WTCC MEDIA LAUNCH 2016 TRANSCRIPT

HUFF Rob (gbr) Honda Civic team Honda racing Jas portrait ambiance during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga  March 2 to 3 - Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

HUFF Rob (gbr) Honda Civic team Honda racing Jas portrait ambiance during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga March 2 to 3 – Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

 

LOPEZ José Maria (arg) Citroen C Elysee team Citroen racing portrait ambiance during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga  March 2 to 3 - Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

LOPEZ José Maria (arg) Citroen C Elysee team Citroen racing portrait ambiance during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga March 2 to 3 – Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

TARQUINI Gabriele (ita) Lada Vesta team Lada Sport Rosneft portrait ambiance VALENTE Hugo (fra) Lada Vesta team Lada Sport Rosneft ambiance portrait during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga  March 2 to 3 - Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

TARQUINI Gabriele (ita) Lada Vesta team Lada Sport Rosneft portrait ambiance VALENTE Hugo (fra) Lada Vesta team Lada Sport Rosneft ambiance portrait during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga March 2 to 3 – Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

BJORK Thed (swe) Volvo S60 team Volvo Polestar portrait ambiance during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga  March 2 to 3 - Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

BJORK Thed (swe) Volvo S60 team Volvo Polestar portrait ambiance during the 2016 FIA WTCC World Touring Car Test Vallelunga March 2 to 3 – Photo Francois Flamand / DPPI

Autodromo Vallelunga, 20h30, Wednesday 2 March 2016

Present:
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, WTCC promoter
Mehdi Bennani, Tom Chilton, Grégoire Demoustier, John Filippi, WTCC Trophy
Thed Björk, Fredrik Ekblom, Alexander Murdzevski, Polestar Cyan Racing
Nicky Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini, Hugo Valente, LADA Sport Rosneft
Rob Huff, Norbert Michelisz, Tiago Monteiro, Alessandro Mariani, Honda Racing Team JAS
José María López, Yvan Muller, Yves Matton, Citroën Total WTCC

Q:
One year ago at the 2015 WTCC season launch in Barcelona you said you would put a focus on telling all WTCC stories. What did we learn last year?

FR:
When you see that video clip, the clip we made for the FIA Gala in early December. For 10 years we have done clips for the FIA Gala with cars, cars, cars and we tried to do a mix with cars and drivers – and a lot of drivers. We tried to get the drivers’ personality and the emotion out because that’s what the fans want. They want good cars, good fights and they want good stories and we tried very hard to get those stories out. I remember the emotion of Pechito [José María López] clinching his world title in tears in Thailand. I remember the tension first time we want to the Nordschleife – what a challenge. I remember the anger of Gabriele [Tarquini] and Hugo [Valente] in Shanghai. I remember also the joy in Vila Real with so many spectators. I remember the magic of the first twilight and night race. That’s what we have tried to sell to our fans on TV and internet and through every communication tool and we tried to do it better in 2016.

Q:
And we cannot forget that last year there were five new events on the calendar…

FR:
I will not do this every season I promise you. We did okay to introduce five new events, no other championships are doing this. But I will not do it every year for sure. It’s too much work and too much stress. This year we have only one new circuit: Marrakech, which will be very different to the circuit we used to have over the last few years, shorter. But it will be pretty much the same calendar structure but a lot of new things on the grid.

Q:
And please tell us about some of the new things on the grid starting with the entry list for 2016, an exciting moment?

FR:
Exciting yes but more a relief for us because I had the opportunity to say to a few journalists I have never felt in 20 years the economic situation biting motorsport so hard, it’s just unbelievable. With 20 full-season entries booked with the FIA – and believe me there will be many single-seater series not achieving the level of entries they had in 2015 I guarantee you. There is still some work to do between now and Paul Ricard. The entry of Nika Racing has been put the FIA with a Formula 3 driver John Meisner but the entry still has to be approved by the FIA before we consider it fully. There will be an announcement from Zengő Motorsport, they asked me not to reveal the names of their drivers but they have decided to keep going with young Hungarian drivers like they did with Norbi [Michelisz] to bring him from video gaming to a factory team. I proposed them different options but in the end Zoltán told me ‘no François, I keep going with young Hungarian drivers’. My team is Hungarian so I keep young with them and hats off to him. The dynamic in each team is very different from last year. You obviously see Citroën downscaling its factory effort from three plus one to two plus three. Losing [Sébastien] Loeb is very difficult for them and for us also. It will affect the team and we will see how the dynamic will be different in that team with probably less competition between the factory drivers than they had over the last two years. On the opposite way we see Honda taking the opposite direction, upgrading its effort and bringing fresh drivers and talent, like Rob [Huff] and we see if Rob coming at Honda will have the effect Pechito had at Citroën when he first joined the team and put clearly Loeb in Yvan under pressure. We see how it goes. I did not hide the fact I was not super happy with the LADA line-up at the beginning of last year but I think now they do have a very good line-up with a good mix of experience, talent and no mercy from the young drivers. Volvo is a question mark but we know they have prepared very well, know they did a lot of testing, probably about the same testing Citroën did before joining the WTCC in 2013. And we will know quite soon how the Polestar drivers will compare to the established WTCC drivers. We managed to keep a good level and good amount of independent drivers. They are suffering and we’ve had to support them a lot but it looks like there will be a good mix.

