POST-EVENT PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT – 2015 FIA European Rally Championship: round nine of 10

SEAJETS Acropolis Rally 2015, Media Centre, Club Hotel Casino Loutraki, Sunday 11 October 18:30hrs

Attendees:

Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarek Baran (POL)  First place

Craig Breen (IRL)/Scott Martin (GBR) Peugeot 208 T16  Second place

Lambros Athanassoulas (GRE)/Nikolaos Zakcheos (GRE)  Third place

Question to Kajetan Kajetanowicz

You are the 2015 FIA European Rally Champion, and you did it by winning the SEAJETS Acropolis Rally! How did you do it with the conditions there and how do you feel right now?

First of all, my English is not so good, because Craig doesn’t want to teach me! Actually I don’t know what I feel now because I need some time to understand what has happened. It’s an amazing feeling actually because it’s a big day. Everyone knows European Champion is a great thing and I happen to be here. We won this rally and we won European Championship on this rally, a very difficult rally. So it’s amazing. When this rally was over I started to think whether to start in Switzerland. And second, how it will be to be partying tonight. This man [Lambros], he pay for everyone!

Question to Kajetan Kajetanowicz

The wet and slippery conditions made this a very difficult event. How did you feel, driving on such muddy and slippery roads, when you knew one mistake could stop you winning the title here in Greece?

It was very easy to make mistakes. Actually we did one mistake, a big mistake. It was a big moment. We had a spin. We had the rivers either side in a very narrow part. It was unbelievable moment. But we are here. It was luck. It was very muddy rally. As I said on finish line, nobody did expect so muddy a rally. And that’s it!

Question to Kajetan Kajetanowicz

We’ve got you quite speechless, which is rare! You are the third Polish driver to win the ERC title – following in the footsteps of Sobiesław Zasada and Krzysztof Hołowczyc. Amazingly it was 6,587 days since Hołowczyc won the championship. That’s a long time! As a very proud countryman, how important is that to you? How will you be received back in Poland?

Krzysztof did it 18 years ago. I know these guys, they are older than me, a little bit. It’s amazing because they are still fighting. They are my heroes so I’m really happy to be with them on same leader board.

Question to Jarek Baran

You finished runner-up in the ERC as a co-driver in 2002 with Janusz Kulig. You have waited a long time to be champion. How does it feel now you’ve finally done it?

This question make me feel older than I am…

Craig Breen:

Just to let you know I was 12 years of age then!

Jarek:

Definitely I can say that more than half of my life I spent in a rally car. I remember especially in 2002 the battle with Renato Travaglia right until the end. Renato was faster and he win. I never expect to have a chance to repeat. And it’s such a great thing in my life to be a partner of the two greatest Polish drivers as Janusz was and now Kato is. I can’t say how good it is to co-operate with two professional drivers. Six years with Kato, ok with me, but mostly it was him and I want to congratulate him.

Question to Craig Breen

You said there you were 12 years old when Jarek finished second. You probably know who won every round that year as well because you’re quite into your history aren’t you?

Yes, the Eurpean Championship is something fantastic, so again congrats to the two guys and to all the team. You are like Minions, you know the film? When I see the LOTOS people in the service park you remind me of minions so congratulations to the Minions also.

Question to Craig Breen

You had an incredible battle with Kajetan all year. Three victories… where do you think the chance to win the championship slipped away?

Ypres was the start of the spiral, shall we say. Luck just wasn’t on our side. In Ypres we lost our chance to win the rally and again in Estonia we lost a chance with a problem out there. In Barum, ok we made a mistake and got a puncture, but I think after Barum our chances were quite low to be honest. We went to Cyprus and Kajetan did a great job there to get the victory. It was quite a difficult task. We’ve proven our speed and got the three victories so I think we can hold our heads quite high.

Question to Craig Breen

You had some amazing speed this morning, regaining the lead. But unluckily the bonnet came open which cost you the lead, which then in turn cost you the victory. What exactly happened with the bonnet?

Ultimately the bonnet pins were open. Unfortunately the bonnet came open about a mile into the stage. When it came up at first I thought it could be a good news story because we could come to the end and only drop a handful of seconds and I was thinking of Marko Martin and Beef back in ’03 in the Acropolis Rally when they had a similar problem. And it was genuinely going through my head, what a news story that would be to win the stage or to still win the rally with the bonnet open. Because I could actually see a bit. But that was going uphill. But then we went onto the gravel the car was now more flat and I thought this was a bit more of a challenge than I thought it was. Then when I started to brake for the chicanes I could see road. Even that was quite ok, but then we went on gravel and the mud, unfortunately the first puddle we came to I put the wipers on, but they were completely blocked by the bonnet. You don’t think about it at the time, I just wanted to clean the screen. More and more mud came on the screen as the stage progressed. At the end, genuinely it was a little box about that size [size of a palm] that we could see through. We lost the rally there. I thought we’d only lost the lead, I was confident we could still win the rally but the Acropolis Rally is the rally of the Gods and the Gods sent us some bad weather so it wasn’t to be.

Question to Craig Breen

You see drivers in the stage stopping to change punctures and things like that. No thought came through your mind to stop straight away and try and put the bonnet down?

