FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 50th Rallye de France - Tour de Corse (7-9 April 2006


5th round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 3rd round out of ninth in the 2006 FIA Junior World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLYE DE FRANCE - TOUR DE CORSE
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
06.04.2006

Pre-event FIA Press Conference
Thursday April 6 2006

Present:
Yoann Bonato
Julien Pressac
Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Harri Rovanperä - Red Bull Škoda Team
Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team
Matthew Wilson - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Malcolm Wilson - BP Ford World Rally Team

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Hello Yoann. What do you think of the chance the FFSA has given you to drive a Renault Clio S1600 on the Tour de Corse? What are your hopes for this rally and the future in general?

YB:
I think it’s very important for a young driver that the Federation can help them. For us, they can help us on Tour de Corse in a Clio S1600. I try to do the best result. In the first time I will try to make my mark with the team; everything is new, the car and the team. After this I will try to do the best result. For the moment, we only have this rally. It’s a very important opportunity, before this I didn’t have any programme. It’s very important for me to be in this rally.

Q:
Julien, your first race in the Junior World Rally Championship was two weeks ago in Catalunya. What did you think of the Championship and your Citroën C2? Will you be able to fight for the title this year and who do you think will be the key rivals?

JP:
It’s like a dream for me. I drive for the first time in WRC and JWRC with a C2 1600. The Citroën was a very fast car. I took a lot of pleasure, a lot of fun, you could say. I see Sébastien and all the other drivers on TV and now it’s near me; it’s fantastic, like a dream. No, I’m not in a Championship position. I have to learn, it’s my first year. I’m a newcomer. If I push I could do a mistake. Slowly, to start with and then I could do some good times.

Q:
It’s the first time you’ve been on the Tour de Corse, what are the main difficulties for somebody making their debut on this event? It’s also your first time in the Renault, what do you think? Have you done any testing?

YB:
This rally is not more difficult than the French Rally Championship. You have to drive very slow as there are a lot of turns. I will try not to do a mistake and stay on the road. I tested the car at shakedown. I did approximately 20km, it’s a good car. I will try to use it the most I can.

Q:
You started your career in racing, what made you switch to rallying? Are there any elements in common between driving on a circuit and driving on an asphalt rally stage, and which discipline is more enjoyable?

JP:
I do the French F3 Championship and that became European Championship and I didn’t have enough money. I looked around at what I could do; I always watch rally on TV and I wanted to try it. I’m very happy to do rally, I’m a rally man. In F3 we have a lot of things for the set-up and that’s easier than in Tarmac. It’s good from a technical aspect for the rally, but on the gravel it will be tough.

Q:
As Frenchmen, how does it feel to contest your home round of the WRC?

YB: The French can make two persons, it’s Nicolas Vouilloz and us here. In the WRC, it’s very good.

JP: All the spectators are French. In Catalunya we got a lot of flags from the spectators and it was wonderful, there will be even more here. Rally de France is another rally I have to learn, I have to learn the stages.

Q:
Marcus, welcome. In Catalunya two weeks ago you seemed to be showing a genuine pace on the first day that was enough for you and Ford to be faster than Sébastien and Citroën? How much more confidence does that give you heading into this event? Is the Focus quicker than the Xsara on asphalt now? How much satisfaction would it give you to beat Sébastien here on home territory, where he won every stage last year?

MG:
Yes, the speed was good in Catalunya and the times as well, but that was in Spain. Now we’re in Corsica but the feeling is we can match this speed. Let’s see tomorrow, but yes, I think we can. The Focus looks very good, I’ve seen some images. The handling is very good. We really have a good car. So, if it’s faster than Citroën I don’t know, I hope so. It would be nice to beat Sébastien and it would also be good for the Championship. Still, it’s a long way and three days to rally. For sure, he’s not going to win all of the stages.

Q:
Harri, welcome back. Very nice to see you. What have you been doing since you finished second in Australia last year? When Mitsubishi pulled out, did you think your career was effectively over? How did the Škoda drive come about?

HR:
Fishing! What I am doing… many things in the winter. I built a new house and it was a good break for me. Of course it looked like my career might be over. For me, it wasn’t a big pressure for coming back though. I see the rally for many years and stay in top teams and I was okay with that. Then Armin called and asked me about coming back. I say, “Okay.” A few months is quite a long time at home. It was easy, I say: “Okay, we come.”

Q:
What for you are the biggest differences between Catalunya and Corsica? You’ve said in the past that you prefer Corsica to Catalunya – why is that? Are there any significant differences in terms of car set-up, and the way you approach the rally?

MG:
Maybe it was in the beginning when I started with Peugeot in 2000. I was not good on Tarmac then, this was easier. Spain is sometimes like circuit driving. Here it’s narrow, only one line. I prefer this one. The set-up is completely the same as Spain. The driving style is the same for me.

Q:
You’ve had your first few kilometres in the Škoda Fabia WRC now – what do you think of the car? How does it compare to the cars you have driven before? Is it the sort of car that you can jump into and be fast straight away, or do you think it will take you some time to get used to it?

HR:
It’s early to say almost anything. The first feeling is good in shakedown. Now we start the rally with a new car, but this weekend is about enjoying it and learning the car and getting some feeling before the gravel events. You can ask about the comparison on Sunday. I have some feeling this morning, but of course I need to learn more about the braking and the new tyres. General driving is okay. Everybody thinks I don’t like Tarmac, but when it works well, it’s okay.

Q:
Seb, last year was the scene of a fantastic victory for you, where you won all the stages. How likely is that to happen again, or was it just a once-in-a-lifetime occasion? Marcus was telling us about how good the Ford Focus is on asphalt: do you think this means that you will have to push even harder than last year? Did Marcus’s strong performance in Catalunya worry you?

SL:
I think he is a bit right. Okay, last year it was possible to do it. I’ve done it now, now I don’t want to try to do the same. If I can fight for the victory, I will do that, but not to fight for the best times. It will be harder, yes, sure I will have to push harder than last year. Marcus is really fast. We saw in Catalunya, it’s very difficult to be faster than him. Now he has a good feeling with his car, he wants to win his first Tarmac rally. We will see, I try to do my best. Worried? No. It makes the race exciting. We knew before the start of the season the new Ford would be fast, but it’s always very close. It’s hard to go faster than him. It will be exciting and it will be exciting here.

Q:
Petter, it’s not been the perfect start to the season by any means. I am sure you have been working hard with the team to analyse the reasons: what do you think needs to be done in order to get your title bid back on track?

PS:
Well, some of the biggest problems have been three Tarmac rallies. In Sweden it was really nothing to talk about. In Mexico we showed a very good performance, we had the chance to win. We will see here now in Corsica. The weather looks very good, it will be quite tough for us, but we’ll see. We are working in every area, the Tarmac has been difficult, but on gravel it should be okay. We tested on gravel and now we found some good steps on gravel. Like I said, the biggest issue is not on the gravel and we haven’t found anything special on asphalt for this rally.

Q:
Speaking of title bids, did you expect to be nine points ahead at this point of the season Seb? Or did you think you would be further ahead or further behind? Of all the rallies in the calendar, is Corsica the one where you feel you are strongest? You are starting first on the road – does that make any difference here?

SL:
I am happy to be in this position. For me it’s the best start I’ve ever done to a season. I have two victories and two second places, I think my position is good, perhaps better than we could expect. A nine-point lead is good if you think he has to win fives times, if I am five times second. It’s a lot and very small at the same time. This is one of the rallies on which I have a good feeling, perhaps one where I feel strong, but you are never unbeatable anywhere. Last year I had a good opportunity to show we had a good car, tyre and everything was going well. A lot of other drivers didn’t have the same tyre as us. This year, with Marcus on BF Goodrich, it’s not so easy. On Tarmac the running order is not a big difference, it’s better to be first on the road than 15th.

Q:
Do you think the roads in Corsica suit your car and tyres better than those in Spain? People say that the asphalt is traditionally more abrasive in Corsica, is this the case? Which sort of work have you been doing with Pirelli in order to optimise tyre performance in these conditions?

PS:
They are definitely better than Spain, but they are resurfacing the roads to new Tarmac here as well, which isn’t the best for us. We have to have a better result than in Spain; we have to do that before we go to the gravel. Pirelli made a very good step for Spain. It’s not easy, the competition is tough out there and it’s many areas we have to work on to get things right. We will see.

Q:
The weather in Corsica is always a big factor. Are you hoping for a completely dry rally? How slippery do these roads become when they are wet? Is it possible to receive accurate weather information, or do you feel that it can sometimes be something of a lottery?

SL:
If it rains, it will be tricky. When the rain comes on the road, then you can have aquaplaning, which is not nice. It is also hard to choose the good tyre. The weather can change in a few minutes, but we pick the tyres three or four hours before the stage. Choosing the tyres can be very difficult. Now it looks like it will be staying a bit dry, we will see.

Q:
Corsica was the scene of one of your most spectacular victories, in 2003. Do you think you need it to be raining to challenge for a win here? Otherwise, what sort of result are you looking for here?

