FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 19th Rally Australia (26-29 October 2006)


14th round out of 16 in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, 7th round out of eight in the 2006 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY AUSTRALIA
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
26.10.2006

Present:
Dean Herridge - PWRC
Mirco Baldacci - PWRC
Marc van Dalen - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Marcus Grönholm - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Henning Solberg - OMV Peugeot Norway
Chris Atkinson - Subaru World Rally Team

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Dean, how does it feel to be competing in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship for the first time, and on your home event? What’s your aim for the rally? How has the Australian Championship gone for you this season?

DH:
It’s a great chance for me. We did some of the recces last year, but this is the first time I have competed in the Production Car WRC. The ultimate aim for me is to win it, but I’m not big-headed enough to think that’s going to be easy. I have led it before and we have some good experience and the car is as good as last year. For the Australian Championship, the big move for us was that Subaru Rally Team Australia withdrew, I had the chance to stay and do some asphalt rallies, which I did, and then the Championship, but it was a private effort this season. We didn’t have much of a budget. That’s where some of the confidence comes from; I showed some great pace in a Championship which I believe has some of the best Group N drivers in the world.

Q:
Mirco, you competed here in 2004 and finished 10th overall; what are your chances of improving on that result? Is this an event you enjoy?

MB:
It’s not easy to drive here. The stages I like and I will try to push again. I really enjoy and I hope for a good rally. It’s not easy only the second time, but I will try to take more points. It is very difficult, the stages are very fast and very narrow. They’re not easy, but we will try.

Q:
Dean, how important is this rally in your season? What assistance have you had to compete here? Does the PWRC series figure in your plans for the future?

DH:
What makes it more important is that I’m from Perth. It’s disappointing to lose the rally (from Perth), it’s going to be a huge finale for me. We have a big history and a lot of memories of 20 years of rallying. My father competed here before and now me. The cream on the top is to be part of the Production Car WRC. A podium would be nice. We worked hard on Rally Australia to try and get a wild card entry, but then we didn’t need it. We’ve had lots of help from local businesses and supporters, people who have helped us for a number of years. We haven’t had a shakedown, like the rest of the year. Tonight (the super special stage) will be my shakedown. I hope to think Production will be part of my plans. It’s hard though, for Australians to make it on to the world scene for one reason or another. I hope this can be a stepping-stone for the future, but I’m not thinking this will make it all happen for me.

Q:
You’re still hunting for that first Production win Mirco; will it come here? You’re one of the few drivers who have wide experience of both Production and Junior cars, which do you prefer? Your Mitsubishi is run by Nobuhiro Tajima’s team - Monster Sport - does that mean you’re in line for a Suzuki drive next season?

MB:
I will try to push, but it’s very difficult. Maybe I prefer Production cars, it’s more easy to drive and more easy to drive on the gravel. I don’t know about the Suzuki drive, I hope!

Q:
Marcus, you’re running first on the road here, so how difficult will that be? How does it feel not having Sébastien here? You’ve won and had a couple of big accidents here, what do you think of this rally? I believe there was an electrical fault with Mikko’s car at shakedown, is everything okay with your car and is his now fixed?

MG:
Yeah, but I am expecting rain today - it will be fine, no problem. Of course, it’s not ideal to start first. Some of the stages have a lot of loose gravel, but I try not to think about it. I think it’s possible to win. Okay, when he (Sébastien Loeb) is in the rallies it’s always a big fight, but I am still sure the Subarus - Chris and Petter - can really be fast here. Petter was already fast in Turkey. We have to see. I need to do my best, it’s not so easy. It’s one of my favourite rallies, but the last three years have not been good for me. I don’t know exactly what the problem was with Mikko’s car, but I don’t think there is anything to worry about.

Q:
Marc, can you tell us why you didn’t bring Colin McRae to Australia? Does this mean you’ve given up hope of winning the Manufacturers’ title? And what’s the update on Sebastien?

MvD:
In fact there are different reasons. First, we are a private team and on this side it’s difficult to close the budget. Two cars instead of three is less expensive at this rally. The second reason is that it’s impossible to fight with Marcus, even if we are very proud of the job that Colin did in Turkey. I remember it was bad weather and the conditions were very tough on that event. The third reason is that Xevi (Pons) made a good rally in Turkey, he’s back at the right level and it’s the right time for him to have a go in the number one car. We are eight points behind Ford and there are 54 before the end of the season; anything can happen. There are only 10 world rally cars at the start here, so it’s important to be at the finish. I honestly hope Seb will be back as soon as possible. This is not only for us, but also Marcus, it’s not nice for him to be on his own! At the moment we don’t know, every day things are improving. We hope to have him in New Zealand, but nothing is certain.

Q:
Henning, you must be full of confidence after your third place in Turkey; what can you do here? You’ve never competed in Rally Australia before, what are you expecting?

HS:
This is my first time. After the recce it was very difficult. It’s fast, narrow and slippery; it’s not going to be easy, but our target is top five. I will push for points. I have to see after the first stage - I am very brave, so I think I can do some top times. You have to forget the trees, put your brain in the back seat and go flat out to be fast here.

Q:
Being your home event Chris, this must be one of your favourites but do you feel more pressure? And what about the move to Brisbane in 2008, that must be good for you?

CA:
For me the pressure’s no different or any greater than the pressure I put myself under. And sometimes you can go better under the pressure. We showed we had speed on this event last year, but there were a few problems. If we can do that agan this time without the problems, it could be good. I think, all the drivers enjoy coming here. I’ve only done this event twice before, but it’s been good. We’ve been fast here. It’s a great thrill to drive on these roads: they’re narrow and fast and that’s the kind of thing that gets a driver going. It’s a shame it’s going (from Perth), there’s been plenty of innovation from this rally. We all know about the super special at Langley Park and the way this event has made such a success of that. I remember coming to watch it before. We have to remember all of that and all of the people who have worked hard on this event. It’s important, though, that we have world rallying in Australia.

Q:
Before you came to Perth you were in Surfers Paradise for the Champ Car World Series race, what was that like? Do you fancy a shot in a single-seater?

MG:
I was not driving, I was doing some PR. It was good, nice.

Q:
Your cars are red not blue here, why is that Marc? It’s almost November, do you know what your plans are for Kronos next season? What are your instructions for Xevi (Pons) and Dani (Sordo) here?

MvD:
Everybody remembers the deal at the start of the year was late. I only had one month to close the deal with Gaulloise. I am looking for sponsors, if anybody can help me, I’m here! The car is red to thank Citroën for its help. Unfortunately we have no deal yet (for next year), but we’re working hard for an M2 team with two drivers with Xsaras and maybe the C4 later. The only instruction (to Xevi and Dani) is not to use Super Rally. If we can keep the cars on the road, we can be in a good position. We can’t fight Marcus, but it would be fantastic to have two cars in the top five.

Q:
How was shakedown for you? Given that you’ve never been here before, would you have preferred a ‘proper’ stage for shakedown, rather than the super special? And what of the Peugeot, how have you been getting on with it this season?

HS:
It was very slippery and maybe this is the same as out in the forest. I always do my changes after the first stage. I will go as fast as I can through stage one and see after that. It’s a very tricky car to drive – you have to work with both pedals (brake and accelerator) together all of the time. Sometimes I lose my brakes, which is a problem. I have to say I like it, we have to see if we can get some results in these last three rallies though.

Q:
This hasn’t been a great season for the Subaru team, are things getting better and can the team win a rally this season?

