FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 42nd Rally RACC Catalunya Costa-Durada (24-26 March 2006


4th round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 2nd round out of ninth in the 2006 FIA Junior World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLYE RACC CATALUNYA-COSTA DAURADA/RALLYE DE ESPAÑA
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
23.03.2006

Present:
Barry Clark
Brice Tirabassi
Mikko Hirvonen – BP Ford World Rally Team
Stéphane Sarrazin – Subaru World Rally Team
Gilles Panizzi – Red Bull-Skoda Team
Mario Isola – Pirelli
Sébastien Loeb – Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Jari-Matti Latvala – Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Barry, you’re new to the Championship this year. What’s your programme for this season and what do you hope to achieve from it?

BC:
We’ve a fantastic programme from Stobarts. We’re doing the British Rally Championship in a Fiesta Super 1600 and six rounds of the Fiesta International series in an ST. The aim in the World Rally Championship and in the ST is to gain more experience. This is a fantastic platform for me to learn new events and new stages. Hopefully we can move on from there. This gives us 11 rallies this year. Rally GB clashes with the International and the national series, we have to look at which championship is working out best. I hope we can get out on some other rallies, the more miles under the belt the better. It’s all about seat time.

Q:
Brice, welcome back. You did the Production Car World Rally Championship last year: why did you decide to come back to the JWRC?

BT:
My return to JWRC started with a call from Citroën at the start of the year. They made the suggestion that I come back. I was delighted to accept and I’m happy to be here starting the season in Spain.

Q:
It’s the first round of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy. What’s the idea behind the Championship? What are the cars like to drive?

BC:
The Fiesta ST Championship has been launched to give new drivers an affordable way to compete at the highest level. The cars are cheap to run and fantastic fun. It gives us the chance to run at the same level on the same stages as the WRC. Then there are the domestic championships, like we have in Britain. The pinnacle is the International Sporting Trophy.

Q:
As a former JWRC champion do you feel a bit of pressure? How likely are you to defend your title this year and do you think the opposition will be stronger or weaker than the year when you won the title in 2004?

BT:
I have no particular pressure. I have good experience of the events and the championship. My times testing the Citroën show the car is good. Most important is to consistently score points – that’s my aim for this year. Two years have passed since I drove. The cars have evolved and there’s a good level of competition. I am expecting the key rivals to come from my team.

Q:
How much preparation have you had for this event? What do you think the level of competition will be like on the Fiesta Sporting Trophy?

BC:
We were out last weekend on a national rally in Scotland with the ST. We took first two-wheel-drive and sixth overall. Today at shakedown, we set fastest Fiesta time, so it’s all been very encouraging so far. I’ve been out practising the notes with Scott (Martin, co-driver). That’s about it.

Q:
How about you Brice? Who do you think will be the strongest competitors in the JWRC this year?

BT:
My first objective is to consistently score points. I want to be on the podium and maybe towards the end of the year, when I have had more time in the car, I will look at the idea of winning rallies.

Q:
Mikko, welcome. You’ve just come back from an asphalt test in preparation for this event, how did it go? How much running did you do and are you ready for this rally now?

MH:
It went well. As always we had a good test. The car was very good from the beginning of the test. We made a few small changes and now we’re ready for the rally. We did many kilometres, but unfortunately none on wet Tarmac. I’m sure we will be fine. I’m confident, no problems.

Q:
Stéphane, you’ve had some slightly unusual preparation for this event – at Sebring driving a GT car. Can you compare driving a racing car on a circuit like that to driving a rally car in Spain? What if anything do the two things have in common?

SS:
Yes, hello. At Sebring we did a good result, but this morning, the first run at shakedown was a bit strange for me. I have a good feeling with the car. Before Sebring, I went and did a test – it was not bad. It’s so different between race and rally; very, very different, the road, the car, the engine, the braking. Because I run the week before in a Subaru, it was less difficult for me today. I needed a bit more time to be on the pace. This morning, at the start, I was braking too early – but towards the end, on the fourth run, it was good.

Q:
Mikko, Catalunya was the scene of your first podium last year, after a brilliant fight with Xevi Pons on the final stage. How strong do you think your chances are of finishing on the podium again? How well do you think the 2006 Focus is suited to asphalt?

MH:
Well, for sure, I will try. This year the competition is different to last year, and we have a new car which is very fast. I have a chance to be at the top, it’s up to me. The car is almost made for asphalt, I hope at least. It looks very good. Of course, there are some small things to improve and maybe make it faster. The car is quite easy to drive. We have strong team and a strong, fast car for this event.

Q:
You’ve also been testing on asphalt with the rally car – how did that test go? Do you think that the Subaru is in a position now to be as strong on asphalt as it is on gravel? How much is the 2006-spec Impreza an improvement over the 2005 car on this surface?

SS:
We see tomorrow morning. We did a few days of testing and improved the car and the tyres. Pirelli will push a lot. I need to confirm the test, but I was really happy with the endurance test. I don’t know if we can fight with the top guys, but I will try. The advantage? I don’t know. Now the mechanical differential means it’s more fun to drive, more sliding. We improve the engine, the balance, but you cannot change everything. It’s good for the driver, very easy to drive. We did some wet Monte stages, but we need to see on the high-grip stages here.

Q:
Mexico was ultimately disappointing for you but you showed some very good speed. Do you think that this new Ford Focus has the pace to beat the Citroën on asphalt? Can you pull off a big surprise here?

MH:
I will try, that’s no doubt. Citroën is always really fast on Tarmac, but it’s not just Citroën, either. It will be a really tight fight. Yeah, I will be the biggest surprise of this rally!

Q:
There are a couple of new stages this year and also some stages that are run in the opposite direction to last year. How much of a challenge do they present and are these stages enjoyable to drive?

SS:
We have some new stages: they’re quite narrow, twisty and dirty. They will be interesting. The rest of the stages are similar to last year and we have notes. Unfortunately last year we crashed quite early, but we still did the third day, so I’m quite confident for this year.

Q:
Gilles, back on asphalt now: your favoured surface. In Monte Carlo you had problems that meant we could not see your full potential with the car – do you think that here you will stand a better chance of showing what you are capable of?

GP:
For sure, I hope. I discover the car in Monte Carlo, the week before. It was all very late to prepare for the rally. For me it is the same scenario here, we have one day test before the recce. For me it’s not easy to look for the right set-up. I do the maximum and the team also.