Q:
The FIA Touring Car Commission has voted in favour of some changes for 2016, including increasing the success ballast and the change to the race format. Can you explain the thinking behind those two elements?

FR:
Increasing the weight is a decision we took collectively at the FIA after two years of TC1 regulations. We felt it would not harm to bring 20 kilos more [to 80 kilograms]. Some members of the Commission wanted to go to 100 kilos but then it would have been clearly and anti-Citroën rule and that’s not what we want. There was also the safety aspect with Yokohama because to have 100 kilos on certain circuits would have put problems on safety potentially so we did not want to go that far. The race format is a bit of a change, it’s true. I always found very difficult to explain Race 1 and Race 2 with the last race of the weekend, which is meant to be the most important, is called Race 2. So how can you sell the fact your most important race is called Race 2? We made some surveys with spectators to see what they understood and in the end they understood Race 2 was the best. But we decided to make a bit of a change. It’s something we debated quite a lot with teams and manufacturers and drivers. But in the end we had to make a decision with the FIA and we took that decision. The second race will be a bit longer by lap more apart from Nordschleife. We will see how that will impact. I was on the plane yesterday with Pechito and he told me it would make his opening race not easy because I will have much bigger risk on my shoulders to go to the Main Race. But at the end of the day the best driver, the most aggressive and the most talented will always be world champion and this is a fact, no matter the race format.

Q:
And you’ve taken some inspiration from professional cycling with a new format for 2016. Can you explain the WTCC Manufacturers Against the Clock concept?

FR:
Firstly, I want to say thank you to the FIA and to the manufacturers to agree and to let us bring risk forward. When you see the drama you have when you want to see the WRC starting order, how many discussions of bad mouthing in the press of when you change the F1 qualifying format. I introduced the Manufacturers Against the Clock [WTCC MAC3] idea progressively to the teams last May and to the FIA. It’s a bit like Nürburgring. When we proposed Nürburgring everybody said that’s impossible. Then everybody said it will not work. But finally we found a solution to everything because there was a good intention and a good relationship. WTCC MAC3 has worked the same. Yes, it is new and yes I expect 50 per cent of the people to say it’s completely stupid to bring something from cycling into motorsport. Yes, I expect 50 per cent of the other people to say why not, it’s very new. It’s different and I think we have to be different but we have to recruit a new audience. Whether we speak good or bad about the WTCC I prefer we speak about it.

Q:
Will it raise the sporting credibility of the championship?

FR:
It’s difficult to say. We will see in Paul Ricard but one thing is for sure it won’t be easy. Having WTCC MAC3 is a bit like Q3 with three drivers 10 metres away from each other. When you see out of a season how many mistakes of over-driving have been done in Q3 by drivers because they were going over their limit. When you do a mistake a Q3 they will only penalise themselves. But when they do a mistake in WTCC MAC3 they will only penalise their manufacturer, their employer so I think it’s a bit different. I am sure it will work on TV, absolutely certain. I remember when they was no Q1, Q2 and Q3 how beautiful it was when there were four or five SEATS, four or five Chevrolets driving really together, slipstreaming each other to get the last one on pole position. I hope we will find a bit of this in WTCC MAC3. We will put it live on TV, live on the internet and people will speak about it. If they like it or dislike it I don’t mind, it’s new.

Q:
What about Polestar and WTCC MAC3 because they’ve only entered two cars into the championship?

FR:
But WTCC MAC3 is not WTCC MAC2 so they will do WTCC MAC3 when they enter a third car, as simple as this.

Q:
Obviously money is tight in the world right now and it’s fair to say the independent drivers are feeling that at the moment. What steps has the WTCC taken to help them and their teams?

FR:
We doubled the prize money [to €500,000] but we keep supporting them beyond that. We have reduced the race format to two days from three for each overseas event so they spend less money on hotels and restaurants and so on but it’s clearly not enough and we have to do more. We have promised them to establish a working group to reduce the cost of TC1 for the second cycle of homologation from 2017, 18 and 19. That’s what we are starting now and we have to do more if we want to keep them on board.

Q:
Some of those drivers that were on board last year are moving forward into factory teams for this year. How satisfied were you when you heard Norbert Michelisz and Hugo Valente had achieved factory drives for this year?

FR:
I literally cried when I heard about Seb [Loeb] leaving the championship. I was also super-sad to not be able to find a solution fro Ma Qing Hua. I am still trying but I haven’t found a solution yet. It’s terrible to lose probably the only Chinese driver able to compete for the world championship podium. But yes I was very happy on the other hand to have to independent drivers becoming factory drivers. It’s a satisfaction for them but it’s also a satisfaction for us as the promoter. That means a lot to the team that helped them, their sponsors, their families and they deserve it. I was really, really emotional when Honda confirmed the third car for Norbi and when we managed to put Hugo in to replace Nicolas Lapierre.

Q:
You’ve spoken about the drivers and the teams but what’s in store for the fans François?

