WRC – Rally Finland – Press Conference

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team
Teemu Suninen, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala, Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team
Craig Breen, Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team

Q:
Sébastien Ogier, let’s start with you. The second half of the FIA WRC season kicks off and it’s going to be an epic battle, I’m sure, for that championship title. But let’s talk about Finland specifically. I know the drivers have a lot of respect for this rally… They have respect for all the rallies, but maybe more for this one because of the high speeds. Does the challenge diminish over the years for you?

SO:
Definitely not! I think it’s always the same. It’s maybe even getting harder, I would say, because I think when you are young, sometimes you calculate much less the risks. You just go for it because you are playing your future, you are playing everything there so you don’t think much. But I would say it’s always hard when you come here. In the first pass through the shakedown, especially a very fast like this one, I was quite hesitant this morning. I mean, it’s difficult to be straight on it right away because the high speed sections need a lot of commitment. That’s Finland and at the end, when you find the rhythm, there is no better place than here for a World Rally car. So it’s great to be here and I am looking forward to the rally.

Q:
We are all looking forward to it. Can’t wait to get it started tonight! Let’s talk about the championship itself because you are four points behind Ott Tänak and there is just  seven points between the three of you with Thierry Neuville, which is very exciting. It was very different at this point last year, of course. What does it mean in terms of your thinking now because going out there and consistently scoring points is not enough in the second part of the season, is it? It’s all about the wins surely?

SO:
I believe consistency will still play a big role, like always in rallies or in any championship. I believe it will still be important to stay consistent but at some point, for sure, we will need some victories to win the championship. I also know that. On the other hand, it’s not yet the time when you have to give it all or nothing. It’s still long, six rallies, so for sure we know we are coming to places where it is difficult to win, in Finland especially. We have seen Toyota very strong here last year, they obviously have been testing here much more than anybody else and their cars are suiting perfectly these roads. We know the challenge is high for the weekend but I’m not the kind of man who starts a rally thinking it’s not possible to win, so I’ll give everything I have and see what we can do.

Q:
A lot of drivers are talking about the strength of the Toyotas. I want to know how you are feeling in the Citroën’s seat. We know the homologation joker has been used for the front geometry of the car. Does it make a massive difference to you? Are you feeling that Sébastien? Is it a positive step?

SO:
No, it’s basically to correct an issue more than to improve the performance at the moment. But I’m happy to have those changes. It will help us, not necessarily this weekend, but for the rest of the season and give me more opportunities to set up the car the way I want. But for sure I’m looking forward to more updates to really improve the performance, which is not the case yet. Anyway, I’m not focusing on that, I’ll give everything I have with the car I have in the end and I think it’s not a bad one. We have proved that the car can be fast, especially on fast profiles. I still believe we have some chance this weekend.

Q:
We believe that there are more jokers that are going to be played by Citroën towards the end of the season? Can you tell us a little bit more about what they are?

SO:
I think I can. Unfortunately, some jokers are going to be played but the parts are going to be used next year, from what I understood. If you ask a driver, it’s always a bit too slow compared to what he wants but that’s how it is and yes, we will have some engine updates on the next run in Germany.

Q:
Teemu, this is your home event. A great season for you so far. We’ve seen some brilliant pace from you this year. I would think that Teemu Suninen is all fired up and ready to go targeting a podium. Is that the case or not?

TS:
Yes, we are ready to fight for the podium but just like Seb said, Toyota has been really fast here and all the other teams have been getting closer to Toyota. As we saw in the shakedown, it’s really tight between the drivers.

Q:
It is really tight and this is a hugely challenging event but it’s the one which you’ve done really well in the past. You were almost on the podium, was it 2017? How much are you going to be pushing out there, Teemu, or have you got it in your head that this isn’t the weekend to do it when it’s Greensmith as your teammate? We haven’t got Elfyn Evans here as your teammate to score points. Is that playing in your mind at all?

TS:
I wouldn’t say. I think that everyone has to go on the limits immediately from the start and that’s the only way to get results here because, like in the shakedown during the first run, I was hesitating a bit. And the last rally was in Estonia in a R5 and so I wasn’t able to use the downforce and was therefore the slowest car. Luckily, in the next run, I was driving closer to the limits, using the car like I should, and then immediately the pace was there and that just tells that I have to go on the limit all the time.

Q:
It’s getting to the point in the season where we start to talk about the next season, what the drivers will be doing and where they may be going. There are a lot of drivers without a contract at the end of the year. Do you know what you are going to be doing next year? Can you share this with us?

