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Sardinia - Pre-event press conference

5 May 2011


Present: Kris Meeke (MINI WRC Team), Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Total WRT), Malcolm Wilson (Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team) and Nick Shorrock (Michelin)



Press conference


Q:
Kris, welcome to the WRC. There's been a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation waiting for the MINI WRC Team to arrive. How do you feel now it's happening?

Kris Meeke:
It's quite nice to be here, it's nice to be back doing a rally; it's been seven months since I last competed so I'm a little bit rusty maybe. It was nice this morning to get out and settle the nerves a little bit. I think the engineers were a little bit more nervous than myself and Dani (Sordo) but it went quite well this morning. Being back in the WRC is good, but to be driving at this level is something I've always worked for. It's just the start for me, I want to make this a real goal and see what we can do. It's not going to happen overnight, we have to learn every rally and build it up slowly, step by step.

Q:
You mentioned a few nerves from the team but not from yourself and Dani. How was the car at shakedown this morning?

KM:
It was good. The road was a little bit difficult, there were some big stones coming out, and it was a little bit unrepresentative. It also was quite a soft road, it cut up quite bad towards the end, I was as confident as you can be on this type of road. It's one thing I feel from the car that every time you step into it you feel confident and confidence is a big part of rallying so it's good. I think we're ready for tomorrow morning.

Q:
Although MINI is registered as a WRC Team, you will not be scoring manufacturer points. Does that take the pressure off a little or are you not feeling any pressure as it's a development year?

KM:
To be honest, even if we were scoring points it would not be possible to fight for the Championship this year. We're quite lucky, especially myself, that we have six rallies this year where ultimately the result at the end of the weekend is not so important. If we do have a kind of a problem on one stage over the weekend it doesn't really matter because we're not fighting for points. At the end of the day if we do get a good result it means we've had a good weekend and we want to have a good weekend so we will see. It doesn't really change our approach; we want to do the best job we can.

Q:
Talk to me about the number on your car; you've got number 52 – why?

KM:
I think everyone's fairly aware of the history MINI has in rallying, right back to the sixties. The numbers on Dani's car and my own car are the numbers of Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen when they won the '64 and '65 Monte Carlo rallies. With its big history, everybody knows about MINI, it's a popular brand and it's nice to do something to remember the guys and pay respect to those guys who have achieved so much back then. Ultimately, when we're inside we don't see the numbers, we only want to go fast!

Q:
Sébastien, you are now in the lead of the World Rally Championship and with all the joys that brings it also means you are first on the road tomorrow. How are you feeling about that?

Sebastien Loeb:
Always the same question. How I feel? I feel happy to be leading the Championship but being first on the road for sure is not an advantage in this kind of rally. It's usually very difficult so we will see what we can do but it's a bit always the same, so we will see if we see some strategy tomorrow night or not.

Q:
It's a little bit different here in Sardinia this time around; we are heading south down to Oristano; what did you think about those stages on the recce?

SL:
The stages were good, when we saw them they were a bit wet because it had been raining the day before so it's difficult to know exactly how sandy and how much gravel will be on the road but the profile of the stages was good, hard surface, they seem nice stages.

Q:
You've just got that fifteen minute remote service tomorrow; does that change your strategy, knowing you haven't got the ability to do a full service if anything does go wrong?

SL:
Yes, but what can we do. When you are fighting you have to push and then you sometimes take some risks. We know it's a bit more risky if something happens it might be difficult to continue but we will try to do as usual and hope that it will go well.

Q:
We're seeing MINI here for the first time, we're hearing there will be a VW announcement later today; the WRC is becoming very exciting again...

SL:
Yes, for sure, there are two new manufacturers coming, we've been only two since a few years so I think it's very good for the sport to have some new challenges. There will be more competition and for sure it will be more exciting. I think it's good for all the WRC.

Q:
What about yourself? Have you had any thoughts about what you might do next year?

SL:
I haven't decided yet.

Q:
Malcolm, when we look at the entry list for this event it's full of Ford Fiestas taking up nearly 55 per cent of the entries. 34 cars in total, that's pretty impressive!