CA:
We’re making steps forward. It’s not going be easy and we all know that. The steps are small, but they’re helping with confidence in the car for Petter and I. These faster rallies towards the end of the season will suit our cars and tyres a little bit better. It’s going to be difficult with Marcus, and if Sébastien comes back; they’re at a really high level and confident with their cars. I hope it’s not too far away before it’s all working right and we can fight a bit more. It would be good to get on the podium and get back to where we were at the end of last year.

Q:
There’s talk of storms coming in tomorrow, what sort of weather would suit you Marcus?

MG:
It seems like we have in my home rally in Finland; if it rains a lot, it’s not good, but a small amount is good; it gives more grip. If it’s raining okay and if not, then okay too!

Q:
Marc, what did you make of the recent decisions regarding the sport? Are you happy with the calendar produced for next season and also having one for 2008 so early? What about the six-engine rule?

MvD:
Generally, I think all the teams want less rallies. We were happy with 12 rallies, so 16 is not so good. Next year is okay, but I didn’t check the following season. Generally we have to reduce the costs, but this is not only technically. We need more help from the organisers, we need hotels and this kind of thing. The logistical side can be expensive as well.

Q:
I believe you were doing a bit of surfing on Monday, good fun? Do you miss the Australian lifestyle travelling on the WRC all season?

CA:
It’s nice. I was home for a few days before this and went for a swim and a run down the beach; it’s always good fun and a bit different from Banbury!

MvD:
Just one thing, it is the birthday of Daniel Elena (co-driver to Sébastien Loeb), 34 today. We are thinking of him. If anybody can sing for him, it will be good!

Rally Preview

First included as a round of the WRC in 1989, this will be the last time the rally will be based in Western Australia, and its unforgiving mixture of slippery gravel and narrow tree-lined stages, before it moves to a new home on the east coast in 2008 (Queensland). Rally Australia in Perth is a firm favourite of most, although the gravel speed tests are among the most demanding of the season. They have a hard base which is covered by millions of tiny circular stones. Not only are they extremely slippery, but the early cars to drive the fresh roads are at a considerable disadvantage as they sweep the stones clear to leave better grip for those behind. Grönholm will have the least wanted job in the WRC on Friday's opening leg - that of being first car through the stages on the slippery stones. However, the 38-year-old Finn has a positive outlook on the difficulties of leading the field. 

An additional hazard is the close proximity of trees to the side of the road, which can severely punish even the smallest deviation from the correct line. A combination of the gravely surface and the trees demands precise handling, as well as maximum traction and grip from the team's tyres. The route is virtually identical to last year and is again based around the riverside service park in Perth's Langley Park. The action opens at the city's Gloucester Park trotting track on Thursday evening with two passes over a spectacular super special stage, which is repeated at the end of Friday and Saturday's competition. Friday's opening leg takes competitors south of Perth for a group of stages clustered around the town of Dwellingup. Saturday's route heads south-east to the Bannister stages, formerly known as Bunnings, where the famous roller coaster jumps and watersplash provide some of the season's most dramatic images. Both days end with a short loop of tests east of Perth before the Gloucester Park stages. The final leg is the shortest and comprises two loops of stages near Mundaring, east of Perth. Competitors face 26 stages in all covering 348.51km in a total route of 1334.41.

Team Previews:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)
2 Daniel Sordo / Marc Marti (E)

The Kronos Citroen Rally Team announced that, following his mountain bike accident, reigning World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb will not take part in this year’s Telstra Rally Australia, which gets underway in Perth on 26 October 2006. While Loeb has an almost unassailable lead in the Driver’s Championship – he just has to finish in fourth place or higher before the end of the season to secure the title – Kronos Citroen relinquished the lead in the manufacturers’ title chase in the last round of the WRC in Turkey and the French team need to score maximum points in Australia to get back into contention for the car maker’s title. 

With the absence in Australia of masters Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Kronos Racing has decided to play the youth card and to nominate first time together Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/Marc The Spanish crews will both take part in the FIA WRC’s fourteenth with the 2006 version of the Xsara WRC with ‘passive differentials’. Kronos Total Citroën’ Spanish young aces know the team counts on them and they are both extremely motivated to take part in the battle for the Manufacturers’ title…

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: “I took part in this rally twice. In 2004, with a Production car, it went really well. I finished second of the group N after a good battle with local drivers such as Chris Atkinson, Cody Crocker, and Dean Herridge. Without knowing the terrain, I set quite good times throughout the event. Actually this rally remains one of my best memories in Production category as well as New Zealand the year after. To come back to Australia, in 2005, I had a Kronos Xsara WRC. We posted quite good times on the first two ‘real’ stages at the level of François Duval and Toni Gardemeister. Unfortunately, in ‘Turner Hill’ we damaged the radiator going too sideways after a hairpin and we had to retire. Despite that I can say that I really like this rally.”

Dani Sordo/Marc: “It’s true that I will feel some pressure. Everybody keeps on warning me about the Australian terrain characteristics and its difficulty. They say it’s one of the toughest challenge of the championship. I’m planning to drive as usual, which is do the best I can, choose a steady pace, especially for the start, the time for me to understand the terrain. And after that I will try to pick up some points for the team. For me being a real beginner there, it’s hard to say more than this.”

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

Title chasing BP-Ford aims to strengthen its advantage at the head of the FIA World Rally Championship as the series returns to Australia where the latest generation Focus RS World Rally Car made its debut a year ago. The team takes an eight-point advantage to Perth for Rally Australia (26 - 29 October), following a superb 1-2 finish in the mud of Turkey earlier this month. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen, whose fifth victory of the season in Turkey also narrowed the gap at the top of the drivers' championship to 25 points, have an excellent record on the unique ball-bearing like roads of Western Australia. The Finns claimed a hat-trick of wins from 2000 - 2002 and went on to claim the manufacturers' world title on each occasion. BP-Ford World Rally Team colleagues Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have less experience in Australia. However, they have finished on both previous starts, claiming fourth in 2004. The Focus RS WRC broke cover for the first time in Australia last year as a key part of its test programme. Since then it has scored five WRC wins in the 2006 championship to propel BP-Ford into the lead of the manufacturers' series with three of the 16 rounds remaining.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Australia is a special rally for me and one that I really like. Sébastien Loeb will still be injured so I will be first on the road on Friday. But I have previously set good times on those roads from the front. I prefer to think about that rather than talk about the difficulties. It's all to do with the mind - look at the positives and not the negatives," he said. "It's a tough rally but the speeds are quite high, which I enjoy. It's important to stay on the right line and accurate pace notes are vital for that. This will be my eighth start here so I'm starting to know the roads pretty well. The 1-2 result in Turkey gave the team a real boost and having now moved into the lead of the manufacturers' championship, we'll do everything we can in Australia to strengthen our position," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "It's fast and flowing with many big jumps and it's one of my favourite events of the year," said 26-year-old Hirvonen. "It's unique because the loose gravel makes it so slippery and the jumps are different from other events. In Australia the car rarely flies straight so a driver doesn't know exactly where the car is going to land. It's rare to have a perfect landing - and that's something I like! "We had a fantastic result for the team in Turkey and I felt really comfortable battling with the Solberg brothers at a faster pace than I had driven on other rallies recently. I've learned so much this year and one of the biggest things is that I feel more comfortable driving at a pace which is closer to Marcus' speed than earlier in the season. The team is full of confidence and hopefully we can show the same speed and reliability with the Focus as we did in Turkey," he added.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Rally Australia, one Impreza WRC2006 for Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and another for Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Petter has contested the rally six times before and won it in 2003 on the way to clinching that year’s drivers’ championship. Last year Solberg was in a commanding lead before an encounter with a kangaroo put him out of the rally altogether. This year will be Chris’ third attempt at his home rally. On his debut in 2004, he won the Group N classification and in 2005, in a WRC car, set the fastest time on nine of the 26 stages to finish fourth – equaling Ross Dunkerton's 1993 record as the highest placed Australian finisher.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: “Australia is a fantastic event. I’ve had a win there in the past and really enjoy the challenge of the stages. Last year could have been another good result but the circumstances meant it just wasn’t to be. On the last round in Turkey we showed that our performance is improving. The small details that have changed on the car made a positive difference, and perhaps if the work that has gone on since then brings further improvements, we can aim for even more next week. As a driver, my confidence is higher than it has been for a while. All I can do is drive to the best of my ability and keep my fingers crossed that’s enough. We’ll see.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “Of course it’s always special to compete on your home event, and the rally in Perth is one of my favourites - I’ve always enjoyed it. We were fast there last year, but this time we have to be a realistic - we still have some work to do to get the whole package working together again. We came away from Turkey feeling positive about the way the development programme was shaping up, and the changes that have been made so far are encouraging. We’ll just have to wait and see what we can do next week. My motivation is always the same; to get a good result, and that’s what I’m aiming to do.”

