8 MAY 2016

ERC ACROPOLIS RALLY POST-EVENT PRESS CONFERENCE

Media Centre, Service Park, Lamia, 16h50, Sunday 8 May 2016

Present:
Ralfs Sirmacis/Arturs Šimins, Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5, first place
Lambros Athanassoulas/Elias Panagiotounis, Lascaris Foundation Team Greece ŠKODA Fabia R5, second place
Jaromír Tarabus/Daniel Trunkát, T&T Czech National Team ŠKODA Fabia R5, third place

Q:                
Ralfs, 21 years old, there’s a lot firsts today: your first weekend in an R5 car, first time on the Acropolis Rally, and your first win. Two or three hours later, what does it feel like?

RS:
It feels nice! It’s really nice when you’re on your debut and you win the rally. I think this rally is one of the most difficult in the world so yeah, I’m really happy.

Q:
You said sat there on Friday afternoon that you were here to win, and that if you didn’t have didn’t have that dream or aim, what was the point. I remember the look on Lambros’ and Alexey Lukyanuk’s face when you said that. You have actually gone and done that. Everyone has to believe in themselves, but did you really, really think it was possible to win this rally?

RS:
Everything is possible! If you really want something then you need to go to this point.

Q:
The thing that amazed me for someone so young was how you managed the whole situation all weekend. You looked after the tyres yesterday, even when you had a puncture, even when you had a spin, you were so calm, so relaxed, and it was the more experienced people who were making mistakes. How did you manage to do that?

RS:
We have a great team, and the engineer took opportunities with the tyres. I think it’s a great idea because today we had 10 new tyres and we had good tyres on every stage.

Q:
Let’s move across the guy who’s guided you through it, Arturs. Obviously birthday, victory, does it get much better than that on a day like today?

AS:
I could say something but that’s not for the press conference! It’s really a great day, I’m having my birthday today and the best gift Ralfs can give me is the win in this ERC rally. No doubt about it that we came here to win. We knew that we’re less experienced than the other guys but I think after this rally we’re going to feel really confident on gravel and they’re going to take us seriously in the Azores.

Q:
Something I noticed all weekend was how calm you seemed to be. Ralfs was very calm but you seemed you be just managing the calmness in that car. Was there any tension or any stress at any time?

AS:
I’m the older one, I have to be more calm. If I’m going to stress out, he’s going to stress out and we’re going to do a mistake. We let our tensions go by dancing around or singing songs or stuff like that and that helps us, but today it was funny when I asked him before the last stage ‘are you stressed out’ and he answered ‘yes I am but not for the rally, because it’s your birthday today!’. So there’s a lot of tension inside but we’re good friends and there’s no problem fighting with them.

Q:
There was a lot of pressure earlier on in the event, Lukyanuk kept coming back no matter what you did. Were you worried about that threat from Lukyanuk?

AS:
Of course that worried, but as Ralfs said, our team had a really great strategy for the tyres, so we knew Lukyanuk only had seven new tyres for today because he had a puncture, and we knew that on the second loop we were going to be much faster than him. Unfortunately, we’re not happy about him damaging the car, we would feel better if it had been a good fight and we had won then.

Q:
We’ll move to the row behind and our second place, only just second place. It doesn’t get any closer apart from a dead heat. Lambros, 0.1 of a second and it was all really calm and collected until that final stage. Just talk us through what happened.

LA:
We started the final stage about 35 second difference between the two of us but as we were waiting for our time in the control, there was a delayed car, a Group N Mitsubishi that just passed and started at the same time as the ŠKODA Fabia of Raul Jeets. So immediately we knew that something was wrong with his car and he was already late, two or three, I don’t know how many minutes. So when we got to the start, we asked for a three-minute gap, we knew that in 35 kilometres, and we were going to push, it was possible to catch him with a two-minute gap, or catch his dust. So we asked for a three-minute gap. The organisers allowed us but then after 10 kilometres when we did the hairpin left and started on gravel again after the first part of Elatia, we just got up behind him. I could see him two or three corners after that, I couldn’t get any closer because the minute we were going a little bit fast, we couldn’t see anything, you will see from the onboard that the visibility was clearly zero. So we shouldn’t risk our rally, we said we’re going to settle for third. Just don’t translate what we said in Greek please on the onboard! Then suddenly after eight kilometres following him on his rhythm and slowly for us, he was on the left of the road, most probably just stopped with an engine problem or a car problem, he didn’t just stop to let us by, he just stopped because of his problem. Then I just started pushing a little bit more and I thought that it won’t be much but OK, let’s try, I will push like hell and see if we can make it. We come to the finish, we take our time and I just started crying, I was feeling angry and all the pressure, and I thought that we had lost it. Then the phone rings from my team and says ‘0.1, you are second guys, good job’. It was incredible and it was a strange feeling, all the emotions, but we are here and we are very happy for it.

Q:
It was incredible emotions. Second overall, you do have to come back in 2017 because I can see a bit of a rhythm going on here. Three, two… one?