Q:
Pirelli recently completed a tyre test on roads near the old Sanremo Rally – what work did you carry out and what did you learn? Were the conditions representative of the roads here?

MI:
We learn a lot. We did 10 days of test, both with our car and the Subaru. We found a good, new construction. I hope we will see it during this rally. The drivers were happy. At the moment the conditions are the same as the test. If it gets much hotter during the weekend, then it could be something we haven’t tested. At the moment, it’s good for us.

Q:
The Skoda Fabia has never been on the podium – what do you think of the car? What are its biggest strengths and is it good enough to finish in the top three?

GP:
If you look at Duval’s time this morning, he was fastest. If you do that, you win. For me, I don’t know. We have to discover the car, we do leg one and look to see if we can stay with the first drivers. What’s the strength, what do I like? The colour of the car…! You know, it’s difficult. The car is nice, but it’s difficult to say. I just drove three cars: the 206, Mitsubishi and Fabia, which is maybe like the 206.

Q:
A key factor in this rally is always the weather. What sort of weather conditions are you expecting over the next three days? What sort of effect do you think this will have on tyre choices and the outcome of the rally?

MI:
Right now it’s difficult. As everybody knows, the rally moved from October to March for this year. We expect it to be a little bit colder this time. It’s hard to say if it will be raining or not, as the stages are in the mountains. It’s difficult to know what to expect. It can have a huge effect. Our choice of tyre can influence the result of the rally: a huge effect.

Q:
The first time that we see the 2006-specification cars with mechanical differentials on asphalt. Is there a big difference driving these cars on asphalt, compared to cars with active differentials?

GP:
For me it’s not a big change to compare with last year. Last year I drove a car with passive diffs at the front and rear. For me, it’s okay. Today, I think we have to reduce everything. The World Rally Car is too expensive for everybody. To reduce all the electrical system would be nice and spectacular; it could mean more cars in the rally as well. When we find a good mapping, it’s all about finding a good mapping.

Q:
We heard earlier from Stéphane Sarrazin, who is helping Pirelli’s tyre development programme this year. What role does Stéphane play, and how has he contributed to tyre development this year?

MI:
Stéphane is, let me say, Pirelli’s test driver; he helps develop the tyres. He is testing Subaru and Pirelli. He is providing us with information. He has a hard job this year; he’s driving on some circuits as well. He has very good experience on Tarmac and he does performance tests, endurance tests, then he’s testing new tyres, development tyres. It’s a hard job for him.

Q:
Seb, welcome to Spain. You start the first of two asphalt rounds leading the Championship. Do you think that this is one of your best opportunities to take some points away from everybody else?

SL:
I will try, but, yes sure, the last season asphalt was really good for us. Me, the car and the tyre all worked well. This year, it’s difficult; Marcus has a new Focus which is really fast. He has the same tyre and Pirelli are a bit different, I don’t know if they will fight for the victory – it will be a big battle though.

Q:
You were last out in a Ford Focus two years ago. How has the car changed since then – what do you think of this latest customer version? What are the biggest differences compared to the last Ford Focus you drove?

JML:
Well this morning, on my first time on the shakedown road, I was a little bit scared. The car was incredibly fast. My hands were shaking for half-an-hour afterwards, trying to get used to the speed. There has been a big development on the car after 2003, when I drove the 2002 car. This car is from another planet. I did some driving this morning, but the more kilometres I can do the better. This car is basically made for the racing circuit: all the weight is down. It has more power in the engine, the suspension is working and the car is very low. It can go so much faster through the corners and it stays on the road better and has more engine power. The biggest difference, though, is the launch control. It pulls to 100kph so fast; it’s really incredible.

Q:
The Xsara has traditionally been the dominant car on asphalt. Do you think it is still the fastest car on this surface, or have other cars like the Ford closed the gap? Which driver do you fear most on asphalt?

SL:
Yes, especially with Marcus now in the Ford. We know the Ford is a good car. The old version was still good and with Duval and Markko Martin was really fast. They will be really good, it will be difficult for us. It’s always Marcus and Petter, but we saw in a few rallies, Hirvonen was going fast, he led here last year.

Q:
How much experience do you have of driving on asphalt? Is it a surface that you like? What are your objectives on this event and is your priority to get to the finish or to set fast times?

JML:
I did some stages in 2003, and as well as that I have done some Tarmac on the British Championship rallies. In Germany, I drove a Focus ’02 car. Since then I have been driving Group N cars on the Tarmac. I’ve driven Corsica and Germany as well. My experience of World Rally Cars on Tarmac is not much, which is the reason why need to increase experience. That’s why it’s good to drive the Stobart car here. At first, the point is to get to the finish, get the experience and see how fast we can go. Then in Corsica we can increase the speed a little, but I’m working on Germany. I have been there twice already, I like that event – maybe this is the round where I can try to go faster.

Q:
Why do you enjoy this rally so much, Seb?

SL:
The roads are really wide: a bit like a circuit. You need the good line, a lot of the time the surface is really clean; very different from other rallies. As well as that, there are a lot of spectators, the fans are everywhere. The feeling from here is very good; it’s nice to drive here.

Q:
Seb, you recently drove the new Citroën C4 WRC at the Stade de France in Paris. How is development of this car doing? What are your thoughts on it so far and which areas are you worklng on at the moment? When do you think you will be testing the new car next?

SL:
Next time I will drive it is next week. We will continue the work then. The feeling is good. For me it was difficult at the start; the seating position, everything is different. We are sitting more in the rear of the car, it was a bit strange. We have good settings on gravel, but on Tarmac, I only drove for one day, so I don’t have much experience. I will try again next week.

Q:
What is your programme for this year Jari? Why have you selected these particular events?

JML:
I am doing the Production Car WRC. We have already done Mexico and Monaco. Our experience wasn’t so good so far. We retired early in Monaco and then with technical problems in Mexico. We have some work to do before we are out in Argentina next, after that we have Greece, Japan and New Zealand in our Production Car programme.

Rally Preview

Five months after its last visit to the country, the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Spain for the first of two consecutive asphalt events, the Rally Catalunya-Costa Daurada. The fourth of the 16-round series is considered to be the first ‘true’ asphalt event of the year and has little in common with the earlier sealed surface rally in Monte Carlo. Rally Catalunya is paired with Corsica’s Tour de Corse and the same cars will contest both events with one week in between for re-preparation.

