FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 53rd Acropolis Rally of Greece (2-4 June 2006


8th round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 4th round of the Pdoduction Car World Championship 2006

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
01.06.2006

Present:
Mirco Baldacci – FIA PWRC
Nasser Al-Attiyah – FIA PWRC
Sébastien Loeb – Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
Chris Atkinson – Subaru World Rally Team
Henning Solberg – OMV-Peugeot Norway

Welcome to the FIA pre-event press conference.

Q:
Nasser, welcome. You are just back from winning the Jordan Rally, an official candidate event for the FIA World Rally Championship. What did you think of it and is it ready to move up to World Championship level? What are your thoughts about this rally?

NA:
The Jordan Rally is fantastic; it’s completely different this year. Last year, 80 per cent of the route was in the desert with a few stages in the mountains. This year it was completely different with some really interesting stages. We didn’t change a lot of spare parts on the rally, which made all the drivers happy! It’s smooth. I hope it’s in the WRC next year; it would be fantastic for us. Yes, there are things to do, but everybody loves the sport and supports this race. I hope very much it happens next year. Last weekend I drove for three days and we tested a lot of things for the Acropolis. Okay, today was only one time in shakedown, but I feel more confidence. When you lead the Championship it’s difficult, you keep good pace and we will try our best at this race. If we can take maximum points, it will be good.

Q:
Mirco, welcome. It’s your third rally of the year here; how do you feel the season has gone for you so far? Last year you drove a Super 1600 car in the Junior World Rally Championship, so how difficult is to make the switch to the Production Car Championship? At the moment you are third in the series, can you improve on that here?

MB:
The first two rallies went really well for me. With only six events counting for points in this year’s PWRC, it’s very important for me to take points from the rallies. The Group N car is quite easy to drive. For me, I want more points from this rally – that’s what I need if I am to improve on where I am in the standings.

Q:
Nasser, you’re currently leading the Production Car World Rally Championship. How does this affect your plan on this rally? Will you be driving flat-out to try and win, or is it more important to drive carefully, in order to be sure of scoring some points and protecting your advantage?

NA:
We will try our best for this rally, but it’s still a Group N car. In some places the roads are very rough and it will be easy to break the car. I don’t want to do Superally; if we do that, then it’s a problem for us. A good job for me would be a top three position and that would be fantastic for the Championship. I will try, I will be pushing.

Q:
We have a totally new route for the Acropolis Rally this year and the indications appear to be that some sections will be quite rough. Will this make the rally particularly difficult for the PWRC cars, which still use many standard road-going components?

MB:
This is the sixth time I have done the Acropolis Rally, so I know it quite well. This time, though, we are going onto some older stages which are rougher than last year. It will be very hard for the car. Doing well here is a question of using your head.

Q:
This rally is also going to be run in very hot conditions; does your experience of the Middle East Championship hand you any advantages in coping with this? How much more difficult is it to drive a rally car when it is very hot? Does it place a lot of extra demand on the car and driver?

NA:
If you have a good shape and you are physically good, then it can be okay. It will be no problem for me. Last weekend, on Jordan Rally, we were driving in 46 or 47 degrees, so it’s not a problem for me to deal with the weather. I hope it’s the same for everybody, as when you lose energy you can lose your concentration. We drink a lot of water at the end of every stage. You have to keep drinking, it’s good for the body. You lose so much water from the body through the stage, you need to replace that.

Q:
You are driving the latest version of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. What in your opinion is the biggest advantage that this Mitsubishi has over other cars?

MB:
I am very happy with the Mitsubishi, it’s particularly great in the fast sections. In the narrow parts of the road, we still have some work to do before I have the car how I want it, but otherwise it’s very good.

Q:
Seb, here we are in Greece, where you have a 31 point lead in the Championship and a current total of 25 career victories. If you win here, you will equal Carlos Sainz’s record of 26 victories and you will stand a strong chance of going to Rallye Deutschland – effectively your home event – with the opportunity of becoming the most successful driver in the history of the sport. How strongly focused are you on that goal? Is it something you think about a lot?

SL:
I don’t think about it so much. This rally looks difficult, all the stages are new. We had a lot to do in the recce, so I just concentrate on my race. Sure, I know about the record, but I’m sure it won’t be easy to win. There will be a big race between some drivers and after that maybe I will count. It’s the most interesting record for me, but no, I try to stay concentrated and think to my race. It will be a long way to go before I win it, it will not be easy, but I will try my best.

Q:
Sardinia was a strong rally for Ford – your team-mate Marcus Gronholm had a considerable lead before he hit a rock, and you were second. Can you repeat that form here? Do you think that you could be in a position to challenge for victory? From what you can see of the roads, will they suit your driving style?

MH:
Well it’s going to be tricky, but for sure we’ll try. It’s more important for Ford that we concentrate on getting points to catch Citroën in the Manufacturers’ Championship. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ll try. I like the rally and it suits me, but it can also suit everybody else. It looks different to Lamia; the stages are faster and more flowing, but also rougher. It’s going to be hard on cars and drivers.

Q:
Chris, Sardinia two weeks ago was clearly a very big disappointment when you lost fifth place with an off on the final stage. Are you over that now? How difficult is it to get your confidence back when you have a set-back like that? What’s your plan here? Do you like the look of this rally?

CA:
It’s probably the biggest disappointment of my career. We’d backed off and were distracted by dust in the car. I’m over it and focused on this event. It’s going to be a tough rally, we need a consistent approach, but the speed is there for a top five and that’s where we’re aiming. It’s challenging, but probably better for the younger guys like Mikko and myself. The other drivers who have been around longer have done the other stages more than us; we’re all new here which makes it the same for everyone.