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team departs for Australia with a luggage full of self-confidence. Mainly responsible for this is Henning Solberg’s third place in Turkey where the Norwegian OMV driver reached the podium for the first time in his career. But Manfred Stohl is also confident for the last WRC-run down under so far. He hopes to repeat last year’s third place. Manfred Stohl has every reason to be content with this season even three rallies ahead of the finish. The Austrian OMV driver was able to score at nine out of 13 runs to the FIA World Rally Championship so far. And he wants to keep up this series in Australia.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: “We have learned in Japan and Turkey that we do have problems under wet conditions. But it should be dry in Australia – which is in our favour. Additionally, this rally suits me and is one of my absolute favourite runs.” But last year’s third placed still sounds a warning when looking at the starter field: “One mustn’t be deceived even if only ten World Rally Cars compete. Eight of these do stand a chance to reach the top three. It is going to be a fight for each and every second.“

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: “At the moment I’m in top form and have the perfect feeling for my Peugeot 307 WRC. But we are in Australia for the first time. Therefore we somewhat lack experience. But I am nevertheless sure that we can be fast on unknown roads, too, thanks to our self-confidence. We can reach the top 5 anytime. Henning Solberg had already knocked on the podium in Finland. In Turkey, the 33-year-old OMV driver’s dream finally came true. Third place meant the best result of his career. He also overtook his younger brother Petter, World Champion in 2003, in the World Championship. Yet, the Norwegian is wary of too high expectations.

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

As has been the case with all-but one of this year's WRC rounds (Rally Great Britain), this will be Wilson's debut in Australia. The highlight of his season, to date, was when he re-wrote the record books in Argentina, becoming the youngest driver ever to score a WRC point, by clinching eighth overall, and becoming the youngest driver ever to score a fastest time on a WRC stage. He set that fastest time in order to beat his team-mate Luis Perez Companc in his own backyard. Companc is back for next week's Rally Australia, where the two will renew the kind of fierce, but friendly rivalry they have enjoyed this season. Both drivers will tackle the Antipodean event in the latest-specification Ford Focus RS WRC 06s.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "This is a rally everybody knows about. And the thing they all seem to know about is the road surface. It's among the hardest to drive in the championship, particularly if you're first on the road. The trouble with being first on the road is that there are no braking marks from anyone ahead of you. If there's a particularly tricky corner, maybe one which tightens up a bit more than expected, then you're going to be the one to find it. So, okay, we know about that and I'm going to have to go that bit harder on leg one to try and avoid being first on Saturday and Sunday. “As for the car, I can't wait to get back behind the wheel of the Focus RS WRC 06. It's a sensational rally car, just amazing. The only thing which isn't ideal is the shakedown stage - it's at Gloucester Park this year, which is a trotting track and absolutely nothing like the stages we'll encounter for the rest of the event."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "This is going to be all new to me, I've never done Rally Australia before. I have seen pictures of the stages, so I understand a little bit about what to expect - but not too much. The one thing I do know a little bit about this week, is the car. I drove the Focus RS WRC 06 for the first time on Rally Japan at the start of September and absolutely loved it. The old Focus really wasn't a bad car, but the new one is better. It gives you so much confidence and power from the drivers' seat."

Event Timetable

Thursday 26 October: Leg 1 Perth - Perth

Start Perth 19.04
SS1 Perth City Super I 2.00km 19.12
SS2 Perth City Super II 2.00km 19.21
Finish Perth 19.31

Friday 27 October: Leg 1 (continued) Perth - Perth

Serv A Perth City (10 mins) 07.15
SS3 Murray North I 15.92km 09.23
SS4 Murray South I 20.12km 09.56
SS5 Holyoake 3.13km 10.36
SS6 Murray North II 15.92km 11.49
SS7 Murray South II 20.12km 12.22
Serv B Perth City (30 mins) 14.42
SS8 Beraking I 22.84km 16.32
SS9 Flynns I 18.78km 17.18
SS10 Perth City Super III 2.00km 19.25
SS11 Perth City Super IV 2.00km 19.34
Serv C Perth City (45 mins) 19.44
Finish Perth 20.29

Saturday 28 October: Leg 2 Perth - Perth

Serv D Perth City (10 mins) 07.30
SS12 Bannister North I 17.71km 09.20
SS13 Bannister Central I 17.85km 09.52
SS14 Bannister Loop 3.62km 10.36
SS15 Bannister North II 17.71km 11.55
SS16 Bannister Central II 17.85km 12.27
Serv E Perth City (30 mins) 14.42
SS17 Beraking II 22.84km 16.32
SS18 Flynns II 18.78km 17.18
SS19 Perth City Super V 2.00km 19.25
SS20 Perth City Super VI 2.00km 19.34
Serv F Perth City (45 mins) 19.44
Finish Perth 20.29

Sunday 29 October: Leg 3 Perth - Perth

Serv G Perth City (10 mins) 06.00
SS21 Atkins I 4.42km 07.03
SS22 Helena North I 29.93km 07.33
SS23 Helena South I 17.31km 08.14
Serv H Perth City (30 mins) 09.40
SS24 Atkins II 4.42km 11.03
SS25 Helena North II 29.93km 11.33
SS26 Helena South II 17.31km 12.14
Serv I Perth City (20 mins) 13.23
Finish Perth 14.30

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1 Hirvonen / Lehtinen Ford Focus RS WRC 06 01:13:10.1 00.0
2 Solberg / Mills Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 01:13:36.3 +26.2
3 Pons / Del barrio Citroën Xsara WRC 01:14:34.5 +01:24.4
4 Stohl / Minor Peugeot 307 WRC 01:14:42.7 +01:32.6
5 Herridge / Hayes Subaru Impreza WRX 01:18:47.1 +05:37.0
6 Arai / Sircombe Subaru Impreza WRX 01:18:50.4 +05:40.3
7 Baldacci / Agnese Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 01:19:03.9 +05:53.8
8 Teiskonen / Teiskonen Subaru Impreza WRX 01:19:05.1 +05:55.0
9 Latvala / Anttila Subaru Impreza WRX 01:19:10.5 +06:00.4
10 Ligato / Garcia Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 01:19:34.3 +06:24.2
26 Atkinson / Macneall Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 01:42:28.8 +01.6

Leg 1 News

The opening leg of Telstra Rally Australia has provided some of the most dramatic action of the season and no fewer than five of the Championship-contending crews have been forced onto the sidelines. However, after 125 kilometres of competition, it is Mikko Hirvonen who leads for the BP-Ford World Rally Team, the young Finn demonstrating that winning stages is not necessarily the key to leading an event. In contrast, Marcus Grönholm’s on-going fight for the Drivers’ Championship took a severe blow this morning and he has a huge job ahead after rolling in the first stage of the day.