The smooth, wide roads of Rally Catalunya make it the fastest sealed surface rally of the year. Cutting corners is commonplace as drivers look for every advantage on the stages and accurate pace notes are critical to optimise the racing line. The cars ride lower to the ground than on gravel events, with the suspension set much stiffer to reduce body roll and maximise cornering speeds.

This year the rally has changed dates, moving from late autumn to early spring. The calendar shift brings with it an increased chance of rain and colder temperatures which could make the stages especially dirty and slippery.

The route shows few changes to last October's edition as organisers have opted for continuity. All the stages are located in the Priorat wine growing area in the Tarragona region, with a single service area at Salou's PortAventura theme park. There are just two tests that did not feature in 2005. One is totally new while the other is an existing test used in the opposite direction. Three other tests incorporate minor changes. After Thursday evening's ceremonial start on Salou seafront, Friday's opening leg is the longest of the rally, including 137.25km of competition. Seven different venues are used for the 16 stages, covering 346.43km, and seven tests are used twice before the Sunday afternoon finish in Salou.

Team Previews:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

The 2006 calendar differs from the two previous ones in the fact that Catalunya will mark the first quarter of the season instead of New Zealand. On top of that, with the ‘pair regulations’, the event will be followed almost immediately by the Tour de Corse: two big slices of tarmac with a spring sauce in a ‘sandwich’ composed of the two events taking place on the American ground. For the event, the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team enters two 2006 Xsara WRCS for its usual nominated crews: reigning World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena – who also won the event in 2005 – and their Spanish team-mates Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio. Like for the previous rounds, Dani Sordo is ‘The third man’. As always co-driven by Marc Marti, the 2005 Junior World Champion will compete on the 2005 Xsara WRC that he already used on the last three occasions.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "We completed one test session around Vic, in the area where the rally took place until 2004. The stages of the Southern version of the rally compares really well with those from the North: beautiful, fast, often very soft on the surface and with the only problem of deep corners cuttings. Of course we have worked on the mechanical differentials and we now have to finetune the settings. We also worked on different small things and repeated our work on the tyres trying to take the best advantage of the BFGoodrich range. I was already satisfied with the car’s balance in Monte Carlo and after this test my feeling is excellent. I am extremely happy with the work the development team of Citroën Sport has done. I hope the times will match my current satisfaction."

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "As I always say, first of all I want to have fun. Enjoy the rally of my region with my friends, my fans, my family. I will give everything to make a good race and not to deceive the Catalans and Spanish supporters. When I see their flags on the sides of the roads, my motivation increases even more. After last year’s result, the logical target is to do better and so we’ll try to finish on the podium. Without any doubts it will be difficult, there are many fast drivers on tarmac. But with a performing Xsara, the team’s work and our motivation… why not? In any case I will respect Marc Van Dalen’s advice. He is the boss and he will decide if I should push hard or preserve a position for the ‘Manufacturers’ championship… But I really hope he will tell me to attack!"

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

For the second time in five months the sweeping roads of northern Spain will host the FIA World Rally Championship, marking the competition debut of the new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on pure asphalt. Having already proved its pace on snow, ice and gravel, the Rally de España (23 - 26 March) will provide the first chance for BP-Ford drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen to sample the car on traditional asphalt. Both Grönholm and Hirvonen feel confident about the performance of the Focus RS on sealed surfaces. The Finns have tested successfully on asphalt and both were delighted with the car's speed during January's Rallye Monte Carlo, an event that mixes asphalt with snow and ice and in which Grönholm claimed a debut victory for the BP-Ford World Rally Team.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: Grönholm, winner of two of the first three rallies in the 16-round championship, recognises the importance of the next month on the season as a whole. "If you look back at 2004 the Focus RS showed what a good car it was on asphalt," said the 38-year-old Finn. "This is a new car but I've driven it enough already to know that it is competitive on that surface. We will have tough competition in Spain but anything is possible. The next two rallies are very important. Because I made a mistake in Mexico and scored only one point, I really need to win one of the next two rallies to maintain a strong championship position. "It isn't an easy event. You need to think like a racing driver on those roads. But that doesn't come naturally to me. The asphalt is quite abrasive which means we have to think about tyre selection carefully. I also remember last year when conditions were sunny and dry in the service park but raining heavily in the special stages. So accurate weather information from our personnel in the stages will be essential," added Grönholm, whose best result in Spain was second in 2004.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Twenty-five-year-old Hirvonen has fond memories of the rally, having claimed a career-best third place here in 2005. "That result was a big boost to my confidence," he admitted. "I've proved that I have the speed on loose surfaces but to score a podium here made me realise that I could reproduce the same level of speed on asphalt. I've tested the Focus RS on this surface and it's good." "This is the easiest asphalt event in the championship. It's the fastest and the roads are flowing, although they are narrower here than the roads on which we used to compete near Lloret de Mar. The stages are surprisingly bumpy in places and it's crucial to be precise with driving lines. Some sections are smooth, new asphalt and then you turn onto a really rough part which is quite abrasive. "As with any asphalt event, there will be a lot of gravel dragged onto the road and it's vital to have that information in my pace notes. I will rely on accurate information from our safety crew who drive the stages before us to check the latest conditions. Just one mistake can be costly because it's harder to regain control on asphalt than on gravel if you make an error," he added.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Stephane Sarrazin / Stéphane Prevot (F/B)
16 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Stéphane Sarrazin (co-driven by Stéphane Prévot) will both drive Subaru Impreza WRC2006s and are nominated to score manufacturers’ points. This will be Petter’s sixth Rally Catalunya and Stéphane’s third. The Frenchman achieved his highest placed WRC finish in 2004 when he finished the event fourth overall in a privately-entered Subaru Impreza. Chris Atkinson will contest the rally in a Subaru Australia-entered Subaru Impreza WRC2005. The event will be Chris’ second Rally Catalunya.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: “I’m very much looking forward to this rally. I’ll be looking for a podium first of all - ideally with Marcus and Sébastien behind me - that would be perfect! It will be difficult though as these two will be the main guys. Our result was very good in Mexico and we had a positive test in Italy last week. I had a good feeling with the car and we made some improvements – how much we will see in Spain. I’m feeling pretty confident about it, we’ve had a big step forward in the car since Monte Carlo, I’m looking forward to getting back out there and scoring some more points.”