Q:
Henning, you’ve not got so much experience on this event, having done the Acropolis for the first time last year. Now, the route is all-new. Does this make it more equal for everybody? Are you confident you can do well here? You’ve had a streak of bad luck recently. Is the most important thing for you here to get to the finish, or will you be pushing for the podium that slipped through your fingers in Sardinia?

HS:
If you see the stages, you cannot go flat-out. You have to take care of the car. The main thing here is to have very good notes. I’m afraid for all these stones, but I will try to cross them. Sardinia was not bad luck; I had wrong notes - I had four, I should have had three, it ended in a tree, which was not good. We will try very hard. We will see about the podium, I am always quick on new stages, like in Sardinia and in Argentina, where I’d never been. Shakedown is hopefully representative of the pace, but it’s good to know where we are with the car and tyres. It’s only up to the driver now.

Q:
What do you think of the new format for this year’s Acropolis Rally? Do you like the stages? It’s also the first time that a WRC event has been based in a capital city – do you see any problems with this? How about the super special stage in the Olympic Stadium – do you think that will be fun?

SL:
The new stages will be interesting. It’s faster than last year and you have a bit of everything. Take the long stage, it starts with very fast, then at the end, it’s tricky and tight with a lot of rocks in the road. It’s not really easy for the notes when you have only two passes in the recce. Some big stones, I think, can be a problem on the second pass. Our new tyre is for the hard and hot stages, especially for the second pass. It’s wider – not narrow. I’m sure from what I saw from the recce, this rally will be hard on the tyres, which is why it’s good that we have this new one. It’s not like the change for the BTO last year. The BTO was an evolution of the construction, but in the same size. This tyre is wider, it looks different and the sculpture is different. It’s another evolution.

Q:
You had a test before this event, so how did it go and what did you discover? Are there any new developments on the car from Sardinia and what sort of advantage do you think they might give you? You’ve also got a completely new tyre from BFGoodrich from this event – how much is that going to help you here?

MH:
The test was just to make the car stronger for all the rocks we’ll find here. In this test we didn’t improve the speed, but the strength of the car – that’s what we needed. There are no engine changes, but we will have some in the future. The new tyre is good, we get more performance from them and they will last longer than the previous ones. So far it’s good to have the rally based here. I am little worried about getting to stage two, but if the organisers can keep the spectators in the right places it will be great. And the super special will be a fantastic atmosphere.

Q:
Chris, it’s not been a brilliant start for the Subaru World Rally Team this year. How much pressure has that created? Does it mean that your mission here will be to get to the finish at all costs? You had big problems with dust inside the car in Sardinia – do you think that’s fixed now? You’ve got a new evolution of the XR tyre: how is that likely to perform here? Do you think that gives you a performance advantage?

CA:
It’s the same pressure, we all want results. The team is focused on improving and that’s the main thing. The team knows Petter and I are working hard. We need consistency and the second half of the year suits our car/tyre package better, so I think we can be at the front and fighting. It’s going to be tough here, a consistent pace will get a driver to the front, but you can’t afford to take big risks. The team has worked flat-out on the problem we had with the dust on the last event. It was difficult in Sardinia, it would have been tough here – particularly on the second leg, which is going to be dry and dusty. The more focused the driver, the better the result, so it’s important not to have the dust distracting us. As I said, the team has worked hard and I’m sure it’ll be good on this rally. The tyre is not a massive leap, but it’s a step forward. On the first pass we’ll take the XR, then on the second run we’ll take the other tyre. Like the other guys said, it’s going to be hard to make it last the distance, but hopefully this new tyre will do that.

Q:
Have you made many changes to the car since you started driving it at the beginning of the year? This rally is also your brother Petter’s 100th WRC start – is there going to be a Solberg family party here on Sunday?

HS:
I also have the new tyre, which I tested this morning, and I like it. And of course you want to do things to the car all of the time, but if I went back to what I was doing last year it wouldn’t be good. It is easy to drive this car, it’s a little bit big and maybe the first time we’re not so fast through the stages – but the second time we can be fast. We have to hope so for the party, but this is a very long rally. I hope for Petter all the best too.

Rally Preview

Special notes:

There has been a major change in the event's format for 2006. In previous years the rally was based in central Greece around the town of Lamia, 200km North of Athens. This year the service park, Super Special stage and rally HQ will be located at the Athens Olympic stadium complex, making the rally the only event to be based entirely in a capital city. The route takes crews to the hills north and west of Athens, with no test further than 80km from the service park. The stages combine roads used in previous years with new stretches of freshly-regraded gravel, however with large rocks littering the roads, the event retains its rough, abrasive character. With average speeds higher than those in Sardinia and temperatures approaching 40ºC, Greece is one of the toughest events of the year. The 2006 route includes 18 special stages and 355.62 competitive kilometres. Legs one and two will feature two loops of three stages separated by a midday service halt, with two loops of two tests on Leg three. There will be two passes through the Superspecial in the Olympic stadium built for the 2004 games on Thursday and Sunday, with an expected crowd of more than 60,000 fans. The podium finish is scheduled for 1530hrs in the stadium on Sunday.

Previews:

1. LOEB / ELENA, CITROEN Xsara
There are some big stones that will come up on the second passage. Routes are rougher than last year’s. The SSS is good.

5. SOLBERG / MILLS, SUBARU Impreza WRC 2006
The stages are quite rough. These conditions are interesting. The SSS is the best of the world.