TS:
At the moment, the plan is to go flat out and to make things easier for the manager. That’s what I can do at the moment. I don’t know anything about next year.

Q:
Ok. When will you know?

TS:
In Monte. I think there are a few guys in the queue who the teams can choose before me.

Q:
Let’s switch to Jari-Matti and talk about the Toyota. I read a quote from you somewhere, I can’t remember where it was Jari-Matti – you can confirm whether this is right or wrong – but you’ve never had such a good feeling in Finland as you have with your Toyota Yaris. Is that the case?

JML:
Of course, the car is designed in Finland and it’s developed in Finland, so this kind of roads, I must say, suit our car very, very well. Normally, it gets better when it gets faster and also because our aerodynamics is working really well so we have quite a high downforce. So that’s why, on Rally Finland, we can really use it.

Q:
Three wins under your belt so you know what it is to succeed in Finland in various cars. What is the secret, Jari-Matti? Is there a secret?

JML:
In some events, you can take it easy in the beginning and search for the speed and things can happen. But here in Finland, you have to be 100% committed to what you are doing and be very confident with your car. Here you pay a big penalty if you hesitate a bit. Just always fast corners, little bit lifting before the corner if you are not completely sure, you always lose. That is the thing in Finland! In order to win, you really need to be in the mood to attack and drive fast through the corners and not hesitate at all.

Q:
And are you in that mood?

JML:
I must say, the first two rounds this morning were good and I was very happy. I was testing some different things, the car was not as good when I changed some things so I went back. So…we hope that this is enough. We will see.

Q:
We talk about pressure a lot and again, as I mentioned to Teemu, I am sure Seb is delighted that he has a contract next year. We don’t need to have this conversation, but you are out of contract at the end of the year Jari-Matti. It’s been a tough season, I know you are the first to say it yourself. Are you feeling the pressure now to perform to secure yourself a drive next year?

JML:
The fact is… in any sport, you need results. And results is something that will take you forward. And of course, what makes the interest for the team and the managers, that’s for sure. Of course the speed is important, you need to have the speed, but you also need to bring the car home and get some results. The season has been tough for me, it’s been extremely tough. I didn’t expect this, of course. I know that, at the moment, I am in a situation, as a couple of other drivers, where the next few events are going to be very crucial or very, very important. And yes, of course, you feel the pressure but it’s always like that in the sport so you have to be able to handle the pressure. That’s in any sport.

Q:
I think I know the answer to this question already but do you want to continue driving next year? You don’t want to hang up the hat yet? You are way too young for that.

JML:
I want to still keep going but even though I have driven over 200 World Rally Championship rallies, I have still learned something this year. I know that I can improve for the future so I feel I’m not ready to retire yet but, let’s say it this way: I don’t expect if I’m on the championship level to reach 300 – that will be too far away. Some more events and a couple of more years would be nice.

Q:
It’s great to see you here with Hyundai this weekend, Craig Breen. Tell us how you are feeling about the opportunity to drive back in the FIA WRC and how is the car?

CB:
It’s really awesome to be back in the WRC again. The opportunity which has been presented is one of a kind, to be honest. When everything started to fall into place, it was really the perfect timing. I’ve been through a few difficult months since the end of last year. I really feel in a much better place now and the timing of this is really perfect. So I’m really looking forward to getting into it. Everything so far has been a breath of fresh air. The tests, the rally in Estonia, the shakedown this morning, meeting everyone in the team this morning, it’s been really lovely. I’m looking forward to it.

Q:
When everything ended last year and you didn’t have a drive coming into this season, you talked about it being a bit of a black period. Now you seem to have a very different mode about yourself. You know it’s not the end of the world if you are not in the WRC. Does that make you now more relaxed? Is the pressure off a little bit?

CB:
I think, to say it needed to happen is a bit blunt but the fact that it’s happened, I’m in a completely different place. My whole world revolved around being in the FIA World Championship for so many years. To try to get myself up through all the categories, I felt that I was on a kind of cliff edge and if I was to ever fall off that cliff edge, then that would be it, life would stop. But the sun still rises every morning. The alarm goes off in the morning, the days still go on like normal. It’s not like the world stops if you are not here. I got to do some things in these last few months during which I was out of the World Championship that I would never have gotten the opportunity to do if I was still in it. I ate, a lot. I didn’t train for a month or so, I was lazy. I did things that I never had the time to do before. I got to go back to rallying at home, which is so, so close to my heart. I spent time with friends and family, people who I’ve skipped along the way to get myself up here. It was like a full reset in my brain to think “OK, this is all waiting for me if, for some unfortunate reason, this opportunity and the roadshow ends at some point there is life outside of I”t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the be all and end all when I’m in it. It’s still my whole world when I’m involved in it but there’s a whole world waiting for me if things ever do change.

