Rally de Portugal 2015 – Pre Event Press Conference

FIA Pre-event Press Conference

ogier-1

Present:
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Motorsport
Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport World Rally Team
Mads Østberg, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Thierry Neuville, Hyundai Motorsport

Q:
Sébastien, you continue to lead the championship as we come into this event. Argentina was a disappointment for the team – are the problems we saw there now identified and resolved?
SO:
Hopefully. I’m sure it’s over. It’s passed now. The team has been working to solve it and I’m completely sure they have found the solution so it’s not going to happen again.

Q:
It’s the first time we see the stages here in the north of Portugal for over a decade. What are your thoughts from what we have seen so far?
SO:
It looks really nice. I like to discover new roads and new rallies. The profile of the stages is really beautiful and I would like to congratulate the organiser – they really worked on the road and have really prepared well for the race. It’s different to the south here, the surface is much softer and there will be a bit of a difference, some deterioration between loop one and loop two. The recce was quite intense, making the new notes, but it’s the same for everybody and I like that.

Q:
Will we see different tyre strategies?
SO:
Definitely. The soft is faster up to a certain point, but we have to think of the distance, the temperature – we have to manage that. At our test here two weeks ago it was raining, so now we have to trust our experience from the other rallies in the past. I have to take risks in my position when I am opening the road.

Q:
We’ve seen you win from the front now, it’s not too much of a disadvantage for you…
SO:
You can say what you like, it’s always a disadvantage. It’s really dry and we know already it is going to be a disadvantage. There’s no point talking or getting frustrated, we have no other option. I need to take extra speed to compensate and be more aggressive with the tyre choice – maybe we do that this weekend.

Q:
Malcolm, a brand new Fiesta RS WRC will be seen out on the stages from this event on. Are you pleased with the way shakedown has gone?

MW:
You never know until you come here how it’s going to be. Shakedown has gone well. We’ve had an indication… on his second run, Elfyn posted the quickest time and then Ott finished shakedown fourth. We have a lot of confidence coming here and, okay, it’s only the shakedown, but it’s nice for the team to see the step we have made. Elfyn’s normally four or five seconds behind in a new event and he’s not [here]. Now we’ll let the guys go and see what they can do.

Q:
Where do you think the gains have been made?
MW:
From the outside the car looks exactly the same, but there’s no carry-over on the engine, the gearbox, differential [have been changed]; we have new electronics, which means a new ECU. And by doing all of that means we have been able to work on the weight distribution – the cooling package has moved further back. But the big step is on the engine.

Q:
What of the performance of your drivers so far? Is there any pressure on them to achieve certain results this year?
MW:
No. not at all. This doesn’t alter our strategy for the rest of the year at all. All I would say is that, with the combination of the new car and a bit more experience for the drivers, in the second half of the season it would be nice to challenge for some podiums. But no, there’s no more pressure: Elfyn’s doing a great job and Ott has a great start number here. Let’s see what he can do with it.

Q:
It’s early in the season to talk about the driver market for next year but you have been quoted in the press recently with regard to wanting Thierry Neuville’s services for next year – what can you tell us about that?
MW:
I think that’s a totally inappropriate question Miss Williams. Especially when I have the contract in my pocket! I have made no secret about this: we had a fantastic year with Thierry when he was with us and all I said is that if we had the manufacturer backing then we would try to secure his services. I don’t know his situation, but he did a great job for us and who knows about the future.

Q:
Is it only Thierry you are looking at?
MW:
I’m always looking at everybody.

Q:
Malcolm, you are the oldest and – obviously – the most handsome man we have on the panel here today! You remember these stages in the north. What do you think of them?
MW:
Even when I competed, there were some fantastic stages up here and there are going to be a huge number of fans and big support for the event. Everybody has got to treat the event with a little bit of respect. The second pass will be hard on the car, it always was in the past. Last time we were here [in 2001] it was with completely different weather and we lost the rally with Carlos [Sainz] to Tommi [Makinen] – I’m hoping it stays dry this weekend.

Q:
Mads, what happened at shakedown?
MO:
We rolled. I rolled. There’s not a lot to say. I go flat where I am not supposed to, we touched something and rolled two-and-a-half times. That was a proper wake-up.

Q:
And the car is okay?
MO:
The car landed on its side, so we had a bit of a climb to get out. After that, we pushed it back on its wheels. Actually, I couldn’t understand that it had rolled, it looked quite new.
TN: Maybe this is a good sign for your rally!
MO: Yes, maybe. I am really happy, I have never been this happy after shakedown…

Q:
But you like this event?
MO:
I like the rally, but maybe I don’t know this rally now. Maybe I should say I like the country. The roads are amazing. I was surprised to see the roads this nice, there are so many challenges, but all of them are nice – I will try to enjoy every bit of it.

Q:
And we will see tactics with the tyres?
MO:
For sure. We all like the soft tyres, but we have some long stages and, like Seb said, with the temperatures going up it can be difficult. I’m sure there will be some last-minute changes. The wrong tyres can destroy quite a lot, but a good one can make it. I wish everybody luck with that.

Q:
Do you need to be a clever driver to succeed here?
MO:
Yes. But obviously you can’t just be clever, you need to be fast as well. Everybody will try to push. Jari-Matti [Latvala] and Thierry [Neuville] are further back and in a really good start position – I think there are a lot of different factors. Sebastien needs to push hard and increase the risk. I’m not sure if I take that strategy.

Q:
Thierry, what about these stories about you and M-Sport? Where will you be next year?
TN:
I think I have been quite clear on this in the last days. For sure, I will stay with Hyundai next year. I am two years with the team now and we are developing something together. It’s maybe taken longer and was a bit more difficult than we expected, but the future seems to be great for 2016. The new car is coming and we have big hopes. We are looking forward to that. Now, I always like chatting with Malcolm and he can call whenever he wants. We can discuss for many things… we have to see.

Q:
Thierry, sixth in the championship – how would you sum up your start to the season?
TN:
It was okay at the start. Mexico I tried to push quite hard and I made a mistake, Argentina I had trouble getting to the end; that was a bad event for me. I know I can do better than this and already I am looking forward to this event.

Q:
What about that final stage in Argentina? Did you have the information that Andreas Mikkelsen had crashed?
TN:
Of course I had the information, but I thought it was the right-hand corner before where he had crashed. On the next corner, I got the surprise! It was so fast and then pretty quickly I understand it was the left-hander. This stopped us, but that’s rallying. We continue and go forward, focusing on the next one.

Q:
You usually go well on new events, looking forward to this one?
TN:
We make new notes, the stages are new for everybody. I have done my best so far, this is quite a nice event, the stages are really nice and better than I expected. The grip is not so high, but I am sixth on the road so I should get an advantage out of this.

Q:
What’s going to be the toughest thing?
TH:
Getting the tyre choice right will be difficult. We have 16 soft tyres, everybody will try to use them to the maximum. But, it’s all new and there will be some surprises. We don’t know, it’s getting rough; is it better to be further back on the road? We will find out a lot this weekend.

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