FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 74th Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo (20-22 January 2006


10th round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 7th round out of ninth in the 2006 FIA Junior World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
17.08.2006

Present:
Per-Gunnar Andersson - JWRC
Conrad Rautenbach - JWRC
Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Marcus Grönholm - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Kosti Katajamäki - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Manfred Stohl - OMV-Peugeot Norway

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Welcome to Finland. We’ve not seen you in action since Sardinia in April. What have you been doing for the last three months or so? Have you been doing any rallies or testing? What’s it like to be back? Are you feeling confident?

P-GA:
I’ve been working at home. I’ve done some Swedish Championship events in my own car and some training on the jet-ski on the lakes. It’s been a nice time. It’s good to be back in Finland, these stages are probably the best you can do. There’s a good feeling. I feel very confident and the car is ready. The car’s been good all season, we’ve been a bit unlucky, but now we fight for the podium and I want to be on the top.

Q:
Your story is a bit different to that of P-G; you’ve been very busy indeed, so run us by the month of August. Has it been difficult jumping from one car into another all the time? Do you feel tired by this sort of schedule?

CR:
I’ve done five rallies in five weekends. Lots of rallies in different cars, some on asphalt some on gravel, some in Africa and then with a Group N car and a 1600 car. It can be quite tricky to adapt, but I’m lucky to be out so much. You have to keep in mind what car and what surface you’re on. After the first few stages, it’s not too bad. You have to keep your wits about you. I don’t feel tired, you just keep on it with rallying, keep going and more rallies – I’m really looking forward to this weekend.

Q:
Last year you had a big accident in Finland, does that worry you at all? With the situation in the Championship at the moment, do you have to push hard from the very start or do you have a particular tactic? This is the first rally all year when you will be up against all of the Citroëns; how exciting do you think this will make the rally? What do you think about the Championship this year; does it seem strange to you that you only meet your key rivals on a few occasions?

P-GA:
I’ve forgotten about that accident. Now I’m looking forward to meeting the stages again and going as quickly as possible. Accidents don’t have any effect on me. I’m going to stay more in the middle of the road, but I think Conrad rolled in the same place as me last year. I have to be a bit smart, I don’t need to go flat from the start – I can see what the pace is like. My speed is quite close to where I need to be at the moment. We have to see where to put maximum attack and see if it works. Ten points is so important from here and from the next event in Turkey. But Turkey can be tough and the same in GB. GB can be slippery and foggy, tough. Having all the competition is how it should have been all season. We need the interest and good competition like this all season.

Q:
What about your Championship situation Conrad? You did Rally Deutschland so does that put you in a stronger situation? What’s your target for this year? How about next year, do you think we’ll be seeing you in the Junior World Rally Championship again?

CR:
All the cars should be on all the rounds. We’ve got this event and Turkey left. We were fourth and on for another good points haul in Germany until a problem with the car. I think we need the same strategy as P-G; we’ll ease into it and get a good feeling from the car. Then we’ll take it from there. We’re gaining experience, setting some reasonable times and staying on the road. We know we’ve got reasonable pace, but we want to push it up a little. We’re still trying to decide on a plan for next year, we’ll have to wait and see.

Q:
There has been a lot of speculation about Suzuki’s new World Rally Car. What do you know about it? Will we see you driving it next year? There will be a lot if testing next year – will you do it yourself? Are you confident that you will find a drive next year?

P-GA:
I don’t have a clue. I will see. I hope so, but at the moment I don’t know anything. We haven’t discussed anything about next season. I’m concentrating on this season at the moment.

Q:
Conrad, just a word about this event in a Super 1600 car. There’s obviously not the same level of power and traction as you get in a World Rally Car so how do you make sure of keeping the car’s rhythm flowing from corner to corner?

CR:
The cars are quite tricky to drive. You have to drive hard into the corners and carry the speed. You don’t have the traction to pull you out. Being front-wheel-drive, the back end of the cars is quite edgy all of the time. This is why they’re good Junior cars, they teach you how to drive. Sébastien (Loeb) has shown that you can get out of one of these Junior WRC cars and step up to the full World Rally Car quickly.

Q:
In Germany you equalled Carlos Sainz’s record of 26 world rally victories. Has that sunk in yet? So what do you think your chances of breaking the record here in Finland are? How satisfying would it be for you to beat Marcus on home territory?

SL:
Not a lot of days to think about it. We had the recce for Finland and shakedown today, not so much time. I don’t know about beating it. Finland rally was always the most difficult for me to win. It’s very specific, very fast places, jumps, crests, very difficult. Last year I was in a good rhythm for the first time here, not enough to win, but not so far away. I am happy with the settings on the car, so I will do my best. For me it would be the rally I would like to win, so it would be a great moment like it was when I won Sweden. Okay, we’ll see. I will try to go faster.

Q:
What do you think the chances are of Sébastien beating you here? How hard did he push you here last year? Do you think you still have an advantage here or not? You’ve won here five times in the last six rallies – what is the secret to it?

MG:
I think his chances are good. He was quick last year and fast everywhere; I’m sure he can drive like that again. He was not far away, the first day we were the same. The second day we made a little bit of a difference. I’m expecting the same this year. There’s not really any more pressure for me. I know this rally quite well, but no, I don’t feel extra pressure. It’s always the same, this rally, it’s difficult. I don’t always enjoy it; it’s very fast and difficult.

Q:
Hi Kosti, welcome. You had quite a big accident on a local event a couple of weeks ago; what happened and are you feeling any better? So now you are using a different car, what is your objective for this rally and where do you think it will be possible to finish? Do you think Finnish drivers have an advantage here?