7. STOHL / MINOR, PEUGEOT 307 WRC
The stages are nice but I will miss Stromi and Pavliani. The SSS is wider this year and this is good.

8. SOLBERG / MENKERUD, PEUGEOT 307 WRC
Difficult and rough stages. I think last year’s stages were better.

9. WILSON / ORR, FORD Focus RS WRC 04
Good stages.

10. KATAJAMAKI / ALANNE, FORD Focus RS WRC 04
Rough stages. Not so easy for me. There are a lot of high-speed corners followed by rough parts.

11. ROVANPERA / PIETILAINEN, SKODA Fabia WRC
There are a lot of stones in the stages. Today we saw four stages. I think this year the rally is rougher. The SSS is as nice as last year’s.

12. AIGNER / WICHA, SKODA Fabia WRC
The rally is nice and, I think, not so rough. I am happy being here.

14. SORDO / MARTI, CITROEN Xsara
It is a difficult but nice rally. Surface varies from smooth to rough. Although it will be tough for tyres, I like this difficulty. The SSS is good.

16. GARDEMEISTER / HONKANEN, CITROEN Xsara
This year’s rally is very fast. Only SS Agia Sotira is a little bit rough. The SSS is OK.

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)

Leading the 'Manufacturers' classification, the Kronos Total Citroën WRT will enter two Xsaras on the Hellenic ground : one for reigning World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena - who are also leading the drivers' rankings - and another one for young Catalan driver Xevi Pons, co-driven by experienced Carlos Del Barrio. Lying in a great third position in the championship, Dani Sordo takes part in the Greek event with Marc Marti and thanks to its faithful supports (Grupo Lábaro, Banco Santander, Gobierno de Cantabria, RACC and Würth) on the same Xsara which allowed him to clinch his first podium on gravel in Italy. Kronos Citroen will again enter an additional car for Junior World Rally champion Daniel Sordo, fresh from his fantastic third place finish in Sardinia - his third 'senior' podium of the year on only his seventh outing in a WRC and only his third with the Xsara WRC on gravel!

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "For Greece, the terrain and the tyres change. We will have at disposal brand new BFGoodrich tyres which should be very useful, like in Sardinia after the second loop of Friday where the tyres reached the wear limit. Of course Marcus has the same rubber but the efficiency also lies in the tyres-car association. Who will do best? It gives a lot of interest to the next match."

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "Sardinia has been a sort of preview for Greece, with difficult stages and a heavy heat. On that last thing I have no problems as I realised Carlos and I are really fit. You shouldn't forget also that I am Mediterranean. Spaniards don't fear the heat.I don't know the new route but if I believe what I've heard, the rough stages and high temperatures will make of the new Acropolis a hard event."

Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti: "In Sardinia we have set some quite good times. I had the feeling I was improving and we've achieved a better result than we expected. Being on the podium in Sardinia and knowing there were all these drivers there was a great result. For Greece we have to try to continue our good performance even if I know it's a very demanding rally on the cars and on the tyres."

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 ends the first half of its 2006 campaign next week by taking on what is expected to be the toughest round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Acropolis Rally of Greece (1 - 4 June) is one of the series' classic events, which was voted the best in the 2005 championship, and a new format based around Athens' majestic Olympic Stadium ensures this eighth round is eagerly awaited.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "My retirement in Italy was disappointing but the pace of the car on the opening morning was so good. It surprised me because it was a disadvantage for Loeb to run first on the road in the loose gravel, but it wasn't that much better for me in second in the start order. I'm confident we can set the same kind of pace in Greece. The Focus has a strong history on this rally and it would be nice to add to its winning record."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "After finishing second in Sardinia, I'm really excited about this rally. Despite the conditions, it's still a sprint rally so I will drive flat out from the start, but with an element of caution to avoid the rocks. Personally I feel well prepared. I stayed in Sardinia for two days to train in the heat and then I have two days' testing so I should be acclimatised to the high temperatures. The thing to remember is to keep drinking to replace the fluids you sweat out. Even when you think you can't drink any more, you have to keep drinking."

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

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two Impreza WRC2006s. One car will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) with the other by Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Subaru has won the Acropolis Rally four times in the last 10 years. Colin McRae drove to victory in 1996 and 1998, with Richard Burns sealing a third Greek win for the team in 1999. Petter Solberg scored the seventh win of his career at the event in 2004. The Acropolis Rally will be Solberg's 100th WRC start. The 31-year-old will become the youngest driver to reach this total. Solberg made his world-level debut at the 1998 Swedish Rally and has since secured 13 wins, 17 podiums and the 2003 drivers' world title. Chris Atkinson starts his second Acropolis Rally this year.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Of course I was disappointed not to have finished higher in Sardinia as we did have the pace when everything went well. I never give up though and I'm going to Greece with the same goal I always have - to win. I enjoy the rally, I got my first podium there and this time it will be my 100th start. I want to make it a memorable one."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "The stages are all new for this year so we'll be learning them the same as everyone else on the recce. I'm quite positive about Greece. I was happy with the improvements we found in the test we did in Greece earlier this month. We found a good set-up that worked well in Sardinia and we will use more or less the same again in Greece. We showed in Italy that we had the speed to get a good finish and score some points, in Greece we've got to follow this through. I'm aiming for a top six."