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: “I’m excited to be back in a rally again and feel very good in the car. We had one day testing last week and we worked through some set-ups and got some promising results that we can apply in Spain. I’ll be doing my best job for the team. Last year wasn’t such a great result but I think we can get in the top five this time and could even fight with the top three. I hope to improve on our performance in Monte Carlo and help Subaru in the manufacturers’ championship.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “Last year we had a solid event in Spain and we showed a fast pace considering our level of asphalt experience at the time. Competing in Rally Ireland last weekend has massively increased our understanding of driving on an asphalt surface, especially of driving in the wet. This will help our performance particularly if we encounter similar weather in Spain. I hope to continue to improve in this rally.”

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)

After three runs to the FIA World Rally Championship 2006 OMV driver Manfred Stohl takes third intermediate place. This gives rise to expectations for the future even though the next two scheduled runs, the “Rally RACC Catalunya Costa-Durada” (March 23 to 26) and the Rally Corsica (April 6 to 9) will be held on tarmac. Not exactly the 33-year-old Austrian’s favourite surface. He will still try his all to remain among the big 3 in the WRC before the beginning of the gravel season. For the first time this season the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT will be competing with only one car. This is due to the fact that the team had only entered 12 rallies in the manufacturer 2-ranking at the end of entry in the middle of December 2005 – and FIA-regulation states that they can only score at these twelve rallies in 2006 in this particular ranking. But it had also been announced in December that Manfred Stohl would compete in all 16 runs. Spain and Corsica will therefore be the first two rallies this year where Manfred Stohl will go solo in the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT and only be able to score in the driver’s ranking.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: It was in 2001 when Manfred Stohl had last competed at a WRC run in Spain. Back then the course was still in the vicinity of Lloret del mar. Thus the OMV driver only knows one or two special stages of the current course. Which makes the training runs all the more important. Stohl: “Ilka and I will have a lot of work ahead of us. We’ll have to write completely new pace notes, since there won’t be any reference points from previous years. But we are experienced enough to solve this problem, as well.“ In 2001 Stohl drove a Fiat Punto in the 1600-class and lead in the Junior-WRC after seven special stages before dropping back due to tyre damage. Even though tarmac might not be the Austrian’s favourite surface, he is still looking forward to the Rally RACC Catalunya. “I know that the tarmac has a lot of grip there. The turn speed is supposed to be extremely high. You have to cut a very smooth line to be able to compete. But this should suit me“, explains the OMV driver. He trusts the basic set-up by Bozian Racing as far as the tuning is concerned (Stohl: „They have a lot of experience and will surely get it right.“). Last tests on tarmac will take place in Spain on March 20. They will be held on the former special stages of the Rally of Spain.

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (FIN)

From the gravel of Mexico to the specialist high-speed tarmac stages of Spain for Britain's youngest professional rally driver, 19 year-old Cumbrian Matthew Wilson. As if the presence of gravel was not enough, rain is threatened to further complicate matters and make tyre choice yet more important. Rally Catalunya has moved from his position late in the year and back to early spring meaning temperatures in the 20 degree Celsius range, but any relative cold and potential wet is unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm of the Spanish fans, who are amongst the most enthusiastic encountered in the year. This is only the second time that the rally has been run from its new base at Costa Daurada, but that won't diminish the speed of the tarmac specialists who only compete in certain events in the calendar as opposed to the full campaign that Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr are undertaking.The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team is joined by Jari-Matti Latvala in Spain, the Finnish driver in his first tarmac event in a WRC car since 2003. He will be co-driven by fellow Finn, Miikka Anttila. The is also the start of the Stobart Motorsport J-WRC campaign with Brit Barry Clark and co-driver Scott Martin in the Stobart VK Ford Fiesta, which is also entered in the all-new Fiesta Sporting Trophy international.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I'm looking forward to Spain, but it’s going to be a lot more difficult than it was last time in Mexico. There could be rain, and that's going to make tyre choice crucial. There's some very good tarmac specialists in the event so I can't expect to be up the front like I was last time. I'm just going to be sensible and settle down to it and build the experience. It could help me that it's only the second time that the WRC has been held on these stages as there's less opportunity for the other guys to have built experience there, it might make a more level field."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: :"I can't wait to get out in action. It's not since 2003 that I drove a WRC car on tarmac, but the stages in Spain are just right; not too fast and not too slow. The only difficult thing is making sure you use the same lines as the top guys as they cut the corners and gravel gets on the road. As long as you're on the same line that they use it's not a problem. If you try and use another line then that's where there are problems."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi (F)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

After a short break – Mexico was not contested – the first big tarmac challenge awaits the Red Bull Skoda Team, run by BRR (Baumschlager Rallye & Racing), in the Spanish round of the WRC, the fourth event of the season. Appropriately, preparations in the shape of successful test sessions for Aigner and Panizzi in Spain were intense.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: Gilles Panizzi, a true tarmac specialist, has already won this rally twice before, in 2002 and 2003: "I am 100 percent motivated, and I will give it my all, just like earlier this year during the first leg of the Monte Carlo Rally. Of course Sebastian Loeb is the measure of all things in Spain. I will try nonetheless to set fast times with a good setup and achieve for Skoda the best result possible with the help of the engineers and the entire team." Like in Monte Carlo, Panizzi will have to use a passive differential in Spain to meet regulations.

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: Andreas will start his third world championship event at the wheel of the Skoda Fabia WRC in Spain after finishing 13th in Monte Carlo and retiring in Sweden: "I am really looking forward to the task ahead. Once again, I need to put in a flawless drive and finish the rally with a solid performance. Each and every kilometre will help me along, since the next rally in Corsica will be on tarmac as well."