PS:
It was a long time ago, eh? We definitely need something, we need a lottery. It’s our only chance, if we have a chance. There’s no point complaining, we have to get through the rally and do the best we can. We will see. I don’t care if it’s raining or snowing, we just have to take what we can. I think we’re going to have an enjoyable weekend for everybody. If I come on the podium, I’ll be very, very happy. It’s a long way before we can think about that one, but I’m going to try anyway.

Q:
First time in Corsica here for you – how does it compare to the previous experience of World Championship asphalt rallying you have had in Catalunya? Do you think it’s easier or more tricky?

Matthew W:
Yeah, I think here it’s a unique place and one you have to treat with a bit of respect. We were fortunate enough to do the recce here last year, so I have some idea of some stages. That will make things a little bit easier. I would prefer it if it stayed dry, but I’m looking forward to it. As Petter says, we have to take what comes. In some ways, it is going to be more difficult than Spain. It is a more difficult rally. We have to keep learning. In Spain we got around the stages, if I can do the same here and get more experience, I’ll be happy.

Q:
Obviously you had the turbo problem in Catalunya that let you down: what exactly was it? Are you confident that it has been fixed now and how worried are you about reliability here? You have been testing – what did you find that will help you for the future?

MW:
It’s been well recorded; it was the wastegate which controls boost pressure. The wastegate is in two parts and they separated due to the fixing. Okay, you can never be 100 per cent sure, but I am 99.999 per cent sure we have addressed it for this event. I’m confident we won’t end up in same situation. Basically, it’s what I said from the outset: there will always be something unique on an event. Nothing had been changed from October when the car started testing. It was the high speeds for long periods of time – that’s unique to that event. There are no long straights here. We didn’t test for 1.5 km at 190kph. I always said something like that would catch us out, I just hope there’s not going to be any more of them.

Q:
The Ford Focus WRC you are driving was the winning car in Corsica in 2004 with Markko Martin. Do you think that the car is still up there with the best on these surfaces? Is it easy to drive? Are you worried about the weather at all?

Matthew W:
Yeah, for sure. There have been steps made with the new car, but look back to this event last year, when it was late in the year. Toni Gardemeister was second last year. This shows the car is still capable of doing the job, but I don’t think I will be capable of doing the job. We haven’t done a test, we’ve come straight from Spain and gone for a similar set-up. We’ll be making changes as we go and trying to improve things.

Q:
What do you think of Matt’s progress so far this year? What would you say have been the strong and the weak points of his driving? Is it difficult to remain objective when you work with him? What will be his target for this event?

MW:
Do you really want me to answer that with him sat here! We have a plan in place which everybody in this room knows about. It’s not going to happen overnight. He’s gaining valuable experience at this point. I want him to finish rallies; that’s invaluable to going forward. In relation to his performance, look at Mexico. He was 1.2s/km behind Petter in similar road conditions. If I look back to other young drivers we have had on the books, their performance was maybe not as good as that. Taking into consideration his experience, I’m very happy. We want more of the same here, maybe a bit quicker than in Spain, but as he said, getting to the finish is very important for experience.

Q:
Like Monte Carlo, this is one of the legendary events on the world rally calendar. What are your thoughts now that you are here and actually doing it? There are some very famous people who have gone before you…

Matthew W:
It’s a fantastic feeling. Through the years it’s changed a lot. It’s more compact with less stages, like other rallies, but the classics are still there and the chance to drive them is fantastic. It’s like Monte Carlo, and the same with the weather. The weather can change so quickly. I’m looking forward to it.

Q:
A quick word about Mikko: so far he has just two points. Is that a big disappointment to you? Has that been his fault, the car’s fault or just bad luck? How do you plan to rectify the situation?

MW:
That was certainly not on the target we set him at the start of the season. But, in fairness, the majority of those have not been down to him, he has had more technical glitches than Marcus. Okay, he made a mistake in Mexico. Maybe we made the wrong decision, but he felt comfortable with his pace. In fairness, I’m not concerned in any way, shape or form. He has a three-year contract and everybody who has seen him on the stages is sure it’s not going to be long before he’s on the podium, and not long before he’s on the top step. The points don’t look too good from a manufacturers’ point of view, but we have managed to take some points from the rallies.

Rally Preview

Two weeks after Rally Catalunya, the FIA World Rally Championship makes a short hop east across the Mediterranean from Spain to the French island of Corsica. The legendary Tour de Corse, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2006, takes place from 7-9 April on the roads around the island’s capital Ajaccio. Just like Rally Catalunya, the Tour de Corse is an asphalt event, although the characters of both differ hugely.

The Spanish asphalt is relatively smooth and new, whereas the Corsican Tarmac can be coarse and abrasive. Drivers go deep into the corners in Spain, however cutting corners in Corsica is rare as the narrow roads hug the sides of the mountains. With sheer rock face on one side and steep drops on the other, getting exactly the right line in Corsica is crucial.

Dubbed the ‘rally of ten thousand corners,’ the event is characterised by hard acceleration away from one corner before braking heavily for the next within a few hundred metres. The g-forces generated in the corners are the highest in the championship – at times in excess of 1.5g laterally, more than double the amount generated by the standard road-going Impreza.

The Corsican weather can be as dramatic as the landscape. Within an hour bright sunshine can give way to heavy rain as warm sea air meets the cool mountain breeze. This year the rally takes place in early Spring with the mountains still snow-capped. Should temperatures rise just a few degrees, the snow will melt and saturate the roads with water.

The itinerary is virtually identical to 2005, with each leg comprising a morning loop of two stages which is repeated in the afternoon following service in the port area of Ajaccio. After a ceremonial start in the centre of Ajaccio on Thursday evening, Friday's opening leg is identical to last year on roads south-east of the town and is the longest of the event. Saturday's action takes competitors north of Ajaccio and includes a revised route for the opening stage of each loop. The last day is based south of the town and includes a stage last used in 2004. Drivers face 12 stages covering 355.16km in a route of 1044.24km. The event remains one of the most compact of the season with more than 34 per cent of the route being competitive.

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)

In Catalunya two weeks ago, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC have claimed for their second win this season, equalling Marcus Grönholm’s score. Between the reigning World champions and their challenger in the current championship’s standings, it is time for another duel on the ‘Island of beauty’ as the French call Corsica. The Kronos Total Citroën WRT enter in the 50th edition of the Tour de Corse, two 2006 Xsara WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, the 2005 winners, and for Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. As for the four previous rounds, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti – who claimed for second position in Catalunya and currently lie in third position in the Drivers rankings - participate in the French round behind the wheel of the Kronos Racing 2005 Xsara.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Sébastien Loeb perfectly knows that as he will take the start of the rally for the seventh time. In 2003, he could have won the event as he drove with dry road tyres in wet conditions and landed on the side of the road without being able to restart for around ten minutes. “We try to anticipate at the maximum but you also need a bit of luck. Actually the weather changes so quickly that it can change a logical and wise choice into a mistake…”

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: “In Corsica, the weather conditions play an important role. In these long stages, there are some sections with rain, then some others with fog, and some more with sun and dry roads. The tyre choice is extremely tricky. I like the rally route because you find slow and fast places but also because the asphalt offers a good grip. As a consequence, you must start in the right pace straight away or you loose a lot of time quickly. I hope to drive at good speed and give back to the team the trust they’ve placed in me.”

Questions to Marc Van Dalen, Kronos Total Citroën WRT team principal

The first quarter of the championship ended in Catalunya. What do you think?
“In terms of figures, it is extremely positive. Before Corsica, we are leading both championships. On the sporting side, Seb’ won twice and so has Marcus Grönholm. The fight between these two drivers promised to be long and tight, but also thrilling for the public. The way we have organised the team seems to work. The Citroën Sport’s men developed a perfect car as usual. We lack of no information nor wise advice. With this great help, Kronos Racing tries to prepare and run the cars on-event the best they can. The mechanics from Naninne and those coming from Citroën Sport’s technical support work hands in hands. Amongst the crews, I measure on a day to day basis how great champions are Sébastien and Daniel. I’m very happy to see that Seb’ plays the role of an older brother with his Spanish team-mates. I imagine that it was a bit the case for him when Carlos Sainz was his…”

Xevi Pons was the least successful…
“It’s true and it’s a pity for this talented, hard-worker and dedicated guy. Despite being very timid, he feels at home in the team. He was perfect in the first two rounds, which were probably the most difficult for him, and he scored eight valuable points for the Manufacturers championship. We cannot blame him for Mexico as it was an ignition problem which caused his retirement. He made a mistake in Catalunya in a very tricky section where the slightest gap in the line leads to an ‘off’. Although he is Catalan, I think he prefers the Corsican stages. I’m optimistic and confident : Xevi and Carlos are able to do really well in Ajaccio and score some good points…”

Are you surprised by Dani Sordo’s performance?
“I knew really well the ‘Dani’ driving the C2 Super 1600, his impressive pace, his ability to react positively to the pressure and to preserve a position. The question mark was all about his capacity to adapt to the driving style of a World Rally Car. We had the answer in Monte Carlo. Since then, with the help of his experienced co-driver Marc Marti, he climbed one step higher on every race. It’s a raw diamond which is starting to polish. His superb result says it all : third in the drivers’ rankings after only four rallies in a WRC is simply exceptional. The fact he has achieved this enormous performance with a ‘customer version’ of the car that Kronos offers to rent, delights me for the team. Now I think Dani should not believe ‘that’s it!’ He should keep in mind that Seb has added to his natural talent a lot of work to become the fantastic champion he is today.”

