Pre-event Press Conference
Thursday 11 February
Present: Sebastien Loeb
, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team Kimi Raikkonen
, Citroen Junior Team Marcus Gronholm
, Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Patrik Sandell, FIA S2000 World Rally Championship
Martin Semerad, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Welcome to the pre-event FIA Press Conference.
Q: Sebastien, it has been almost four months since we saw competition end last year. How good does it feel to be back in the car and are you ready for the battle to commence?
SL: Yes, for sure, it's good to be back. We had a good time between the two seasons and also some work when we started to drive with the new car. There was work to do, but it's good to be back.
Q: Some of the other drivers have been away doing rallies in the closed season. You haven't. Can you jump in the car and be straight on the pace?
SL: I have to. I have some experience here and a two-day test and shakedown this morning, the feeling is there. It will be enough.
Q: Last year it was very much just you and Mikko (Hirvonen) in the battle for the Championship title. Do you think we will see a repeat of that or will there be more contenders for the crown this year?
SL: Here, I think it can be a big battle for the victory. Mikko is going to be competitive, Marcus (Gronholm) is coming back and Petter (Solberg) has the same car as we have. There are a few Nordic drivers -- it won't be so easy for me!
Q: From what you have seen on the recce this week what are your thoughts on the condition of the stages?
SL: I think it depends on the stages, but for sure some stages were already on the gravel. The first stage is really nice with lots of ice. The rest of them are not my favourite conditions with the ice. The snow banks are very soft so you can't lean (on them) so much and the grip is changing a lot. We will quickly be on the gravel.
Q: Will it be tough for the tyres?
SL: Yes. It will be tough on the tyres. We will see how it goes.
Q: What do you think of the new points system?
SL: Mikko says he only wants two more points this year... with the new regulations I think I can score a few more! It will not change a lot. If you make a calculation of the previous years, it does not change a lot, so I have no special opinion.
Q: A brand new season Mikko, are you still hurting after losing out by just one point to Sebastien last year or have you put that all behind you?
MH: That's behind me now. I'm just glad to start again. I have been waiting to start the new season and now we can.
Q: Yon won the Monte Carlo Rally last month. Is that going to help?
MH: No, not really. For sure it was nice to do the event, but Sweden is a completely different game again; different cars and different surfaces. But it's always nice to win, now I hope I can carry on with that.
Q: You have been quoted as saying you will be 'braver' this year; what do you mean by that?
MH: It's just small things. Maybe more like a few rallies last year when I thought to change the car or the tyres. I should have kept my kind and done that -- small things like that. If I can score two more points, I can fight a bit harder.
Q: In previous years you and Jari-Matti have had an equal standing in the Ford team, this year you are the number one driver and he is there to support your Championship hopes. Will that make it easier?
MH: It's difficult to say, but to begin with it won't really make any difference. I need to score points, but as the season goes on we will see if he can help with the road position. I think the bigger difference it makes is for the Manufacturers' Championship.
Q: Kimi, welcome to the WRC. We will see you compete this year with the Citroen Junior team; is this year going to be one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
KR: I think it's definitely going to be. It's not going to be easy, I will enjoy it and enjoy the challenge. This will be one of the toughest events; the conditions are not easy. I need more time in the car to get used to it.
Q: The preparation is now complete, we have watched you test the car and compete at the Arctic Rally; do you feel fully ready to compete here in Sweden?
KR: Any kilometres we can do will obviously help. This is the learning process, we will learn a lot in Sweden and I expect once we go on the gravel it should be more easy. I hope we can finish and do some good times.
Q: What have you found the most enjoyable and the most difficult aspects of your WRC experience so far?
KR: Everything is nice. It's all exciting. I did F1 for many years, and when you change it's a nice experience. There are so many new things to learn. The difficult thing is to learn the roads and make the pace notes, that will take time to be as good as the others guys. This is the main thing, let's see how it goes.
Q: Can you be in the top 10 here?
KR: That would be good. I really don't have any idea where we're going to be. We want some good speed. It's more easy second time through (the stages); we will try to do the best we can.
Q: You've got World Champions sitting next to you. Have you had some good advice from them?
KR: They have been very helpful, but, unfortunately, you cannot teach the other guy to drive -- you need to learn it yourself. It's the experience that helps. They have maybe six years, Marcus has 20 years or something. It's why I'm here to learn more.
Q: Marcus, you return to the WRC with the Stobart team for this event. It is of course great to have you back -- why Sweden and is there a plan for more events?
MG: This is one of my favourite rallies, so I am back. Okay some stages have quite a lot of gravel, but I like the rally, so I am, again, coming back.
Q: Have you noticed an improvement in the car (Ford Focus) since you drove it last?
MG: To be honest, no. I couldn't feel much difference. Okay, I have a 2008 car, so maybe there are not so many new things. Maybe the engine is a bit stronger, otherwise it's the same feeling.
Q: You have done this event many times and seen these roads in different conditions. Tell us what you think?