Rally Australia is characterised by unique ball-bearing shaped gravel found in Western Australia and, without the optimum tread pattern, it is almost impossible for tyres to cut through the gravel and find grip on the harder surface below. In the dry, especially, it is therefore one of the most slippery and treacherous events in the series. Marcus Grönholm was the first to succumb. The Finn hit a stone on the inside of a slow corner, which pitched his Focus into a roll. After pushing the car onto its wheels, he and co-driver Timo Rautiainen then had to jack the car up to release it from a tree stump. In the process, the duo lost more than 10 minutes and plummeted to 56th position. In the absence of the recovering Sébastien Loeb, Grönholm - who overnights inside the top 20 - must finish in the top three if he is to continue fighting for the FIA World Rally Championship.

A host of other leading crews then hit problems, and all were forced into retirement from the leg. Daniel Sordo, driving the Kronos Citroën Xsara, suffered transmission problems - which will also do nothing to aid the team’s battle against Ford in the Manufacturers’ Championship - while rising star Matthew Wilson damaged the suspension and transmission on his Focus after hitting a rock. His team-mate Luis Perez Companc then rolled in the second stage of the day, Henning Solberg (Peugeot 307) went off the road and Chris Atkinson, the early leader for three stages, slid off and beached the car on soft ground.

Despite the disappointment of losing Atkinson, Subaru will certainly take heart from an impressive performance by both its crews. Petter Solberg has also been one of the pace-setters and led briefly, until dust slowed him in the final forest stage of the day. After a neck and neck fight that has seen him, Atkinson and Hirvonen split by just a handful of seconds throughout the day, Solberg now lies second to Hirvonen, 26.2 seconds adrift. Xavier Pons - deputising for Loeb in the number one Xsara - is a distant third. Manfred Stohl, driving the remaining registered OMV Peugeot 307, is fourth and the only other world rally car entrant to complete the leg after a day of carnage in the forests around Perth.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)
2 Daniel Sordo / Marc Marti (E)

Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio have held their own throughout an extremely difficult opening leg. The Spanish Kronos Total Citroen crew are in a provisional third place overall : a position they hope to defend to the end of the rally. The drivers knew that they were starting the leg with the most difficult stages of the day : two runs each through Murray North and South. The pitfalls are well-known, but the Murray stages still claimed several highprofile victims, slashing the World Rally Car field. The only driver who stopped on these stages through no fault of his own was Dani Sordo, who was forced onto the sidelines with a gearbox problem. Dani could only sit and watch as he clocked up a penalty of five minutes for every stage missed, in accordance with the superally rules. This means that he will start leg two with a 40 minute gap to the leader, in the hope of making up enough ground to score some manufacturer points.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio managed to find the right rhythm to survive this difficult day, without succumbing to the temptation to push too hard. " I think we can be happy, " said the Spaniard. " With a perfect Xsara and the right tyre choice [BFGoodrich medium/soft compound] I forced myself to stay concentrated and follow the right line. It might not be the most fun way to drive, but it's essential in order to stay off the 'marbles'. Everything was going well until the final forest stage, Flynns. There, with the sunset in our eyes, we lost a lot of time in the dust from the cars ahead. In some sections we were driving blind. "In any case we are still third, » concluded Xevi. « Tomorrow's stages in he Bunnings complex are wider - so they are easier and a lot more fun to rive. I'm going to try to stick to the pace we had today and avoid making istakes. I had a good feeling after Cyprus and my confidence grew even ore after the Rally of Turkey. Thanks to all that, I hope to carry tonight's objective through to the end of the rally: holding onto third place. »

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: Retired

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lead Rally Australia tonight after an extraordinary opening leg. The Finns are 26.2sec clear in their Ford Focus RS World Rally car after a day in which the treacherously slippery gravel tracks of Western Australia took a heavy toll on their rivals. Team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen fell foul of the conditions and dropped 11 minutes after rolling their Focus RS. They are 18th. It is the first time that 26-year-old Hirvonen and 37-year-old Lehtinen have led a round of the FIA World Rally Championship at the end of a leg.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: Grönholm and Rautiainen led last night but their advantage was short-lived. Just 5km after the start of the day's opening 15.92km Murray North test, the Finns rolled their Focus RS. "I hit a stone on the inside of a second gear right bend and the impact threw the car across the road and I rolled over the bank on the opposite side," said 38-year-old Grönholm. "The car rolled once, it was slow and soft, and ended on its roof. We pushed it back onto its wheels with the help of two or three people but then it became stuck on a tree stump so we had to jack it up to get out. We were stuck for more than 10 minutes. I made a stupid mistake." Although the Focus RS did not suffer serious mechanical damage, the accident cracked the windscreen and broke both side windows. Although the crew taped them up as best they could, it was impossible to prevent choking brown dust from infiltrating the cockpit and they had to tackle another 70km of competition before returning to service in Perth for repairs. "It was hell inside. We had so much dust in there that I couldn't breathe or see. My eyes hurt now and I also hurt my back trying to push the car over," added Grönholm. The team changed the transmission assembly and replaced battered body panels and the Finn then posted fastest time over three of the final four stages. Having dropped to 56th, following the crash, he recovered to 18th. "I wasn't so fast this afternoon but the others were hindered by dust. I'm an old motocross rider so I'm used to it. I'm disappointed because we had the opportunity to lead comfortably and I think it will be a few years before I forget this. A top five finish is possible and that's my aim," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I made no mistakes and had no problems and that's why I'm leading, but it has been a strange day because I didn't set any fastest times," said Hirvonen. "Winning is a possibility but I need to find a balance between fighting for first place and finishing. There are no words to describe how slippery this gravel is. It was just like driving on ice. But there is no room for error now that Marcus has lost time and the pressure is on because I must score good points for the team. "We were lucky in the dust on the last forest stage. It was hanging in the air and I had to stop near the finish. I came over a crest and it was like hitting a wall of dust. Tomorrow will be easier because we will not be cleaning the road but I know Petter and he will not give up. There are still two days to go but it is a good feeling to be leading," added Hirvonen.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg holds second place overall at the end of a dramatic first day of competition on Rally Australia. Solberg and his team-mate Chris Atkinson were the pace-setters for much of the day and between them won five of the Leg's seven forest stages in their Impreza WRC2006s. Australian-born Atkinson won the first three tests of the day and had a 13sec lead of the rally before a small mistake left his car undamaged but stuck in deep sand by the roadside. Atkinson retired from the Leg but will restart on Saturday. Solberg was fastest on two stages and led the rally overall before losing a place in controversial circumstances when he was caught in the dust of cars ahead.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today was mostly a good day. Early on we made some changes and won two stages then there were more improvements again after the service. We lost a lot of time in the dust on both of the last two forest stages; turning the wrong way on the first and having to stop again and again on the second. It was just so bad we could not see what we were doing. Overall though I am quite happy with the position, we made some good tyre choices, the Pirellis worked very well and we're looking forward to still more improvements tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: It was obviously a disappointing end to the day. We were trying hard for the whole team here and were leading but unfortunately made just a small mistake and that's it - we're out for the day. We went a little wide on one corner and didn't recover for the next. We slid to a stop on a bank partly off the road. We tried to reverse, but we couldn't and that was that. The car's pretty much fine, there was a small fire, but we got it out with little damage and we hadn't hit anything. We'll probably restart tomorrow but we've still blown our chances of a podium or a win."