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

Just 11 days after closing in on the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship in Spain, the BP-Ford World Rally Team will face up to another asphalt showdown on the opposite side of the Mediterranean. The Rallye de France (6 - 9 April), based on the craggy island of Corsica, is regarded as the classic sealed surface event in the 16-round series and will provide another opportunity for the Focus RS World Rally Car to display its blistering asphalt pace. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen won 10 of the 16 speed tests on round four in Spain. The Corsican roads are very different in their characteristics but having excelled on both asphalt outings this season, BP-Ford feels confident going into this 50th anniversary event of improving on second in the manufacturers' standings. Thirty-eight-year-old Grönholm, who lies second in the drivers' championship, will start Corsica for the seventh time. Second in 2002 is his best result and his desire to improve on that in what could turn out to be a head-to-head battle with 2005 winner and French hero Sébastien Loeb is clear.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: We proved in Spain that we have the right package to match Loeb on asphalt," he said. "I'm really excited about being able to fight with him in Corsica, even though it is his home event and he knows the roads well. I feel happier on the Corsican stages than on the roads in Spain. They are more like rally stages than a race circuit. "As ever in Corsica we must keep a careful eye on the weather. It is an island so things can change quickly and it is easy to be caught out on the wrong tyres because the weather in the mountains is different to that in the service park. One mistake in tyre selection can ruin an otherwise excellent rally. But we have experienced people in the team whose job it is too monitor the weather and help with tyre choice so we have the best advice," added Grönholm.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen has a 100 percent finishing record from two starts in Corsica and believes he can fight for a podium in the Focus RS. "I expect to be as fast as we were in Spain and fight for a top three. But I also expect those drivers who were fast in Spain will be fast here. Corsica's stages are twisty all the time. I will need to find a different rhythm, one that is precise and tidy. It's not usually possible to cut corners because there are often brick walls and stones on the edge of the road," he said. "The roads can be abrasive but if the weather conditions are consistent, I'm sure the BFGoodrich tyres will be perfect. Sometimes a driver has to look after his tyres to ensure they don't 'go off' but with the new Focus I've never had to do this. It's a combination of the car and the tyres. They both complement each other and I know I will be able to drive flat out without having to protect them," 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)

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Subaru Impreza WRC2006 cars in the Tour de Corse. Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Stéphane Sarrazin (co-driven by Stéphane Prévot) will drive both drive 2006 cars and will be eligible to score points towards the manufacturers’ championship. Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) will drive a Subaru Impreza WRC2005 entered by Subaru Australia. Corsica is historically a good event for the Subaru World Rally Team and they go to the island optimistic of a good result. The team has won three times in the past 10 years, including 2003 when Petter Solberg scored a famous victory after crashing heavily on shakedown. Stéphane Sarrazin also has a strong record in the event finishing sixth on his Corsican debut in 2004 in a privately-entered Subaru Impreza before equalling his best-ever WRC finish when he finished fourth overall with the Subaru World Rally Team in 2005.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: The Tour de Corse is a very good event. I think compared to Rally Spain the stages and the asphalt will suit us better. In the past the Corsican roads were more abrasive as the surface was much older, however nowadays there’s not so much of the old Tarmac left. On the whole our car and tyres match the event very well. My objective is to try for a podium again. That’s my aim, we’ll just have to see how we get on.”

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: “I feel very positive about this rally. We’ve done Corsica twice before and both times we’ve had a good result and fought with the quickest cars. In 2004 we came sixth and last year fourth, which was a great result in front of my home crowd. For sure Spain was a difficult rally for us but we’ll try and improve for Corsica and fight for positions. I want to finish in the top five.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “The team has always had better results in Corsica than in Spain so we’re optimistic of a good overall result. With the improvements we found in Spain we’ll also have a chance of finishing higher up the order. My speed on asphalt is increasing all the time and we’re looking to be consistent. Our goal, as always, is to get some points and to be competitive with the rest of the field.”

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

Just like in Spain the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team will enter the “Rallye de France – Tour de Corse” with only one car. Thus Manfred Stohl is able to score in the driver ranking – the quest for points in the manufacturer ranking will only again begin in Argentina. The 33-year-old Austrian’s professed goal for the coming weekend is a place among the top eight. Even though the special stages resemble those in Spain, the OMV duo sees better chances on the Mediterranean island.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Manfred Stohl has very fond memories of the Corsica rally. The OMV driver won twice in the series class (1998 and 2000). But the course has changed since then. Stohl: “There are still a lot of turns but the roads have gotten broader and the rally faster. But it still won’t be a walk in the park for there will be constant steering wheel action each and every second. The wheel won’t stand still from first to last kilometre.“ This won’t pose a problem for the OMV duo, especially since the pain from the testing accident in Spain is subsiding. Stohl: “I still feel every single rib, of course, but it’s getting better each day and also you don’t cut so much in Corsica. This means that there will be less vibrations in the car.“ In Corsica the recce is of paramount importance for there one decides where to attack and where to take it easier. Even more so since the OMV duo Stohl/Minor has last competed in Corsica in 2003. Stohl: “It is just like music. With all these turns one must find the right rhythm. I’m sure that this rally will be a true Rock ‘n’ Roll on 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)

The Mediterranean island of Corsica provides the venue for the latest lesson for Britain's only full-time FIA World Rally Championship driver, Matthew Wilson and his Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team. The squad near a third of the way through the WRC season with their young British star eager to maintain momentum in his championship-learning rookie year. Whilst most students would encounter Corsica in a history course concerning former French ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte, it's something different altogether different that Wilson has to learn; corners, and lots of them. It's not for nothing that the rally has been christened the 'rally of ten thousand corners'. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr will not only have to catalogue each and every turn in their pace notes, but have formed an opinion on just how fast they think they should be taken, despite only being able to drive the route at vastly reduced speeds from their stage pace. Joining Wilson for the second event in a row is the Finnish pairing of driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila. Whilst Wilson left Catalunya for training and preparation for the forthcoming event, Latvala was straight back into his national service.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: The rallies are coming thick and fast at the moment and Corsica will present another challenge. We've been working on our pace notes and it will be my second tarmac rally in a row with the Focus in full tarmac spec. We're still learning so much with every day of every rally. It's good having Jari-Matti as part of the team as he's only a couple of years older than me and he started the same way I did with the British Rally Championship.

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "I should have had a good result in Spain if I hadn't hit the bridge on Friday so hopefully France should be better. The experience means I feel more confident in the car, and Corsica should be easier as I have done it two times before. I can't guarantee super fast but I hope we can be just a little bit faster than Spain."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

The Red Bull Skoda Team is delighted to announce the signing of Finland's Harri Rovanpera for the remaining seven WRC events. He will take over from Gilles Panizzi with immediate effect, already going into action in Corsica, where he will be celebrating his 40th birthday in style on Saturday, the second leg of the rally. In his last rally the previous year, Rovanpera finished second in Australia, the Finn's greatest success came with a win in Sweden 2001. The early departure of Gilles and Herve Panizzi is down to private family matters.

Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen: "This surely has to be my best birthday present ever. I hope I will be fast not only on the gravel rallies, but also perform well for my new team on tarmac," an always cheerful "Dirty Harri", as he is affectionately known by his fans, explains.

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: Andreas Aigner, who has driven his first truly flawless rally in Spain, will arrive in Corsica well-prepared on that score: "I've gained a lot of tarmac experience in Spain, now I have to try and continue to put this knowledge into practice in Corsica. I'm already looking forward to working together with my new teammate, I hope we'll cooperate well."