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 is under testing pressure prior to the "bp ultimate acropolis rally". Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor (Aut) encountered no problems when they completed 120 testing kilometres on Saturday. On Monday it will be the turn of OMV teammates Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud (Nor). One of the main goals is to get used to the new region. After several years in Delphi and Lamia the traditional rally will return to the Athens area. This means completely unchartered territory for the drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Of course, the road conditions and the character of the special stages are very similar to recent years. But as for really knowing even one singular stage, I don't. Which makes the recce extremely important. You have to have to be highly focussed and can't rely on pace notes from recent years."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We already proven in Argentina that we have no problems with new rallies and can be very fast there. And we like gravel. Following the streak of bad luck in Argentina and Sardinia all we have to do is get a good result across the finishing line."

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)

Brit Matthew Wilson reaches the half-way mark in his rookie FIA World Rally Championship season with one of the toughest rallies on the calendar, BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, based around the Athens home of the 2004 Olympic Games. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr will have to put on a performance worthy of Olympic athletes in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team as they tackle the 18 fast rock-strewn stages with the possibility of searing weather and car damaging rocks around every corner of the 356km of competitive distance.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's another rough rally and until we've done the recce we won't know how bad it is. We've got a lot more protection on the car for this one as it is going to be that tough on the car. It's been a busy start to the season and I think everyone's looking forward to having a break before the next event. It will be good to get a solid result in Greece before the summer break and head to Germany on a high."

Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "The last rally was not so good for me but now I am concentrating on Greece. I have done the rally four times before but this year the stages are different. I think it was difficult getting back in the Focus after the long break from Sweden but it will be a lot better to start again in the Acropolis. We are hoping for a lot better result than last time."

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

Red Bull Skoda will participate in the Acropolis Rally in Greece with both Fabia WRC just two weeks after Rally Sardinia. The car transporter has already been shipped to Athens, the crew has little time to prepare for the next WRC event. A lot will depend on Thursday's shakedown.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "I need to start into the rally very aggressively from day one. The Sardinia result had been a very unsatisfying one for me, I want to eradicate the team's bad gravel debut at any cost. I hope we'll find the proper setup right away, that's imperative to a good result."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: "I guess the Greek stages suit us more because they are hard and have less loose sand on the edge than those in Sardinia. Besides I hope for a good shakedown to better get to grips with the setup than before. I'm already looking forward to working with my new co-driver Klaus Wicha, he's a genuine professional, I'm sure we'll form a good team."

Red Bull Skoda team boss, Armin Schwarz added that the most important thing they will be doing pre-event is to try and solve the reliability issues that stopped Rovanpera twice in Sardinia. "Preparation time is pretty sparse [with only a two week gap]," added the German, "but the most important thing is to get a grip on Harri's differential troubles."

Other entries

Former Ford works driver, Toni Gardemeister meanwhile returns after having last been in action way back in January at the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo. He will again be in an Astra Racing-run car, although he will now use a Citroen Xsara WRC, as opposed to a Peugeot 307. The Finn tested the car for the first time last week in France and was pleased with how it went. "I'm impressed by the potential of the car," he said. "I have immediately got a very good feeling thanks to its fantastic handling and the suspension, which allowed me to push hard and go flat out where it was very rough."

Astra team manager, Luca Pregliasco meanwhile was also pleased: "The Xsara seems easy to drive and Toni found the limit on his first run," he added. "It's a very good car and its proven reliability is important to help us to achieve a good result. This year the stages [in Greece] are new for all drivers and Toni's experience will play an important role in helping him to manage the stages of one of the most difficult rallies in the WRC."  Other entrants at the wheel of a WRC car include: Alex Bengue (Peugeot 307 WRC), Jan Kopecky (Czech RT Skoda Fabia WRC), Francois Duval (First Skoda Fabia WRC), Jussi Valimaki (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC) and Martin Prokop (Skoda Fabia WRC).

Production Car WRC:

In the Production WRC the battle for the class honours looks set to be intense, with 15 of the 16 drivers contesting the series opting to compete in Greece - only the final round in New Zealand will have as strong a turn out. Current championship leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah will be one of the pre-event favourites, having warmed-up by taking the win on the WRC candidate event in Jordan last weekend. Reigning champion, Toshi Arai, Marcos Ligato, Sebastian Beltran and David Higgins should also be up there, while Fumio Nutahara is the one driver who won't be contesting this round. Three drivers' had yet to get off the mark this season - namely Gabriel Pozzo, Takuma Kamada and Aki Teiskonen. The latter looked set to take fifth in Argentina back in April, his first event in this year's PCWRC, until a broken steering arm forced him out.

"I think this is a survival rally, like Cyprus, so we will take extra spare parts in the car," said Aki. "It will be like the Dakar but it means we should be able to make most repairs between stages. This year's rally has a completely new route as it is based in Athens and not further north too. I am quite happy about this because it means it will be new for everyone and so my lack of experience of the rally won't be so important. Not only do I not know this rally but I haven't had much experience of rough gravel events like Greece and Cyprus. The roads in Finland are much smoother!"

The OMV CEE WRT meanwhile have been forced to make a change for this event. Romanian driver, Bogdan Marisca had been schedule to compete in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII but the team was unable to get the necessary documentation from the Romanian motor sports committee, the ASN, which would have allowed him to drive. As such six-time Slovenian champion, Andrej Jereb, has been drafted it at short notice to fill the void. "We tried everything but the ASN once again wasn't able to guarantee licence and clearance," explained Petrom Rally team manager, Paul Patrichi. "This would have meant risking the disqualification of the OMV CEE World Rally Team in this series and we couldn't do that." For Jereb this will be his second outing in the WRC this year, after he also completed in Monte Carlo with a Subaru Impreza WRX, when he finished fifth in the Group N class.