KK:
I’m feeling okay. In the accident, I went a little too fast into the corner, it’s so difficult to say what happened. It wasn’t the first time and maybe not the last time, but I feel okay. It’s a different car for this one, it’s a really good car – an 04 or 05, I’m not sure about the number, but it’s a good car. It’s quite difficult to say in numbers where I want to be at the finish. I want to go faster and faster on every stage and finish at the top of the private drivers. I don’t think there’s an advantage for the Finns. This will be my fourth time in Jyväskylä and there are many drivers who have been here more than me. Of course, the type of the stages is quite familiar for us, but it doesn’t make a big difference.

Q:
You are driving the winning model from last year, the Peugeot 307 WRC. From what you know of the characteristics of this car, do you think it will be well-suited to Rally Finland again? You ran consistently in the top six on the asphalt in Germany, finishing fifth – do you think you can aim for a top six again here in Finland?

MS:
A lot has changed on the car from last year. As the other drivers say, this is a difficult rally and it will be for me and for the car. It will not be so easy for me, I have to remember that in Sweden I was not going to be in the top places, but then I was in fifth – why not here? I was not so good here last year, so we don’t know. If you come here to fight for top places it’s the nicest rally in the world, but if you have to fight for points it is one of the most difficult rallies in the world – but still one of my favourites.

Q:
You’ve just come here from Rally Deutschland – what’s it like doing two rallies back to back? Do you think that it works well, or is it too much of a rush?

SL:
I think it’s not a bad idea. It was complicated a little bit because we came from a Tarmac rally to a gravel rally. For the future, Sweden and Norway will be a very good idea – being one week apart. If, after those rallies, we have a bit more time at home, it’s good also.

Q:
Marcus, what do you think of the back-to-back rallies? Were you able to spend any time at home or was it straight from Germany to Finland? It’s quite a hectic second half of the season, but do you think it is worth it to have the long break in the summer?

MG:
I went home immediately after Germany. I was one night at home and then up here. It was good to have a break, we are busy now. It’s not only the rally, I have a lot of PR work with Ford. It was good to have the break.

Q:
Kosti, what are your ambitions for next year? Do you think we will see you in the WRC more frequently in future? How difficult is it these days for a privateer to find the money and the resources to continue at the top level? Your mentor is Marcus Grönholm; what advice has he given for this event?

KK:
Of course we have spoken about the stages. There are still many places where I don’t have experience. I have been lucky to ask Mr Grönholm for advice.

MG:
We should remember it is Kosti’s first time in a World Rally Car. It’s not the same as in a Super 1600 car, these things are a little bit quicker…

KK:
That’s true and I have been a little surprised at how many changes I had to make to the notes because of the speed. Hopefully it is a help for me to get a good result, having him [Grönholm] to talk to. There are more things about the stages, other things I can ask. It is quite difficult at the moment, not so many rallies at the moment. But I am in a good position; I know there are many drivers sitting at home who would like to be in my position. I’m not complaining. I will do my best to make a good result.

Q:
Manfred, do you agree with Kosti? Do you think you will be able to find the budget, together with your sponsor, to complete another full programme on the World Rally Championship next year? Are you happy with the way your season has gone so far?

MS:
It’s very difficult. I am very lucky with my long-time sponsor; I work with OMV for 13 or 14 years. They are happy with my success and I’m happy with the team and the Peugeot. We are in a good position with Henning and me; we are the top Manufacturer Two team. It’s nice for me, the first time in my career that I have a full season. For sure, I would like – I want to do it, but it’s early to say not and very difficult.

Rally Preview

Team Previews:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

 

Event Timetable

Some comments from the super special:

Sebastien Loeb Citroen 
"Super stage is not the same as all the stages in the forest"

Daniel Sordo Citroen 
"Its is nice with all the spectators, but the rally starts tomorrow"

Marcus Gronholm Ford 
"Not really worried I made two clear mistakes, I was a little bit wide"

Chris Atkinson Subaru 
"Not bad, the car worked really well in there, the car did exactly what I wanted"

Manfred Stohl Peugeot 
"I would like 200 more horse power"

Henning Solberg Peugeot 
"It was very very slippery. The car is feeling very well, it's up to me tomorrow"

Matthew Wilson Ford 
"I messed up completely, coming into the first left hander, I missed my braking"

Xavier Pons Citroen
"Very slippery sometimes"

Daniel Carlsson Mitsubishi 
"Now we're going to push. I'm so excited"

Kristian Sohlberg Subaru 
"It was okay, I made a small mistake on the outside for no reason and we lost some time there"

Juho Hanninen Mitsubishi 
"I was really nervous before the stage so I'm really satisfied"

SS2:
Sebastien Loeb Citroen 
"It was not easy. I was too careful in the water. There was some water on the road and you have to be careful not to aqua-plane"

Marcus Gronholm Ford 
"Its very good the car was fantastic. I was a little bit looking at the split times. I hit a little bit the rear right on a stone, but it was okay"

Mikko Hirvonen Ford 
"My wipers got stuck for a while, but luckily they got going again"

Petter Solberg Subaru 
"It was very slippery in some places, I struggle in some places with the braking. I struggle in the really narrow places"

Chris Atkinson Subaru 
"Its quite tricky, quite slippery"

Manfred Stohl Peugeot 
"The engine feel a little less of power, I don't know what it is, may be its the rain"

Henning Solberg Peugeot 
"It starts raining so much it was not easy in there. The car was sliding around"

Matthew Wilson Ford 
"We had to stop and change a wheel. I came over a brow and we hit a massive rock on the inside"

Xavier Pons Citroen 
"Very slippery sometimes"

Daniel Carlsson Mitsubishi 
"Its very very slippery. Its hard to keep the lines"