FR:
Eurosport Events belongs to a media company and over the last 10 years we put our focus on TV, TV and TV. But if a promoter tells you if you are live on TV it’s enough then it’s not true. I read a statement from the NASCAR president last week – and we’re talking about a championship making more money out of one country, the USA, more money than Formula One makes in the world on TV – and he said it’s not enough. I am frightened the way motorsport and the pinnacle Formula One is not recruiting young fans below 25 years old. If I ask my friends with kids below 25 very few of them are watching motorsport and F1 on TV and if they don’t watch F1 I doubt they are watching other categories so we have to go to the fans where they are and if where they are is not on TV there is internet and social media and we’re going to put a big focus on this.

Q:
Can you explain more about the focus of the internet activities planned for this year?

FR:
We are going to launch a WTCC second screen application, WTCC Premium TV. That means we make WTCC available to anyone with a smartphone or tablet. No geo-blocking worldwide, 11 different signals, the world feed and all the on-boards. You can be your own live director. You can switch the on-board you want. Everything is available live but also available on VOD, on replay. So if you miss the race, you come back home and you can watch WTCC TV any time you want. All the statistics, all the live timing will be available on the WTCC Premium TV application. It won’t be cheap to be honest with you – we’re talking just below €100 for the season. It’s what MotoGP calls Video Pass. It’s not cheap, it cannot be cheap because there are 40 people working on this. You have 11 satellite signals uploaded, downloaded to make this happen and it cannot be something for free or offered at a cheap cost. But this is something that will appeal to the hard core fans and for the younger generation. And we are going live at Paul Ricard and we will play the demo now. The company is based in Russia. We did some testing at Moscow and Spa in 2014 but we had to wait for the technology to be completely stable to start that application. We will see how we can promote this together.

Q:
That’s great for the fans watching behind the screens but what about the fans coming to the race tracks, what’s in store for them?

FR:
We are introducing the Fan Village for each European event, plus Marrakech and Russia. There will be a bit of everything, music, DJs, merchandising, slot circuits, simulators, a Hall of Fame with JVCKENWOOD. Each partner is making a contribution…

Q:
You say Hall of Fame, what do you mean by Hall of Fame?

FR:
The WTCC has more than 10 years of heritage. I remember when Yvan Muller had hair down to his shoulders and when Gabriele had hair! When he was driving a red car or Yvan a yellow car or a blue car. We have all the archives since 2005 and we have decided to make a clip for each season and offer this to the fans on a free basis. Ten years is still young but that’s still a lot of stories. We’re going to do a WTCC Hall of Fame where the fans can access it most easily.
Q:
And a quick word on the social media offering for 2016?

FR:
A lot of exclusive content, about 25 video clips per event. We will do a lot between the events than before. We did a drivers’ camp last week, which was new and live everything new a lot of people were very sceptical about this having to give two days or their time on something that has nothing to do with racing. But it was good time and quality time with the drivers. We had the opportunity to explain to them how we work and where our priorities are and what we want to achieve with them. We had also the opportunity to listen to them and see how we can best supply what they need to make their social media accounts better and more lively and engage directly with fans. We’re in a world where the media landscape is fragmenting more and more every year. They will become their own channels engaging directly with fans and it’s almost an obligation for us to work differently and help them to communicate and engage directly with fans so there’s a focus there also.

Q:
You have spoken about a lot of the benefits the championship brings. That must be really pleasing for the WTCC’s partners to hear?

FR:
We have TAG Heuer, a brand with lots of heritage. They don’t choose WTCC because we are super big or because we a world championship, they choose WTCC because they like the way we approach content. For them they have a tagline, #dontcrackunderpressure, and we made video clips to show them what does it mean in the WTCC to crack or not crack under pressure and we’re going to do a lot of stuff with them. They have also decided to upgrade the level of time keeping, their core activities. They will be a very active partner and I’m very happy to have them on board of course.

Q:
OSCARO has increased their involvement for this year…

FR:
OSCARO also. A French company deciding to upscale their investment to a series level. They are living in a very competitive environment sometimes competing with manufacturers themselves, not sometimes but nearly every day. We did OSCARO Repair Time last year especially for them. It was good and they have decided to become an official partner for the next three years.

Q:
And Polestar will do a lot more than run a team in the WTCC this year…

FR:
They will do quite a significant activation on each WTCC event. And to feature their product. Their product is not only the racing car but the S60 performance car. They will supply the WTCC Safety Car in the same way BMW M is supplying MotoGP or AMG Formula One. But you will be quite surprised with the level of activities they have in the paddock when we reach Paul Ricard.

Q:
And KENWOOD, another brand you mentioned earlier…

FR:
KENWOOD also have decided to upscale their investment. We are working with them to get all the radio communication from the teams. Of course we will not have all the Formula One resources to monitor them at the same time but getting radio communication during WTCC MAC3 will be interesting and getting radio communications between Q2 and Q3 will mean quite a lot of stories there. It’s good content for broadcast but it’s also good content for social media.

Q:
Another partner we can’t forget and that’s Goodwood, of course, the Goodwood Festival of Speed is an amazing event…

FR:
We don’t send them an invoice for partnership, they offer us to feature the WTCC in a different way. We will be in the Formula One paddock at Goodwood to do an art car competition. It will take time to take the best out of this but it’s the biggest motorsport event in the UK, bigger than Formula One at Silverstone. All the motorsport fans are at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the WTCC will have a very good treatment there.