LA:
If it’s like that we should start next year, just come at the end and get our first place. No, it’s not like that, it’s a really difficult rally. As you’ve seen, all of the guys had problems, we had problems also. We didn’t manage the tyres well, we made mistakes, I made mistakes. But this is rally. Yesterday we just backed off when we were not feeling good with the car. That was a wise decision because another mistake and we wouldn’t be here. So we backed off and finally this paid off. We are here and we are second. It’s really great.

Q:
Last year we only saw you once, which was the Acropolis Rally towards the end of last season. Are we going to see you again in the European Rally Championship? You knew that question was coming so don’t smile!

LA:
This is the same question from 2007 I think when I’m doing the Acropolis Rally. It’s only one rally per year, Acropolis Rally with all these tensions for everybody, asking to get good results without any practice, without any knowledge of the car. But I don’t know. All the years are passing by and we’re not having a full programme. I wish I could have a full programme, even though I’m 40 now, just for the fun of it. But OK, it’s great even to do one rally per year.

Q:
Elias, let’s talk about that final stage, particularly at the stop time. Your driver asked me to work out whether you’d done enough. I’m no good at maths, that’s your job. Did you work it out or were you kind of like ‘I’m not sure we’ve done this’?

EP:
Yes, after the Group N, Lambros said ‘fast, fast, fast’ and I’m afraid to go out of the stage, but when we finished the stage, Lambros crying because he wants the second, with me no problem because third is very good because the Acropolis Rally is a very big rally. But Pavlos the manager called us and said second and everything was OK. And Lambros stopped crying!

Q:
The Acropolis Rally is very famous, very big tradition, have you enjoyed this event this year, the move from Loutraki up into Lamia, have you enjoyed that?

EP:
Yes, a lot. But with Lambros, we only ran together 10 days before. The first time it’s sometimes difficult.

Q:
Jaromír, you were very gracious when I spoke to you there. You said at the stop line, whether you’re second or third, you are very happy with your podium on the famous Acropolis Rally.

JT:
Yeah, after the last stage we were really happy. Now we’re really happy because it’s one of the famous rallies. OK we enjoyed the whole weekend. Yesterday was better for us, we had good speed, we were really happy. This morning wasn’t good for us, we have not good feeling with my pacenotes. It’s fair because what was happening on the last stage because Lambros was really fast. We are happy.

Q:
Obviously on the Circuit of Ireland you slipped off the road on the final stage. You had some dust also in the final stage, were you thinking of the Circuit of Ireland, ‘I cannot make any mistake, I need to finish’?

JT:
Yeah we had dust too and at first we thought maybe it was Lambros’ problem. It’s not so easy to go fast and not make a mistake. Then it was a Mitsubishi and OK, we must still push, but OK, 0.1 seconds, I think this is fair. Really this is fair because our speed today was worse.

Q:
Daniel, a similar question about the pressure and the stress and how the Acropolis Rally, as we said it’s famous for being tough, challenging, rough, what is it like from the co-driver’s side? All those rocks, you can’t see them coming, at least the driver’s looking, your head’s down reading the pacenotes. How challenging is it for a co-driver?

DT:
It’s a big challenge. Now it’s fantastic to be here because Acropolis is one of the famous rallies in the world, and the pressure is big for drivers and co-drivers definitely, all the weekend. But on the other side, if you can see, it’s about a dream, definitely.

Q:
On the final stage, when you start to see the car with the dust, do you have to calm Jaromír down, or is he just quite calm anyway? Was there some pressure in there with the dust?

DT:
Definitely, it’s not easy, because we don’t see nothing and maybe for three or four kilometres. Fortunately the Mitsubishi I think saw us and we can go behind him and maybe four kilometres from the finish we had a little bit of a moment and I’m afraid about our result because in Ireland on the last stage we were out and it was my mistake, now it was very difficult for me. But now it’s OK and it will be a party, definitely.

Q:
I think there will be a big party with all six of you, but let’s just come back finally to our rally winner. Last year you were in ERC Junior and the move up to the ERC1 category, it just proves how strong the ERC Junior category is, that you can come from that, that experience you gained from that championship, to bring it into the big category and to win this rally.

RS:
Now we drive with the R5 in the ERC, the biggest competition class. I drive many years with front-wheel drive cars, it’s about three or four years, and only then I came to the ERC Junior Championship and you can see that I’m not the fastest in Junior, there was one driver faster than me. He’s now driving an R5 car but in WRC and I’m driving now in ERC. So yeah, before you start driving an R5 car you need to do one championship or maybe two championships in ERC Junior.

Q:
The talk is you’re going to do the gravel rallies in that car. The plan to do all of them and then you said maybe one Tarmac. With this victory and everyone else having mistakes and problems, if you do five or six rallies and go very well, you only need to do a couple more and maybe there is a championship challenge. What is the plan?

RS:
We will now drive the Azores Rallye and as planned drive the gravel rallies, but maybe if we can get some sponsors then we can drive some Tarmac rallies.

ENDS

Press enquiries: Anthony Peacock, media@fiaerc.com
Television enquiries: Antonios Argyropoulos, antonios@discovery.com   
Drivers and teams: Jean-Baptiste_Ley@discovery.com

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