Jan Kopecky Skoda 
"Some troubles with the gearbox"

Jussi Valimaki Mitsubishi 
"The bridge was almost too narrow for us, it started to rain very heavy when we started the stage"

Kristian Sohlberg Subaru 
"The end of the stage was very slippery, we nearly hit the bridge flat out. I think we have to pick up the speed a bit"

Janne Tuohino Citroen 
"The headset broke on the start line"

Jari-Matti Latvala Toyota Lost back left window - 
"In the very early of the stage on a left corner we spun in the corner"

Gigi Galli Peugeot 
"I have to do as careful as possible. The condition is not so good and after we find a lot of loose on the top"

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 12min 59.6sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 1hr 13min 11.6sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 13min 43.1sec
4. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 13min 52.5sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 1hr 14min 46.8sec
6. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 1hr 15min 16.7sec
7. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 15min 44.6sec
8. G Galli/G Bernacchini I Peugeot 307 1hr 15min 49.2sec
9. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 16min 01.9sec
10 J Tuohino/M Markkula FIN Citroen Xsara 1hr 16min 05.6sec

Leg 1 News

Finland’s Marcus Grönholm has dominated the opening leg of the Neste Oil Rally Finland, the Ford driver taking the overnight lead on home territory. Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was his early challenger, but Grönholm’s fellow countryman dropped from second to third this afternoon and the Finns now sandwich series leader Sébastien Loeb at the end of the first day of competition. Rally Finland, the 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, is one of the most famous on the calendar and characterised by breathtaking speeds and stomach-churning jumps. The specialised nature of the event favours the locals and a win by a Finn would mark the country’s 50th victory in the event’s 56 year history.

Citroën Xsara driver Sébastien Loeb claimed victory in last night’s opening super special stage, but it was Grönholm who set the pace in the forests this morning. The Finn won the first three stages of the day to pull out a 16.6 second advantage over arch rival Loeb, but the Frenchman then clawed back time in the following stages to close the gap to 12 seconds after nine stages and 146 competitive kilometres. Between them, the duo shared all the stage victories today and look set for another furious battle during the second leg.

Mikko Hirvonen ran well this morning, but admitted to over-driving each corner this afternoon, losing him grip and time. Despite dropping to third overnight, the Finn is still within striking distance and remains in a fight with Loeb ahead and Norwegian Petter Solberg behind. The Subaru driver is much more comfortable with the Impreza on this event and holds fourth with brother Henning Solberg (Peugeot 307 WRC) a distant fifth. Chris Atkinson, in the second Subaru, is sixth, dropping from fifth after going off the road in SS7.

Team News:

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

Having won in Germany a week ago, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC face a rematch against Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen in Finland. With the opening day of competition completed, the duel is already shaping up to be a classic one.

Sebastien Loeb: " It wasn't raining to start with, but even when we saw some drops on the windscreen I didn't lift off. I was braking as late as I would in the dry, skidding through the ruts, and aquaplaning all over the place. We had a few big moments but I'm not unhappy with the end result. We're about a dozen seconds off Marcus so there is still everything to play for. Tomorrow I'll be pushing hard again!"

Daniel Sordo: "I'm having a lot of fun on the high-speed sections : I'm just driving at my own pace and the times are not too bad. I'm simply hoping that we will have a bit more stable weather for the rest of the rally. Driving here is difficult enough as it is !"

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 led Rally Finland after winning five speed tests during today's first leg. The Finns, chasing their sixth victory here in seven years, powered their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car into the lead during a rain-soaked morning and returned to the rally base in Jyväskylä this evening with a 12.0sec advantage. Team-mates and fellow countrymen Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie third in a similar Focus RS, 43.5sec behind their colleagues.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "We tested in the dry here last month but the set-up worked well in the rain also. The roads were extremely wet in places and dry in others and although it was difficult to drive in such changeable weather, we had constant grip. The rain was so heavy in one stage this afternoon that the windscreen wipers would not go fast enough and I just couldn't see."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Third is a good position tonight, although first or second would be even better!. At times this afternoon I was over-driving at every corner and as a result the car was sliding too much. It's quicker to back-off before the corner and take the bend in a straighter line. There were so many corners that I got wrong and I needed a calmer pace.

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

After an encouraging first day of Rally Finland for the Subaru team, Petter Solberg holds fourth place overall, but remains less than ten seconds behind third place with two days of competition still to go. Highlighting the performance improvements already made to the Subaru Impreza WRC2006, Solberg's car ran faultlessly throughout the Leg and enabled him to set a string of top three times. Chris Atkinson also had a positive day and was holding fifth place overall before an overheating problem on the last loop of stages dropped him to sixth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today has mainly been very good. I feel the car has improved very much particularly when jumping and in the rougher parts of the stages. We've been very unlucky with the weather and then losing time stuck behind Manfred Stohl. For tomorrow we're going to keep pushing as we want to get up onto the podium."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "I'm pretty satisfied with how we drove today. From the start we targeted a top six position and despite the tricky conditions and the time we lost on the last stages we are there. I'm sure that we can fix the overheating and tomorrow we look forward to getting back out there and setting more good times."

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

The feelings of the two OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team-drivers couldn't be more diverse. While Henning Solberg was true to his word and climbed up to the top five, Manfred Stohl lost over six minutes. The 34-year-old Austrian grazed a rock on special stage six which caused the left transverse control arm to break. The OMV driver remains optimistic nevertheless and considers the further run as more than just a fast recce for the "Neste Oil Rally Finland 2007".

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "In such a case you can't hope to win anymore. But, following Katajamäki's retirement, I'll try at least to get Wilson. That would secure one manufacture point, at least. And who knows what tomorrow and Sunday will bring?"