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has completed the first day of the "Telstra Rally Australia". While Manfred Stohl can be content, Henning Solberg's first Australia adventure ended with a take-off at high speed on special stage six. A restart within SupeRally will not be possible since the Peugeot 307 WRC is too heavily damaged. The retirement quota at the World Rally Cars is singular this season. Five of ten teams already had to give up on the first day. And top favourite Marcus Grönholm lost over ten minutes following a rollover on special stage one.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Since it hasn't rained recently it is extremely fast and insanely slippery. I surely was beside the road more often today than during the last five rallies altogether. If I take a look at the course of events I get convinced that I chose the right tempo. And there is still a lot going to happen at this rally."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We got off the ideal line during a very fast left turn which you drive at full speed. At such a moment you don't stand a chance on this loose gravel. We took off right into the woods. I don't even remember whether I turned over."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team mechanics came into their own after Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc hit early problems on the opening leg of Rally Australia in Perth today. The Cumbrian-based outfit refettled both Ford Focus RS WRC 06s in record time to ensure Wilson and Companc would be ready to start leg two after their early departures on today's opening leg. The rally officially started last night, with a brace of runs around the two-kilometre Gloucester Park trotting track. Companc/Jose Maria Volta and Wilson/Michael Orr both held comfortable top 10 positions after the second stage, with the Argentine crew returning to the driving seat of their Ford Focus RS WRC 06 in sixth position this morning.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "This was driver error, pure and simple. It was quite a deceptive place that caught us out - not somewhere we had marked in the notes. It was a slow right-hand corner with a rock on the inside. The rock wasn't big and we hadn't seen it in the recce. We came through the corner in the sunshine and there it was - you could see it clearly. I was committed to the corner by then, though. We clipped it on full lock and the impact pulled the driveshaft out and broke the track control arm. The impact also spun the car through 360 degrees. That was the end of that. It's so disappointing. I was just starting to get into a good rhythm. We'd had a bit of an overshoot earlier in the stage, but after that things were starting to click and I was getting a bit more used to the surface. The car felt fantastic. It's so frustrating to be standing on the sidelines when we could and should be out on the stages."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "The conditions in stage four were so difficult. Before we went off, I had already had two moments. I left the road after running wide in a left-hander. I hit a rock on the outside of the corner with a rear wheel and that sent us across the road and down a bank on the other side. The car dropped onto the drivers' side and came to rest against a tree. There was really not much damage to the car at all. The big problem was that there were only a couple of spectators around to help, so there was no chance of getting it back onto the track. Now I really understand why people talk about this rally being so difficult - the conditions are incredible. We're back tomorrow, which is good. I like the Saturday stages more, so I will try to push hard. At the same time, running third on the road is going to be tough as we will be sweeping all of the loose gravel aside for the cars coming along behind us."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 17min 01.8sec
2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 17min 34.1sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 19min 38.7sec
4. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 2hr 19min 58.8sec
5. M Ligato/R Garcia RA Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 28min 27.1sec
6. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 28min 54.9sec
7. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 29min 06.4sec
8. A Teiskonen/M Teiskonen FIN Subaru Impreza 2hr 29min 15.8sec
9. D Herridge/B Hayes AUS Subaru Impreza 2hr 29min 30.8sec
10 M Baldacci/G Agnese RSM Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 30min 05.8sec

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 News

Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen has maintained his lead during the second leg of Rally Australia, the 14th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The 26-year-old Ford driver has controlled the pace at the front of the field and takes a 32.3 second advantage into the final day of competition on Sunday. Petter Solberg, in second, has pushed hard but struggled to make a dent in the young Finn’s lead, while Peugeot driver Manfred Stohl has overhauled Xavier Pons to take third position.

After a day of carnage yesterday, in which five of the Championship-contending crews were forced onto the sidelines, few have hit problems today. All but Henning Solberg re-started today’s leg, permitted under the Super Rally regulations, and competition has been fierce over the nine stages run largely in the ‘Bunnings’ complex, famous for its roller-coaster jumps and water splashes.

Hirvonen, who is chasing his first World Rally victory, was the pace-setter from the outset and out- performed double World Champion team-mate Marcus Grönholm on all but four stages. Four fastest stage times during a day of faultless driving keep Hirvonen in the frame but, with 103 competitive kilometres yet to run, his first victory at world level is far from secure.

With a healthy advantage over his nearest rival, Petter Solberg has been focused on Hirvonen, but the Subaru driver was simply unable to close the gap, with only one stage win. Xavier Pons (Citroën Xsara) and Manfred Stohl started the leg split by just 9.2 seconds but within two stages Stohl had overhauled his rival to climb into the final provisional podium position.

In contrast to yesterday, Marcus Grönholm has enjoyed a trouble-free run and the Finn has powered up the leaderboard from 18th to seventh, with four stage victories. However, without retirements ahead of him, Grönholm has little, if any chance of climbing to third to maintain any hope of fighting for the FIA World Rally Championship title.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)
2 Daniel Sordo / Marc Marti (E)

After an action-packed opening leg, day two of the Rally Australia was considerably calmer. The two Kronos Total Citroen Xsara WRCs enjoyed a trouble-free run through all the stages. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio end the day in fourth place. Having picked up 40 minutes of road penalties yesterday, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti are currently in 30th position. The format of leg two was identical to that of the previous day, starting with a loop of stages in the morning to the south of Rally HQ. This time it was the famous Bunnings stages in the Sotico complex, rather than the Murray stages run yesterday morning. Then the route moved to the east of Perth towards the Helena river, for a re-run of Beraking and Flynns in the afternoon. Finally, the crews went to the head-to-head Perth City superspecial, run for the fifth and sixth times.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: «I wasn't really able to fight back on the afternoon stages, partly because I had chosen a soft BFGoodrich tyre that was not correct for the road conditions. It had rained, but the road had dried out completely. Suddenly our car was moving about a lot, which is not what you need when the roads are this fast. Manfred is only 20 or so seconds ahead though so the fight is not over yet. I'm going to go for it, but I will also remember that it is crucial for us to finish - both in terms of the manufacturers' championship and to stay ahead of Marcus [Grönholm] »

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: «I wasn't as confident in the afternoon for my first run through Beraking, which was narrower and more difficult. I also discovered there that my notes were far from perfect. I came to Australia with little confidence, as I had been warned about this rally many times. It's quite something to be flying through these tree-lined roads with so little grip.. My feeling now is that this is a rally one would grow to like with time and experience. I think we have worked well today. I know where I've lost time and I know where I'm going to lose some more, but this is what learning is all about. Looking at the time sheets, I'm not too unhappy - bearing in mind my position of second on the road, my inexperience of the stages, and my determination not to make any mistakes. »