Q:
And one more partner to mention and that’s the FIA of course, a very trusted partner…

FR:
We thank the FIA for the trust they have in the promoter to bring innovation on WTCC MAC3. Sometimes they put in boundaries that are very strict. I wanted to use the Vila Real roundabout on both sides so drivers could go on one side or the other.

Q:
And they said no?!

FR:
Sadly, they said no for safety reasons but I would love to have seen this. Rallycross is working quite good with the shortcut lap and I would love to see something particular at Vila Real but they said safety comes first and I have to back off. But who knows, maybe one day we might use the oval at Motegi for WTCC MAC3. I have to speak to our friends at Mobilityland and Honda but if one day they repair the oval, then definitely we will do WTCC MAC3 on the oval and we will see if it brings something special.

Q:
So close to the title last year but you also showed your competitiveness against some really established drivers by challenging for Q3 and podiums. What can you achieve this season?

MB:
For sure we have been fighting until the end but I think Michelisz was stronger than me for two points but he deserved it and now we can see drivers coming from the WTCC Trophy into a factory team. We need to improve this year. It’s another big challenge and we start to work today with two new team-mates. It’s a good step for today. At the end what the people are seeing on the TV is the fighting for the general podium and sometimes they cannot understand why you can be first in the WTCC Trophy but not fighting for the general podium so this is what we want to do and what our partners understand. Last year we have seen with Sébastien Loeb Racing and the Citroën we had strong results and this year it’s going to be the same because the private drivers are very strong in this championship.

Q:
Now Mehdi has started 148 World Touring Car Championship races and Tom here 95 and Grégoire now 24. You join Sébastien Loeb Racing for this year so what are you expecting?

GD:
Last year was my first year so I had everything to learn. This year will be different. I have two good team-mates with a lot of experience and I am sure they will help me to improve again. I don’t have any particular goals. The goal is to improve and be on the WTCC Trophy podium at some tracks. If I can improve it will be good.

Q:
Now turning to Tom, another new recruit at Sébastien Loeb Racing. Last year we got the impression you felt you could be higher up the grid if you’d had a different car. You’ve now got the world championship-winning car under so Q3 at Paul Ricard what can you do?

TC:
As long as I can make it round then yes! Last year was fantastic for me at Paul Ricard. I was the only non-Citroën to be in the top five and I like the circuit a lot. The WTCC Trophy, being an independent, is obviously very important to us. But now I am in a car that’s a championship-winning car I’m going to be trying as hard as I can for the main championship but I just want to take each day as it comes. This was my first day in the car and I’m very much getting to learn everything at the moment. I’ve settled in quite well for my first ever day in the car and the team, Sébastien Loeb Racing, is very professional. And it’s exciting to be racing for his team because Sébastien Loeb is an absolute legend so to be in his team is amazing. Just to have a factory tour of Citroën Racing was absolutely incredible. I’ve been around a couple of Formula One factories, Mercedes and Williams, and I’ve been around RML, which is a fantastic big factory. But Citroën Racing was very, very impressive. I was very impressed and when I was driving the car today I understand why it’s so good because there are a lot of very clever people behind it. It’s an honour to be driving the car and I just can’t wait to get the first round under my belt.
Q:
And the ultimate benchmark for you with Mehdi in your team. Is he the man to beat for the championship this year?

TC:
Of course. And John Filippi was very quick this morning until he had a brake failure. That Chevrolet is still a good car. Bennani has a lot of experience in the Citroën and today I learned that. I still have, like Greg does, a lot to learn. The Citroën is a very different car from the Chevrolet and I am glad we’ve got more three days to go in it to learn in it.

Q:
John, it’s good to see you on your feet because your car looked a little bit second hand when it came back into the pits earlier. Are you okay?

JF:
Yeah, I’m okay. Just my left foot but it’s okay.

Q:
This season you’ve got a helping hand behind you with Yvan Muller teaching you a few things as your driver coach. What has he actually taught you about the championship and driving?

JF:
The main thing is to be focused on me and the team to work well. This year I don’t have a team-mate so we have to work together. I have to improve my feeling in the car and to improve my performance throughout the season.

Q:
There are eight drivers competing in the WTCC Trophy this season and one who couldn’t be here is Tom Coronel, who sent this message from his holiday in Austria…

TCo:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m very sorry I can’t be with you today. But as you can see I’m on holiday. But there’s some good news because I will be in the WTCC this season with my ‘Eat My Cheese’ hat on. Over and out from Tom Coronel.

Q:
We’ve heard a special word Polestar mentioned a few times this evening and I am very pleased to say we are joined by factory drivers Thed Björk and Fredrik Ekblom and Head of Motorsport Alexander Murdzevski. Turning to Thed first, you’ve known Fred for quite a while but who is the quicker driver out of you two?

TB:
That really depends. The last three years I won the championship and the year before he won the championship. It’s a really hard fight to every year to decide who is going to win the championship. But we have a good fighting spirit and a good team spirit also so no problem. And I told him actually that if he wins the first world championship then I can win three in a row!


Q:
I guess this is almost like starting from scratch for you in a front-wheel-drive car given you’ve spent a lot of time racing rear-wheel drive. Are you worried by the challenge you face each season?

