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Wales - Pre-event press conference

9 November 2011

Drivers: Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Total WRT), Mikko Hirvonen, Ford Abu Dhabi WRT), Kris Meeke (MINI WRC Team) and Petter Solberg (PSWRT).



Press conference


Q:
Sebastien you lead the Championship coming into the final round here in Wales, you don't have to win the rally to win the title – what is the plan for you this weekend?

Sebastien Loeb:
I feel okay. I know it's a very important rally this weekend. We will play the Championship here and there will be a bit more pressure than usual. We will have a fight and I will try to do my best to win this Championship.

Q:
This could be title number eight this weekend. Does it still mean a huge amount to you if you were to go on and achieve that?

SL:
Yes, for sure, we are fighting hard and my motivation is still the same. It would mean a lot more this time because I would be the only one to win eight titles in motorsport but it is not my main motivation. I am fighting for the title, yes, but more importantly I enjoy what I do. I like driving, the fight, the rally and so that's my main motivation. As long as I am driving I try to do my best for the best result possible. For sure it would mean a lot to be champion again but at the moment there are four days of the rally ahead and anything can happen.

Q:
You don't have to win the rally to win the Championship so what will your approach be?

SL:
The main thing for me is not to lose nine points to Mikko. My goal will be to try to be as fast as him, even faster is better as I know if he is winning and even if I finish second then everything will be played in the Power Stage. I know I will have to push. I have to find my rhythm, to see if I can feel confident. I usually have a good feeling here, good results.

Q:
Wales has been very good to you in the past. You mentioned you are under some pressure, does the seven times FIA World Rally Champion ever get nervous?

SL:
No!

Q:
So you are feeling mentally, physically good before the event. You tested before you came here, how did that go?

SL:
It was good, it was good to test just before the recce and get the feeling a bit again in this surface. It has been okay, no problem. The test was good, the recce too. We are prepared and now most important, we start.

Q:
What do you think of the new stages here in Wales?

SL:
Except the first one which is completely different, on Tarmac, the other stages look like Wales stages. Maybe a bit faster than most parts of the stages we know, but they are good stages, no problem at all. We've done the recce, some quite good conditions. I don't know with the rain, maybe the grip level will be different from what we saw. It is not easy from the recce to see where there will be more or less grip so maybe it will be the surprise in the rally.

Q:
Mikko, Seb said he feels no nerves going into this one, what about you?

Mikko Hirvonen:
He needs to check his head! If there are no nerves then there is something wrong! But no, I feel good, quite relaxed at the moment. Maybe when the rally really starts, maybe I will be a bit nervous. I definitely will be at the start as it is quite a nasty stage to start the rally but otherwise I feel really good.

Q:
You've said yourself that you have been given a second chance to go for the Championship title. After Finland you thought it was game over in terms of your hopes. What can you do with that second chance? You remember back to 2009 of course, can you take it this weekend? Do you have the fight within you and the car to beat Sebastien Loeb?

MH:
I believe so. I'm very confident about this rally. But okay it's maybe not going to be enough even if I win the rally and Power Stage and he's second in both - it's not going to be enough so we'll see. But as I've said, I'm confident about the weekend so all I can do is go flat-out and try to win it and then we'll see what's going to happen.

Q:
Tell me what you thought of the stages and tell me more about Great Orme, you said it's a nasty stage to start with, what did you mean?

MH:
It's easy to break your car there if you get over excited. With gravel tyres on Tarmac, probably with cold tyres and if it's damp and wet it's going to be slippy in places as well, and a small touch on a kerb and it's easy to destroy your car. You would have to do the whole of Friday morning with a broken car as well. That's why it's going to be tricky and at least on those two stages I'm going to play it a bit safe. But then when we get to the forest, it's all or nothing.

Q:
All or nothing, you've said this before "Win it or bin it!”

MH:
Well, this is now. It's the last rally of the season so I don't really have any choice any more.

Q:
Mikko, 2009 you had a chance but it didn't happen. Now you have another chance to claim the WRC title. What would it mean to you if you could clinch it?

MH:
For sure, for all of us it would mean a lot. It is something I have dreamed about for 15 years since I started competing. Now we have a second chance so definitely it would mean a lot for me and many people who have been backing me since the start of my career. I'm sure Sebastien will be taking it easy so I will be risking everything!

Q:
Kris, firstly congratulations on picking up WRC drivers points in Spain after winning the Power Stage, was that a good boost to end the rally?