Event Timetable

Thursday 6 April: Ceremonial Start

Start Ajaccio 18.20

Friday 7 April: Leg 1 Ajaccio - Ajaccio

Start Ajaccio 08.45
SS1 Ampaza - Col St Eustache 32.89km 09.38
SS2 Aullene - Arbellara 27.78km 10.31

Serv A Ajaccio (30 mins) 13.11
SS3 Ampaza - Col St Eustache 32.89km 14.34
SS4 Aullene - Arbellara 27.78km 15.27
Serv B Ajaccio (45 mins) 17.45
Finish Ajaccio 18.30

Saturday 8 April: Leg 2 Ajaccio - Ajaccio

Serv C Ajaccio (10 mins) 08.25
SS5 Vico - Plage du Liamone 34.66km 09.53
SS6 Ucciani - Bastelica 26.20km 11.31
Serv D Ajaccio (30 mins) 13.06
SS7 Vico - Plage du Liamone 34.66km 14.54
SS8 Ucciani - Bastelica 26.20km 16.32
Serv E Ajaccio (45 mins) 17.45
Finish Ajaccio 18.30

Sunday 9 April: Leg 3 Ajaccio - Ajaccio

Serv F Ajaccio (10 mins) 07.10
SS9 Penitencier Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa 24.24km 08.08
SS10 Pont de Calzola - Agosta 31.81km 08.51
Serv G Ajaccio (30 mins) 10.16
SS11 Penitencier Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa 24.24km 11.34
SS12 Pont de Calzola - Agosta 31.81km 12.17
Serv H Ajaccio (20 mins) 13.20
Finish Ajaccio 13.50

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1.Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) 1:13:18.9 h.
2. Marcus Gronholm (Ford) + 19.9 sec,
3. Alexandre Bengue (Peugeot) +1.15.6 min
4. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) + 1:23.4,
5. Daniel Sordo (Citroen) + 1:36.6,
6. Xavier Pons (Citroen) + 1:44.6,
7.Jari Matti Latvala (Ford) + 1:54.4,
8. Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot) + 2:04.5,
9. Manfred Stohl (OMV Peugeot Norway Team) +2:10.4,
10. Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) + 2:19.6,
11. Francois Duval (Skoda) + 2:20.0,
12. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) + 2:31.9,
13. Gigi Galli (Peugeot) + 2:35.3,
14. Petter Solberg (Subaru) + 3:07.6,
15. Andreas Aigner (Red Bull Skoda Team) + 3:32.8,
16. Harri Rovanpera (Red Bull Skoda Team) + 3:40.7,
17. Matthew Wilson (Ford) + 4:17.1 minutes

Leg 1  News

Championship leader Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on three of the four stages, the Frenchman admitting that he was pushing hard to keep Grönholm at bay. Alex Bengue (Peugeot) was unhappy with his car's suspension this morning but set-up changes in service improved the handling this afternoon. Dani Sordo (Citroen) lost about 40 seconds on the opening stage with electrical problems. He stopped to try and reset the systems but was unable to solve the problems until service. He then climbed from 13th to end the day in fifth. Petter Solberg (Subaru) spun on the opening stage and dropped 45 seconds after flattening his car's exhaust. He then had gear selection problems on the next test and is 14th. 

Loeb appears to have the advantage, with three stage wins out of four giving him nearly a 20-second overnight lead at the end of leg one. However, the bare results do not tell the full story. Gronholm beat Loeb on one stage (SS2) and showed the pace to match him on the remaining three. What let the Finn down was his inability to stay on terms with Loeb over the final sections of the stages. It was a problem that baffled him as much as his engineers. In the afternoon, Gronholm opted for the same hard tyre that Loeb had used so effectively in the morning. But it didn’t work, and the Finn reported a loss of confidence caused by the car moving about too much.

Nonetheless, Gronholm still has every possibility to win – as Loeb acknowledged. The pair have nearly a minute’s advantage over up-and-coming Frenchman Alexandre Bengue, in third. The former Skoda factory driver refined the settings of his car throughout the day, but he still believes that the Peugeot 307 is not entirely at home over the twisty roads of Corsica. He was engaged in a tight battle with Ford works driver Mikko Hirvonen throughout the day, depriving the young Finn of a place on the provisional podium after the final stage. Hirvonen said that his driving needed some improvement, but he still managed to fend off rising Spanish star Daniel Sordo, who finished fifth at the end of leg one. Carlos Sainz’s protégé suffered differential problems and a lack of power over the opening loop of stages. When these problems were fixed, he showed what he was genuinely capable of with a third-fastest time.

Other drivers though were not so happy. Subaru men Stephane Sarrazin and Petter Solberg ended up a disappointed 10th and 14th at the end of the leg. Solberg made a mistake on the opening stage, flattening his car’s exhaust pipe, but apart from that the Imprezas were trouble free. The problem was that they could not generate enough speed and grip. Their team mate Chris Atkinson lost a lot of time on the third stage when he flattened his exhaust pipe in a similar incident to Solberg’s. This caused some overheating that led to a transmission problem and demotion to 29th place overnight. Skoda driver Francois Duval also had problems, chiefly with brakes and set-up. The Belgian dropped out of the top 10 on the final stage of the day. Set-up problems also plagued Manfred Stohl, who wondered what more he had to do to make his car go faster after a difficult day. New to a Peugeot was Gigi Galli, who had a cautious run to 13th overall as he learnt all about his Pirelli-backed car.

In the Junior World Rally Championship, the former protégé of Colin McRae – Kris Meeke – won three out of four stages. He lost the first one by only a tenth of a second to Frenchman Brice Tirabassi, who is runner-up in the category at the end of the opening leg, half a minute behind Meeke.

Sebastien Loeb: “Everything went well for me today, but Marcus is rapidly becoming an asphalt expert so I have to be careful. Certainly my lead is nowhere near big enough to relax…I have to push again tomorrow.”

Marcus Gronholm: “I don’t know why but I had the same problem on stages one and three: I was slower over the last bit of the stage. It’s a mystery to me as I did nothing different, but you cannot afford to give time away to somebody like Sebastien.”

Alex Bengue: “Today got gradually better for us so I am happy. Our biggest problem today was understeer, and I think we will have to try and continue to fight that tomorrow.”

Kris Meeke: “As we only have a two-wheel drive car, we suffer a lot from a lack of traction on the corners where the four-wheel drive cars have been cutting the corners and pulling earth and loose gravel onto the road. It’s very easy to make a mistake or pick up a puncture, so you have to stay concentrated all the time.”

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)

The Citroen Xsara WRC of Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena has come out on top after the first round of a high-octane battle with the pairing of Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen. By winning three of the four special stages between Sainte Marie Sicche and Propriano today, the reigning World Champions have built up a small but valuable lead of 19.9 precious seconds. Following the example of their team leader, Kronos Racing's young Spaniards finish the day in fifth and sixth places, with Dani Sordo/Marc Marti just ahead of Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. This makes it three Xsaras in the top six.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena:
«On the Catalunya Rally, as soon as I found a set-up that suited me, Marcus hit problems, » he said. «So I was very curious to see what would happen here. It's exactly as I expected. The battle is very close, with a Xsara that is on fighting form. Of course, I had to mount a proper attack. I had to brake late and not give an inch for corner after corner. It's certainly tight. But I had no real scares, and we have to try and keep going at this rhythm. »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: « I was slowed down by a big vibration from the front-right tyre in the second stage. During the afternoon's loop of stages, I thought I had found a good rhythm. I was forced to slow it down a bit towards the end, as I noticed that my brakes were going off. The pedal was getting lower and lower. We'll get all this fixed now for tomorrow. »

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

Both BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings hold top four places after today's opening leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won one of the four asphalt speed tests on their way to second in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, while team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fourth in a similar car.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I dropped time to Loeb at the end of the first stage again this afternoon and I just don't know why. Maybe it's the driver because I don't think there's anything wrong with the car. This afternoon was the first time I have used the hard compound tyres in competition and I didn't really get used to them. I wasn't happy with my driving today and now I have a difficult job tomorrow in trying to take back time."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Fourth is OK but I'm disappointed my times are not as close to Marcus and Seb as they were on the last rally in Spain," he said. "My pace notes are precise but I have no confidence in them and I don't know why. I wasn't happy with my driving. I made a few small changes to the differentials in service and the feeling was better this afternoon but I also stalled again at the start of the last stage. If I can sort myself out then I know I can fight for a podium."

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)

Incident and disappointment marked the first Leg of the Tour de Corse for the Subaru World Rally Team. Petter Solberg had a difficult start to the rally when exhaust damage sustained in a spin on the first stage dropped him more than three minutes behind the leaders. Petter finished the day 14th overall. Chris Atkinson continued to gain more valuable asphalt experience but suffered a set-back on the penultimate stage when the exhaust system on his car was damaged in almost identical circumstances to Solberg's. Stéphane Sarrazin ran reliably and showed improvement throughout the Leg. He ended the day in tenth place.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Well, not the best. We've had better days of course, and with all the problems we've had it's been very difficult. We changed the gearbox earlier and the replacement is a slightly different specification. The car wasn't as easy to drive in the afternoon and we had to try some different settings to compensate, but that's how it is. Tomorrow's another day and we'll do all we can to improve on our position."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: "It was a bit difficult; we are not where we were expecting to be. I'm doing all I can but we're not getting the results we want. In terms of what's possible for this rally, well, I hope to get into the top six; we'll just have to see. You can guarantee that I'll be pushing as hard as possible tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We had a good start to the day but a small mistake at a hairpin corner on SS3 just crimped the exhaust pipe and we had some gearbox problems after that. So not really the best day, it's disappointing but not the end of the world. Tomorrow we'll go out there and learn as much as we can in these conditions and hopefully keep improving."