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "It's perfect. We are really feeling great. And the speed is finally okay, too. Third best overall time on special stage six gave our self-confidence a further boost. Now we will do our all to get even further ahead."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

British rally driver Matthew Wilson completed the first leg of Neste Oil Rally Finland with a strong placing inside the top fifteen of the highly specialised event after working his way back up the order following a puncture on Friday's first stage. The 19 year-old Cumbrian was out of the blocks in fine form but just 10 km into the opening stage a rock cut the side of his front right tyre. The hole in the tyre's sidewall was large enough for the mousse, which normally enables WRC-spec tyres to keep running despite punctures, to pour out necessitating a tyre change in the middle of the stage. After the change Wilson then suffered a further puncture meaning caution was necessary to ensure he completed the first loop of three stages. The afternoon presented a further five stages with the finale of another Super Special Stage to entertain the bumper Finnish crowds. Wilson was able to make strong progress back up the order to end with 15th position, meaning he will start leg two of the event as first car on the road. His first service time to start the day is 06.00 local time.

Driving the second Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Ford Focus RS WRC05 Kosti Katajamäki and co-driver Timo Alanne were set to end the first leg of their home rally in a strong top ten position.
At the end of the sixth stage they were in eighth in the overall standings but the next stage presented a rock larger than a football right in the middle of their trajectory. There was no option for the Finns other than to go over the rock and it hit their rear suspension at exactly the wrong place, breaking a suspension arm and disconnecting the driveshaft. Without spares on their car and after attempting unsuccessfully to rectify the damage, the home duo had no option but to take SupeRally penalties.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's a shame about getting the puncture in the morning as we were just getting into a nice rhythm when 10 km into the rally we had to change the tyre. We came over an absolute right crest and just nibbled a bit of the inside of the corner and the tyre was slashed. There was a hole in it big enough for all the mousse to come out. We then had another puncture so we had to drive cautiously to the service otherwise we could have been out for the day. The last big stage was unbelievable, under braking it was like being on ice. There were massive ruts to tip you on to two wheels, even on the fast sections. It's good to be here at the end of the day without too many mistakes. Our finishing position means we are first on the road for Saturday, it would have been nice to have a couple of cars ahead of us to make a bit of a line, and not have to get up quite so early!"

Kosti Katajamäki/Timo Alenne: "There was a massive rock right on our line, it was bigger than a football. I looked to avoid it, but that would have been more dangerous so I had to go over it. We heard it underneath the car. It hit the rear wheel, but it was not a big bang. I thought we would get away with it but I soon felt the car going sideways and we had to stop. The suspension arm was broken and the driveshaft had come out. We tried to fix it but we had no spares. It was very frustrating as I was getting more confident with the car and the times were improving. We will change nothing on the car once it is repaired and we should go well on Saturday."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 23min 51.2sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 24min 59.0sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 25min 33.7sec
4. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 2hr 27min 28.2sec
5. G Galli/G Bernacchini I Peugeot 307 2hr 28min 37.1sec
6. J Tuohino/M Markkula FIN Citroen Xsara 2hr 29min 29.3sec
7. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 29min 49.8sec
8. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 2hr 32min 41.7sec
9. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 36min 26.4sec
10 M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS 2hr 37min 05.7sec

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 News

Marcus Grönholm’s advantage in the Neste Oil Rally Finland was virtually sealed today, when series leader and nearest challenger Sébastien Loeb dropped more than 30 seconds in the third of eight stages in the second leg. The Frenchman was lucky to maintain his second position and Mikko Hirvonen remains third overnight.

Grönholm, who is bidding for his sixth Rally Finland victory in seven years, started today’s leg with a 12 second advantage and immediately set the pace again. However, while Loeb won the second stage, he then dropped a massive 32.4 seconds in the next when he cut a corner, hit a rock and broke a wheel on the Citroën Xsara. In contrast, Grönholm won the stage and was recorded by the Ford team to be in top gear for a single sustained burst of 46 seconds at an average speed of 171 kph; a phenomenal statistic over gravel forest roads. Grönholm went on to win each of the remaining stages and takes an overnight one minute 7.8 second advantage with just four stages remaining on Sunday.

Mikko Hirvonen has been the model of consistency and looks set to score valuable points for Ford. The Finn has inched further ahead of Peugeot 307 WRC driver Henning Solberg, who is now upholding family honours after brother Petter crashed heavily out of fourth position this morning. Another casualty of the leg was 23-year old Dani Sordo. After a fine performance that saw him run as high as fifth overall in his first Rally Finland in a World Rally Car, the Spaniard also went off the road, rolling the car too badly to continue. Behind Henning Solberg in fourth is Italy’s Gigi Galli, who has a healthy advantage over sixth placed Janne Tuohino.

Team News:

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

Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena started this morning determined to challenge for victory in their duel against Marcus Grönholm. They conceded little in Vaheri (SS10) - 1.7 seconds - and won Ouninpohja Länsi (SS11). So for the first time, they beat the five-time winner of this event on its most legendary stage, averaging more than 128 kph. «I thought I drove the stage perfectly, » said Seb afterwards. « But in the end my winning margin was just a tiny 1.3 seconds ! » Their tussle for the lead sadly came to an end on the next Ouninpohja stage.

Sebastien Loeb: « On the inside of a corner that was marked as a cut in my notes, we hit a big stone that threw the car into the air. The wheel was too damaged for the anti-deflation mousse to work effectively, so we ended the stage with a flat tyre. Many other drivers hit that stone, including Marcus Grönholm. He's been driving that corner since 1989 and never noted it. This makes me think that year after year, we're probably cutting corners deeper and deeper. Well, we're not going to cut it any further right at that exact point. »

Daniel Sordo: «After a right-hand corner over a crest, I landed a bit too sideways, » explained Dani . « As the car landed it snapped to the outside of the corner, where there was a rock face. » The reigning Junior World Champion has only experienced this sort of mishap once since he started rallying . « To make things even worse, I was just stuck in the ditch, unable to get going again ! » he added.