MG: I have seen it many times like this. Likenas, the first stage, is good and there is some water on this stage (placed there by the organisers to freeze to a solid ice base). They (the organisers) could have done more of this, but I think it's the budget question. I have seen it many times like this.
Q: Malcolm Wilson has said he would like to see a Finnish 1-2-3 -- he may have forgotten about Kimi in the Citroen though! You have won this event five times, twice in a Focus -- what are the chances of you getting onto the podium?
MG: It's possible, but I don't know. Tomorrow we will see where we are. If the times are good then I will go on. I don't have so many kilometres. I have been skiing more than driving a car!
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Sport Auto, France
Q: Kimi, how useful was the shakedown for tuning the car?
KR: We tried two things, but it was the first time since the Arctic Rally, so it was nice to get back in the car. The car feels okay, but I can improve my driving rather than changing the car.
Q: Kimi, what you think about rally people, the media and the people? Are they different from F1?
KR: So far, it's been friendly, if it stays like that..! For sure it's a different atmosphere. I have enjoyed it. It's been positive.
Auto Hebdo, France
Q: In the Arctic Rally you did some good times Kimi, you were one second behind Dani (Sordo) -- is it possible to be one second behind the leader here?
KR: It will be more difficult. At least in the Arctic Rally, I was there one year before. If we can do that speed I'm very happy. But definitely the stages look very difficult and hopefully we've made good notes.
Sport Auto, Germany
Q: Kimi, you have a one-year programme this year, will you try to build a career in WRC or go back to F1?
KR: I have not made my mind up. This year I have a contract with Red Bull and with Citroen helping me. I have no plans for next year or for the years after. If it goes well, there's a good chance [to stay in WRC], if not then there's nothing planned. After a year there might be some new plans, we'll see.
Patrik Sandell, FIA S2000 World Rally Championship
Martin Semerad, FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Q: Welcome Patrik. Back with the Red Bull Rally Team and back with the Skoda Fabia as part of the brand new Super 2000 World Rally Championship. There is a strong field of drivers competing for the title; after your experience in an S2000 car would you consider yourself one of the favourites?
PS: One of the favourites, I hope so. But there's a lot of really good drivers. (Martin) Prokop is here and he won the Junior Rally Championship. Then there's Janne Tuohino and Nasser (Al Attiyah) will be fast. It will be a really strong Championship. But of course it's only one reason why I'm here: I want to win the Championship.
Q: Many drivers have been competing on snow events in the run up to Sweden; what have you been doing to get yourself prepared?
PS: I did a rally in Norway two weeks ago. It was good to get back in the car. I was born and raised on the snow though, I don't have to do too much to get used to this surface. The feeling is good for me.
Q: It looks like it's been a good winter here...
PS: There will be a lot of snow. It's been snowing in Sweden since the start of December. The small problem is that we had no plus degrees, so we will soon be down on the gravel. It's not a problem, but it will be tricky and with some lines to follow. For me, it's only good.
Q: You seemed very at home with the Fabia last year, are you still enjoying the car? Will we see a further evolution this year?
PS: Skoda is releasing a new evolution in March and then we will get the last updates. At the moment the car is similar to the one we had on Rally GB.
Q: You like the car?
PS: Absolutely. It's a really nice car. We had one or two problems last year, but they are sorted out now. The Skoda will be a really good car for us this year and we will keep developing for the whole year. I have a good confidence with the car. We are able to go flat out from the start.
Q: Martin, how did your time as a Pirelli Star Driver last year help you to prepare for this season?
MS: It was during the whole year that we have learned a great deal about everything. The experience we had from the year we used and in Wales we were able to be competitive and not making any mistakes. It showed what we can take from the Pirelli Star Driver scheme, but it wasn't just the driving or rallying, it was everything around WRC events. It was more useful and I'm happy I was part of it.
Q: Martin you return to the Production Car World Rally Championship this year, contesting six events with the Czech National Team. What made you decide to return to the PWRC?
MS: Once we tried this Championship I wouldn't like to go anywhere else. It's amazing. We did our best to come back and it happened, it became a reality and we're very happy for it. I'm also happy with the Czech ASN, they support us -- we're honoured by that. PWRC is the first opportunity for us and we did everything we could do to be here.
Q: What are your hopes for this year?
MS: That's a really difficult question before the first event. We'll know more after this event. A lot of the big guys like Patrik (Sandell) have switched, but there's still Armindo Araujo and Anders Grøndal here to make it tough. But I hope to be somewhere around the top five.
Q: What was the shakedown stage like; was it in good condition?
MS: It was very good. There were no big lines and I was surprised by the grip. I made a small mistake and went off on the second run, but everything is perfectly prepared. The conditions should be quite good.
Q: Will this event be tough on the tyres?
MS: If it will be like the shakedown, it will be tough for the tyres.
PS: I think it will be tough, but the studs will stay in the tyre. You will get understeer, but not a nightmare. At the end of the stage there will be some more understeer, but you can be flat out. I'm not so worried about the tyres.