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

All in all, the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is quite satisfied with day one of the "Rallye de France - Tour de Corse". Ninth intermediate place makes hope to reach scoring ranks (top 8) already on Saturday despite grip problems for the OMV duo Stohl/Minor. Stohl has great plans for Saturday in any case. He wants to prove that he also is among the best rally drivers on tarmac.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I'm already feeling at home and I'm sure that we will pick up even more speed during the remainder of the rally. The Peugeot runs faultlessly. All that's missing is the final polish to tap the full potential."

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 found the going difficult in his first day in Rallye de France - Tour de Corse as the 19 year-old came to terms with the twists and turns of the challenging Corsican tarmac. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr drove solidly and without major incident through the day, played out under glorious sunshine in the mountains stretching up from the seaside capital of Corsica, Ajaccio.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's definitely one of the hardest rallies I've done. You're constantly working and trying to push yourself, really quite hard. We lost about 15 seconds when we spun on a really narrow section near the end of stage three. There was a lot of gravel and we came out of a left-hander and got on the power just a little too early which spun the back end round. It clouted the rear on the bank and as we reversed back on to the stage we hit the rear again. The stages are so long here, if you're just a second a kilometre slower than the fastest driver that's 30 seconds. It's easy to get disheartened with that. Hopefully we can just learn from it, we've changed a couple of things on the pace notes and things like that, just making improvements for next year which is the main thing."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "In the first stage I wasn't so confident, I wasn't driving well enough and I was braking too early but in the second stage I found the confidence and it started to go better. The day has been very good, no problems. My driving has been quite good, I had a safe margin as I haven't been pushing 100% so I'm happy to see the results. There were no big moments on the stages, just a few times when we went a bit wide on the gravel. Tomorrow we will go at the same speed but maybe we will go a little bit faster."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

The Red Bull Skoda drivers Andreas Aigner and Harri Rovanperä can be satisfied with their start to the Corsica Rally by all means. That's the opinion of team representatives Armin Schwarz and Raimund Baumschlager as well: "Although the times we posted cannot keep up with the current positions we are seeing the team's clear improvements to the previous tarmac rally in Spain. The time gaps are not that huge anymore, especially for Aigner; the young man from Styria is ahead of his teammate Rovanpera"

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietelainen: "Of course I need to acclimate myself properly again. The Skoda Fabia is a good car, we had no troubles at all. If we continue like that we'll make up some positions for sure."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "First off, I'd like to say that I'm quite happy with my day's work. With the exception of a small gaffe on SS1 I have driven flawlessly and was also able to improve on my times from Spain. I think it comes down to teething problems that I'm ahead of Harri. I'm really happy that I was able to beat Wilson on each and every stage and that I'm now already 44 seconds ahead of the Englishman."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1.Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) 2:35:31.4 h,
2. Marcus Gronholm (Ford) + 39.7 s,
3. Daniel Sordo (Citroen) + 1:38.4,
4. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) + 1:44.1,
5. Alexandre Bengue (Peugeot) +2.28.4 m,
6. Xavier Pons (Citroen) + 2:36.4,
7. Manfred Stohl (OMV Peugeot Norway Team) +3:40.6,
8. Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) + 4:16.2,
9. Gigi Galli (Peugeot) + 4:30.3,
10. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) + 4:32.9,
11. Petter Solberg (Subaru) + 5:07.2,
12. Harri Rovanpera (Red Bull Skoda Team) + 8:46.4

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 News

After a fairly evenly-matched day yesterday, Sebastien Loeb stretched out his advantage at the head of the Tour de Corse to carry almost a 40-second lead over Marcus Gronholm heading into the final leg. Loeb won two of the day’s four stages, with Mikko Hirvonen and Daniel Sordo also taking a stage win each as they squabbled for the final podium position. With 112 competitive kilometres left to run on the closing day tomorrow, the pair are separated by just over five seconds. A promising battle is in store.

Gronholm however was generally unhappy with his performance, although he struggled to find a reason why Loeb was consistently beating him. The Finn said that the feeling with his Focus WRC was not so good on the twisty and narrow stages that characterised today’s action. Gronholm admitted that there is no chance of beating Loeb under normal circumstances tomorrow, but the Frenchman warned that the battle would not be over until the final stage. Just a small spin could make the difference between winning and losing. Alexandre Bengue knows this only too well, after losing time with a spin on the final stage. It was a bad day for the young Frenchman, who had started leg two in third overall. But the spin and some set-up problems meant that he was unable to maintain the prodigious pace he had displayed yesterday, and he ended the leg in fifth, behind Sordo and Hirvonen.

While the top runners steered clear of trouble in the hot and tricky conditions, there were problems further down the field. Francois Duval will no longer have to contend with the brake problems that have haunted him since the start of the rally, as he went off the road and retired on a downhill hairpin bend during the final stage of the day. It was a disastrous day for the Ford Stobart team too. Matthew Wilson, the 19 year-old son of Ford boss Malcolm Wilson, went off the road on the first stage of the day. On the following stage, his team mate Jari-Matti Latvala crashed as well – causing enough damage to make his continued participation under the Super Rally rules extremely doubtful. Other casualties included Skoda Red Bull’s Andreas Aigner, a victim of SS5. The young Austrian broke a wheel, but will be back for the final day. Meanwhile, his team mate Harri Rovanpera continued to learn the Fabia WRC on the occasion of his 40th birthday and is now 12th. Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot) crashed off the leaderboard on the opening stage. François Duval (Skoda) had to tackle most of the morning loop with no brakes after a calliper broke and the Belgian retired on the final test when he crashed.

Xavier Pons started and ended the day in sixth place after an uneventful run in the sister car to Sebastien Loeb’s dominant Xsara. Behind him, Manfred Stohl grew steadily in confidence after altering the settings on his Peugeot. But for the Subaru pairing of Stephane Sarrazin and Petter Solberg, the bad news continued. Both drivers were fault-free, but they struggled for speed and grip throughout the day. Sarrazin had the consolation of breaking into the points positions with eighth overnight, while Solberg languished in 11th. Their team mate Chris Atkinson was 14th in a 2005-specification Impreza, having made no mistakes throughout the leg. The day ended on a positive note for Pirelli-backed Peugeot driver Gigi Galli. Having spent the day getting to grips with his new car, the Italian set fifth-quickest time on SS8 – his best performance of the rally so far – to take ninth place overnight.

The Junior World Rally Championship classification was rocked today when Kris Meeke retired his Citroen from the lead with mechanical problems on the penultimate stage. Suzuki driver Urmo Aava, from Estonia, inherited a healthy lead.

Sebastien Loeb: “It was a good day today. We made the right tyre choices, and I think that the roads today – which were narrower and more twisty – suited me better than they did Marcus. I have a good lead now but it’s important not to relax. I can control my pace a little bit now, but not too much.”

Marcus Gronholm: “It’s not been a good day for me. The speed is not there to catch Loeb, but I do not know why. The only thing I did on the car that was different to yesterday was some different damper settings, but then I changed them back to how they were before. Unless Sebastien has a problem, we don’t have a chance to win now.”

Daniel Sordo: “It’s been a very exciting battle with Mikko Hirvonen – and I am sure it will be the same again tomorrow! I’m looking forward to it…”

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)

It was an excellent second leg for Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, who stretched their lead of the rally to nearly 40 seconds. Equally good were Dani Sordo and Marc Marti, who made up two places and stand on the provisional podium heading into the final day. And finally, it was a particularly good day for the Citroen Xsara WRC, which was first and second on three out of four special stages. Thanks also to Xevi Pons/Carlos del Barrio, there are still three Xsaras in the top six places.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: «I went quickly on the first stage of the day, and then I adapted my rhythm to match that of Marcus. I think he has calmed things down a bit. I was a bit more comfortable too, as is always the case when you have a bit of a lead. And the Xsara is truly a fantastic car when the going is really narrow and twisty. »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: «Alex Bengué is only eight seconds in front so it may be possible to make up another place. In the meantime I'm not going to tempt fate. After my mishap in Spain, I'm determined to be at the finish tomorrow in order to collect the maximum number of manufacturer points possible for the team.»

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 continues to hold second and fourth places after today's second leg of the Rallye de France Tour de Corse. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen maintained second in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after a troublefree day in the demanding mountains on the sun-kissed Mediterranean island. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen climbed to third this morning but were edged out of a podium place on the final stage after a thrilling battle.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Loeb has been exceptionally quick and I've not been happy with my pace. My feeling with the car wasn't 100 per cent this morning. I didn't push hard enough but the stages were quite difficult. They were covered in gravel and were slippery and twisty. The handling on the first stage didn't feel as sharp. As the damper settings were the only thing that was different to yesterday, I changed them back again.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Everything felt better today and I made no mistakes but Dani was just that little bit faster than me. I enjoy a good battle, that's how rallying should be, and that's exactly what Dani and I have had. I couldn't go any faster but I will try to catch him tomorrow - it's not over yet. There was nothing I could do against him on the narrower sections but on the wider roads I was able to take time back. Asphalt isn't my best surface and I think I still need to improve my driving on it."