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

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated today's second leg of Rally Finland to strengthen their lead. The Finns, chasing their sixth victory here in seven years, were fastest on seven of the eight speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to return to the rally base in Jyväskylä tonight with a lead of 67.8sec. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen reinforced their third position in a similar Focus RS.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "There is still another day to go, so it's not finished yet. But it did get easier for us when Loeb lost time. I didn't go crazy after that and took the jumps quite steadily and I will do the same tomorrow. There were a few rocks in the road on the second pass through the stages and I concentrated on avoiding them. The stages have been so fast today and that's the way it is on this rally,"

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "When we heard Petter had crashed I really dropped my pace. But when you slow it's easy to lose rhythm and the one thing you need in Finland is a good rhythm. So I picked up the speed a little because it was easier to drive that way but I know that I need to finish and get the points for the team, so it wasn't a big attack. I tried to push Loeb but he controlled his speed well.

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

The second Leg of Rally Finland turned out to be a frustrating one for the Subaru team, as lead driver Petter Solberg crashed out of fourth place and two mechanical problems dropped Chris Atkinson from sixth to 21st. The day started well for Solberg, who set the third fastest time on the opening test, but a crash on the next brought his event to a sudden and premature end. Once Atkinson's problems dropped him out of contention for a podium finish, his focus switched to building experience and testing ahead of forthcoming gravel events. Despite this, by the end of the Leg he had climbed back up to 13th overall.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: 'We were coming into a long left-hand corner, went over a crest with a little under-steer and then hit a rock face on the right-hand side. I thought it would be alright, but the car spun around and we ended up rolling. Phil and I are both okay, but the car was quite badly damaged. Despite this, I'm still feeling positive about everything we have done so far and know we have taken something good from this weekend. We have found some improvements and we tried something in the first stage today which was quite positive too, however we still need to work on the consistency. We have a test coming up for Rally Japan now and we have identified some more areas to work on. I've got a good feeling about the next rally and I'm definitely not giving up at all.'

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: 'Today we had a couple of technical problems that dropped us down the order. When we had a clear run we were encouraged to be competitive on stages we had never driven at speed before, and managed to move up the order. For tomorrow the focus is on testing and working with the team to continue to develop the car.'

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has reason to be satisfied with the second day of the "Neste Oil Rally Finland". Henning Solberg consolidated his fourth overall place. And Manfred Stohl even gained eight places and currently lies in ninth place

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We did our best. Now we'll have to wait and see. But like one has seen today: in Finland even a short special stage can become a stumbling block."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "When it is dry you can see the difference to the works cars. Our Peugeot 307 WRC was perfectly prepared by Bozian-Racing but they have ressources we can't tap. Nevertheless, now that we have a kind of draw, I can enjoy driving even more. That is something to take advantage of in Finland."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson enjoyed a fruitful second full day of Neste Oil Rally Finland working his way into the top ten of the overall standings of the tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. As a contrast to the wet and grey opening leg, Saturday saw blue skies and hot weather as the Stobart cars tackled the classic stages which have made Finland such a famous fixture on the WRC calendar. Aside from a dramatic sideways moment in the day's second stage it was a drama-free leg which played perfectly to Wilson's aim of learning the stages on each event he contests this season for a harder push next season.

The second Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team entered Ford Focus RS WRC05 of Finns Kosti Katajamäki and Timo Alanne had an eventful day. Their car returned to the rally with SupeRally penalties following Friday's suspension link damaging encounter with a rock. Katajamäki was right on the pace and set the fifth and fourth fastest times on the first two stages. Another rock, which had caused damage to the cars of a number of other competitors, was hit by Katajamäki's car and caused the top strut mount to give way on the Ouninpohja Itä 1 stage. Katajamäki completed the loop with the car bonnet retaining the strut. Katajamäki's car was repaired in the service period by the M-Sport crew and the local favourite was back to setting top ten times and ended the day having fought back up the overall order to 15th.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I've really enjoyed it today. It was very slippery on the first stage and we made some changes to the diff map and anti-roll bar in the first service. I was glad of where I was on the road today as it gave me good guys ahead to follow. I did have a big moment on the first Ouninpohja stage where I came over a sixth gear crest and got very sideways but other than that it's been good. The stages are mega. We had a puncture about 2 km from the end of SS15, but it didn't make much difference. We struggled a little in the long stage as it was a bit loose but the last stage went well. I'm glad have got to the end of the day with the car in one piece after driving these classic stages."

Kosti Katajamäki/Timo Alanne: "Overall I'm quite happy even if you account for the incident with the rock and the strut. We set very good stage times in the morning, it was a good start to the day. I could hardly drive the car at all after the strut came through but we made it back to service. I was quite lucky when the suspension broke through on the top mount as that could have been a big one. I'm very happy with the stage times we set this morning and we set those without taking stupid risks. The mechanics did a fantastic job to fix the car and it felt great afterwards. We were quite close to having a roll in the last stage at a junction as the ruts were so deep."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 52min 50.3sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 53min 57.0sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 54min 24.8sec
4. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 2hr 56min 48.1sec
5. G Galli/G Bernacchini I Peugeot 307 2hr 58min 30.2sec
6. J Tuohino/M Markkula FIN Citroen Xsara 2hr 58min 55.3sec
7. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 59min 45.7sec
8. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 3hr 03min 05.3sec
9. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 3hr 06min 18.3sec
10 M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS 3hr 07min 37.7sec

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Leg 3 News

The BP-Ford World Rally Team crew of Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen today won their home round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Neste Oil Rally Finland. For the crew it represents their fourth victory of the season and their sixth win in Finland in seven years. Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen added to Ford’s points haul by finishing third, the two crews sandwiching series leader Sébastien Loeb.

