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Acropolis Rally of Greece – Pre-event press conference

31 May 2013


Drivers: Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen Motorsport), Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT), Khalid Al-Qassimi (Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT) and Evgeny Novikov (Qatar M-Sport WRT).


Press conference


Q:
Let's talk to the Flying Finns first… What happened in qualifying Mikko?

Mikko Hirvonen:
We played different tactics!

Jari-Matti Latvala:
We are having a Finnish Championship! To be honest, I was not happy at all. This was probably the worst qualifying I have ever done. I try to understand and we realise the rear diff wasn't the set-up we should have. I am changing it right now for this afternoon.

Q:
Mikko, what went wrong?

Mikko Hirvonen:
Many people ask if I am interested in circuit racing and I think today I proved that I am not good at qualifying at all!

Q:
But what went wrong?

Mikko Hirvonen:
I don't know. After the stage it felt very good. It was clean, maybe too clean – no excuses the car felt fine. I was just slow.

Q:
You're not changing anything on the car?

Mikko Hirvonen:
No. It all felt good, I won't change anything.

Q:
How was the test this week?

Mikko Hirvonen:
It was good. We did half a day, but we got quite a lot done and it felt like a good set-up. I believe this set-up will work perfectly. It's good to have those kilometres under my belt.

Q:
Can you fight for the podium? The top step?

Mikko Hirvonen:
We will just have to try. The road position for the long stage is not ideal. We haven't started the rally yet, though – everything is possible. We need the perfect rally. I have made silly mistakes this year, I have to shape-up myself and if that happens, anything is possible.

Q:
The pace was good in Argentina?

Mikko Hirvonen:
The pace was there, but I made a silly mistake. I have to avoid those.

Q:
And what about the Championship battle?

Mikko Hirvonen:
I am concentrating only on this Finnish Championship with Jari-Matti…

Q:
And now seriously?

Mikko Hirvonen:
The gap is big with Ogier, so we go rally-by-rally. Hopefully we will start winning and then we see what happens. The main target is the Manufacturers [Championship], but if we win rallies for that, then it brings points for us as well.

Q:
How did the recce go? You seemed to have an issue with the recce car, what was it and did it impede the recce?

Jari-Matti Latvala:
We had a power steering problem with the recce car – it was overheating and then it stopped working. It didn't make a difference to the notes, but in the dark all of the crests look different. We had one recce run in the night conditions and it seemed to be okay. In night, you might lose more time than in the daytime if you are not confident with the notes.

Q:
How are the stages looking out there? What do you think the long stage this evening will be like?

Jari-Matti Latvala:
I was adjusting lights for almost one hour last night – they are good now. It's very important to have the lights right. It's unusual to do night stages, but it makes it a bit easier when we do the same stage as stage number one then the same one but a bit shorter. It's exciting, but it's asking a lot from the notes to make sure they are accurate and the dust can influence as well. I don't think we will have a dust issue – it's going to be interesting.

Q:
What are your hopes for this event?

Jari-Matti Latvala:
Qualifying wasn't a great start and normally you should have a better position. The rally is long and there are always incidents on this event; it's the toughest event. It's important to drive fast, but also to stay away from the problems. It would be great to fight for the victory, but Seb Ogier seems very strong now and you need a very good run against him. There are also other guys who are pushing hard. It's about balancing the risks in the bad places. Hopefully my tactic will work on this rally.

Q:
Khalid, welcome back to the WRC, it is great to see you return after a year's absence. How are you adapting to the Citroen DS3 WRC?

Khalid Al-Qassimi:
Coming back to the WRC, it's quite a [long] time since I was at the high level. It's four years since I last did the Acropolis – it's difficult. The car is new and we are with a fantastic team. We have a lot to do and a lot to do to the car to adjust it for my driving style. It's a very sensitive car, you need to be sure about what you are doing - it can catch you [out]. The measure of changing [the car] is quite big, but just a small thing can make it different. We are still setting the car to how I like to drive it.

Q:
And how's it working with Scott Martin, your new co-driver?

Khalid Al-Qassimi:
It's fantastic, we are developing very well. But don't forget, it's just two or three rallies – it will take more time. I have tried a couple of co-drivers before and all are okay, but the chemistry was there in the previous team with Scott, when we were together for a while.

Q:
What will be the biggest challenge for you this weekend? What is your strategy?

Khalid Al-Qassimi:
First of all, I am first car tonight – I will have all the surprises in front of me. I will not have any dust, but there will be cleaning with a lot of loose gravel and you can lose a lot of time in places. The only advantage is the dust, let's see how it goes

Q:
It's a tough job…

Khalid Al-Qassimi:
It will not be easy, especially as I have not done this for a long time. It's a lot on my shoulders.

Q:
How do you feel ahead of the event, Evgeny?

Evgeny Novikov:
I am feeling well. We will see if the qualifying position is good. The 47 kilometre stage to start is difficult and then the night stage is tough, but we will see.

Q:
This is the event where you secured your first ever stage wins, becoming the youngest driver to win a stage in the WRC. Is that still a good memory for you?

Evgeny Novikov:
Yes, in some ways. I have good memories from 2009 and I like this rally and I know this rally quite well. This is my fifth time here, I hope this will help.

Q:
You have been close to securing a podium position on the last two events but it just hasn't happened. What can you do here?

Evgeny Novikov:
There is no straight answer, everything is possible, but we just need to drive faster – but for that we need everything to be good. We are trying to do our best and to improve our results.


Question from the floor


Q: Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK).
Jari-Matti, 10 years ago you had an experience here. Tell us about it...

Jari-Matti Latvala:
I came here as a young boy, 18 years old. This was only my second world rally and I was in a Ford Focus World Rally Car. Before the rally I had many interviews, I never thought there would be so many. I was surprised there was so much interest. It felt nice and exciting. Then the rally started. I was very, very tired on the road sections, I couldn't get used to the heat – it was so hot. We had short nights and long days. Physically, I was alright, but I could have been better. It was so good memory from 10 years ago, I finished 10th overall and that was my best result in the WRC. On the Sunday, I was once faster than Didier Auriol, he was in a Skoda. I was ninth fastest and that meant a lot to me. We had a moment... but I survived. I could make you a story that lasts all day, but we have to stop now. I had no idea with the set-up and my notes were horrible, but there was a lot of passion.


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