No, because I’d seen how much of a gap we had so I was quite confident it would be ok. It progressed as it got muddy and it got worse. There was no point in stopping and as it turned out the pins and the fasteners were broken so we wouldn’t have been able to find a way. So in fact if we’d stopped we’d have lost more time, we’d have lost second place too. So we made the right decision and if the rally had continued it could have been a fantastic good news story but as it was a bad news story.

Question to Craig Breen

You said if the rally had continued. Obviously the final three stages have been cancelled because of the atrocious conditions. Were the organisers right to cancel the stages do you feel?

Put me on the spot! I think it was quite a drastic decision. Ok, I wasn’t in the stages like the organisers. I’m not an organiser, I couldn’t be an organiser, I take my hat off to the organisers. But I feel perhaps there was a regroup or wait for the storm to pass, then make a decision, that would be a better way of doing it. I wasn’t in the stages, perhaps if there was a little regroup, let the storm pass, if stages were destroyed then I would 100 per cent agree, ok, it’s not the right move. It was for me a very sudden and quick decision. Last night they made a really good decision on the safety of the night stage. I trust that they did the best for our safety and the safety of everybody else.

Question to Scott Martin

The weather has been the big thing over the weekend. It’s been fascinating to see the drivers cope with decisions.

Definitely, you don’t think the Acropolis would be as muddy as it has been. But like we saw on the Corsica rally last weekend if the weather does what it wants to do we saw that it caused problems for everybody and everybody tries to work together to deliver the best we can. Yeah, it was difficult but we’re faced with challenges wherever we go, whichever rally. There’s always challenges. That’s what we do. We prepare, we learn and we always try to do better. Yeah, it’s difficult. Craig was driving a perfect rally, his stage times were incredible. I take my hat off to the drivers, we recced the stages in dry conditions. We had ‘ice’ in the pace notes because it was zero grip. To try to judge that and to keep the car on the road is a challenge itself. It was difficult because you don’t imagine coming to this rally and having the mud we did.

Question to Scott Martin

You said on the second stage yesterday you kind of abandoned the pacenotes and drove on vision out of the window.

All of the little details we have, I just decided that he doesn’t need to know that. All of the direction and how tight it was, was all he needed. I was trying to help with the undulation. Because I have quite a bit of experience with the rally. It must be six or seven times I’ve been here. So I was trying to picture where it would go downhill or where you had good camber or bad camber. That was the important information rather than the little minuses or the plusses. We weren’t travelling at the speed we’d normally be travelling. I was trying to help him on where to brake earlier. On some uphill sections the car was even struggling to go up even in four-wheel drive. We were on road mode because we had an overheating problem. It was really difficult in some places just keeping the car on the road.

Question to Lambros Athanassoulas

Your first gravel rally for four years and in a new car – yet you led and finished on the ERC podium in your home rally. You must be delighted?

Of course we’re delighted. We’re even delighted that we participated in the rally. For us the Acropolis Rally is a dream, every year we are trying to compete. As always a new car, but I think that we’re getting used to that.

Question to Lambros Athanassoulas

We’ve talked a lot about the rain. Have you ever experienced rallying conditions like this in this region before, and how difficult and unusual were they?

Here in this region, there is challenging grip and challenging races sometimes. Sometimes we have experienced something like that. But Acropolis stages, I think it was the first time that they were so muddy and slippery. Bear in mind that we always have the Tarmac parts, with gravel set-up and gravel tyres, it’s dangerous. So it’s the first time for us also.

Question to Lambros Athanassoulas

You have shown that you have pace, you led, you’ve won stages, you challenged for victory in the ERC. Does this performance tempt you to contest more ERC rounds next year?

I always want to be in the rally car and do a lot of races. But if you can’t find the sponsors for that then you can’t rally. This year we found at the last minute some help and we’re very thankful for that. Yes, we had fun and we try to continue and do as many rallies as possible.

Question to Lambros Athanassoulas

You won some money from Eurosport Events for your result. I hear the prize money is going for a good cause, can you tell us some more about that?

We weren’t aware of the prize money because this is the first time we’re in an ERC championship race. We discussed with our sponsor who covered all of the expenses, and we decided we’re going to help the people of Loutraki, who have hosted this rally for many years, we’re giving them the money to help them in the very difficult situation in Greece.

Question to Nikolaos Zakcheos

How impressed were you this weekend with the performance of Lambros and the new ŠKODA Fabia R5?

To be frank with you it’s the best rally car I ever rallied in. It was better than the 2011 Fiesta WRC. It was better than the Fabia S2000 in 2009 when we won the Production classification. I think it is the future rally car. You can have a lot of fun. It’s not the most difficult car to drive. Lambros was very easily adjust to the car and the road condition. I think we had a little bit of luck in contrast to other Acropolis rallies. And we managed to get to the finish.

Question to Nikolaos Zakcheos

You must be very proud to be on the podium in your home event.

It is nice to be on the podium in a European event in your home country. It was nice to have your friends around and it was a fiesta, let’s say. It would be nice in future to have a budget to do something more and make a lot of our friends more happy and to give them time to enjoy about the great people going to European rallies, something that Greek drivers don’t do very often.