TB:
No, not worried at all. I am really happy to be here at the first test day with a brand new car. The team has put so much effort in to being here. It’s just fantastic. Front-wheel drive, rear wheel-driven it doesn’t matter. We just need to take it up to the limit and try to develop and learn as much as possible to beat the other teams.

Q:
Turning to Fredrik, we’ve seen the car testing today and it’s looking very impressive but a slightly big car you could say compared to some of the others. Is there a circuit where you think it can excel on?

FE:
It’s too early to answer that question because we don’t really know a lot about the car yet. We did some testing last year but these cars are brand new to us since last week. We’re just building up the experience with the cars and the knowledge. I can’t really answer that question but I hope it’s the Nürburgring Nordschleife!

Q:
Now we’ve seen you racing outside Sweden before this is a big opportunity racing in the WTCC. Exactly how big is this year going to be for you?

FE:
It’s fantastic to drive for a Swedish manufacturer to be part of this big effort. I’ve enjoyed working with them for four years. We have a strong championship in Sweden and that’s also been very good for me. But still it’s a fantastic challenge and opportunity to do this.

Q:
Volvo is a premium brand and Polestar is effectively your AMG if you like. AMG competes in the DTM so why not the DTM for Polestar and Volvo?

AM:
I was thinking if I should go into that or not but we’ve already won the DTM so a new challenge is something good maybe! Jokes aside we did win the DTM in 1985 during the turbo era at that time with the 240, the so-called flying brick. That was a good moment and history continues in the same fashion with turbocharged and a down-sized engine for this year’s WTCC of course. First and foremost and we should all remember this but this is a world championship and with that it means everybody universally will understand your achievement. We race in Sweden, we race in Australia, fantastic championships themselves but it’s extremely difficult to get a customer in the US excited about a product racing in a championship in Australia that they haven’t heard about. If you put a lot of effort into explaining your achievement then you are lost a little bit in marketing communications so the world championship title is first and foremost our main objective in the WTCC. Then of course it’s extremely well-aligned with the performance offers today and the coming performance offers with the downsized technical regulations you may say, turbocharged engines so it all fits really well with Polestar being Volvo Car Group’s new performance company. You are going to see a few of these offers at Paul Ricard. We have a launch today with media at this track so we’re hard at work at it and this is a perfect platform for us.

Q:
Thed has mentioned podiums this year and the title next year, which are quite lofty ambitions. What’s your view?

AM:
Well I think when we finally got the budget approved I promised we would be in front. Regardless of what Thed and Fredrik do we do have the safety car so we can accommodate that! We can all be very realistic. We know the job we have to do. This is a championship which has been blessed with a manufacturer who has done better results in an FIA championship than anyone else has during the past 10 years, be it World Rally or World Touring Cars like this. It’s a tremendous challenge obviously so we have to be very realistic about it. But when we get to Paul Ricard we’ll go into race mode and you’re going to fight for wins and podiums with every essence of energy you have. The first year will be a learning year first and foremost. We’re going to need a third car for the WTCC MAC3 concept to get the last 100 points hopefully needed so thank you François for increasing my budget! The first year is a learning year but I don’t think we won’t be quick and I think we’ll pick up speed fairly quickly. We’ve done touring cars for 30 years consecutively so I think this is really down our alley regardless.

Q:
You just said third car, which is a nice thing to hear. When is that going to be for?

AM:
Absolutely for 2017. If we think for sure we can beat out of the box the reigning world champion then we should put our efforts into that. If you come second, fifth or last it doesn’t really matter. If you can’t win it in the first year you need to focus on activating and getting the championship across to our customers and do some investments in that instead. Hopefully the car develops some speed during the year and hopefully we can push for a podium finish or even title contender for 2017 and onwards.

Q:
Now from a blue team to very much a yellow team and we welcome Nicky Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente from LADA Sport Rosneft. Firstly, Gabriele, Happy Birthday!

GT:
Thank you François for making my birthday party tonight! I save my money!

Q:
Not wishing to dampen those celebrations, looking at it from the outside you didn’t keep your drive with Honda, Rob Huff kind of took your drive at that team and now you’re starting from scratch with a brand new team for you. Where does the motivation come from and how do you keep pushing for more success?

GT:
It’s a good question. Motivation is inside me. I never think to stop my activity. When I knew Honda don’t need me any more I was a little bit sad but focused on my new year in 2016. I just think maybe one night I stop but I’m too young so I must continue. To be honest at this time it was the end of November and I was thinking my story with WTCC is maybe over but it was not. I was thinking to change category but WTCC is my family. I was in the WTCC from the beginning. It was my focus. I want to continue in WTCC and fortunately LADA gave me the chance to be back.

Q:
So it didn’t leave a bitter taste in your mouth when you learned you had to change teams?

GT:
I mean at my age you have experience enough to accept this kind of decision. I respect the decision. It was a little bit late and for this reason it was not easy to find another seat in WTCC. But I am still thinking to 2016. My focus is to do my best as I did in the past and my target is to achieve some result with LADA now.

Q:
It’s been something like 28 years that you’ve been racing in touring cars and you’ve built up a lot of experience and you are still very competitive so are you looking to prove people wrong?