Kris Meeke:
Spain was quite good for us. I went there a lot more relaxed than in France where I was chasing to go as fast as possible. The pace was very good until we made the mistake of course, but yes, Spain we were a lot more relaxed and we just had a better learning curve and we found ourselves in fifth position at the end. The Power Stage, yes, we found ourselves on the right tyres at the right time. It would have been a hollow victory had I been the only one on soft tyres, but to beat Dani [Sordo] in the same car on the same tyres on his home patch was pretty good. But yeah, it was a small bonus at the end of the rally.

Q:
The MINI has been strong on Tarmac, what can we expect now that we head into the gravel and mud of Wales?

KM:
We have had results beyond our expectations this year on Tarmac. Dani has shown very good speed and was able to fight for the victory in France, but on gravel we don't know and this is as much a question mark for us as everyone else. This event should be more of a level playing field. The first day in Spain was a little bit of a mess for everyone with the dust and everything so it was very difficult to be able to compare. But here everything is equal, with new stages, and we should be able to find out exactly where we are and learn for the future.

Q:
What are your thoughts on these new stages? Do you think you will enjoy them?

KM:
Personally I love them. I think my first ever stage in a rally car was stage number 4 about 10 years ago, so I don't have any memory of the stages but for sure they are typical Welsh stages – really fast and you have to keep your eyes wide open as everything comes at you very quickly.

Q:
How would you assess your performance within the team on the limited events you have done?

KM:
To be honest I am probably where I want to be right now. Of course you always want to be further ahead than you are, you know? I have come into the WRC at this stage in my career – I have always chased to get a drive here, and to be honest what makes it a little bit difficult is that I don't have the experience to do what I know I can do. We are now in a generation of drivers who have had two past recces. Back in the mid-1990s it was open recces and these guys here have been recceing two passes every year and it just takes one or two years to get everything under your belt and gain the knowledge. I have to be a little bit patient, but we have shown the speed when we have had to and we have had one mistake that can happen when you climb the ladder. But generally I am very happy and everyone has been surprised by the speed of the car but now we just hope that everything is in place to continue the development and push forward.

Q:
What's the most difficult aspect of the rally for you this year?

KM:
I think reading the grip is a challenge for everyone here. The surface always looks the same colour and then all of a sudden the grip will disappear from you when there's some mud beneath the surface or something. So reading the surface is the biggest challenge, but then of course so is the weather. We've seen on the recce that fog can play a good part on the rally – I had to make my notes in Hafren in fog and I'm a little bit apprehensive heading in there. But we got enough practice in Spain of not being able to see where we are going, so we should be fine.

Q:
What about next year for you and the MINI WRC team?

KM:
As the plan was set out at the beginning of the year, this year was six rallies and we're at the end of that and we want to move forward into next year and the end target was to be competitive for 2013 to mount a Championship challenge, so next year the development will continue and we can carry on improving the car. I know the engineers have a long list of areas they want to get their teeth into the development so hopefully we can push that into next year.

Q:
Petter, the final event of the season; is it true that you didn't have the budget to able to compete here originally?

Petter Solberg:
It was decided before the rally to not do this event, but we had a meeting with the team and a chat with the sponsors and we came up with some more money so we are here now. Sometimes you have to say 'stop', but we got everything together and we are very pleased to be here.

Q:
What is the plan for this event for you? Do you feel that you can try to win?

PS:
Well, I think like Mikko says the first stage is quite tricky and I don't want to do anything wrong there. I would like to go for a big push on this rally and we'll see how we go. I know the rally well and I like the conditions and we were fighting properly in the top last year with Seb [Loeb] so I think… let's see! I will start fast and go hard.

Q:
And what about next year Petter? Is there anything you can tell us of your plans?

PS:
I have nothing done yet so we just wait and see. It's hard work but we will see. A lot of things can happen in the next week and a half and if it doesn't go, it doesn't go. We have to accept how the sport is - it's very difficult for many others also so we have to be realistic. We will find a solution as to which direction I take. I will not stop driving though, but in what way I don't know yet.

Q:
Would it be possible to run the 'Petter Solberg World Rally Team' again next year or is it not possible?

PS:
We are looking into every option and it's tough for many of the manufacturers too! We will see. We have a different choice of other motorsports so we have re-think properly after this rally and we will find out. My passion for rallying is still there, that's not the problem, but we have to be realistic and see in the next one and a half weeks.


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