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen continue to lead Rally Australia after today's second leg. The BP-Ford World Rally Team pair returned to Perth this evening having extended their opening day advantage to 32.3sec in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns, chasing their maiden victory in the FIA World Rally Championship, controlled their pace over the slippery gravel tracks in Western Australia on a day when the team won eight of the nine speed tests. Team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen continued to fight back up the order after yesterday morning's roll. The Finns, who began the day in 18th in their Focus RS, won five speed tests to climb to seventh. They remain on course for a fifth place finish, their target after losing 11 minutes in yesterday's crash.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I'm closing on fifth, which is where we calculated we could climb to after the accident. Tomorrow I will continue to drive at my own speed and hope to get there. I don't think I can get any higher so anything more would be a bonus. It's not so good to be so far behind but it was my mistake and I must pay the penalty.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I've had a fantastic day with no problems and I really enjoyed it. I've proved that I can drive fast enough to challenge for victory. I've watched Petter Solberg's split times and driven accordingly. It's nice to be able to defend a lead and I've proved something to myself under pressure. I'm still not really thinking about actually winning. I'm just trying to maintain a good speed and keep Petter behind us.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg holds second place overall at the end of the second day of competition on Rally Australia. Solberg's Impreza WRC2006 ran faultlessly throughout the Leg and enabled him to set a string of top-three times, as well as the stage win on the longest test of the day. With six more timed stages remaining, the Norwegian looks on course to equal his best result of the season so far. Solberg's team-mate Chris Atkinson restarted after retiring from the lead earlier in the event. Although out of contention for the result he had hoped for, the 26-year-old Australian made the most of the opportunity to test his Impreza before the next WRC round in New Zealand.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: 'It's been very close today and I've really enjoyed the fight. This afternoon was not as damp as we hoped, so I think I lost some time there with the tyre choice. Of course I really want to win, but I think Mikko wants to win too! It's a long day tomorrow and the stages are a bit more difficult so it will be very interesting to see what happens.'

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: 'After the time loss yesterday there was nothing to be gained in being a hero today. I didn't have the same confidence in the car as yesterday, so I've not been taking big risks and have wanted to look after the car for New Zealand.'

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

One could call the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team the winner of the second day of the "Telstra Rally Australia". During the 120,36 special stage kilometres, Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor overtook the Spanish duo Xavi Pons/Carlos del Barrio, who are giving a strong performance in the works Citroen with Number one. But the Austrian OMV duo turned the eight seconds they were behind into a lead by 20,1 seconds. Now it is paramount to get this result across the finish line. But there are still over 100 special stage kilometres to go on Sunday.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I can't complain. The streets weren't half as slippery today. This was because the surface beneath the loose gravel was very soft. That does give you more grip. And I naturally increased the speed and tried to put pressure on Xavi. It is quite a joy when everything works faultlessly."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Retired

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford men Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc turned in fault-free drives through some of the most demanding conditions this year's World Rally Championship will provide.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "This morning was so hard! The conditions were terrible - probably the worst gravel I've ever seen. Because I was first on the road, there were no braking marks, nothing. I took a cut in the tyre to try and move some of the gravel aside, but, really, it made no difference. We dropped 30 seconds on the first stage this morning with two overshoots. That's what happens when you touch the brakes and the car goes faster sliding on top of the ball bearings! On the second run through, it was better. By then, though, we were starting to get some ruts and they can take your confidence away as well. I did enjoy the jumps at Bunnings, though. They were really quite daunting - you sweep downhill and then there's an enormous kick at the top, which throws you into the air. I was a bit cautious on the first attempt, but went a bit harder the second time around and we certainly seemed to fly a fair way! The car was running absolutely perfect this morning."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "Today has been very good. I really like the stages, they seem to suit me more. With the trouble we had yesterday, we couldn't do much on the leaderboard, so instead we were getting ourselves ready for New Zealand; today's roads are nearly the same as some of those on the next round. We haven't had any problems with the car at all. Really, we're just driving in the middle of the road. Everything has been getting better and better for me all day. There has been good grip around this afternoon, which is why I have been able to push harder."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 15min 11.8sec
2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 15min 48.9sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 3hr 19min 10.4sec
4. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 3hr 19min 57.2sec
5. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 27min 35.6sec
6. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 32min 21.0sec
7. M Baldacci/G Agnese RSM Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 32min 54.7sec
8. D Herridge/B Hayes AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 33min 33.8sec
9. S Beltran/R Rojas RA Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 41min 35.3sec
10 C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 42min 17.3sec

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Leg 3 News

Sébastien Loeb today won the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA), the Frenchman - co-driven by Daniel Elena - amassing enough points over the season to claim the title despite not competing in Rally Australia due to injury. Had series rival Marcus Grönholm finished third or higher at the finish of this Perth-based event, the fight would have gone on to New Zealand and possibly Great Britain. However the Finn’s fifth place means Loeb’s advantage is now unassailable.

Rally Australia, the 14th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, was won by the all Finnish crew of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. The Ford Focus crew led for 21 of the 26 stages and claimed their maiden victory at World Championship level. The duo were pushed hard from start to finish but held off pressure from Subaru’s Petter Solberg to win by 37.1 seconds.

OMV Peugeot Norway driver Manfred Stohl equalled his best result of the season by finishing third, while Xavier Pons - piloting the number one Citroën Xsara in place of Loeb - claimed fourth for Kronos Total Citroën. Such was the tricky nature of the event, the remaining four classified world rally car crews were all outside the top six. With the driver and co-driver titles unofficially wrapped up with two rounds remaining, the spotlight now focuses on the close battle in the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers. First and fifth positions for the BP-Ford World Rally Team extend its lead over the Kronos Total Citroën team and, with two rounds and 36 available points remaining, the rivals are split by 16 points.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)
2 Daniel Sordo / Marc Marti (E)

It has been a fantastic weekend in Australia for the Kronos Total Citroen team and its driver line-up of young Spaniards. The rally ended with the happy news that 14,000 kilometres away from Perth, their team leaders Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena had become FIA World Rally Champions for the third consecutive time.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: «Today was quite close to being stressful. I was paying a lot of attention to avoiding all the stones. Many drivers made mistakes on this rally and I did not want to become one of them. »

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: «Obviously I hoped for a better result, » admitted the Spaniard afterwards. «But this delicate balancing act, on a surface with no grip at all, has allowed me to learn a lot - which was the whole point of this year. And some of the time, my stage times and the gaps to the stage winners were encouraging.»

Manufacturer 1: BP- Ford World Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
3 Marcus Grönholm / Timo Rautiainen (FIN)
4 Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)

Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed their maiden world rally victory in Australia today as the BP-Ford World Rally Team increased its lead in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns won Rally Australia in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car by 37.1sec. Team-mates Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen finished fifth in another Focus RS as BP-Ford widened its lead in the manufacturers' series to 16 points. This was the team's sixth victory of the season and, in terms of rally wins, this is now Ford's most successful season ever in world rallying.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I'm pleased that after losing so much time on Friday I was able to score points and help the team move further ahead in the manufacturers' championship. The team and the car are looking really strong and we are in a great position. I'm really happy for Mikko. This win will really boost his confidence and I'm sure he will be confident of beating me now! I'm sad we are not coming back to Perth again because it's a fantastic rally, a great place and the people are so friendly. I will miss it."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "This is fantastic! I had so much pressure, not only to win but also to bring the car home for manufacturers' points. Petter pushed me hard but I didn't want him to get too close and it felt good to keep him back. I wasn't too nervous and I concentrated on controlling my speed and rhythm. Now the plan is to win the manufacturers' title."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg finished Rally Australia in second place today after an excellent performance on the red gravel roads around Perth. Solberg's Impreza WRC2006 ran perfectly over the final 103 kilometres and enabled him to win three of the day's stages -and a total of six throughout the rally. After a small mistake on Leg one cost Chris Atkinson the rally lead and 25-minutes of penalty time, his focus switched to learning the stages and testing for the next WRC round in New Zealand. Nevertheless, another consistent and reliable run from Atkinson moved him up seven more places today and he finished inside the top ten. Overall the weekend was an encouraging one for Subaru, with both factory Imprezas showing an increased level of competitiveness after a relatively disappointing season so far.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I am very, very happy to get second place. It's been a really tough season and the team has been working so hard for this, day and night. We're still going to keep pushing on the car, as there's still more to do, but today I am really pleased for all the team and mechanics as it's a big boost for everyone."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's not the result we wanted, but we had the pace we wanted and we haven't had that speed for a long time. To be leading the rally on Friday was good and sure, we made a small mistake, but it's encouraging to have that speed. I don't think we would have held onto the lead but we would have been on the podium. So while the result is disappointing, we're encouraged and keep on learning about the car."

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)
8 Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud (N)

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has done it again. For the third time this season they finished on the podium in a run to the FIA World Rally Championship. After Manfred Stohl in Mexico and Henning Solberg in Turkey it was once again the 34-year-old Austrian's turn to earn a sensational success for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team at the "Telstra Rally Australia". In fact, an even more joyful one since the rally marked the 100th assignment by Bozian Racing, the French tuning wizards.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I like this rally because of the high speed and the many fast turns. On the other hand the rally is completely unpredictable - which was proven by the many retirements. In any case, I am overjoyed that I could repeat last year's third place. Moreover, it was high time for another podium place after having finished fourth three times already this year. And I like one third place much better than three fourth ones "

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC06
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford drivers Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc both demonstrated fantastic car control, under the most difficult conditions, to bring their Ford Focus RS WRC 06s home at the end of the 19th and final Rally Australia to be based in Perth. The drivers faced six stages (two loops of three) to the east of Perth through a final loop run in overcast conditions. The first stage was the immensely technical and twisty Atkins test. At just 4.42 kilometres, it's not the longest in the event, but it is certainly among the hardest. Wilson's job was made even harder when a minor car problem made downshifting from second to first difficult.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "Running first on the road wasn't quite as bad as it was yesterday. There's been a fair bit of moisture around this morning which means the gravel was bound together, giving us a little bit more grip. The second run of the stages was okay, the road had cleaned quite a bit. We had one stall at the start of a stage. On the whole, the rally has been a little bit frustrating. Most of the frustration came on the first day. I made a small mistake but paid a big price for it."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "I had no real problems this morning. The first stage was very technical and slow - I didn't enjoy that one very much, it was a bit of a nightmare. Then I went off the road twice on the long one. One of those times I was fully off the road, the car was right away and into the grass. Luckily there weren't any big rocks or stones in the undergrowth, so the Focus wasn't damaged. After that, I really enjoyed the third stage. It was nice and fast and flowing, much more the kind of road that I like. This afternoon, I had a launch control problem which stalled the car at the start of the long stage - other than that it's been perfect. Now I'm really looking forward to getting to New Zealand for more time in this great car!"


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY AUSTRALIA
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
29.10.2006

Present:
1st - Mikko Hirvonen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st - Jarmo Lehtinen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Petter Solberg – Subaru World Rally Team
2nd - Phil Mills – Subaru World Rally Team
3rd - Manfred Stohl – OMV Peugeot Norway
3rd - Ilka Minor – OMV Peugeot Norway
Malcolm Wilson, Representative of the winning Manufacturer BP-Ford World Rally Team

Welcome to the final FIA press conference.

Q:
Mikko, many congratulations on your first victory. It’s been very well-deserved; how do you feel? When did you know that it would be possible to win? How much pressure were you driving under, as it was a proper fight with Petter Solberg, but you also had to make sure you finished and scored manufacturer points. Were you taking a lot of risks, or would you have been prepared to let Petter go past if he pushed you hard?

MH:
The possibility was there on Friday, when I saw Marcus (Gronholm) went off. It was a big shock for me to see him off the road. Then again, we had the dust on the last stage on Friday, I saw Petter had it as well. After that I thought ”Okay, there’s a chance”. You should know how many times Malcolm called me in the car telling me not to slow down, but telling me what to do! I had to bring the points, but I had the chance and didn’t want to let it slip. I needed to take a few risks, it wasn’t easy. Okay, I couldn’t really control my speed until Sunday, the rest of the time I went flat-out.

Q:
Your win came on what has been one of the most difficult rallies of the year. How much did you struggle with lack of grip here? Did you have any big moments during the rally, or were you able to control your pace to the finish?

JL:
We had a moment on the very first corner on Friday, we were so close to going off. After that it was completely under control. We have been in the same situation all year. This time the opposition was tougher and the stakes were higher. It helps to be in this position so many times this year, we could control our speed.

Q:
Congratulations on second place Petter, a very good result. Is this a sign that the Subaru Impreza is improving? How much better was the car than it was in Turkey? You’ve been struggling a lot with traction this year and there were several very loose surfaces, so how did the car cope with them? Did you have any reliability issues or was the car fault-free from start to finish?

PS:
It’s improving and it’s rough, we have been pushed hard. On the fast, we have been at the same speed, but struggling with the grip. I enjoyed the fight and the weekend. We needed this second place. It’s been six months since I stood on the podium. It was nice to get that feeling back. In Turkey we did some improvements and a small improvement for this rally. The team knows what it is, but we can’t do it all at one time; we do small steps. I hope it will be sorted for next year. We have a very good team and I’m confident we can take it to the next level. It would have been hard for us to fight for victory on the dry stages. I’m very happy for Mikko.

Q:
You and Petter were leading this rally last year before an accident involving a kangaroo. Was there any sign of wildlife this year? On the first day you were in a battle with local hero Chris Atkinson, did you think that you would be able to pass him or was he a serious contender for victory here?

PM:
We only saw one kangaroo this time and that was on a road section. We fitted the ’roo away’ on the side of the car - obviously it worked very well! It cost two dollars from the local fuel station, the boys thought it was good, it worked very well! Sure, Chris could have won. He showed his colours, he was pushing very hard and leading the event until he was caught out. He had the pace, no doubt about that.

Q:
Manfred, congratulations on another podium place. On the second day you got past Xavier Pons to claim third; how confident were you that you could keep him behind you? Did he put any pressure on you after you had passed him? You’ve always performed well in Australia, why do you think that is? Do you have a particularly good feeling with the roads here? How about the car; do you think that the Peugeot is well-suited to these stages?

MS:
I mean I was so happy with my road position on Saturday. I pushed like hell, we had a good Saturday and at end of the day I was quite confident we could make the podium. The stages are quite fast and tricky, I can find a good rhythm. I like also think the rally is very well organised – it’s a shame it is not in the Championship any more. I like the car very much all the year, but on this rally I think we have too loose rear; there was too much oversteer. At the end of the first day we made some changes and the car was better on Saturday and Sunday.

Q:
Congratulations Ilka, another excellent result from yourself and Manfred. With two rounds remaining, OMV Peugeot Norway is still a few points behind Subaru in the Manufacturers Championship and the team has said in the past that the aim is to take third place; do you think that will be possible? And how difficult is this rally for a co-driver?