Event Timetable

 

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 19min 45.7sec
2. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 1hr 20min 12.0sec
3. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 1hr 20min 21.2sec
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 1hr 21min 01.6sec
5. F Duval/ P Pivato B Skoda Fabia 1hr 21min 15.1sec
6. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 1hr 21min 23.8sec
7. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 1hr 21min 25.5sec
8. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Citroen Xsara 1hr 21min 27.8sec
9. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 1hr 21min 33.1sec
10 J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 21min 36.2sec

Leg 1 Top three drivers interview

The interview was carried out by Nikos Aliagas, the Greek host of the BP Ultimate Acropolis Super Special Stage, at the service park, on Friday, June 2nd, at 19:15.

Q: How has the day gone for you Marcus?
MG: Okay, not really any problems. One rim was touching a brake calliper, otherwise nothing. It was a good day.

Q: Petter, you seem to have found your speed again on the stages. What has changed with the car?
PS: A lot has changed with the car. The team has worked hard over the last week and made a lot of changes to the car which is better in the feeling. It is coming now, I can feel the confidence coming and we have a new tyre for this rally. This afternoon we were driving with two spare wheels which wasn’t the best, but this was more for safety. We want to get to the end of this rally.

Q: Sebastien, is the reason for the gap to Marcus because you were first on the road?
SL: I lost a bit of time in the first loop, but then no reason in the second loop. On the second loop Marcus was really fast. I tried my best, but to fight for the win on this rally seems very difficult.

Q: Marcus, you tactic for tomorrow?
MG: No tactic really. Of course I want to go fast, but at the same time I want to save my car and my tyres. It’s a very tough rally.

PS: I think he will calm down. He’s afraid of punctures. He will calm down and we will go flat out.

Q: Is second enough, Petter?
PS: No, no, we’re going to try. It will be very rough tomorrow, but I’m going to try. I have to watch my back for Sebastien as well. He has a lot of confidence after all these winnings.

Q:You have a tactic Sebastien?
SL: As I said, trying to attack him and Marcus is a bit too far. We’ll push and we’ll see.

Q: What do you think of this rally in Athens?
SL: It’s nice, the stages were interesting. Yesterday was nice for the people. Everything is very good. I would enjoy it more if I was leading.

MG: He has been winning so much, now it’s time for somebody else.

PS: The rally has been great. It’s great to be in Athens. Everybody has a passion for the rally and it’s really good. Thank you everybody.

. LOEB / ELENA, CITROEN Xsara
“I would be happier, if I was in a better position. Marcus was very fast, even if we lost time in the morning. He made no mistakes during the day. I am optimistic; I will push to overtake Petter (Solberg). I am not going for third”.

3. GRONHOLM / RAUTIAINEN, FORD Focus RS WRC 06
“I hope that I won’t have problem neither tomorrow nor on Sunday. Our car is good, and I like driving it”.

4. HIRVONEN / LEHTINEN, FORD Focus RS WRC 06
“I am happy by our performance. We drove on a stady mode. Our speed in the second loop, was OK. Our aim is to finish in a good position, in order to gain some points for the team.“

5. SOLBERG / MILLS, SUBARU Impreza WRC 2006
“I am reasonably happy. Tomorrow, I will try to stay on the road. The winner will be the one with the less punctures. We will try to overtake Marcus, but we will be very careful, because Seb (Loeb) is right behind us.”

7. STOHL / MINOR, PEUGEOT 307 WRC
“The beginning was quite difficult. The set-up of our car was not the appropriate, but after making some re-adjustments, during the service it wasn’t so bad. Tomorrow we will keep on the same pace”.

8. SOLBERG / MENKERUD, PEUGEOT 307 WRC
“In the last stage, our engine stalled, and we lost some time. Otherwise, it was OK, except from one puncture in the morning. Tomorrow I will drive as fast as possible”.

10. KATAJAMAKI / ALANNE, FORD Focus RS WRC 04
“In the first loop, we suffered from some problems on the steering wheel. During the second loop we have 3 punctures. We will make no changes to the car”.

16. GARDEMEISTER / HONKANEN, CITROEN Xsara
“Not very good position. We want to go better. We have to find out, how to do it”.

18. DUVAL / PIVATO, SKODA Fabia WRC
“It was a perfect day. Tomorrow we will keep the same pace as today and we will keep on the same set-up”.

20. VALIMAKI / KALLIOLEPO, MITSUBISHI Lancer WRC
“I am very disappointed, because we drop from 7th to 10th in the last stage. We have no problem with the car. Tomorrow, we will attack”!

31. ARAI / SIRCOMBE, SUBARU Impreza Retired with broken steering arm.

32. LIGATO / GARCIA, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9 «Today we had no problems. Tomorrow we expect the stages to be more difficult. We will keep the same pace to reach the end.

34. BELTRAN / ROJAS, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9 «In 3rd stage of the rally our turbo pipe broke and we lost time. The second loop consisted of no problems for us. We won’t be taking any risks, because we have nothing to do, rather than finish the rally in points.»

35. POZZO / STILLO, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9 «The day was fantastic for us. The penalty we had prove to be good because one minute gap between the cars isn’t enough for the dust to fall. Tomorrow will be a difficult day. »

36. BALDACCI / AGNESE, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9 «The finish of the day wasn’t so good, because of a puncture, due to which we lost time and then couldn’t see in the dust.»

37. LATVALA / ANTTILA, SUBARU Impreza WRX Sti Spec C «It was a little disappointing today. We had a puncture at SS 6 and lost 3 minutes. Certainly, if we hadn’ t this puncture things would be better. Because of my surgery at the right hand, I didn’t have power. Tomorrow we need to be fast, steady and try to avoid all these the big stones. Thiva is one of the best special stages of Rally Acropolis ever.»