Q:
You want more drives, that’s obvious. Is there any opportunity of more this year?

CB:
At the moment, this rally has presented itself and I’m just taking it solely as this rally. I think, if I try to prove something this weekend or I try to stick my neck out to concentrate on trying to get a contract, the result isn’t going to come. I need to take this event as it goes. I’d be wrong if I said I just wanted to shake everybody’s hand at the end of the rally and walk away to never see them again. I desperately want to get back in the FIA WRC again and if the chance was there to stay where I am, of course I’d take it with both hands. Just this weekend for the moment, I have three days to get through, to enjoy it with Paul and get back into the rhythm of driving in the World Championship again. We’ll see after that.

FIA WRC 2 PRO CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Kalle Rovanperä (FIN), Škoda Motorsport
Eric Camilli (FRA), M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Q:
Kalle, a publication in the UK mentioned that you may have a drive next year with Toyota. What’s the confirmation on that? Is that happening?

KR:
For sure I have nothing to say on it. I think it was rumors only and we will see at the end of the year what is happening next year. I don’t know yet, that’s sure.

Q:
Do you feel you are ready to step up to the FIA WRC now?

KR:
Yes, if we continue like this for the rest of the year I think it’s possible and you need to go there for the first time at some point to learn it and see how it goes. If we drive next year with the Škoda, it’s not bad, there is still a lot to learn.

Q:
So, at the moment there are no talks with Toyota and Tommi Makinen? Or are there?

KR:
I don’t know, maybe not!

Q:
How are you feeling ahead of your home event? Finland is special for any driver, it gives me goose bumps just being here. What does it feel like for you competing at home and knowing you are on such a good role at the moment with your results?

KR:
It’s a nice rally, the best one on the calendar for sure, especially for the Finns. It’s a really enjoyable rally as it’s good conditions on the stages, it’s really fast. You can go all the time flat out, you don’t have to take care of the tyres or the car like on some rough events. So here, you can just enjoy the driving and be flat out. It’s nice.

Q:
In terms of the results you’ve had: it’s been three wins in a row, this could be the fourth. How confident are you that it would be?

KR:
For sure, that is always my goal for every rally but here, it should be possible at least. We will see when we start tomorrow on the proper stages, we will see what speed we have and what we can do. Of course, I try to win this because last year, we had really good speed but then some bad luck.

Q:
What would you say is the key stage here? Is there a stage which is tougher than the others?

KR:
For me, there is not any key stage. There are many stages where it is good and some more rough parts. The second loop will be quite crucial for the tyres and everything as we don’t have such strong tyres. There are some rough parts where you have to take care. If you want to be fast, you have to push in every stage. For me, there is not any key stage.

Q:
Eric, welcome back to the championship and in the brand new Ford Fiesta R5 this weekend. First, how is the car? What are your feelings on the brand new Fiesta?

EC:
I’m feeling good inside the car. It’s a completely new car, new engine, geometry, chassis so everything has to work well all together. But it’s a very good design and we could push quite hard this morning. Let’s see now in the rally how it is. I discovered it on the shakedown this morning so it was a bit difficult for me as I didn’t do Finland last year. But at the same time, I was happy so it’s a good challenge.

Q:
What has the team said to you in terms of an objective for this weekend? What do you have to go out there and do?

EC:
We didn’t really discuss about it. I think it is clear: I have to finish the rally and perform as much as I can. Then if we can get a podium, we will be happy. If we can get more, we will be even happier so let’s see. We have to do our proper work as we have been doing for a long time and see.

Q:
What would you say the strengths of the car are?

EC:
The power of the engine is a very good improvement, especially against the previous R5. The traction and reactivity, agility of the car – that is the main strength of the car.

FIA WRC 2 CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Jari Huttunen (FIN)
Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)

Q:
Jari, great to see you competing here on your home event, which you’ve had great success on in the past. What’s the plan this time around?

JH:
The plan is just to finish the rally. We try all the time to go without any mistakes or issues.

Q:
It’s a tough rally not to make any mistakes. It’s such high speed and there is such a narrow margin for error on these stages. How much preparation have you been putting in to this one?