Event Timetable

Thursday 23 March: Ceremonial Start

Start Salou 20.00

Friday 24 March: Leg 1 Salou - Salou

Start PortAventura 06.45
SS1 Querol 1 25.43km 08.05
SS2 El Montmell 1 24.14km 08.53
Serv A PortAventura (30 mins) 10.43
SS3 Querol 2 25.43km 12.33
SS4 El Montmell 2 24.14km 13.21
Serv B PortAventura (30 mins) 15.06
SS5 Colldejou 26.51km 16.31
SS6 Riudecanyes 11.60km 17.24
Serv C PortAventura (45 mins) 18.19
Finish PortAventura 19.04

Saturday 25 March: Leg 2 Salou - Salou

Serv D PortAventura (10 mins) 07.00
SS7 Duesaigües 1 11.50km 07.50
SS8 Vilaplana 1 28.33km 08.36
SS9 Margalef - la Palma d'Ebre 1 15.85km 09.59
Serv E PortAventura (30 mins) 11.59
SS10 Duesaigües 2 11.50km 13.09
SS11 Vilaplana 2 28.33km 13.55
SS12 Margalef - la Palma d'Ebre 2 15.85km 15.18
Serv F PortAventura (45 mins) 17.18
Finish PortAventura 18.03

Sunday 26 March: Leg 3 Salou - Salou

Serv G PortAventura (10 mins) 06.40
SS13 El Lloar - la Figuera 1 22.43km 07.53
SS14 Pratdip 1 26.48km 09.05
Serv H PortAventura (30 mins) 10.23
SS15 El Lloar - la Figuera 2 22.43km 11.56
SS16 Pratdip 2 26.48km 13.08
Serv I PortAventura (20 mins) 14.26
Finish PortAventura 14.56

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 1hr 16min 07.0sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 16min 34.3sec
3. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 1hr 17min 08.5sec
4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 17min 32.6sec
5. A Bengue/C Escudero F Peugeot 307 1hr 17min 39.6sec
6. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 1hr 17min 43.0sec
7. S Sarrazin/S Prévot F Subaru Impreza 1hr 17min 57.4sec
8. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 1hr 18min 32.5sec
9 F Duval/ P Pivato B Skoda Fabia 1hr 18min 39.3sec
10 M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 18min 40.6sec

Leg 1 News

Marcus Grönholm dominated much of the opening leg of the Movistar RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada, but the Finn’s slim but significant advantage disappeared when he lost turbo boost in the penultimate stage and dropped to 10th position overnight. Championship leader, Sébastien Loeb, has been hot on the Ford driver’s heels throughout the day and takes a 27.3 second lead into the second leg of the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. 

Citroën Xsara drivers now control the leaderboard, with Daniel Sordo and Xavier Pons holding second and third positions respectively. Both had been locked in a battle with Mikko Hirvonen, but the Focus driver also lost power in the same stage as team-mate Grönholm and plummets from fourth to 14th overnight.

Former FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg moves into fourth position, but neither he nor Subaru team-mate Stéphane Sarrazin are showing their anticipated pace on the first true asphalt event of the 2006 series. Alex Bengue (Peugeot) holds fifth with Jan Kopecky (Skoda) rounding off the top six. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) lost time on stage four after sliding on gravel and hitting his car's rear-left, damaging the handling. Gilles Panizzi (Skoda) dropped a minute this morning with incorrect suspension settings. He lost a further two minutes when he had to help push Jari-Matti Latvala's (Ford) car off stage four, the Finn having crashed, leaving his car blocking the route.

Following an accident in special stage 2 this morning, it is with deep regret that the organisers announced that Jörg Bastuck, co-driver to Aaron Nicolai Burkart (car 54), died as a result of his injuries.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

At the end of the first and longest leg of the Catalunya Rally, the Kronos team has three Citroen Xsaras occupying the top three places, crewed by Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "There is still an extremely long way to go before the finish and I will have to keep up a good pace. I've got two young and hungry drivers breathing down my neck. Dani [Sordo] is not so far behind me and as he does not have to worry about the manufacturers' championship, he can push as hard as he likes.»

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "On the last loop of stages, I couldn't find the excellent feeling with the car that I had enjoyed right up until then. I seemed to have a lot of understeer and oversteer. We're going to look at the problem together, and I feel confident that the team will find a solution. Having said that, it's impossible to get any better than having three Xsaras on the provisional podium. We have to do all we can now to try and maintain a one-two-three."

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 Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated much of today's opening leg of the Rally de España in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns blitzed the opposition on this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship to win the opening three speed tests and build a significant lead before technical problems intervened late this afternoon to drop them to 10th.Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen further emphasised the speed of the Focus RS WRC on dry asphalt by holding third for the opening half of the day. However, an identical turbo-related problem hampered their challenge over the final two special stages and they slipped down the order to 14th.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I would have been disappointed if I had been far away from Sebastien after such good asphalt testing recently. My pace notes were not fantastic here last year and this morning I was changing them to make them work with the Focus. I could enter corners faster than previously and I took no risks in building a lead. On the penultimate stage I lost power 7km after the start due to a turbo problem, and it's hard to drive with no boost. It slowly got worse and there was nothing I could do nothing to fix it after the stage because it is located right at the back of the engine and it was far too hot to get anywhere near. I'm disappointed, of course, but also surprised because I had no problem like this in testing. Everything was going so well and for the first time ever I was beating Sebastien on asphalt. I need to fight back tomorrow," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I thought a podium was possible," he said. "I was cautious in the opening stage and probably lost some time as a result but all was going well until about 4km after the start of stage five. The boost dropped over the next 4km and then there was nothing. In all our testing the car has been so reliable but mechanical problems happen with new cars and we must work to resolve this. Despite the troubles, I'm pleased with the speed of the Focus on asphalt."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Stephane Sarrazin / Stéphane Prevot (F/B)
16 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

The Subaru World Rally Team worked hard to optimise asphalt set-up during the first Leg of Rally Catalunya. The Impreza WRC2006s of Petter Solberg and Stéphane Sarrazin ran faultlessly throughout the day and the duo finished all stages within the top ten to go into Leg two in fourth and seventh respectively. Chris Atkinson continued to impress as he matched the pace of his experienced team-mates however he lost time through SS4 when he slid wide and damaged the suspension. The Australian finished the Leg in eighth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today has been just okay. I am quite happy with the car as it is much quicker than last year. We still have a lot of work to do and tonight we'll make more changes and then just see what happens. We know that we need to keep going like crazy tomorrow."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: "We have improved the balance of the car throughout the day and I am optimistic ahead of tomorrow. It is difficult to fight at the top at the moment, however you only need look to today to see how things can change. Tonight we'll look at the data and then see what more we can do to improve the grip. We'll push and push to try and move up."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: It has been encouraging for us today. "We're very happy with the times and that we have been able to trade them with guys far more experienced on asphalt. It's just our second time here and sixth on asphalt in total, so we're pleased. Sure we had a couple of problems, however we're already looking forward to tomorrow which holds some tricky stages in store."

