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Australia - Pre-event press conference

3 September 2009

Drivers: Mikko Hirvonen (BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team), Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Total World Rally Team), Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior Team) and Henning Solberg (Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team).


Press conference.


Q:
The last time we were in Australia you took the win, the first win of your career, but the stages here are very different from those in Western Australia. Are there any other events you can compare them too?

Mikko Hirvonen:
Yeah it is very different. And me winning here last time, I don't think it's going to help me at all really. Okay, good memories, but it's a new rally. So we'll see; it's completely different as well. We'll see how it goes on Friday.

Q:
There are 35 stages here, the highest number of stages on an event this year. Instead of groups of three stages we have groups of up to seven; what extra challenge does that add?

MH:
I think it's going to be okay, I'm not worried that there are so many different stages. There are not so many kilometres, but lots of short stages so I think the difference is between drivers and it can be quite small so I think even a small mistake can cost quite a lot. So there's no room for any small mistakes.

Q:
And there's no room for any mistakes for either you or Sébastien in the Championship at the moment.

MH:
No it's only three points difference and three rallies to go, so if it's zero points for me or Sébastien, it's virtually championship over. For sure there's no room for that. We still need to go flat out and we still need to fight, so it's going to be another exciting weekend.

Q:
The title fight is the closest since you battled with Marcus Grönholm in 2007, is it enjoyable?

Sebastien Loeb:
Yeah for sure it's much more exciting when you have to fight for the Championship and we are only three from the end. We don't know who will win. In 2006 I won without doing the last four rallies, it was a very different situation.

Q:
Sébastien, a brand new event for everyone, what is your opinion of the stages here?

SL:
There are also some very different stages. We have to find the right set-up for that.

Q:
It's been your first season in a WRC car. The first half of the season there were a few ups and downs, but you have been delivering consistent performances during the second half - a podium in Greece and just missing out in Poland. Are you pleased with your performance to date?

Sebastien Ogier:
Yeah for sure it is getting better and better. The start of the year was hard, but now it starts to be good and I hope to continue in this way.

Q:
Will we now see you on the remaining rallies this year?

SO:
For me I will do all the season, it is perfect for me.

Q:
For you as a driver, who do you compare your times against in the WRC to know that you are improving?

SO:
I compare myself with Henning (Solberg), and his brother (Petter Solberg). So when I start the rally here I will try and match my times with Henning.

Q:
Do you think these stages will suit you?

SO:
As Sébastien said, there are some different stages. But mostly there are faster stages, high speed, I think. The rally will be on smooth roads that are very narrow and twisty. We will see.

Q:
Henning, the last time you competed in Australia it didn't end well, an accident in Perth meant you could not complete the rally. Hopefully we won't see a repeat performance here?

Henning Solberg:
I'd compare these roads with New Zealand and I have done quite well there. If I can get the set-up as it was last year, then I will be happy.

Q:
You currently lie fifth overall in the Championship and we have seen you on the podium – has this been one of your best years?

HS:
It has been one of my best years. Cyprus, Greece and Finland were very good for me; I hope we can replicate it this weekend.

Q:
You are the only Solberg competing this weekend as Petter elected not to come to Australia – you going to miss him?

HS:
Yeah I miss him – as my brother. This will be my first rally without him this year.

Q:
It is of course good for you in terms of the Championship?

HS:
He will be very strong in the last two rounds of the Championship.

Q:
The two last rallies of course, everybody is wondering what car he will be in. Has he told his brother what car he'll be driving in Spain and GB?

HS:
All that I can say is that he will be driving a car that has a French built rally engine.

Q:
A French-built rally engine… which both the Ford and Citroen have? Thank you for that insight Henning...

Q:
Mikko, you are first on the road here; will that be difficult on day one from what you have seen on the recce?

MH:
It's going to be quite difficult tomorrow, especially if it stays dry. On some of Friday's stages there is a lot of loose gravel. It's going to be a bit of a disadvantage, I don't know how much better it's going to be for Sébastien behind me, but for some of the guys further down it could be pretty fast. But, we'll see on Friday.

Q:
We hear it may rain tomorrow, how much would that benefit you?

MH:
For sure it might help a bit, so I will be dancing tonight to get the rain happening!

Q:
What is going to be your approach then? Are you going to be cautious at all?

MH:
I can't really be too cautious otherwise Sébastien will definitely run away from the start. So I will try and find a good rhythm, like I had in Finland, and hopefully we will have a good fight again. For sure it would help me out if I could get more points that Sébastien, but okay, it wouldn't be the end of the world because there are still two rallies left, though it would be a lot more difficult (to win the Championship).

Q:
We haven't seen you on the top step of the podium since Argentina – which for you is highly unusual. How keen are you to change that statistic here?

SL:
I won a go-kart race! I know it will be tough again. I know that it will be very, very fast, so we will see. We will try our best; it is difficult to know who will be able to have a good rally.

Q:
You have spent the majority of the year as the first car on the road and as a result unable to use tactics to achieve a good road position for day two. Is this an event where tactics could be played in that way and will you be using them to your advantage?

SL:
I think it's too early to know. In Finland we didn't use tactics, we just tried to go as fast as possible. I think if I can take the lead, I will take it. But it's not always good to use tactics because if the leader tries to go flat out and keep his lead then he can usually keep his lead to the end. Maybe that is the best solution.

Q:
Sebastien Ogier, long days have been described with lots of stages, have you recovered from the jet-lag and are you ready for this long weekend?

SO:
No not really. We have a long journey and we start very early. Sure it will be difficult for everybody. I try to do a lot of sport before the rally but not much this time, so we will see.

Q:
What will be your approach on Day One? How are you going to start?

SO:
As usual I will try to start prudently and try to keep confidence and then try to push more.

Q:
You're confirmed for Spain and GB, as you said, but what about next year? This is the time that drivers are talking to teams for the next season. What about yourself?

SO:
For the moment nothing is sure but for myself I want to continue with Citroën, but nothing is sure.

Q:
Henning, what are your thoughts on where you could be this weekend? Is a podium realistic do you think?

HS:
Yeah I can be on the podium for every gravel event. I will try for a podium, I will always try.

Q:
What are your thoughts on the stages? It seemed to be quite dusty out there at shakedown.

HS:
Yeah I said the same after the recce. In the forests it's going to be dangerous. The dust stays in the air. We don't want to have the same thing that happened in Sardinia. There should be three minute gaps.

Q:
What about the future for Henning Solberg? Will we see you compete in the WRC next year and with what team?

HS:
Yeah I hope so! I feel younger and younger every year, and faster and faster. So I hope I can stay for a few more years, yes.


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