Malcolm Wilson:
It's great. I think we really achieved what we set out to achieve a few years ago, a complete ladder of opportunity within the Ford product range and of course we've been awarded the FIA WRC Academy as well. It was a great boost for us and for the little R2 car, of course there are the Super 2000 cars out as well. We've got 10 Fiesta WRC cars here as well so as you can imagine it's a great moment for us. As you can imagine a few more grey hairs and a lot of sleepless nights, but at the end of the day it's a great position to be in for Ford.

Q:
Let's look back to Jordan, it was a fantastic battle between Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier, who won the rally by point two of a second. Jari-Matti was incredibly disappointed as I am sure the team were. Have you recovered from that now and do you think Jari-Matti will bounce back even harder to try and take a win here?

MW:
The great thing is that we had fantastic pace on that second day in Jordan. In this particular rally I know that both Jari-Matti and Mikko (Hirvonen) really like the stages. He was already saying that if he took some big risks he thought he could pull out a bit more time and the biggest problem everybody knows is basically keeping Jari-Matti in control. The guys feel really confident, let's see.

Q:
Tell me about the Championship itself, is it going the way you planned from the start of the year or are things not quite on track?

MW:
They're not quite on track. It's really difficult when you lose a rally, now I can really understand and imagine how Sébastien (Loeb) felt in New Zealand when Marcus (Grönholm) beat him by point three of a second because there's nothing like winning, so to be honest it's a big disappointment to lose by that margin, but I think it's fantastic for the sport to think that we have two intense days over that sort of distance and that's what rallies are being won by and that's the great thing about this sport and with the likes of MINI coming in as well they've seen they're competitive on the shakedown I think we've got quite a future.

Q:
Let's talk about the car itself. Are you happy with the Fiesta's progress?

MW:
Yes, we're very happy with the performance side; I think as you mentioned earlier when talking to Sébastien that tomorrow is a first for all of us to run a hundred or more kilometres without a real major service. I think ultimately at the end of the year the Championship will probably come down to reliability and that will play a part in it and I think we're going to see some aspect of that probably tomorrow.

Q:
Last week I believe the team tested here in Sardinia, on gravel but also on asphalt with a gravel tyre – why was that?

MW:
We've never done that with this car, and the next event is Argentina, where there's one stage which has ten kilometres of tarmac, plus the fact we will have the Michelin soft compound tyre so it's the first time that we've tried that, and of course it was for many reasons but it was also for the drivers to see how the car reacted in gravel set-up on tarmac, to see how the new soft compound tyres worked and also to try and get a direction from a set-up point of view as to what we need to do when we go to events that have got asphalt sections in them.

Q:
Nick, Michelin returns to the WRC in 2011 – is it good to be back and has it been successful so far?

Nick Shorrock:
It's always good to be back in competitions where we can demonstrate what our tyres are meant to be doing. I guess the people to ask are really those around me today. From a tyre point of view we're more than happy with the performance we've seen so far, first of all starting off in Sweden with the snow tyre, a big success there. Obviously a lot of development work on the gravel tyre and that had a great start back in Jordan.

Q:
And that of course was the 'joker', effectively. You had good feedback from the teams from that?

NS:
You need to remember that the whole start of rallying for us at World Championship level started back in 2010 and we had to submit the tyres even before we'd run a kilometre in true race so we learned a lot from the first couple of rallies before we introduced the new tyre. Listening to people like Sébastien, the teams and Malcolm's comments led us to introduce this “joker” tyre, the second gravel tyre. The feedback was obviously very positive, I think just looking and listening to the Power Stage (in Jordan) was a good testament to what our tyres are capable of doing.

Q:
What will be the main challenges on the surface here in Sardinia?

NS:
Back to difficult conditions, a little bit like Mexico perhaps more demanding, perhaps something that we've not seen so far in 2011 is the impact of weather, very bold meteo that they can have here on this island. We've got some new conditions coming up and it'll be interesting to see how the tyres work out.


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