In the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers, Sébastien Loeb continues to lead, with Marcus Grönholm maintaining second. Despite crashing out of the event, 23-year old Dani Sordo holds third with Mikko Hirvonen moving up into fourth position. For the Manufacturers, BP-Ford has closed the gap to the Kronos Citroën World Rally Team, leaving everything to fight for in the remaining six rounds. 

With more than a minute in hand to Sébastien Loeb this morning, Marcus Grönholm could afford to ease the pace over the closing four stages. He took no risks and won by over a minute to uphold national honours by claiming the 50th victory by a Finnish driver in the 56-year history of the event. With Grönholm and Loeb easing the tempo, Mikko Hirvonen was the pace-setter during the final leg and the Finnish Ford Focus driver won each of the day’s stages to claim third overall. Finishing fourth, Henning Solberg notched up his best result of the season for the OMV Peugeot Norway team, while privateer Gigi Galli claimed his third points-scoring finish of the season, in fifth. Local driver Janne Tuohino rounded off the top six.

Team News:

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

After a trouble-free final leg, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen Xsara WRC took an excellent second place on the aweinspiring Rally Finland, just as they did last year. The reigning two time World Champions have therefore continued a remarkable unbroken series. For the 10th time in 10 rallies this year, the Kronos Total Citroen team leaders have been on either the top or the middle step of the podium.

Sebastien Loeb: « I won't pretend that I didn't want to win this rally, but that plan didn't quite work out. While there's no shame in giving best to Marcus Grönholm on his home territory, I still feel a bit disappointed. What I will remember about this event is the fact that my Xsara has taken yet another step forward, thanks to all the hard work from Citroen Sport's development team. The car's stability has got even better, and its handling is more precise now. It really gave me a lot of confidence. I don't think we have ever been so close to Marcus here : thanks to a big attack and a trouble-free run we were able to beat him for the first time on the Ouninpohja stage. So now we know it's possible - and we know as well just how much effort we need to put in to get there. »

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 won Rally Finland today after dominating the fastest rally of the year in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. It was the team's fourth victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season, already making this Ford's most successful campaign since 1993 with six rounds still remaining. The victory was Grönholm's sixth in seven years here and his triumph marked Finland's 50th win in the rally's 56-year history. Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen delighted his home town fans by bringing a similar BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS to the finish in Jyväskylä in third.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "When I was a young driver in the 1990s, I could never have believed that I would win this rally six times. I've not had a single problem all weekend and victory here is really important to me. I had a good fight with Loeb but once he hit a rock and dropped time yesterday, I had a comfortable lead and could pace myself to the finish. My target is to win every rally now. I know I can win more rallies this season. With the Focus RS, I have the car to do it, so why not?"

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "It's hard to describe my feelings. I have watched this rally since I was a kid, dreaming of a podium and now I have achieved it. It has been clear since yesterday that I could take a podium and it's a great personal achievement. I was happy with my speed but I need more experience of these roads to be able to fight Marcus for victory. I finished fifth last year, third now so where will I be next year?"

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

After Petter Solberg crashed out of Rally Finland on Leg two and mechanical problems dropped Chris Atkinson out of contention for a podium finish, the team's focus for today's final Leg was testing for the forthcoming gravel rallies. Atkinson set three top-five times on today's four stages and finished the rally in 11th place.

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We've been working on the development of the car and we've found a bit of a direction and some ideas to go on. I'm pretty happy with our performance over the weekend as we did exactly what we were supposed to and ran throughout with the top five. We look forward to Japan as I had a good result there when we scored our first podium and we're working on getting another one."

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team finished the "Neste Oil Rally Finland" with both cars among the top-10. The only registered works team of the FIA World Rally Championship to match this feat was Ford. Thus Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud in fourth overall place and Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor in ninth place won nine points for the manufacture WRC. A result that Bozian-Racing can be proud of.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "If somebody had told me prior to the rally that I would reach a top-10-place, I would have been overjoyed. But now I'm a little bit sad about ninth place. More would have been possible. But the damage on the first day (broken transverse control arm) had me thrown too far back. Fortunately we were able to gather valuable manufacture points which somewhat makes up for one or more lost driver points"

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "Finally the luck we had been missing during the first half of the season was on our side. I have nothing to reproach myself for. The three works teams in front of us can't be beaten under such conditions. Now we've moved up in the WRC again. And the next two rallies I will participate in, Cyprus and Turkey, are to my liking. I reckon that I'll achieve a good result there. But right now I'm just happy about this success."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Kosti Katajamäki / Timo Alanne (FIN)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson has finished his first Neste Oil Rally Finland with a strong placing in the top ten, scoring Manufacturer points in the tough highly specialised event, the tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr had a strong final day of the event once more setting times just outside the top ten over the four stages that ended the rally's 352 km of competitive distance. This final position of tenth in the overall standings was also sixth of the Manufacturer entered cars meaning three points for that championship.