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)

Stéphane Sarrazin and Petter Solberg fought hard on the twisty stages today and moved up the leaderboard to eighth and 11th overall respectively. On only his second Tour de Corse, Chris Atkinson demonstrated his increasing confidence on asphalt and moved up 15 places. He will start tomorrow's final Leg in 14th place.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's been another difficult day for me. I'm doing my best and testing a lot of things, but that's pretty much all I can do."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: "It's okay. We improved the car a bit, I'm more confident with it and can push a bit more but it's still difficult. We are fighting for seventh position and I will try to catch Stohl, he's only 30 seconds in front and everything is possible tomorrow. It will be a long day though, there are still four stages to go and they are quite tricky, so we will see."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "In general I'm pretty happy with how we were going today. Our performance has been good this afternoon, we just keep learning, keep chipping away and that's the plan for tomorrow too."

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 leg two of the "Rallye de France - Tour de Corse" in good seventh intermediate place. Thus the OMV duo Stohl/Minor did reach their professed goal for this day. Together with Bozian Racing they keep doggedly working on the set-up of the Peugeot 307 WRC which is mirrored by improving special stage times. OMV driver Manfred Stohl wants to keep his position right up to the finish, which would win him WRC-points.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: : "It was really great fun today. During the last two days we managed to improve from being behind 1,2 seconds per kilometre to only 0,8 seconds - which proves that we are going in the right direction and encourages us to keep on working hard."

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 is taking his rookie season in the FIA World Rally Championship as a learning year, and day two of Rallye de France - Tour de Corse provided a rather short and to the point lesson as the 19 year-old drove off the road early in the day's first stage, lodging his Ford Focus RS WRC 05 on its side.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "The first recovery truck got us on to our wheels, but we needed a crane to get us back up to the road. There's not too much damage to the car, it's just cosmetic really. It was a wrong pace note basically. We got caught out when a corner was longer than we thought it would be. It kept on going and we got out on the gravel and then we went sideways off the road and on to our side. It was just low speed, but we couldn't get back on the stage. Fortunately for Michael the sun wasn't red hot so he didn't get sunburnt like in Mexico."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "It was a very tricky downhill section, fast with lots of corners. We had lots of notes and maybe I was a little confused. I braked too late and ended up on loose gravel. I tried to get some grip from the inside of the corner but there were rocks and this put me on two wheels. We then went straight on at the next corner and hit a tree ending up two or three metres down from the road. There were no injuries except my thumb is now twice its normal size. I cried for an hour after the accident, but then I spoke to my father and I was okay. I don't want to go off the road any more."

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

Without any problems on the remaining two stages in the afternoon, Harri Rovanpera managed to bring his Fabia WRC home to the day's final service where a lot of people waited to congratulate him on his 40th birthday, but the Finn immediately had to leave for a doping test. Andreas Aigner had to wait a very long time before his car, which was damaged when it hit a parapet on SS6, had been brought back to Ajaccio.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietelainen: "My birthday was a very strenuous one for me. I never had to work that hard before. Still I will for sure drink to it once more with the team after the doping test. I hope that I can finish the rally tomorrow with a good performance and then I will look forward to the gravel stages of Sardinia".

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "Of course I'm disgruntled about my mistake, but I'll try to learn from it. I just hope that our crew will be able to repair the car in time because every kilometre I can drive tomorrow will help me next year."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1.Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) 3:43:05.4 hours,
2. Marcus Grönholm (Ford) + 29.0 sec,
3. Daniel Sordo (Citroen+ 1:48.7,
4. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) + 1:59.2,
5. Alexandre Bengue (Peugeot) +2.47.7 min,
6. Xavier Pons (Citroen) + 3:10.2,
7. Manfred Stohl (OMV Peugeot Norway Team) +5:01.3,
8. Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) +5:21.9,
9 Gigi Galli (Peugeot) + 5:42.5,
10. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) + 6:11.4,
11. Petter Solberg (Subaru) + 6:40.5,
12. Harri Rovanpera (Skoda) + 13:12.3,
13. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) + 14:57.1

Driver's comments after Leg 3

1. LOEB / ELENA
« I’ve not set all the fastest stage times here this year but it has not been easy at all. I really had to fight against Marcus. This has been very good for our championship prospects, as we head to Argentina. »

3. GRONHOLM / RAUTIAINEN
« There was not much I could do against Sebastien Loeb here. I’m looking forward to Argentina now, where we will be able to fight for victory. »

15. SORDO / MARTI
Jumped out of the car overjoyed, as if he had won the rally. « It’s my second consecutive podium. I’m very happy – it’s incredible! »

4. HIRVONEN / LEHTINEN
« I wanted to keep pushing right to the end, but I had a really big moment on the stage. That calmed me down! »

19. BENGUE / ESCUDERO
« I’m happy, because we went better than we did on the first loop of these stages, and this time we were using harder tyres. I’m happy to have shown that I can run at the same pace as I did in Catalunya – even if the end result is one place further down the order here. »

2. PONS / DEL BARRIO
« I’m very happy with this result, particularly for the Kronos team. »

7. STOHL / MINOR
« The positive thing is that I’ve taken two more points for the championship, but I still have to get better on asphalt. »

6. SARRAZIN / PREVOT
« I gave it everything I could this weekend. It’s a good performance, especially if I compare my times to Petter’s. »

25. GALLI / BERNACCHINI
« It was a very good experience, with a competitive car. It’s good for me to get back into the rhythm of competition before we head for Argentina. »

17. KOPECKY / SCHOVANEK
« I’ve gained so much experience throughout the three days. The stages are not as easy to understand as those in Catalunya. If I come back next year, it will be my third time here. That’s the minimum you need to go quickly on these roads. »

5. SOLBERG / MILLS
« I’m pleased to get to the end of what has been a difficult weekend. Bring on Argentina... We will be back on gravel then, where we are able to fight for victory. »

11. ROVANPERA / PIETILAINEN
« As well as the two manufacturer points we have taken for the team, I am very happy to have had no problem at all with the car. This allowed us to have a long test session. »

16. ATKINSON / MACNEALL
« The end result is not too bad, but the main thing is that I have learnt a lot about driving on asphalt. »

12. AIGNER / GOTTSCHALK
« I’m very pleased I was able to re-start today, as the stages on this third day are absolutely fantastic. »

9. WILSON / ORR
« I’m very happy to have finished, and I’ve taken the maximum benefit out of it. Thanks Super Rally! ». »

33. AAVA / SIKK
Engine problem – completed the stage on three cylinders – loses his first JWRC win by eight seconds to Brice Tirabassi. He is hoping to get back to the Ajaccio service park.

55. TIRABASSI / RENUCCI
« It’s an incredible situation, completely unexpected! »

39. RAUTENBACH / SENIOR
« I feel completely bewildered – I don’t even know if I am on the podium or not… »

42. PRESSAC / DE TURCKHEIM
« I pushed as hard as I could but I was held up by Aava for about two kilometres, who was going slowly. I lost a lot of time, and unfortunately missed out on a podium by just three seconds. »

54. BURKART / GEILHAUSEN
« I’m very pleased to be at the finish, after the tragedy that we suffered in Spain. »

53. CLARK / MARTIN
« The first day was very hard. I kept on thinking about the accident in Spain. »

59. BONATO / BOULLOUD
« I feel very good in this car. I’ve set all the fastest times today without taking any big risks. I would like to thank the French Federation (FFSA) and Renault for giving me the chance to compete on this rally, which was run in excellent conditions. »

52. CASIER / MICLOTTE
« The puncture this morning put to an end all my hopes of going as quick as possible…it was a bizarre rally for us ! »

50. PINOMAKI / SALLINEN
« It’s my second asphalt rally and I’ve made a lot of progress. »

Leg 3 News

Sebastien Loeb’s 23rd career victory has taken him even closer to Carlos Sainz’s all-time record of 26 wins and allowed him to pull out a healthy lead in the World Rally Championship for drivers. He now has an 11-point margin over Ford driver Marcus Gronholm, which means that he can afford to retire from the next rally and still maintain the lead of the championship. While Loeb did not quite repeat his dominance of last year in Corsica, where he won every stage, he still stamped his authority over the rally from the very start, leading from beginning to end. As is usually the case he had no mechanical problems aboard his Citroen Xsara WRC, which this year is run by the privateer Belgian Kronos team.

On the first day, it appeared to be an open fight. Gronholm won one of the stages, and seemed to have the pace to match Loeb. But throughout the course of the second day the Finn gradually fell back – and he was at a loss to figure out why. He chose slightly harder tyres to Loeb and thought that might be one reason, but Ford’s engineers were equally baffled as to where their man was losing out. Over the course of the last day, Gronholm admitted that there was little he could do about Loeb. After matching the Frenchman for pace over the entirety of the all-asphalt Catalunya Rally two weeks ago, Ford and Gronholm were understandably disappointed.