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team finished day one of the "Movistar RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada" in eleventh place. Stohl had to struggle with the set-up of the Peugeot 307 WRC right from the beginning of stage one. It took until the last two special stages to finally reach respectable times.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: The times on the fifth and sixth special stage were already quite satisfying. But we won't see whether we came closer to an acceptable set-up until Saturday."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (FIN)

The first day of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada was one of a slow start but far faster finish for Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson as he acclimatised himself to the technical stages on the hot and dry tarmac of Spain. It was the first time that Wilson had driven a competitive stage in Spain and both driver and co-driver Michael Orr found the grip levels afforded by their BF Goodrich tyres on the largely smooth asphalt to be far greater than they had accounted for in their pace notes. The low ride height and stiffly sprung nature of their Ford Focus RS WRC05 was another factor to be learnt in what is 19 year old Wilson's first year in the FIA World Rally Championship, yet by the end of the first day Wilson and Orr had moved within reach of the top ten in the overall standings. The sister Focus of Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila was on the pace from early on, but made contact with a bridge on the fourth stage. Though there did not appear to be significant damage, the hydraulics were damaged in the impact, meaning the car was stranded on stage.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "The last stage seemed to work quite well but the slow corners with loads and loads of cuts were difficult to comprehend. You have the whole car off the road and the rocks are massive, they bang under the car and it's difficult to have the confidence to take the corners like that. But when I got to the last bit of the final stage I thought I was driving pretty well, probably the best I've driven all day. The afternoon was a lot better than the morning, my pace has definitely picked up. It's such a difference driving full tarmac spec, just how low the car is and how stiff it's sprung. Some parts of the stages are like race track, but others are very bumpy, so it's always a compromise."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "I made a mistake which should not have happened. We had a good start to stage four then at the end of a very fast straight there's a bridge and I took it in third gear. Unfortunately there was gravel on the bridge and I didn't have the power to get the car sideways and we simply understeered into the wall. The spectators helped us push the car so other competitors could get past and we put out two triangle and were waving to cars to slow down. I really, really hope we can get out tomorrow. Just before I hit the wall I was thinking it was a really nice rally today."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi (F)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

The final three stages of the first day again had positive as well as negative events in store for the Red Bull Skoda team. Andreas Aigner performed well and was quite comfortable in his first tarmac rally at the helm of the Fabia WRC.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: The Frenchman also had his share of bad luck when just ahead of him the Finnish driver Latvala was involved in an accident on SS4 which completely blocked the stage: "I had no choice but to stop and wait until spectators had pushed the car to the side of the road before I was able to continue. I lost two minutes this way. We notified the clerk of the course about the incident. For tomorrow I am very confident, because I already know all the stages from the year before."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "I gained a lot of experience again today and was able to improve my times on all stages that were run twice. Additionally, I have slightly changed my style of driving on our team management's recommendation, I drove more smoothly and fluently, which had a positive effect on my stage times."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 24min 57.9sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 2hr 25min 32.3sec
3. A Bengue/C Escudero F Peugeot 307 2hr 27min 03.3sec
4. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 27min 07.4sec
5. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 2hr 27min 21.8sec
6 F Duval/ P Pivato B Skoda Fabia 2hr 28min 28.1sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 28min 39.9sec
8. S Sarrazin/S Prévot F Subaru Impreza 2hr 28min 54.4sec
9. G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Skoda Fabia 2hr 28min 57.6sec
10 M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 29min 38.2sec

Leg 2 News

Sébastien Loeb has maintained his overnight lead in the Movistar RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada after the second leg. The French Citroën Xsara driver only won two of the day’s six stages but heads into the final four on Sunday with a 34.4 second advantage after nearly 250 kilometres of competition.

The Xsara WRC crews continue to dominate the head of the leaderboard with Daniel Sordo also winning one of the stages - a first in his career - to maintain second overall. However, team-mate Xavier Pons, third overnight, went off the road in the 10th stage and, as he was unable to continue, third position is claimed by Alexandre Bengue in a privately-run Peugeot 307 WRC.

After dropping to 10th overnight following his turbo problems yesterday, Marcus Grönholm has powered up the leaderboard into fourth position. Three stage victories today now see the Finn just 4.1 seconds adrift of an impressive podium position; such has been the pace of the Ford Focus on asphalt. Jan Kopecky and François Duval round off the top six, the Belgian struggling this morning with brake problems and a dragging sump guard. The former FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg slipping from fourth to seventh overnight after struggling for grip on the dry mountain roads. Team-mate Chris Atkinson (Subaru) fell from the leaderboard after dropping a minute on the penultimate stage when he went off the road. He lies 12th.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, in the lead of the Catalunya Rally, followed by Dani Sordo/Marc Martí, in second, have successfully avoided the pitfalls of a tricky leg two. The two Xsara WRC drivers have kept up and even consolidated their positions at the head of the field. Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio unfortunately lost the third place they had comfortably maintained since yesterday, following an offroad excursion on 'Duesaigues 2' (SS10).

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "It wasn't an easy day. I got off to a sensible start. Then I increased my rhythm carefully, while paying great attention to all the potential pitfalls. Tomorrow, I'm still going to have to drive quickly. Dani [Sordo] has grasped the 'user guide' to the Xsara pretty quickly ! In the near future, he's going to become a very wellknown customer."

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Retired (accident)

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 Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen were fastest over today's second leg of the Rally de España to power their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car back up the leaderboard into fourth place. The Finns were fastest on three of the six asphalt speed tests to put yesterday's time loss behind them and move to within just 4.1sec of a podium place. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were second fastest on the leg as the Focus RS emphasised its pace on its debut on a pure asphalt event. The Finns restarted this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 15th this morning after identical turbo wastegate troubles to Grönholm yesterday. They shared a fastest time with their team-mate as they climbed to 11th and both Focus RS WRCs hold points scoring positions.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Yesterday was disappointing but that is in the past and we are now back fighting for points," he said. "My driving has been as good as it was yesterday. I've not been right on the limit, but close to it. Fourth was my target. We've achieved that and now a podium is possible. I think we can do it, but maybe we don't need fastest times to make it.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "We set strong times and that's all I can do," he said. "While I would have liked to be leading, I know that I can fight with Loeb in this car. My start position today was good. Second on the road meant there wasn't any dirt on the stages this morning and that's something the drivers further back had to put up with. I'm not driving at maximum pace - but fast enough. With luck I think I can get to seventh or eighth. I will drive flat out and see just who we can catch. It's easy for anyone to make a mistake so I have to stay 100 percent focused."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Stephane Sarrazin / Stéphane Prevot (F/B)
16 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

The Subaru Impreza WRC2006s of Petter Solberg and Stéphane Sarrazin continued to run faultlessly throughout the second day of Rally Catalunya. The form was not however reflected in the final Leg positions as the duo struggled to find grip on the slippery Spanish asphalt and dropped to seventh and eighth respectively. Chris Atkinson maintained his impressive performance as he matched the pace of more experienced drivers to end the Leg twelfth overall despite losing time stuck off the road after a spin on the penultimate stage.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: It's been a difficult day. "Yesterday was quite good however now today we are not at all close. There was so much loose gravel on the surface, more than we have seen before, and maybe that was a factor. It's encouraging that the car is working well, but still we need to look at every detail to see what we can do tomorrow."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: It's been hard today as we still haven't found a set-up and balance that give me the feel and confidence that I want to push harder. For tomorrow the stages are better for us and we hope to be able to try and improve the car again for next week, when we are back again on asphalt in Corsica.