JH:
We tested for about 40km only, one day. This rally is nice and we are jumping a lot. I really enjoy that.

Q:
You know the car very well, how are you feeling in the Hyundai?

JH:
It’s OK, we have something which we need to do but I think it’s still OK.

Q:
What are we going to see from you in the future? What are the plans moving forward for you?

JH:
A difficult question for me. I don’t know, I hope next year, we’ll have some good plans but I don’t know yet.

Q:
But they could be good plans, right?

JH:
I hope so.

Q:
It’s been a run of success in the FIA WRC 2 championship for you, which has been great to see. Now we come to Finland, how high are your confidence levels coming into this round?

PLL:
The beginning of the season was nice for us. I hope it will continue like this. We have a new car so a lot of things to learn and I hope that will be OK.

Q:
It’s been two wins in a row for you, this could be a hat-trick if you are to go on and win. You are second in the championship in FIA WRC 2. How important is the second half of the season now for you, if you were to claim that championship win?

PLL:
It’s really important from now on. I have to take some good points from every rally to be champion because I don’t know if the leader of FIA WRC 2 will be in Australia or some rallies like this. I’m focussed on every rally so I have to do good results for sure.

Q:
How are you finding the new car?

PLL:
It’s different but I think it’s a bit better. For me, the biggest difference was the engine – I was really impressed at that. I think that ir will be a very strong car.

Q:
Tough competition out there again within FIA WRC 2 this weekend. Strong rivals.

PL:
For sure that will be very difficult for me, but I will try to do my best and if it’s possible to beat Lindholm and Kristoffersson, then that would be nice. I don’t know if that will be possible. We’ll see.

FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Roland Poom (EST)
Sami Pajari (FIN)

Q:
Let’s talk about the season so far. I think your best result was in Sweden this year. We come to Finland now, a huge event for any driver, especially in the FIA Junior WRC Championship as well. How are you feeling heading into this weekend?

RP:
I think we’re feeling good. Rally Sweden was good for us, second place. Corsica was a different thing, our first time on tarmac. We skipped Sardinia but now we’re back and we had good preparation before in Rally Estonia. So I think we’re ready.

Q:
We’ve seen a number of drivers compete at Rally Estonia from the FIA WRC and the support classes. I think last year, the winner in Estonia, Ott Tänak, won here in Finland and in the Junior category as well, we saw Ken Torn take that. So Rally Estonia seems to be a good training ground before coming here.

RP:
I think it was also the same for the WRC 2. We got a good result in Rally Estonia as well, so I hope the preparation is good. It’s my second time with the new Fiesta R2 on gravel but I think that’s not a big problem. I feel quite OK before the event.

Q:
How has the Junior experience been this year?

RP:
It’s quite amazing. It’s really big rallies and nothing to compare to a national championship. It’s amazing and we want to continue in FIA WRC so I hope the season will be as fun as it has been.

Q:
It’s the penultimate round of the FIA Junior WRC Championship, only one more to go. Do you have in your mind a plan for next year? Would you come back to the Junior Championship or would you move on?

RP:
We would come back to WRC, that’s where I want to be. Is it Junior WRC or something else? I, right now, don’t know yet but we definitely will come back here next year.

Q:
Sami, congratulations on winning the AKK Flying Finn Future Star, which we’ve seen so many drivers come through the ranks. You went through rigorous testing over the summer to be able to get this drive. How special is it for you to be able to compete at home?

SP:
Thank you, it’s a big honour to get this prize for the rally. It’s also really nice to be here with drivers like Teemu Suninen and many others.

Q:
You were tested on your driving and your psychology. Lots of testing. Was it difficult?

SP:
I’d say, of course it was difficult but we just did our best and this time, it was enough. So it’s nice.

Q:
Your objectives for this weekend? You want to finish, but what are you hoping to achieve here?

SP:
The main target is just to finish but, for sure, it would be nice to show some good performance. Improving, and maybe, on Saturday we can show some good pace.

Q:
It’s great to see so many Finns coming through the ranks up into the level of FIA WRC. What is the aim for the future for you? Right to the top in WRC?

SP:
That’s the dream for me, but I know it’s hard and a long way to get there. Let’s see how it goes.

Q:
How inspired are you as a young driver by the likes of Kalle Rovanperä, Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi, who’ve worked their way through to achieve their goal so far?

SP:
I’m really inspired by these guys. It’s also nice to see that Finns are still strong in rallying and hopefully, it’s possible for myself to do the same.

Source : Fia