39. AL-ATTIYAH / PATTERSON, SUBARU Impreza Spec C 06 «Everything was OK. We had no problems. Tomorrow’s day will be difficult, because the battle is on and the other drivers are very good. We will change nothing in the car.»

42. USPENSKIY/ EREMEEV, SUBARU Impreza Retired with broken drive shaft.

43. JEREB / KACIN, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 8 «I am surprised by my position, because it’s the first gravel rally of my life. Our performance is excellent so far.»

45. TEISKONEN / TEISKONEN, SUBARU Impreza WRX Sti Spec C «We didn’t have any problems today apart from the stones that we were finding on the stages. It is quite a difficult rally, especially if you do it for the first time like I do, but I am not surprised. In fact I quite enjoy it. We don’t plan to do any changes to the car for tomorrow.»

Leg 1 News

Marcus Grönholm has charged into the lead of the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn, driving a Ford Focus, claimed victory in each of today’s six stages and holds a 26.3 second advantage after 120 kilometres of gruelling competition. Hosted at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, the Acropolis Rally is one of the classic events on the calendar, characterised by its rough gravel roads, dust and searing summer temperatures. Grönholm was however in a league of his own and leads Subaru’s Petter Solberg into the second leg. With the exception of a couple of punctures this morning, the Norwegian - who is contesting his 100th World Championship rally this weekend - has had a trouble-free run over the stages in the hills above the Greek capital. His advantage over Sébastien Loeb, the dominant reigning FIA World Rally Champion and winner of the last five events, is 9.2 seconds. While Loeb won last night’s super special stage in the Olympic Stadium in front of a crowd of 40,000, the French Citroën Xsara driver has simply been unable to match Grönholm’s pace. He lies an uncharacteristic 35.5 seconds behind the Finn, despite taking a host of risks in a bid to match the pace. Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen is fifth and François Duval (Skoda) was a surprise fifth, ahead of a fierce battle for the remaining places on the leaderboard which saw positions changing hands on every test. Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) held sixth for most of the day but he was edged out by Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg (both Peugeot) on the final stage. Punctures were common on the rocky tracks but the only driver to encounter major problems was Chris Atkinson (Subaru). The Australian broke a rear differential and dropped three minutes before repairs could be made in service. He is 17th.

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)

Despite suffering from the handicap of being roadsweepers for everyone else, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC fought at the sharp end of the action throughout the opening leg. The reigning World Champions have Petter Solberg and Marcus Gronholm as their targets, which promises a thrilling three-way battle tomorrow.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: «I'm not at all unhappy though. For thefirst time this season, we're going to get the fight between three drivers and cars that we've all been waiting for. It's pretty exciting. On the other hand, I can't get away from the fact that I'm not where I would ideally like to be. During the first loop of stages, I knew that I would be sweeping the road clean and dropping time. But I expected a bit more from the second loop. It's not through lack of trying ! I didn't go for the new BFGoodrich H2 tyres, but equally my tyre choice seemed good. I gave it everything I could - and I wasn't alone in that . Tomorrow, I've got an excellent sparring partner in Petter. Trying to get past him will be the best way to get me closer to Marcus . In any case, I'm going to keep putting on pressure.»

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: «We picked up two punctures, on SS3 and SS7, but the mousse worked well and we didn't really have to slow down. We also had a stall on SS7, which cost a few seconds. During the recce, I really liked Skourta [SS3/6] and I was convinced that we could do something special there - but that didn't happen. Everything's open for tomorrow though, and we are 25 seconds away from fifth place. Given that there's so much road still ahead of us, it's not a huge margin. We can still do the job here. »

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 lead the Acropolis Rally of Greece after dominating today's opening leg in the hills around Athens. The Finns won all six speed tests in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to build a 26.3 second advantage at the head of this eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are fourth in a similar Focus RS.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I won every stage and it doesn't get much better than that. The car is fantastic and I have the tool to beat Solberg and Loeb - and that's a good feeling. I made a good start this morning but I knew that I had to build on that. I was leading by 40sec after the first morning on the last rally in Sardinia. But by Saturday night I was at home watching Finland win the Eurovision Song Contest on television, so that's how quickly things can change."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Fourth is a good position and tomorrow I must concentrate on keeping the car on the road and avoiding the rocks. I made some changes to the suspension settings at lunchtime and they worked well this afternoon. Conditions were better than I expected this morning but they were rougher this afternoon and tomorrow's leg will be rougher still. This morning I was driving in 'safe' mode, the kind of pace I used in Sardinia, so I pushed harder to try to increase my advantage over the cars behind."

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 excellent first day of the Acropolis Rally, Subaru's Petter Solberg lies well placed in second overall, 26 seconds off the lead, with two more days of the rally remaining. Driving an Impreza WRC2006 the Norwegian was the closest rival to current leader Marcus Gronholm and the pair pulled 35sec clear of current World Champion, Sebastien Loeb who is third. Chris Atkinson made a promising start in the second Subaru but a differential problem in the morning cost him several minutes and dropped him from sixth place to eighteenth. With his car back to full strength after the mid-point service Chris began a spirited recovery and set the fourth fastest stage time on the last test of the day.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Today I felt the car and new Pirelli tyre were very good and gave me the chance of a good battle. The last three stages of the day were difficult to drive as we took an extra spare wheel for safety after the punctures this morning. That's Greece though and it is the same for everyone, but it made the car a bit more tricky to drive and not so good to attack. We're having a good fight out there and I'm looking ahead to try and get closer to Marcus."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "This afternoon was much better than this morning but it took me a while to get used to the changes in setup we made this morning. I feel more confident in the car and that showed in finishing the last stage in fourth. I think that tomorrow we can continue to move back up the leaderboard and maybe a top ten finish is still possible, but getting into the points will be hard."