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: We've had another encouraging day and learnt a lot. We made one mistake which cost us a bit of time, but the rest of the stages have been nice and clean and tidy and we've been fast, even beating our team-mates at times. Hopefully we can move up the places that we lost with the mistake, however apart from that there's not a lot more that we can do.

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)

This weekend means heavy labour for Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor. Since no experience value exists for the BF Goodrich tyres and the Peugeot 307 WRC on tarmac, the optimisation of the performance has to be explored step by step.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "The car is great and the tyres, as well. All we have to do is to find out how they can work together perfectly. I feel very good during the special stages but the times don't fit yet. It takes a lot of concentration to evaluate each change."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (FIN)

Day two of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada saw Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson set a steady pace with impressive split times on stages as the young Brit continued with his debut on the Spanish round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Wilson, in his first year of the WRC, had one eye on his return to Spain next season as he worked with co-driver Michael Orr to refine his notes on the day's 111.36km of competitive distance. Whilst Wilson reckoned he could have gone faster on occasion, the pair were happy with the progress they made in what is very much a 'learning year'.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's true, I was driving like a wimp. But overall, it was quite good. We're still here, but we could have done better. We had a mistake on the fourth stage of the day, we spun just after a slow corner. It was nothing major but it lost us maybe 16 seconds. In the second stage this afternoon we just can't seem to get it right, the notes, and I don't have any confidence in the car. The last stage of the day was trouble free except for a little mistake under braking and some bits and pieces, but nothing major. We've had good splits and I've learning from each stage, it's just piecing every bit together now. I've been keeping an eye on Steve Perez in his car and it looks like he's enjoying himself, I hope he decides to come back for some more."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "The morning was a little difficult but after a while I started to find confidence and we were able to do some good stage times today. We wanted to get some good stage times and we got them so I'm very happy about that. I'm very happy now, I can sleep well tonight. I have to remember not to hit concrete barriers in rallies, it goes so much better then. We will try to set good stage times again tomorrow."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi (F)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

Today's second leg of the Rally Catalunya was a very satisfying one for the team of Red Bull Skoda. In the presence of Skoda's technical director Dr. Harald Ludanek the drivers were both able to achieve several top ten times as well as get both Fabia WRCs within points range for the manufacturers' championship.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: "It wasn't very easy, I was the first car running the stages today, still there were a lot of stones and loose chippings. We found a good setup for the car which showed in the times we were able to do."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "But my top priority was to overtake Matthew Wilson of England, which I managed to do on the long stage this afternoon. I really found a good rhythm. Up until now I only enjoyed driving on gravel, but now I notice that I continue to make progress on asphalt as well."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 22min 01.7sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 3hr 22min 49.9sec
3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 23min 47.5sec
4. A Bengue/C Escudero F Peugeot 307 3hr 24min 03.6sec
5. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 3hr 24min 58.9sec
6 F Duval/ P Pivato B Skoda Fabia 3hr 25min 39.5sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 25min 49.9sec
8. S Sarrazin/S Prévot F Subaru Impreza 3hr 26min 38.1sec
9. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 27min 03.3sec
10 G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Skoda Fabia 3hr 27min 06.1sec

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Sébastien Loeb (Citroën Xsara): “I’m very happy about my victory here. I think that Corsica will be very hard, as there are three or four candidates to the victory: Sordo, Grönholm, Pons…”

Daniel Sordo (Citroën Xsara): “We did a great job. I hope there will be many more moments like this.”

Marcus Grönholm (Ford Focus RS): “After the problems we had on Friday, I thought that I won’t step on the podium and would be fourth. But finally we finished third and got 6 points for Ford”.

Alex Bengué (Peugeot 307): “I am very happy with the result. It was a very good test for Corsica.”

Jan Kopecky (Skoda Fabia): “The car is more and more competitive. I am satisfied with my drive.”

François Duval (Skoda Fabia): “Apart from the first leg, I am very satisfied with the other two days.”

Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza): “The car has improved and I hope I can get to the podium in the next event.”

Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru Impreza): “I am deceived, but at the same time pleased of being able to get a point for Subaru.”

Gilles Panizzi (Skoda Fabia): “The car was changing its behaviour every minute.”

Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Focus RS): “I have to accept my defeat. When I realized I had nothing to do I started to work for Corsica.”

Leg 3 News

Reigning FIA World Rally Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won the Movistar RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada, which finished in Salou this afternoon. The Citroën Xsara crew claimed the lead at the end of the opening leg and take maximum points for the second consecutive event to retain their lead in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team also maintains its advantage in the Manufacturers’ Championship, despite the retirement of Xavier Pons in the team’s second registered car.

Local hero Daniel Sordo took second position in another Citroën Xsara, but it was Ford’s Marcus Grönholm who once again set the stages alight with a great drive from 10th at the end of the first leg to third overall this afternoon. The Finn retains his second position in the series but trails Loeb by nine points, despite also claiming two rally victories this season.

Alexandre Bengue put in a fine performance to take a closely-fought fourth in a privately-entered Peugeot 307 WRC, with two further privateers, Jan Kopecky and François Duval, taking fifth and sixth respectively, both in Škoda Fabia WRCs. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was seventh while Gilles Panizzi (Skoda) dropped time on the final stage to slip from eighth to 10th. Thirteenth place for Andreas Aigner (Skoda) and 15th for Wilson (VK Ford) were sufficient to claim the final manufacturers' points.

The fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship takes the crews to the Mediterranean island of Corsica for the second consecutive asphalt event of the season. The Rallye de France - Tour de Corse takes place between 7-9 April.