The second Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Ford Focus RS WRC05 had the Finnish crew of Kosti Katajamäki and Timo Alanne in action and the duo placed top five stage times in their home event. Two encounters with rocks, one on Friday breaking a rear suspension link and one on Saturday breaking a front suspension mount, meant their results were not as good as their fast times showed but 14th in the overall standings and a Manufacturer point were their reward for finishing the event.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: “It's been an interesting rally, I've really enjoyed it and it's mega to be here at the end of the event with the car intact and a top ten finish. If I had been offered a tenth place finish at the start of the event I would have taken it with both hands. It has been a really unbelievable event, even including the shorter stage on the final day which was flat out in sixth. The first time through the Ouninpohja stage is an experience I will never forget, it takes your breath away. We had a big moment with the car sideways the first time through there, it was in sixth gear over a crest so it was interesting enough. We'd had a bit too much oversteer with the car on the first morning but after that the setup was great. It's a shame about getting the puncture on the first morning as we were just getting into a nice rhythm when 10 km into the rally we had to change the tyre. We came over an absolute right crest and just nibbled a bit of the inside of the corner and the tyre was slashed. There was a hole in it big enough for all the mousse to come out. We then had another puncture so we had to drive cautiously to the service otherwise we could have been out for the day. I can't wait to get to Japan and get out in the new car.”

Kosti Katajamäki/Timo Alanne: “I was happy with the stage times on the last two days. If it were not for our problems on Friday we would have been right up there for a good result. I was pushing very hard to get those times and I was learning the car with every stage. We had a very good setup with the car and the M-Sport mechanics did a fantastic job to repair the car after we hit the rocks. I am getting better and better all the time in the car and my confidence grows all the time. I don't have many chances to drive this car and I need to show what I can do every time I'm in it. It was a good rally for me, but it could have been better.”


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
20.08.2006

Present:
1st Marcus Gronholm – BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st Timo Rautiainen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
2nd Daniel Elena - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
3rd Mikko Hirvonen - BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd Jarmo Lehtinen - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Representative of the winning manufacturer BP-Ford World Rally Team - Malcolm Wilson

Welcome to the post-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Marcus, congratulations on your sixth win in Finland from the last seven years. You were in command from the start, although Sébastien Loeb got to within 12 seconds of you yesterday morning. How big a challenge did he give you and were you worried he might catch and pass you? It’s also the 50th win for a Finn in Finland; do local drivers still have an advantage?

MG:
The rally started well for me, we got a good lead. Sébastien was very quick for the rest of the day. We were fighting until Saturday and Ouninpohja, where we found a new stone. Now we all know there’s a big stone there! Then the big fight was over. Of course, I was trying to go as fast as possible. I was not worried, but anything can happen in this rally. We were driving so fast, hey… It’s difficult to say (if we have an advantage). Now I think Seb knows the roads very well. Next year I think it will be an even bigger fight.

Q:
Timo, congratulations. Sébastien lost time yesterday after an impact with a rock. Did you hit that rock as well? What was it like? You seemed comfortably in control, but were there any other moments?

TR:
We found the same rock. It’s been there all the years we have driven that stage, but this is the first year we have needed to go inside. The corner was tighter than usual. It was a big stone; we did not hit it as Sébastien did. We touched it with the side of the wheel and made a flat tyre, but the BF Goodrich ATS worked fine and we got through the stage without any time loss. There were no moments I can recall, except Friday - the last forest stage - the last right corner before the finish there’s a big tree. We’ve had that close in years before, it was quite close again this year, but the side of the car was so muddy we couldn’t see how close!

Q:
Seb, we were just talking about the rock on SS12. Did that cost you the chance of a win?

SL:
It was the thing which stopped the fight for sure. We were fighting, it was very exciting, but I had to be all of the time over the limit. To be faster than Marcus I need to do the perfect stage and it’s not easy to keep this rhythm all rally long. After the stone, it was finished. If I didn’t hit the stone, I don’t know how long I could keep it up. I did this mistake and Marcus did not make mistakes. That’s how it is.

Q:
Like last year, it was a big fight between you and Marcus. Relative to last year, do you think you were closer to his pace? Next year, do you think you will be able to beat him here?

DE:
Yes. Last year it’s a very good fight before the puncture and this year too. This year the stages were faster, I don’t know why. When you go flat out for the first time with Marcus through Ouninpohja, I am very happy at the end of stage. Now I know where Marcus puts the cottage for holiday next year. Sure, we’ll beat him next year!

Q:
Congratulations on third place Mikko. Are you pleased with this result, or were you hoping for more? Did things change for you after Petter Solberg retired?

MH:
I’m very pleased. Already on Friday I could match a little bit the speed of Seb and Marcus. On the last stage on Friday we got heavy rain and they got away a little bit. I backed off a little bit, but the whole rally was fantastic for me. Of course it always changes (when someone retires) – I really enjoyed a good fight with Petter. Maybe he could have passed me, but maybe not. After that Seb was so far ahead, I started to follow the split times and then try to keep the speed through until the end of the rally.

Q:
After a dry summer for several months in Finland, we had rain on the first day. How difficult did that make the conditions and the notes?

JL:
It doesn’t change the notes. They’re done on dry weather. Mokkipera and Vellipohja, second time through were very slippery. The only moment we had came in the long stage.

Q:
You said before the start of the rally that your hope was to do to Kronos Citroën what they had done to you in Germany, by finishing first and second. In the end you were first and third – not too disappointed?

MW:
At the end of the day, we did in terms of points what they did to us last weekend. Mikko has done a really good rally. We talked about it before the start, there were places where he could match Marcus, but with limited experience he couldn’t sustain it. Once Petter was out there was no point in him trying to keep with Sébastien. I’m sure that next season he will be further up the leaderboard. Marcus drove a faultless rally. There was no stress from him at all, not even when Sébastien was close behind him. And both cars were faultless throughout the event. There were no problems at all.

Q:
The Championship gap to Seb now is 31 points with six rallies to go – that’s 60 points on offer. Is there any chance of a Championship comeback or are you just working for next year now?