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

It was a successful first leg for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team at the "bp ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece". Following a rather cautious beginning Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Ö) as well as Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud put their foot really down in the afternoon of the first day. The continuous improvement also showed in the results. Stohl lies in sixth place after seven of 18 special stages, Solberg is only 1,7 seconds behind in seventh place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We didn't take too much risk since one can slip off the road quite easily under such conditions. Everything went much more smoothly (this afternoon) vand we were able to gain half a second in comparison with the top. This means a good starting position for Saturday."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We're still part of the game. And we'll surely be able to improve even more on Saturday."

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)

It was a trouble free first day for Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson in the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally though the 19 year-old Brit's performance potential was blunted by the effects of energy-sapping food poisoning in the searing heat around the Greek capital, Athens.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I can't wait to get to bed after today. I've been trying to drink as much as I can through the day but if anything I've felt worse and eating at lunch didn't help. But once you're out on the route and you put your helmet on you forget about being ill and get on with the job. The heat has been quite something; once you've got hot on the first stage that's it for the rest of the day. The stages in the afternoon were unbelievable, I've never driven a stage so rough in my life."

Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "We had three punctures after the first stage this afternoon and then only had one spare so we kept swapping tyres. The rims were damaged so we could feel vibrations the whole time. The power steering was fixed at the service stop and the M-Sport crew did a brilliant job, there wasn't a single problem in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be even harder but despite the tough stages it has been fun today."

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

Team managers Raimund Baumschlager/Armin Schwarz commented on today's events with an interesting observation: "Both driver complained about the tracks on the roads. The Fabia WRC is four centimetres narrower than every other car. Therefore our car doesn't run in the ruts left by our competitors. Andreas' performance was very satisfactory, but we need to continue examining why Harri isn't up to speed at the evening service."

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "I can't explain our problem. We tried to get rid of the car's understeering at the midday service, so we changed some settings, which subsequently proved to be not very useful. We need to continue to work hard to increase our speed, I hope that we'll find the problem over the next two days."

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: "The first few kilometres this morning were rather tough for me. I was hardly able to see the road, I transpired a lot and the sweat got into my eyes. Then my condition improved thanks to the antibiotics. My times were alright, but three tyre failures held me back. Thank goodness the mousse kept working every time. On SS6 I had a spin which cost me 17 seconds. Apart from that I'm happy, the Fabia WRC works like clockwork, the working relationship with my new co-driver Klaus Wicha is very good. I'm confident that I'll be able to improve over the course of the rally."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 51min 18.3sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 53min 05.5sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 54min 17.5sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 2hr 55min 15.8sec
5. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 55min 18.7sec
6. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 2hr 55min 21.7sec
7. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Citroen Xsara 2hr 55min 33.5sec
8. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 2hr 57min 08.6sec
9. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 57min 35.2sec
10 J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 58min 38.1sec

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 News

Ford’s Marcus Grönholm has once again set the Greek stages alight, the Finn maintaining his lead in the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally after the second day of competition. The challenge has however come from Sébastien Loeb today, but the Frenchman hit problems in the final stage and dramatically arrived back in Athens on three wheels. Petter Solberg was forced out before the last stage of the day, leaving Grönholm with a healthy one minute and 47.2 second lead going into Sunday’s closing six stages. Grönholm won four of the day’s six stages, leaving him with a 25.1 second advantage going into the final stage. His hopes of victory then significantly improved when second-placed Loeb was forced to start the stage with a puncture. The Citroën Xsara’s tyre then exploded and the Frenchman ultimately lost the wheel and had to limp back to Athens, arriving with just seconds to spare at the Time Control. Despite losing nearly 90 seconds, Loeb maintains second overall ahead of Grönholm’s team-mate, third-placed Mikko Hirvonen. Subaru’s Petter Solberg was forced out of the leg under the most unfortunate circumstances. This morning a spin cost him second position but, this afternoon, on the road section to the final stage of the day, the third-placed Norwegian had to take evasive action to avoid an on-coming car in the middle of the road and, as a consequence, broke the steering arm when he hit a rock wall at the side of the road. He will however re-start Sunday’s final leg. François Duval (Skoda) and Kosti Katajamaki (Ford) both retired with a broken gearbox while Chris Atkinson (Subaru) stopped on the final stage with broken steering. 

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)

By getting the better of Petter Solberg in the morning loop of stages, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena, and their Citroen Xsara WRC had climbed to second place overall. A sustained attack during the afternoon loop of stages closed them to within 25 seconds of Marcus Grönholm by the end of SS12. Then came Psatha 2 - « special stage 13 » pointed out a superstitious Daniel Elena - and the start of an odyssey that will remain in the minds of the Kronos Total Citroen team for many years to come.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: « From the start of that loop, and especially in Kineta, the cars and the tyres really went through hell » said Seb and Daniel. « A kilometre and a half after the start of Psatha, we picked up a left-rear puncture - which the mousse could not prevent. We took the decision to carry on, and it was the right one as we lost less time than we would have done had we stopped to change the wheel. On the other hand, it proved impossible to put on a new wheel after the stage as the suspension was too badly damaged. We continued on like that for a while before stopping to change the right-rear wheel, which had picked up a puncture as well. The problem was that the spare wheel was already on the limit of its mousse, so it just had to hold on for as long as it could. Finally we arrived at service on time, on only two front wheels and a hub. »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: « The second run through the stages was horrible. The surface was totally destroyed. I adapted my pace to this minefield, but I still wonder how we got through it without doing more damage. »

