Present: Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Total WRT), Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Abu Dhabi WRT), Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Total WRT) and Jacques Morelli (Michelin Competition).

Press conference.

Q:
Sebastien, last year you sealed your seventh FIA World Rally Championship title here in France. This year the Championship battle will not be concluded on home soil for you. How are you feeling about what happened in Australia and the door now opening up to your rivals?

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Sebastien Loeb:
For sure I am happy to come back here. I have great memories from last year, the best from my career. I remember last year the incredible atmosphere with a lot of spectators and an incredible feeling. There is pressure for the result, but I try not to think to this. We won everything last year, but this year it's not the same. I try to do my best.

Q:
The result from Australia changed things?

SL:
For sure, Mikko is closer than he was. For the Championship he is close, here is a Tarmac rally and I have been used to being fast on Tarmac rallies and usually we are able to stay ahead of the Ford.

Q:
Last year the weather was very different, making the stages very slippery and muddy. Will the lack of rain make them easier?

SL:
Last year it was very tricky, they [the organisers] have done a good job to avoid the cuts a lot with the poles. It's important they [the poles] are strong. We have to adapt the line to the poles and we will see how it goes.

Q:
Did you hit one of the poles during the recce?

SL:
Why?

Q:
We were just wondering...

SL:
Yes I did. I just wanted to hit and see whether it would damage the car.

Q:
And...

SL:
It was nothing.

Q:
Some of the gravel sections have been cut from the route, what do you think of that?

SL:
It's not so much gravel [in the route now]. I think there is two kilometres on Sunday and one or something tomorrow [Friday]; it won't be so hard for the tyres. I'm happy, I don't want to say much to the tyre, but the Tarmac tyre is not a problem - I don't think we need to worry. If we want some Tarmac on the gravel stages, we don't really need this kind of thing, we need the gravel on gravel rallies and the Tarmac on Tarmac rallies, that makes sense to me.

Q:
Mikko, Citroen's result in Australia seems to have helped you?

Mikko Hirvonen:
Sure, if they carry on like that then I'm going to be happy! I'm sure this is going to be a tough rally against Citroen in France on Tarmac. But we would be stupid to give up on the Championship. We have to try and believe we can do it. We will see tomorrow what the speed is like.

Q:
How was the test for you?

MH:
We did change the car after Germany. We were too soft in Germany, [the] car is different now, but now it depends on me taking the best out of it.

Q:
Unusually your test for this event took place on a racing circuit. How did it go?

MH:
We had two days on the circuit and then two days on the rally track. I think the time on the circuit was more for the engineers to confirm what they were thinking about with the car. And then, after that, the time on the rally track was more for us to confirm what we like with the car. The outcome was very good from the test.

Q:
Do you feel you have nothing to lose in the Championship now?

MH:
I don't have a lot to lose. But, like I said, we will see what the speed is like tomorrow. It would be stupid to bin it if I can't win tomorrow. Sorry, this is not the most interesting, but it is my final answer.

Q:
What is the future for Mikko Hirvonen? Even if Ford continues your contract expires at the end of the season. What can you tell us?

MH:
I'm sure when I have news, you're the first I will give a call! I have always enjoyed my time at Ford. It would be nice to continue there.

Q:
Do you have doubts about your future, given that Ford has yet to confirm?

MH:
No.

Q:
You lost second position in the Championship to Mikko Hirvonen in Australia and lie 29 points behind Sebastien Loeb. Do you feel your Championship aspirations are over? Is your role now as support to Loeb and the team to help them win both Championships?

Sebastien Ogier:
I think so, but I feel I want to do some good results and drive as fast as I can.

Q:
You competed at Rally de Vosges recently, was that good preparation for this event?

SO:
It was a very good experience, good testing and a real rally. It was very good to practice with the competition, this is the best way to improve the performance. We had good conditions with the weather, it will be nice weather here, good for everybody.

Q:
What's the biggest challenge for you on this event?

SO:
I don't know. To be fast and to have the notes. We have to change a little bit the notes because of the poles, sometimes it's a bit unnatural to drive now. But this does make the conditions more stable for everybody and that's good.

Q:
What can you do here, what's your aim on this rally?

SO:
I want to make a good start and see what happens. I want to be as fast as possible.

Q:
What does the future hold for you?

SO:
I am contracted to Citroen for two more years.

Q:
So you will be at Citroen next season?

SO:
Yes, as I say.

Q:
What was the feeling at Michelin after the first Tarmac event of the year in Germany?

Jacques Morelli:
We were very satisfied from the performance of the tyre. The tyres were very fast and the longevity was very good. We were fast from the start to the end of the stage. We faced two very difficult conditions and had more than 113 rims broken for just 22 tyres without pressure. The mixed stage in the rally from gravel and asphalt: it's following the rules, but it is very difficult for us. We develop the tyre for one kind of rally and then we face mixed stages - they are not adapted for this.

Q:
There are poles on the side of the roads here so that drivers do not cut, keeping the cars on road - does this lessen the risk of punctures?

JM:
I think this is the most easiest; the poles are not to bring the dirt to the asphalt, and to avoid the corner cutting.

Q:
Looking ahead to next year, what further developments will we see, especially as tyre quantities have been reduced?

JM:
We will like to collect the maximum data here and take something back from the drivers to develop the tyres first. The regulations make more kilometres with less tyres: we have to decrease [number of] tyres next year.