Team News:

Manufacturer 1: Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team / Citroën Xsara WRC
1 Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (F/MC)
2 Xavier Pons / Carlos del Barrio (E)

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí have completed a faultless and trouble-free third day of the Catalunya Rally in order to give the Kronos team its first one-two, following on from the squad's debut victory in Mexico three weeks ago.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "It's been an excellent end to a what's not been an easy weekend, with a win for me, second for Dani and a one-two for Kronos. The fight with Marcus [Grönholm] at the start of the rally was a close one. After the team solved a few small brake problems and adjusted my set-up, I could see that the Citroen-BFGoodrich package is still at the top on asphalt. I'm very happy to win a rally which I enjoy so much for the second time.

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 Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen completed a remarkable recovery from an opening day time loss to finish third on the Rally de España today. The Finns were fastest on all four speed tests during the final leg in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, taking their tally to 10 stage victories out of 16, as they powered up from 10th at the end of the opening day.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I tried really hard this morning but Bengue was pushing us. It was hard to make an impact on those stages because they were so fast. After Friday's problems, everything has been perfect. When I was in 10th I didn't think a podium was possible. I thought I could achieve fourth but I went one better and in the circumstances that was a good result. I could have won without a small technical problem. I knew before the start I could be close to Loeb and the speed of the Focus RS was there for all to see. It didn't surprise me."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "The Focus RS has the speed on asphalt and BFGoodrich's tyres work well so I hope I can fight for the podium in the future. Today I drove to avoid problems and I climbed two places which earned extra points. It was good for the BP-Ford team to close in on the championship lead. I would have been battling for a top three finish without Friday's trouble but since then the car has been fantastic."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Stephane Sarrazin / Stéphane Prevot (F/B)
16 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)

The Subaru World Rally Team concentrated on optimising asphalt set-up and appraising different tyre options during the final Leg of Rally Catalunya. Petter Solberg was encouraged by improvements throughout the day and secured two top-five stage finishes to end the rally seventh and collect two drivers' points. Stéphane Sarrazin continued to fine-tune the Impreza WRC2006 in preparation for the forthcoming asphalt Tour de Corse and picked up the final points-scoring position in eighth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Spain has been a very tough rally for us. We had hoped to get more points, but instead we have had to work hard to get those we did get. We have made some progress, particularly today, and have a new tyre that is more promising. We've used the event to learn from this experience as we want to prepare as best we can for Corsica, where the stages are more abrasive, and where I think we will have a better feeling with the car."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: "Overall the rally has been a bit frustrating. After our testing, we were expecting a better result, however it has not worked out that way. We'll go away from here and look at the data and do a lot of talking with the engineers to see what more we can learn. Corsica I hope will be much better. We're expecting to be quick, as we were quick there last year, however I'll be pushing at 200%!"

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We're fairly happy with how the rally's gone for us. Okay, we're back in eleventh but the speed is a lot faster, and if we hadn't made a couple of mistakes we'd be up in the points, but that's all part of the experience."

Manufacturer 2: OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team / Peugeot 307 WRC
7 Manfred Stohl / Ilka Minor (A)

The OMV Norway World Rally Team finished the "Movistar RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada" in 12th overall place. The premiere of the OMV duo Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor in a WorldRallyCar in Catalonia was dominated by set-up-work for tarmac surface from the second half of day one on. In this sense the result may not have sufficed to score points but the rally gave valuable insight into the relative strength as compared to the other teams.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We know that the package is okay. There is not much to criticise about the performance of the Peugeot. Our feeling is good, as well. It just didn't show in the times yet. The result is comparatively negligible. When you're behind from day one on you just can't make it up on dry tarmac"

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (FIN)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson ended his RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada early on the final day in Spain after a wheel parted company with his Ford Focus RS WRC05 with just two stages remaining in the FIA World Rally Championship round. Wilson was in sight of the stage finish on SS14, Pratdip 1, when the rear wheel came off, but a 40km road section before service meant that Wilson and co-driver Orr decided that it was better to have their car recovered to Parc Fermé under SupeRally regulations. A finishing position of eighth of the manufacturer entries gave a point in the championship.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's a bit of a shame but that's rallying and these things happen, there's nothing you can do about it. It looks like there was a problem with the wheel studs or the wheel hasn't been torqued tight enough. It's nobody's fault, these things happen. It was 40km to service, we managed to get a police escort and try to get the car back but it would have done too much damage to the car and with Corsica in a week's time it would not have made much sense. It's always a shame to finish without completing the rally but we have driven every stage. Next time here it will be so much easier as we've driven the stages and we've got the notes."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "I was very happy in the stages today, the car feels good. It's fast tarmac roads and I think my driving was better on these kind of roads than Saturday's. There were just two little moments we had, we would have had a better time had it not been for those. In the first stage this morning there was a flat left minus which I tried to take flat out. In a GpN car it is no problem going flat out, but this is faster and we started to slide and then hit the Armco. The second time I just braked too late and started to understeer, but I was able to come off the brakes and turn in, so no worries. Every day felt really good except for Friday afternoon when I hit the wall, but I have learnt things. It's better to learn without driving off the road, but sometimes it seems you need to do that also."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi (F)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

After the successful start to the season in Monte Carlo, the third WRC event for Red Bull Skoda, and its supervising team of BRR from Upper Austria, in Spain can be summed up rather positively. Both drivers managed to bring home points for the manufacturers' championship, thereby validating the involvement in the top class of rallying.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: "In the beginning of the rally we struggled for the right suspension setup, but afterwards all went well. I had bad luck on the final day when the mousse in my left front tyre exploded on SS14, so I had strong vibrations to the end of the stage, which lost us a lot of time. On SS16 I was pretty quick in the beginning before I deliberately eased off a bit which apparently turned out to be a bit too much."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "My first closed surface rally went rather positively from my point of view. In the beginning of the rally I wasn't driving very smoothly, which changed in the days that followed. Now I really enjoy driving on tarmac. The only thing that really annoyed me was that we once checked into a time control too early which brought us a penalty time of one minute. But we got lucky because Matthew Wilson, who had overtaken us, subsequently had to retire."


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLYE RACC CATALUNYA-COSTA DAURADA/RALLYE DE ESPAÑA
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
26.03.2006

As a mark of respect to Jörg Bastuck, the post event FIA press conference has been cancelled.