GT:
The result speaking, if you are slow the manufacturer don’t choose you any more. I don’t have any sponsor behind me. If I need support then I stop because I am a professional driver and I have been a professional driver… I don’t remember the year but it’s my life. If LADA trust in me and choose me… we have a one-year deal because I wanted a one-year deal. When I start speaking with Viktor [Shapovalov] he was proposing me a long deal but I think just for 2016 and if after the end of the season in Qatar and you are happy and if I am happy then we can continue maybe. But at my age I am thinking year-by-year and we will see what the result is or isn’t. I am here for a surprise.

Q:
That sounds good but we can’t let you finish without mentioning Hugo Valente. What did you think when you heard he would be joining the team following your disagreement in Shanghai?

GT:
The fight is not over, we continue to fight but now maybe outside of the camera and on live TV.

NC:
This is why I am sitting in the middle!

[That’s why we put you there!]

HV:
He’s my bodyguard!

GT:
It’s totally over. I speak with Hugo after in Thailand. It was a normal chat, a normal emotion after a race but the only wrong thing was that it was live on TV. Normally you have this kind of fight and chat but outside of TV. This was live. I am not young as Hugo but I was young and I remember many times doing stupid things also live on TV. You must learn from experience. If you see some camera with the red light maybe it’s better to change action and rooms and to start far away from the camera.

Q:
Five months ago you said this man here was too old and should be claiming his pension in 2016. But since you’ve joined the team you’ve been saying very nice things. You’ve said he’s like 10 engineers in one so did you get it wrong back in Shanghai and how much can you learn from him this year?

HV:
I’ll be learning a lot. I’ve already been learning a lot from him, since last year, five months ago actually. I had no idea I would be driving with him. I wrote a message to him when I saw he would not be driving with Honda and two days later I found out he would be my team-mate so it was all coming together nicely. He has a lot of experience, he’s been racing in touring cars since before I was born.

GT:
Much before!

HV:
So I have a lot to learn from him. I said in an interview he’s like 10 engineers in one guy and it’s true. He knows everything about the car, he’s been helping LADA a lot to develop the car in a different way than it has been going so far. I think we will see the results in the upcoming season.

Q:
Now we saw some really good highs from you and a couple of lows but I guess there was a bit of consistency lacking from your driving at times. Now you’ve done a few things behind the scenes to change that. Can you tell us about the new management team behind you?

HV:
Now I am driving for a factory team it’s different. I feel a lot less pressure to be honest than what I have been feeling for the last few years because my objective was to become a factory driver. I always had to prove myself a lot and take every single occasion I had. Sometimes it ended up being great but sometimes it ended up being highs and lows. Now I am driving for a factory team that changes and I feel much more confident. I don’t have that worry in some sense and I have been really working with my coach who I have been working with for seven years now so it’s not new. I have a lot to learn from Nicky as well, he’s a great driver who has shown a lot of pace last year and I think I can learn a lot of consistency from Gabriele.

Q:
You have a new manager for this year?

HV:
Do I?

Q:
Yes, we’re hearing this…

HV:
I don’t know, who is he.

Q:
Perhaps you can tell everyone later maybe?

HV:
Hopefully you can tell me at dinner?

Q:
Well moving onto Nicky. You were very quick in qualifying last season and you’ve got two very strong team-mates. It’s going to be a very competitive season at LADA?

NC:
It was a competitive team last year. Rob Huff is certainly one of the good drivers in this championship. Hugo was consistently the fastest Chevy driver so he will be super fast and all the good words that have already been said about Gabriele. I’ve been having the chance to listen to him a little bit over the last couple of days and it’s going to be super good to work with him.

Q:
And what about the car, what will the improvements bring?

NC:
I hope it’s going to be better. For me personally I hope the starts are going to be a bit easier with the new start system we have. There have been some improvements made and I’m going to try it for the first time next week so I’m really looking forward to see what the guys have managed to do over the winter.

Q:
Turning to Honda, which now has three factory cars in the WTCC. We welcome Rob Huff, Norbert Michelisz, Tiago Monteiro and, of course, Alessandro Mariani. Now Rob you’re the most experienced driver in the WTCC in terms of starts….

RH:
More than Gabriele? You’re making me sound old!

Q:
Does that make you the number one driver this year at Honda?

RH:
No, definitely not. First of all, I have to thank Honda for the opportunity to come here. It’s a real dream of mine to drive for such a brand. I have two very experienced team-mates, a very confident Norbi coming with his independents’ win from last year and Tiago with a lot of experience. We’ve got some good banter going on and we’re getting on very well and enjoying everything that we’re doing so far.

Q:
You’ve been doing a bit of testing in the car, what areas have you identified that require improvement based on your experience?

RH:
I’d love to be able to give you my secrets but I can’t! The testing has been going really well. We’ve done quite a few days between us and it’s good because we get to share those days together as well. Norbi has been driving here and things are definitely going in a good direction for us so it’s an exciting time of the year.

Q:
Independent driver now factory driver, which is a fantastic thing to hear. Norbi, last season you out-qualified the factory Honda drivers four times. How are you going to raise the bar for this year? What’s your next target?

NM:
After my first race victory in Macau in 2010 I set a high goal to myself, which was to win the world championship at some time. I truly believe that this environment that I have for this season is capable of doing that. Of course, like Rob, I’m also really grateful for the opportunity. I have to thank Alessandro, I have to thank Honda for giving their trust. Like I said I want to win, I want to win the world championship. I want to become the world champion. That’s the final goal. it’s difficult to tell this year if we are capable of achieving that. But like Rob said we did a couple of test days and there’s certainly a very good atmosphere in the team and I truly believe we can fight for pole positions and race victories this season.