While the first two places were reasonably clear-cut, the same could not be said about the fight for the final podium position. At the end of the first day Frenchman Alexandre Bengue held the place after a fine effort with his BSA-run Peugeot 307 WRC. But Bengue admitted that the car was struggling in Corsica, and he battled to find the correct set-up over the course of the second day. A spin at the end of leg two meant that he would start the final day in fifth place, which he maintained to the finish. Instead, third was fought out by two young talents who are destined for great things in the future: Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen and Citroen driver Daniel Sordo. The two were closely-matched as they fought for the podium over the course of the second day: they each set a fastest time and at one point they were separated by only 2.2 seconds in the overall classification. Hirvonen held the position for most of the day, but Sordo moved ahead on the final stage, to enter day three with a five-second advantage.

As the rally drew to a close the battle became even closer: after SS9 Sordo’s advantage was reduced to 0.4seconds! But Sordo was finally able to exploit the Xsara’s precise handling over the twisty roads, enabling the young Spaniard to claim his second podium finish in as many rallies. Hirvonen – who had a big scare on the final stage – was happy enough with fourth and five points, having only scored two points in what had been an unlucky season for him so far. Fifth was also the best that Bengue could hope for, after finishing fourth on the wider and faster asphalt roads in Catalunya. A largely trouble-free rally for Xavier Pons, team mate to Sebastien Loeb, resulted in fifth place and scored valuable manufacturer points for Kronos. Behind Pons was Manfred Stohl, who struggled with set-up problems on his Peugeot throughout the event.

One of the teams with even bigger problems was Subaru, which struggled for grip and speed throughout the event. Stephane Sarrazin had the consolation of a solitary drivers’ point for eighth place, while Petter Solberg lost his place in the top 10 to Jan Kopecky with a spin on the penultimate stage. The Norwegian’s rally was compromised from the opening stage, when a big spin flattened his exhaust pipe and caused a loss of power. In ninth place was Pirelli-backed driver Gigi Galli, on his first event in a Peugeot 307 WRC. The Italian was learning his new car for much of the event, but he kept out of trouble and said that it had fantastic potential and a very powerful engine.

Those who did not see the finish included Skoda driver Francois Duval, who slid off the road on a downhill hairpin during the afternoon of leg two after suffering brake problems for most of the event. Ford Stobart driver Jari-Matti Latvala went off the road on the morning of leg two, as did his team mate Matthew Wilson. The Englishman re-joined under the Super Rally rules but Latvala had to sit out the final day after damaging his car too badly to continue.

In the Junior World Championship classification, Kris Meeke led until an engine problem stopped his Citroen C2 in its tracks on day two. But there was an even more dramatic end to the rally. Suzuki driver Urmo Aava inherited a lead of more than two and a half minutes – only to lose it when he too suffered an apparent engine problem on the very last stage. Brice Tirabassi was the stunned winner, ahead of the unfortunate Aava.

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)

Just two weeks after the RallyRACC Catalunya, it's a case of deja-vu for the Kronos team. The squad finishes the sequence of asphalt events at the start of the year with two victories in two rallies. Once more there are two Xsara WRCs on the podium. And in Corsica, there are three Xsaras in the top six.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: «In Catalunya, my choice of set-up at the start of the rally was hardly ideal and then Marcus hit problems. This time we both had a clean run. The Xsara and its BFGoodrich tyres were extremely competitive, the team was faultless and we were able to bring home a victory that was extremely important to us. In Corsica, in front of all our fans, on an event I love, which is the Rally de France ! In the short term, this is a valuable win as it gives me a lead of more than 10 points in the driver's championship. This means I have some breathing space, which is useful as the gravel rallies coming up will be extremely tough. Looking further ahead, this 23rd win takes me close to Carlos Sainz's record - which is obviously a big thing for me. »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: « After two retirements, it was vital for me to finish the rally. Notwithstanding the fact that the potential of the Xsara on asphalt is capable of targeting some big points in the manufacturers' championship. When I realised that I would not be able to catch Alex [Bengué], I concentrated on the five points that I would definitely be able to score for the team. »

Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti: « Losing some time at the start of the rally gave us a certain advantage, as it meant that we needed to push hard from the beginning, » said Dani. « We enjoyed ourselves from start to finish, in a fantastic fight with Alex [Bengué] and then Mikko [Hirvonen]. Now it's back to school again on gravel. In Argentina, our goal will be to learn. »

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 claimed their fourth podium finish in five rallies by finishing second on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse today. The Finns won two speed tests and were fastest in the third and final leg over the twisty and challenging mountain roads in Corsica in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fourth in a similar BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS to secure their best result of the season on this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Second place is a good, solid result and while a driver is never totally happy with second, I am pleased with the eight points it brings. I didn't have the chance to win here against Loeb. I think I can beat him on asphalt but I just don't know where or when. I didn't have enough experience of the new Focus in competition on asphalt to match him. It's the first time in Corsica with the car and we haven't tested on roads like this so we're still learning. I felt something was missing but I don't know what that was. But the team is only three points from the championship lead and that puts us in a strong position going back to three gravel events."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Third would have been great but I'm lucky not to be halfway down a mountain. About 8.5km after the start of the last stage I slide wide in a corner onto some gravel. The car was totally off the road and I thought we would tumble over the edge. Thankfully we didn't and I eased off after that. I drove to the maximum until then and it was fantastic, but I had to think about the manufacturer points as well. It was like driving on a knife but I had a great rhythm and feeling with the car."

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 and Stéphane Sarrazin continued to test set-ups and gather more development data in the final Leg of the 2006 Tour de Corse. Both drivers had trouble-free runs in their Subaru Impreza WRC2006s and finished the rally eighth and 11th respectively to collect seven manufacturers' points. Chris Atkinson improvement on asphalt continued and he bettered each of his times in the repeat of the stages to conclude the event in 13th overall.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I'm actually glad it's over. I tried everything I could but we have a lot of work to do before we are fast enough on this surface. The focus now is the next rally. The result here has made me more determined to get a good finish in Argentina; I'm hungrier that ever to go for a win. I will not be playing at all in Argentina, I promise you."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prévot: "This weekend was a bit difficult. We finished eighth only when the target was to be on the top. Last year we were fighting for the podium so we are a bit disappointed but if you want to be positive we didn't make any mistakes and we did some good times. I pushed all the weekend and we know what we need to do now, so we are focussed on the next rally already."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We're pleased with what we've done, but obviously a bit disappointed not to be in the points, that's what we are after and we'll have to keep pushing. Come Argentina, the next rally, I'm sure we'll be there fighting and we'll definitely be going flat out from the start."

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has reached its goal at the "Rallye de France - Tour de Corse". Seventh overall place and two WRC-points mean that the OMV duo Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor defended fourth place in the FIA World Rally Championship intermediate ranking. Thus the Austrians have ridden out the tarmac interlude. Now it's back onto gravel where Manfred Stohl feels more than just at home.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I think for now we have reached the zenith on tarmac. The time missing on the top could only be made up by extensive testing. I'm very happy about the two WRC-points and glad that we'll be back on gravel for the next three rallies."

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 fought back in the final day of Rallye de France - Tour de Corse to move up the standings after crashing out of the running early on Saturday. The 19-year old from Cumbria is the youngest and only British full-time driver in the FIA World Rally Championship, and endured an early off in the first stage of the rally's second day when he had been in 17th place overall. Sunday was far better and worked to Wilson's plan in his rookie season of accumulating knowledge for his future career in the most dynamic of motorsport disciplines.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "After completing the stages on Sunday it's been a really good experience. I'm annoyed with myself for what happened on Saturday. This is certainly the most difficult rally I've ever contested and it's frustrating to have missed running on a third of it, especially as it's going to be a year before we come here again. It was difficult in the morning today, I was nervous as hell for the first stage, just trying to find the pace that wasn't stupid but not so slow you were annihilated by everybody. We just settled in and after the first few kilometres we got a nice flow going and it seemed to work."

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: Retired (Accident)

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05
11 Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen (FIN)
12 Andreas Aigner / Timo Timo Gottschalk (A/D)

Raimund Baumschlager and Armin Schwarz gave a very univocal summary of the events: "We expected a slightly better result from our drivers. But an accident like Andreas' can always happen, and Harri first had to familiarize himself with the car and the team. We are happy that we gained three points in the manufacturers' championship and were thus able to improve our position. Now we will prepare for the WRC event in Sardinia where Red Bull Skoda will compete next."

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietelainen: "The rally was very tough for me from the beginning. To drive a completely new car for a new team on asphalt after an elongated break isn't easy. Additionally I was rather hampered by the flu. Now I'm looking forward to the gravel stages of Sardinia, we will do better there for sure."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "After my mistake yesterday I just tried to secure a point for Red Bull Skoda in the manufacturers' championship. Apart from that I already felt quite comfortable on tarmac and was able to notice a clear improvement compared to Spain."


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLYE DE FRANCE - TOUR DE CORSE
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
09.04.2006

Present:
1st Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
1st Daniel Elena - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
2nd Marcus Gronholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
2nd Timo Rautiainen - BP Ford World Rally Team
3rd Dani Sordo
3rd Marc Marti
Representative of the winning Manufacturer Kronos Total Citroën WRT - Marc Van Dalen

Welcome to the final FIA Press Conference. Joining us are winners Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, second-placed men Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and Dani Sordo and Marc Marti who finished third. Marc van Dalen joins us as a representative of the winning team.

