wanted to come here and win – everybody else could take care of themselves. We’re on 21 points and the leader is on 29. It’s only eight points difference. For Turkey we will have the same attitude; I want to do exactly what we did here. We want to be in control and win stages then win the rally. I’d like to say it will be our year this year, but that does depend on what happens to the other people. We have gone well in Turkey and Wales before. I believe you make your own luck, and Phil and I work well in the car, make no mistakes and that’s important. We have to be quick and consistent. If we do that, then why not?
You started this event without having done any testing and then you were faced with a downpour on the opening day – just how much were you up against it on this event?
All we had to go on was last year’s settings. It’s a testament to what Guy and the engineer did to get us the win on this event. It speaks volumes.
Finally Guy, a word on how this event went. There was a full field of JWRC competitors and you had all your biggest rivals fighting against you. How exciting did this make the event? Do you think that next year’s JWRC should adopt this format?
It was more exciting for us and everybody. You want to compete against everybody. Okay, it’s a different format, but we really enjoyed the weekend. We won against everybody, no ifs or buts – we won. We’ve done almost everything, if not everything perfectly here.
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