Q:
You’ve just thanked a couple of people but I guess Zengő Motorsport deserve a special thank you because maybe without them you wouldn’t be sat here right now. So how did it make you feel when you heard François saying the team was going to enter two young Hungarian drivers to follow in your footsteps?

NM:
I have to say that hopefully I will have two or three more years because I know of the next generation growing up in Hungary. I do some simulator gaming throughout the winter and I have to say it’s unbelievable. We have 14, 15, 16-year-old children coming on a super high level so I have a big confidence not only in them but Zoltán as well. I was obviously really happy with the news. I really hope he can have the two cars because he’s a great man and a great support for the young talents in Hungary.

Q:
And the Honda line-up keeps getting better and better with Tiago Monteiro staying with the team for another season, which is great news. You’ve got lots of experience and you’re facing a lot of competition now. Last year you had one driver to beat and now you’ve got two factory drivers to beat. This could be a big year for the team and the amount of competition?

TM:
Yes, indeed and it’s quite a big change for sure. I’ve been with Honda since 2012 and of course it’s an honour to keep going and keep this continuity, which is very important. I change and older girlfriend [in Gabriele] to two younger ones but they’re very competitive. There’s huge experience coming from Rob and it’s important to have different visions, different views and a different approach. Norbi we know very well because for the last two years he has been very close to us, attending briefings, attending tests and a big evolution from himself. I don’t want to be two optimistic but we had a very good winter. We have great evolutions on the car, we have a great realignment of the organisation of the team at many different levels. It’s looking quite promising but the winter always throws up a lot of question marks. But we are very, very motivated for sure.

Q:
Does the team dynamic change with three cars, does it make the team even stronger?

TM:
In many ways yes it does. We’ve been saying this and asking for this from the very beginning. Three cars was always very important strategically-wise but also pushing each other. There are many pros and not a lot of downsides to have three cars. It’s a lot more positive sporting wise and outside of the car as well. It’s all good and it’s looking very promising.

Q:
Now Alessandro it’s your job to run three cars so a very busy year for you. Three cars obviously means WTCC MAC3 participation and maybe without WTCC MAC3 would you have been able to have increased the number of factory cars you are running in the championship?

AM:
I would like to have five or six cars of course! If the regulations are clear and the atmosphere inside the team is clear and transparent inside the team then it’s not a real problem and so I am not really worried to have three really quick drivers together. Now, finally, we had a good hardware to work with and the three drivers – the software – are fantastic to achieve the best. As Tiago said we are positive because during the winter step by step we implemented new solutions on the car and all of the different items. We really could appreciate a significant difference. Of course the winter test is not the championship and the first race will be essential to understand your level. And because also we made many changes in the team with different engineers, the approach, technical director, it’s been a big revolution and we hope to collect all of the job we did during the winter.

Q:
What’s different about the car for 2016?

AM:
It’s a different car to last year for sure and also the livery is different!

Q:
And there has been some technical changes to the car to improve performance. What has been done?

AM:
We touched every component on the car that’s for sure. We could understand step by step the main problems. And starting from the second part of the 2015 season we made a good schedule with R&D people in Japan to solve the problems. We start from the chassis, the suspension, the geometry, the engine, from strategy we change completely the test approach during the test sessions. I think it’s very good and I am very happy. Of course I am not sure to be at the top but I am sure to start for the first race to be competitive. In motorsport it makes sense if you are there to win and it’s important to depart from your house with the hope to be the winner.

Q:
And winning the WTCC Manufactuers’ Championship this year would be very special given the line-up you have?

AM:
For me it would be fantastic to take this result. We are working with Honda since 1998 and it could be a fantastic way to give them a big, big, big present.

Q:
We have one more team to bring to the stage tonight and that’s the WTCC champion Citroën represented by drivers José María López and Yvan Muller and, of course, the team principal Yves Matton. And we’ll start with the reigning world champion José María López. Now José there’s a bit of a change going on with the new regulations concerning the Opening Race and Main Race, which will effectively change the strategy. What will this mean to you and your approach for each weekend – is it a big challenge for you?

JML:
First of all good evening everyone, it’s good to see you again and the new teams and the new drivers. I’m really looking forward to the new season because it’s been a long winter so it was nice today to jump into the car and start working with the amazing team I have. As François told you already I was speaking with him at the airport. It will be interesting to see how the approach is. If you have a good qualifying, you have a good position for the start of the second race. Before maybe you had a good qualifying and a good first race and then you could sometimes go for it in the second one. Now maybe we change because you have a second race without too much repair time. We will see. It depends on the drivers, a lot of things. But many of us, if not most of us, we put the helmet on and forget about everything. We will see how it works. I’ve been racing for many years, I’ve done maybe 500 races and have said maybe I will go slowly and quiet and then you put your helmet on and you forget everything so we’ll see.

Q:
Andy Priaulx is the only driver to have won three WTCC titles in a row and you’re in a position to emulate that achievement. How confident are you of pulling that off?

