From General Article [ 25/01/2005 ].
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Joining us are the winners, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena for Citroën, and their team principal Guy Fréquelin. In second place, Ford’s new pairing of Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen, and in third place the best ever result for the new Mitsubishi with Gilles Panizzi co-driven by his brother Hervé Panizzi.
Sebastien, as always, if we can start with you, congratulations on yet another fantastic victory here in Monte Carlo. A remarquable record. Was this win easier than the others or more difficult?
I would say that this victory was on the whole a bit easier thanks to our huge lead, though the road conditions were very difficult. The race was drier than what we were used to. On the other hand, dry road means slick tyres, and on these tyres it is easy to make a mistake on an icy or snowy patch. That’s what happened to many drivers. We managed to avoid making any mistake and to keep our concentration. Things have gone very well, the car was very good. Michelin tyres helped us a lot too, and we always chose the right compounds. A problem-free race.
Are you surprised to have won with such a huge lead?
Undoubtedly! We were not expecting to win with a three minute lead, but I would have been just as happy if we had won with a two seconds lead.
Daniel, were the road conditions in the Turini difficult today?
Yes and no. Compared with some conditions we have encountered in the Turini in the past, it was easy because it was mostly damp and dry. There was a snow patch made by spectators on which Marcus and Petter went off the road, but we will never be able to avoid this here. The spectators are there, and every year to put snow on the road. The problem is that they don’t think about the crews’ safety and it would be good to do something. On the other hand, you can’t put a steward behind each spectator, and this is therefore part of the Turini Legend.
Seb, what did you think of that snow patch Daniel mentioned?
This is where Grönholm and Solberg made a mistake. This was a in a blind left-hander where you are braking before a right-hander, and from the start of the bend it was covered with snow. It is the type of bend you take at more than 100 kph, but with snow you have to go at 10 kph on slicks, so it was difficult to anticipate. My safety note crew had mentioned this bend, so I was warned, but even then it was very surprising. We had talked about the Turini a lot with Guy Fréquelin, and we know that every year spectators move snow from the roadsides to the road itself. I had briefed my safety note crew to ask them to mention any place where a lot of spectators were likely to do that. I also chose to drive very cautiously wherever there was snow on the sides.
Thank you, Seb. Toni, congratulations for your second place, your best ever result. It seemed quite easy for you. Did you have any problems?
Actually I didn’t have any big problem. Everything has gone very well, and Ford works very nicely. I was very happy about the car, and I concentrated on getting a good result here.
And now that you’ve had the opportunity to drive the Ford in the rally, what do you think of the car? What is the best thing about it?
For me, the car is very stable and very easy to handle and to drive. It is very suited to my style.
Jakke, this was your first rally with Toni. Has it been difficult to adapt to his pace notes?
It was very easy. He is my eleventh driver in World Championship, and I don’t know how many drivers I have been with in Finnish Championship, so I didn’t have any difficulties.
Are his notes quite straightforward or are they complicated?
For me it’s easy.
Gilles, it is the best result for Mitsubishi so far. Is it a sign of real progress on the car?
Yes, it is the best result over the last year. This is very good because we needed it for all these people who have been working very hard for more than a year. This team, which might be old to many, was deprived of results over the last four years. Add to that our victory at the Dakar race, I’d say this has been a good month for Mitsubishi.
What are the car’s main evolutions you’ve worked on?
We mostly worked on the chassis and its suspensions. This was something missing for me to feel fully comfortable. We need to stress that we raced here with mechanical differentials, and we are working very hard to have active ones ready for the next races. The car is still very basic in its configuration, and I am pleasantly surprised by our performance. I feel confident in the future of my team.
Hervé, you have entered several Monte Carlo rallies with Gilles. How did you live this one?
It was better than the previous ones. We had some minor problems, but none that really affected the car’s performance. We possibly fought less inside the car, so our feeling was good, and I am very happy.
Guy, congratulations! One race in the season, and one victory already! What are your thoughts?
This is undoubtedly a good way to start the season. It is difficult to do better to keep the team motivated. Of course we could have had a second car at the finish, but we are hardly alone with this problem. Sébastien and Daniel are among the rare crews not to have made any mistake. Coming back on François’ crash, I don’t see it as a real mistake. I had given recommendations to be cautious on treachery parts. This was not a one according to my definition, that is icy, frosty or wet. The road had rails dug in the tarmac, and the car bottomed out under braking and lost grip. He came in the bend too fast because of that. This can be seen as a mistake, but he was really unlucky!
Was this result, a victory, the one you expected?
It is the one I hoped for. I always try to be cautious before an event. I hoped the car would be competitive. Sébastien and Daniel have a known talent, and François and Stéphane showed that they are fast too, though they were stopped in their momentum. This shows that the team is still motivated, even though we will not be here past this current year and we don’t know yet what our challenge for 2006 will be.
Seb, Sweden is the next rally. You’ve won it last year. How do you feel about it for this year?
It is a great event that I love a lot. Last year we’ve won it with a great feeling and a great car. I hope I can be this competitive this year, as I know I will have some serious competitors there. I hope we’ll be able to fight, especially since we’ll start the first day first on the road.
Daniel, what is Seb’s secret here in Monte Carlo for going so much faster than the others?
His co-driver! (laughter)
Toni, you’ve finished second here, an excellent result! Do you think you can be a contender for the World Championship as well?
We’ll try to do our best in each event, but I think our overall result can be quite okay.
Jakke, to come back to what Guy and Seb were talking about, did you see spectators throwing snow on the road?
We have ice crews, and they were very good. There was no surprise here in this rally. I really don’t know how much they’re throwing or shovelling.
Gilles, you won’t be competing for the whole season. So what will be your next race? And what result do you expect?
I have a pretty heavy development program ahead. I will try to focus on this work. Our next race will be in Mexico. We won’t be in Sweden, but we will be running in the next event.
Hervé, is this result sort of a new birth for Mitsubishi? Does this really help the team being motivated?
Certainly. We’ve been waiting for a podium or a victory for a while. We hope we’ll have another result like this, or even better, before the end of the season. We all are motivated.
Questions from the room for the drivers:
Journalist - This is a question for the drivers. We’ve seen here how important the ice crews, or safety crews, were. Do you hope to influence the planned ban on these crews for tarmac events?
Safety crews are impossible to do without in a rally like the Monte Carlo. We could never have kept this pace without them. They are also needed in other tarmac events as they are an important factor of safety. I don’t know if we’ll have any influence but we will try. When they were restricted, everybody was against that decision. Now things have calmed down, and some events might not require them. But on tarmac they are really important.
I would like to follow up on what Sébastien said about safety crews. It is obvious that they are needed in the Monte Carlo Rally. Regarding tarmac events, we have no alternate method to allow us to say that there will be no safety crews this year. If we find such a method, we may consider prohibiting them, but if not we will push to keep safety crews on tarmac at least. On gravel, they are much less important, though we need a crew to open the road and tell us the differences in conditions between recce and the race. This is especially important in Australia where the roads are narrow and between trees, and rains can be very powerful. We need to find a solution that fits the safety needs of the drivers and co-drivers.
Michel Dotta (ACM) thanks competitors and journalists.
Daniel Elena congratulates his team for winning in three different categories (WRC, Junior WRC, best amateur)