MG:
Yeah, there is no chance to catch him. We still fight for the manufacturers’ title - that’s interesting - and to win the rallies. It’s a good start for next year’s campaign, hopefully.

Q:
Malcolm, what about the Manufacturers’ Championship? Do you think it is a possibility? What’s your plan in order to try and secure it?

MW:
The important thing is that we feel in a position to win each of the remaining events. We have not been in this position for a number of years. It’s possible, there’s no question. We have to remember though, for Mikko, he missed New Zealand, Cyprus Australia and Turkey last year. He needs to finish those rallies to get the experience for next year. We have pulled back the points from Germany, which is great news, but things are still open. All I can say is that we will give it our best shot to do it before the end of the season. We have a simple strategy: get rid of Seb and Daniel on some rallies!

TR: Maybe they could wear the wrong underwear…!

Q:
Timo, why do you think Marcus is so successful on this event? It doesn’t matter which car he drives, he always seems to come out on top here. Does the expectation give you any extra pressure?

TR:
Obviously the key factor is the experience. It was Marcus’ 18th time on this rally. Look at Sébastien, it was his fifth and he’s already so close. That’s the only explanation. There is no extra pressure, of course there is a strong will to win here because we have done it before and we know we can do it if it goes well.

Q:
Finland is one of just three events that you have not won yet, along with Japan and Great Britain? Are these three events some of your biggest ambitions now?

SL:
I think for sure Finland; this is the one I would really want to win. Maybe I should wait until Marcus retires, when he is a bit older!

MH: I’ll be there then!

SL:
When I start a rally I won the year before, I always try to fight for the victory – it doesn’t change anything. I will go to these rallies with the same motivation.

Q:
Daniel, everybody says that Finland is one of the most exciting rallies for a driver. Do you think that it’s one of the most exciting rallies for a co-driver as well, or is it just a lot of hard work?

DE:
Sure, because of the fast speed and the jumps. The most sensational stage in the world is Ouninpohja. You have a 128 kph average and jumping all of the time, you have the same time in the air as on the road – it’s fantastic!

Q:
Mikko, moving onto Japan now. Your were there last year with a Škoda and you were setting good times before you were forced to retire. Do you feel optimistic that you can be challenging for another podium; you’re making a habit out of this now.

MH:
I’ll try to make it a habit! Japan is more difficult than Finland – I know the stages here. The car seems very fast on the stages here and it’s a little bit the same in Japan. I’m sure we can fight there also.

Q:
How did you find this Rally Finland compared to previous events here. Looking round the service park and the town, there seemed to be even more people here than usual. Did you have a lot of support on the stages?

JL:
Absolutely no problem on the stages. There were a lot of people, but they were all in the right places. There were no problems, everything ran very smooth.

FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHP

1st Guy Wilks – Suzuki Sport
1st Phil Pugh – Suzuki Sport

Q:
Congratulations Guy. You’ve taken your second victory of the year on what is probably the event that everybody most wants to win. On the first and second days it was a big fight between you and Kris Meeke – how did you see it? Kris was in front, but were you confident you could have caught him? After you took the lead you had your team mate P-G behind you – did you think he might put up a fight?

GW:
I’m still not sure what happened with Kris, I still don’t know if that’s what put him out. We didn’t do a test for here, which wasn’t great, and it meant we spent the first day and a quarter effectively testing the car. On the first stage on Saturday morning we took eight seconds from Kris and I don’t think he liked it. Yeah, maybe you could say we pressured him into it, maybe you could say we put more pressure on him. We pushed hard, but never really exerted ourselves through the whole event. The car wasn’t really to our liking, but once we got it right then the times came. As soon as the car was working it was much better. P-G and I have been team-mates for almost three years; we know what we’re capable of. You can never relax; we always try to pressure each other. We were confident we had the situation under control. Kris made it easier, but we weren’t without problems ourselves.

Q:
Punctures were a major talking point amongst the JWRC competitors. How badly were you affected and just how rough were the roads that were causing them?

PP:
You could say the second running is the major problem. The field is quite large with 120 cars. The first run is quite bad, but when we go back and the WRC boys have been through, it’s like a minefield. We had one puncture in Ouninpohja where we dropped 25 or 30 seconds – that put us on the back foot. We picked another one up in the long one, but that was only a kilometre from the end so we were quite fortunate. We took it steady at the start and pushed harder towards the end, we drove well with our heads.

Q:
This puts you third in the Championship – how are you set now for the rest of the year. You’ve got two rounds left – Turkey and GB – what’s going to be your plan of attack? You’ve come close before, but do you think that 2006 could be your year?

GW:
We wanted to come here and win – everybody else could take care of themselves. We’re on 21 points and the leader is on 29. It’s only eight points difference. For Turkey we will have the same attitude; I want to do exactly what we did here. We want to be in control and win stages then win the rally. I’d like to say it will be our year this year, but that does depend on what happens to the other people. We have gone well in Turkey and Wales before. I believe you make your own luck, and Phil and I work well in the car, make no mistakes and that’s important. We have to be quick and consistent. If we do that, then why not?

Q:
You started this event without having done any testing and then you were faced with a downpour on the opening day – just how much were you up against it on this event?

PP:
All we had to go on was last year’s settings. It’s a testament to what Guy and the engineer did to get us the win on this event. It speaks volumes.

Q:
Finally Guy, a word on how this event went. There was a full field of JWRC competitors and you had all your biggest rivals fighting against you. How exciting did this make the event? Do you think that next year’s JWRC should adopt this format?

GW:
It was more exciting for us and everybody. You want to compete against everybody. Okay, it’s a different format, but we really enjoyed the weekend. We won against everybody, no ifs or buts – we won. We’ve done almost everything, if not everything perfectly here.