JML:
We will see. Every year is different. I said the same last year. I had a strong year in 2015, which means it has to be the same this year. People expect things from me, it’s normal, because you create your own way. We’ve worked really hard with the team and have had really strong years in 2014 and 2015. But this year I see many changes around us. We had also changes inside the team so it’s difficult to know how it’s going to be. That’s why I really, really look forward to the first race of the year because you don’t know what will be your level and you don’t know what is the level of your drivers. The moment of truth is going to be qualifying in Paul Ricard and I am really looking forward to that.

Q:
Now the combination of you, your talent and your car has really made you stand out in this championship and you won the title by 118 points last season, which was obviously a massive achievement. Things have obviously been going well for you but if things started to go against you with the race strategy for example, will the motivation remain if things don’t go to plan?

JML:
As many of us who have been involved in motor racing it is not always great. I know I had a really good and smooth two years for most of the time. But I am always a driver who has won everything. I have also been very deep down in the ground so I know what it means to lose and I am prepared for that if I had to lose this year. One thing is for sure is that I will give 100 per cent. I love the team I am part of. I have a great team-mate. It’s two of us this year fighting for the colours of the team and for that I’m really happy to be here and really enjoying the moment.

Q:
Now Yvan, you beat Sébastien Loeb to the runner-up spot by one point but lost the title to José by 118 points. What makes you think you can be closer to José this season?

YM:
I don’t think! I hope I can beat him. I wouldn’t be here if I don’t think so. My age doesn’t go in my side but I will do my best and we will see what happens. But before to beat him I have to beat all the other guys because at the moment we don’t know the level of the other manufacturer. It will probably be a tough season and don’t forget we start quite heavy for the two first race and that will be quite complicated for us. But I think the full season will be complicated for us because I am sure the level of the championship will be another step up.

Q:
You talk about a how level and your team-mate is obviously at a very high level. Given your success in the championship would there ever be a situation when you’d settle for being the number two this season?

YM:
Of course not. I am here first of all to help Citroën to win the title and honestly that’s not just to say something. That is my first goal and of course if I can win the title I will try to win of course. But many things can happen so we will see.

Q:
A lot has been made of the amount of time José spends in the simulator. Will you look to spend more time in the simulator to try to improve performance?

JML:
Before he was getting sick after two laps, now he can do 12 laps.

YM:
I try but I cannot.

Q:
It is quite interesting how technology is increasing in this championship the whole time, particularly with the use of simulators putting the WTCC at a very high level now?

YM:
For sure the simulator is a good thing to improve but I cannot. I am very bad on the simulator because after 12 laps I have to stop and then I am sick for 48 hours so it’s enough for me.

Q:
Thank you for your honest and one final question with Sébastien Loeb leaving the team, what’s it like without him, does it feel different?

YM:
Now without Seb we are on time, that’s the first thing! For sure it can be a disadvantage for us because Seb is a super high-level driver, he helps us a lot with a lot of things. He push us up but it’s like this. He’s not here any more. His target is somewhere else. We are only two official cars but there are three other cars in Sébastien Loeb Racing. They will be fast and we can count on them as well. For the manufacturers’ championship at least but also for the podiums and the victories.

Q:
Now Yves, first we would like to ask you about WTCC MAC3, which obviously requires three cars. As you only have two factory cars, who will take that third drive in the first event of the season?

YMa:
I see it like we have five cars. Our two official drivers will be there but on each event we’ll have the chance for one of the other cars to be helping us. It will not be on each event the same. It will be a choice event after event.

Q:
How close to each race will the decision be taken?

YMa:
I don’t think it’s tonight that we have to speak about those strategy and for sure we have to finalise it but first of all we have to speak also with our new drivers. It’s the first time they are driving the car. Depending on the race and how the drivers feel it we will make the choice.

Q:
We see a new striking colour scheme for this season but under the skin what is different?

YMa:
It’s first time I take 20 kilos on one day for sure. I can tell you since a lot of time I try to manage my weight! And I try for a long time to lose the weight. It means we are not fighting in the first races for the victory. But even with these 20 kilos it’s still the car to beat. It’s more on some details. I will only speak about what you see, you can see easily the new aero and for the rest I hope you will see later on the track.

Q:
You’ve said before how you want more competition and Polestar brings more competition to the championship. So far, what do you think of their performance and their potential level?

YMa:
I’m very happy on what I saw from Honda today and from Polestar today. There was some changes in the leaderboard today and for sure I hope we have a good fight this year. For sure we enjoy to win and win a lot but win is so beautiful when it’s after a big battle.

Q:
And the WTCC Manufacturers’ Championship is one of the big things Citroën is hoping to achieve. Is there a plan already to look at how that will be best achieved with potential orders in the team to do this?

YMa:
I had the chance to win in our first two years without any team orders and I hope I can do that this year like we have done the previous years.

Q:
It’s obviously going to be a big fight between your two drivers this year. How big will that fight be?

YMa:
As professional as they did in the past. I have to say I was very lucky to have drivers like they had in the past doing the job in a really professional way. I am sure it will be like that this year. As Yvan said the first point is to make sure Citroën wins, that’s the most important point. – See more at: http://media.fiawtcc.com/press-releases/wtcc-media-launch-2016-transcript%e2%80%8b/#sthash.zWThC7QT.dpuf