Q:
Congratulations on your second consecutive victory in Corsica. It seemed to be a very close battle on the first day then on the second day you stretched your advantage. What exactly happened? How difficult was it just driving to the splits on the final day?

SL:
Day one was a big fight, it was hard for me to be faster than Marcus. Second day, me or my car were a bit better in the narrow twisty roads and I didn’t need to take as many risks. It was looking good, but I needed to fight and to keep a good rhythm. I had the perfect car and perfect tyres, it was no problem. It was not so difficult driving on the splits. We were driving fast in the first two stages and I had to keep a good rhythm. The second loop was okay. I found a good feeling with the car, today it was okay.

Q:
You and Seb won every stage here last year: did it feel like a much tougher fight this time?

DE:
Yes, it’s a bit different from last year. This time the cars are a bit different. This time there was close competition from Marcus and Dani. There was no question of winning all the stages; we just pushed for a hard-fought victory.

Q:
Marcus, a very big battle and you equal your best result here in Corsica. In Catalunya you had the same pace as Sébastien but here it was not quite as good: why do you think this is? What was the biggest difference between this rally and Catalunya?

MG:
I don’t know exactly, a better feeling there than here; I don’t know why. It was a different surface, with more tight corners here and it was narrower. Maybe that was the reason. I can’t do more. I am disappointed not to win, but up until now I have never scored so many points from asphalt – 24 – I have to be happy, still though it’s Sébastien quite a lot in front. Now we go to gravel and I hope we can win something.

Q:
Did you change much of the set-up of your car as you tried to catch Seb? Is there anything that, looking back, you would have done differently?

TR:
We did minor modifications to the centre differential; the same modifications that Mikko did on Friday night. It did help, but it was not enough. It was not the maximum possible for us, we could have done more with a bit of a different tyre choice in some stages. The driver/co-driver could have worked better in some stages, or more pushing. Even though, I don’t think we could match Sébastien’s speed. The gap might have been closer and a longer fight, but it ended Saturday morning. We couldn’t have matched the winning speed.

Q:
Dani, another successful rally for you – your second visit to the podium in as many events. It was an exciting battle with Mikko Hirvonen that went right up to the final day, but you seemed to get a big advantage on SS10 this morning: why was that?

DS:
Because the stage is new for me and I don’t drive in WRC. After that stage it was good, I was able to go a bit faster than Mikko. It was very good fun.

Q:
You had a few problems on the first morning: how much of a setback was that? Do you think that without those problems you could have been challenging for second place?

MM:
Maybe it could be possible to fight with Marcus and Sébastien, but I don’t think so. They know the rally and the car very well. They were pushing. I’m very happy with the result. This is a good speed that we are doing since the start of the season.

Q:
Congratulations on the third consecutive victory for Kronos. How does this one compare to the others? Lots of stage records were broken here, and everybody said that these cars were supposed to be slower…

MvD:
It’s going better and better, it’s a pleasure to win again with Seb and to show all three drivers have made a good job. Xevi made the points for Manufacturers and everybody knows and has seen the fantastic result for Dani and Marc. Three cars in the top six here is very important for us. As for the stage records, it depends on the weather conditions, the temperature. Perhaps it’s the first time there was a very big fight with Seb. This time the fight with Marcus is very high, perhaps this is the reason for the stage records.

Q:
Three victories from the last three rallies gives you a healthy lead of the Championship: you could retire from the next rally and still be in the lead. How much more confidence does this give you heading into the next round? How much harder was it driving on asphalt with a car that uses mechanical rather than active diffs?

SL:
An eleven point lead is interesting for me. It’s more than one victory, but I would prefer Marcus retires next time rather than me! The Tarmac rallies are coming at the first part of season, so it was important for me to score as much as possible. Now we go on gravel and Marcus is really fast on these rallies, it can be a good fight and sometimes difficult for me. The points I win now could be very important at the end of the season. For the diffs, it’s nearly the same in this car. On Tarmac it’s not so important, in the hairpins we have a little bit more wheel spin, but in the rest of the places I don’t feel any difference.

Q:
What do you think of Argentina? You won there last time, how good are your chances of winning again? The weather should be a bit warmer, do you think that will help you?

DE:
I don’t know. When we start the race, it’s for winning. We’ve had a not bad result there before. We will be trying this year.

Q:
Does it worry you that Sébastien is building up a bit of a lead now? How important is it for you to finish in front of him on the next event? Do you think that on gravel you will have a quicker pace than him?

MG:
Of course it’s difficult; it will take a long time. If he retires it’s only one point, if I win. But look at last year; he won how many rallies last year, also on gravel. There is no question he will be fast and we are looking forward to it. Also Petter, maybe he can help me a little bit – and Mikko as well. It looks quite good.

Q:
There’s quite a big gap between yourselves and Seb now and all the other drivers and teams. Do you think it will be just the two of you from now until the end of the season? Are you surprised that nobody else seems to be closer?

TR:
It would be very nice to stay in that belief and think that. I’m afraid there will be other drivers who will be disturbing our plans though. Like Marcus said, I hope we can win and Sébastien not be second. The previous question you asked Marcus. It does bother us that he is 11 points ahead. If you ask on a scale from zero to 10 how much it bothers us, the answer is 11!

Q:
We heard the news recently that you will be driving a Xsara in Argentina: are you working hard to have the car for some of the other events as well?

DS:
I don’t know, it depends on the money. In Argentina, I don’t know. I have no big experience on gravel, but I have driven a Mitsubishi Group N there. We will see.

Q:
What do you think of Dani’s progress so far? Did you expect him to become so competitive so quickly? In which areas do you think he can still improve?

MM:
Yes I expected it on Tarmac, but not on gravel. For sure he needs to learn more and do more rallies on gravel. On Tarmac I was confident to do one job like this. I am quite happy.

Q:
After another win the Manufacturers’ Championship is looking good for you now. How confident are you that you can continue this form over the rest of the season? Can the team be as strong on gravel as it has been on asphalt?

MvD:
You know, for sure, we have to be careful. It’s our first time to fight at the top level. The first objective is to give our drivers the best car we can. lf we do that, and if they manage to help us win more rallies, then for sure, we will do what we can to stay in this position until the end of the year.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Fred Billet (Echappement, France)
Q:
Daniel, with 23 wins, Sébastien is only three victories from Carlos Sainz, and with 23 victories you are only one from Luis Moya. Is this important?

DE:
Yes for sure. It’s a good motivation to chase Luis Moya’s record. I promised to go out for dinner with Luis, I’ll pay, if we break the record.

Jean-Paul Renvoize (L’Equipe, France)
Q:
Marc, are you disappointed it’s only first and third?
MvD: It’s a catastrophe! No seriously I am very pleased.

Alain Pernot (L’Auto Journal, France)
Q:
Marcus, the scoring system means only a two point gap between first and second. If it was four would you have pushed?
No, it’s good like it is now, otherwise it would have been bigger! I couldn’t do much more.

2006 FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
1st Brice Tirabassi
1st Jacques Julien Renucci

Now for the final press conference of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, we have the winning crew of Brice Tirabassi and Jacques Julien Renucci.

Q:
There was a very dramatic end to the JWRC rally…talk us through it. What were your feelings when you found out that you had won? Would you ever have expected anything like this? Did you have any clue that Urmo had problems before you saw him?

BT:
My rally got off to a good start, but I had a puncture and couple of other problems. I started today in second place, then at the end of the last stage Urmo Aava had a problem, we think it was the engine, because of that I was able to win. I would have had to push very hard to beat him. Yes, I did have an idea of what was happening; on the road section I’d seen Urmo. But I didn’t know what the problem was. At the start of the stage, Urmo started slowly, so we knew he had a problem.

Q:
Apart from the dramatic finish, how was the rest of the rally for you?

JJR:
We started in a very good way – the best possible way with a fastest time. The C2 was very powerful, it led for most of the rally. Day two was decisive, problems for many, including Kris Meeke. When we started today, we thought the gap was too big for us to reel it in, but then we saw what happened on the final stage.

Q:
You were ill in Spain, how badly did that affect you? What do you think your Championship chances are looking like now? Now that you have driven the car for two rallies, how do you think that the Championship is looking compared to when you won it in 2003?

BT:
Spain was very difficult; I really did not feel well at all. It was hard under these circumstances to get a grip on what was needed from the car. Now I have an idea of how to drive it and how to translate that into getting a good result. It’s still a very high level like 2003. Some of the people I rallied against then are here now. The cars have evolved, as enjoyable as ever. I’m looking forward to Sardinia, but that’s not an event which I know, I haven’t driven there before.

Q:
You are a Corsican: does it help to have local knowledge? How does it feel to win at home?

JJR:
It’s great. It’s a big pleasure, particularly on the 50th anniversary. I’ve had a good time and I hope the people spectating on the event have been able to enjoy these cars going through the stages.