IM:
I think Petter and Chris will be pushing very hard. I don’t know if we can make third in the Championship. Actually it’s very difficult (for a co-driver), you never know what’s coming in the next corner. You have to deliver the notes quickly to give the driver confidence. It was quite a stressful rally for me.

Q:
Many congratulations Malcolm. There’s a lot to talk about, but first of all Mikko’s victory. You must be very pleased for him. Did you think that he would win this year? How satisfying is it for you to see him here as a rally winner, a driver who really came into the World Championship with Ford in 2003, and then joined the factory team this year after a bit of a rough patch earlier in the season. How much do you think he has improved as a driver? And of course, subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA, Marcus has not won the Drivers’ Championship this year; how much of a disappointment is that for you?

MW:
He joined in 2003 and we could see the potential then. It was a decision that surprised a lot of people to have two Finns in the team. But the age Mikko was, he could learn a lot from Marcus. Everybody has seen his performance when he’s under pressure from me to try and maintain a good position. It must have been a lot harder on this rally. I could see the glint in his eye, he wanted that win. He’s been the star of the season for the job he’s done. It’s not going to be the last time he’s on the top step of the podium. In fairness, it was only one blot on his copybook in Mexico. For the team, it was a brand new car and Mikko suffered with the technical issues at the start. I think it’s eight from nine that he’s finished on the podium. And remember, a lot of these rallies he didn’t even compete on before; he didn’t compete on this one last year, which makes it all the more remarkable. I’m disappointed for Marcus. At the end of the day there was a slim chance to take it (the title) from Sebastien; he did the work at the start of the season, but it was a slim chance. I’m disappointed for Marcus, I know how much effort he has put in for the team. It would have been the icing on the cake and we all know what Sebastien has done. To win with two rallies to go is remarkable.

Q:
Mikko, what was it like having to control a World Championship rally lead for the first time in your life? How much more enjoyable was it for you, having a real fight from start to finish, rather than having to defend a podium place, which has been the case for you a few times in the past?

MH:
It was fun from Friday morning. That’s how it is, when I get behind the wheel, I enjoy it - especially when there’s a fight. When it all works, it’s like a movie, the car just goes around the corner. Such a fantastic feeling!

Q:
What will be your biggest memories of Rally Australia in Perth?

PS:
If you had asked me last year (after retiring), you would not get a good answer! The organisation in Perth is absolutely perfect, it’s one of the best in the Championship. It’s all well-organised, good promotion, and a good super special. That’s important from a marketing point of view. You should raise the standard to this rally, there would be more interest straight away. I hope it will be the same level next time. I want to say thanks for a brilliant job in Perth. Very good.

Q:
On a different subject, now that deals for next year are beginning to fall into place, how are you fixed for 2007? Do you think that you will be competing in the entire Championship again?

MS:
I have many, many plans! No, I mean nothing is decided. I feel very confident with Bozian and Peugeot. I feel very familiar in the team. We cannot manufacturer any new parts as a Manufacturer 2 team, but we still have a car capable of top results. Look at me here and (Henning) Solberg in Turkey. I hope it’s like this next year. I would like, of course (to be doing 16 rallies), but you have to ask our supporters. I am optimistic for it. I hope, yes.

Q:
Malcolm, let’s talk about the Manufacturers’ Championship. Ford has extended the advantage over Kronos in the series; can you win it in New Zealand? Do you know what you have to do to secure it?

MW:
Well, we’ve been in this position before and it’s always slipped away. It’s my tenth year since we took the team on and there have been frustrating years. We are 16 points ahead, if we get three more than Kronos in New Zealand then we go to Britain as Champions. I’m sure Mikko would be very happy to do that, there would be no brakes on him! It would be great for the final event to have them all fighting for victory. Everybody in the team is very focused on the job, it’s in our grasp and it’s been a big effort to get here. We can only throw it away now. I hope we can give Ford its first manufacturers title since 1979.

Q:
Petter but for the dust at the end of Friday, could you have won?

PS:
To be fair, Mikko did a good job. I think it could have been closer, but I think he would have done it anyway. He was a little bit faster and I was limited. It’s more important that he had a great feeling. He won the rally, without the dust. He was the real winner, that’s it.

PS:
I want to say for Sebastien Loeb, congratulations to him. lt’s well-deserved. He has done three impressive years and been fastest of all. He is the real winner. Very good.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

1st - Jari-Matti Latvala
1st - Miikka Anttila

Q:
Jari-Matti, congratulations. There was a very exciting final day, with the retirement of Marcos (Ligato) and the fight between you and Aki Teiskonen. What were the final three stages like for you? Do you think that a Group N car is harder to drive on slippery surfaces like this; when you get into trouble there’s less power to pull you out? How difficult was it to judge your braking?

J-ML:
It was an interesting morning. I tried to catch Marcos (Ligato) then in the second stage I made a big mistake going off the road. I broke the right-rear wishbone; we lost 30 seconds with that. We were lucky to carry on. Then we came to service and find Marcos has retired. I had big pressure, as the drivers behind were close to me. In the long stage I was so nervous, I felt I can’t brake, I can’t trust myself. When I came through and heard what happened to Aki (Teiskonen) I was a little more confident as the next guy wasn’t so close to me. The first time through, it’s quite difficult, there’s still gravel on the road. It’s all the time cleaning, but the first time it is difficult, the second time is more easy. On the line it can be good grip, but go a little bit off line and you will have a moment. In a way yes, the World Rally Car is in another world. There is more power and if you do a mistake you fix it with the throttle: there’s more power. But World Rally Cars are going faster, so things are happening faster. The Group N cars are fast, but not as fast. The Group N cars are coming closer all of the time.

Q:
A big fight in the Production car class; what was your plan at the start of the rally Miikka? Were you aiming to be flat-out from the start or did you have any particular tactics?

MA:
I think the strategy was as in Japan; drive the stages without problems. Second time through, increase the speed then see how far we can go with those tactics. I was very amazed. It felt in Japan we had very bad luck. Now it seems fortune is smiling to us a little bit. All of the time, I knew Teiskonen was coming very fast behind us.

Q:
Was this one of the most difficult rallies you have done?

J-ML:
I would say it’s not the most difficult rally. Germany has been the most difficult since 2003, but this has been one of them. The speeds are fast and the roads are narrow. If you make a mistake, you can destroy your car. We were here in 2004, but retired in the first stage. I had a little bit of experience, which helped me to drive.

Q:
From your point of view, was everything under control from start to finish or did you have any moments?

MA:
The only moment was today when we went wide in one corner today. We were unlucky that we broke the rear. We were lucky to change and fit a new link before the next stage.

Q:
You’ll be driving in New Zealand with the Group N car then on Wales Rally GB with 2006-specification Focus; what will those events be like for you? What are your plans for next year? Are you planning to stay in the FIA PWRC or will you step up to a World Rally Car full-time?

J-ML:
Just before the rally, I heard very good news: I am able to drive the Stobart 06 Focus in Britain. My co-driver said to me to keep my concentration! I’ll do New Zealand first and then think about GB. It’s great news, though. I have done three tarmac rallies with Stobart and made three mistakes. Tarmac is not my strongest surface, so I am very glad to have this opportunity. We have been driving now for three years Group N cars and one year in Super 1600 then some rallies with the World Rally Car. Maybe in my career we have good experience of the rallies and now we look forward to try and get the World Rally Car on more rallies next year. I think it depends on how we go in GB.