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 extended their lead of the Acropolis Rally of Greece today as the rocky gravel roads in the hills surrounding Athens wrecked the hopes of many competitors. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car returned to the Greek capital this evening after a gruelling second leg with a 1min 47.2sec advantage, with team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lying third in a similar car.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Things look good tonight and I hope tomorrow will go as well as the last two days. This is the toughest Acropolis for six years and I cannot feel comfortable yet. In these conditions, whatever the size of the lead, it is not enough. Rocks have been banging the underneath of the car everywhere and I've been pushing hard but the Focus has stood up to everything that has been thrown at it. It's incredible. I carried two spare wheels this afternoon, which was a good decision as I had two punctures."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "My aim is to hold position and gain points for BP-Ford," he said. "I have no need to push hard because our position is safe as long as we have no troubles. I'm in no rush and I just want to take it steady and bring the car home safely. It's unbelievable the punishment this car can take because it was so rough this afternoon. I have never seen rocks like it on a special stage.

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

Today's second Leg of the Acropolis Rally of Greece started well for the Subaru World Rally Team. Petter Solberg set a string of top three times as he fought with Sebastien Loeb for second place, while Chris Atkinson was among the four fastest drivers on each of the morning's stages. But both drivers hit trouble in the afternoon. Atkinson retired on the last stage after damaging a steering arm, while Solberg was forced into a rock wall as he avoided an oncoming car on the road section to the same stage. Both cars are expected to re-start for tomorrow's final Leg.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's just incredible what happened. I came around a tight right hander and was forced to swerve to avoid an accident with a car coming the other way, hitting the rock face and breaking the steering arm. What with Sebastien's problems it's just so frustrating, but that is mine and Phil's luck all year. We'll have to see what happens from here as the plan is to get the car back and re-start tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We had a good start to the morning and set some good stage times. Then this afternoon the steering arm was damaged in the long rough stage. But we lost time with that then made some repairs and hoped to get through to the end of the final stage. It later failed and unfortunately we dropped five minutes and are now entering super rally."

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 was able to defend their top positions on the second day of the "bp ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece". This in spite of several minor problems of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor (Aut) which culminated in a small fire in the Peugeot 307 WRC during the last leg. They nevertheless moved up to fifth overall place. Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud also firmly put their foot down and finished the second leg in sixth place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: . "I don't know how it started. For a moment I wondered whether I should stop but then I went on and we extinguished the fire after the finish of the stage. The smoke emission was quite heavy, though. But whatever happens, we will ride a full attack on Sunday in order to overtake Sordo"

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "It was a lot of fun. We didn't take full risk on the long special stage. There are so many rocks on the road that a tyre damage is almost unavoidable. But we'll also ride a full attack on Sunday."

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)

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

A very eventful second day of the 53rd Rally Acropolis in Greece for Red Bull Skoda. Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen were struggling with a faulty on-board intercom system in the morning, in the afternoon big rocks on the road led to a broken rim, a smashed shock absorber and a cut tyre. Andreas Aigner was hit even worse. The Austrian had four tyre failures on the penultimate stage of the day, and not only had to complete an entire stage driving on the rim, but also the remaining road section of more than 50 kilometres back to Athens. This meant positions 12 and 15 for the two Red Bull driver at the end of the second leg.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: "I was feeling more comfortable in the car today compared to yesterday. Unfortunately a connector had unplugged itself from the helmet in the morning, so communication between Risto and myself was limited and then failed altogether in one stage. We lost a vital amount of time that way. At the midday service we replaced the rear axle, which turned out to be a good decision. Sadly our increase in speed was impaired by tyre failures. Now I hope to get to the finish tomorrow without any further problems, maybe we can gather a few points for the manufacturers' championship."

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: "I don't feel physically fit yet which is fatal on these long stages in scorching conditions. The car was very good to drive today, I felt quite comfortable. On the long 37 kilometres stage I picked up three tyre failures caused by big rocks, and on the final SS a fourth tyre went 6 k before the end of the stage. From this moment on I had to drive to the finish on the left rear rim. Summing up, I lost four minutes that way. This sadly means P15 instead of P11 overall, but I'm satisfied with my performance as a driver in Greece so far."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. Marcus Gronholm (FIN) Ford 3:56:26.8;
2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Citroen + 2:26.8;
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Ford +3:43.8;
4. Toni Gardemeister (FIN) Citroen + 4:20.8;
5. Henning Solberg (NOR) Peugeot + 4:55.6;
6. Daniel Sordo (ESP) Citroen + 4:56.4;
7. Petter Solberg (NOR) Subaru + 5:34.4;
8. Xavier Pons (ESP) Citroen + 8:19.0;
9. Jussi Valimaki (FIN) Mitsubishi +11:28.7;
10. Matthew Wilson (GB) Ford + 13:30.8;
11. Chris Atkinson (AUS) Subaru + 14:01.8;
12. Harri Rovanpera (FIN) Red Bull Skoda + 14:35.6;
13. Francois Duval (BEL) Skoda + 11:51.4;
14. Andreas Aigner (AUT) Red Bull Skoda + 20:50.9;

Stewards Decisions:

The Stewards of the Meeting decided to impose a time penalty of 5 minutes on Baldacci-Agnese because their car did not conform to Group N regulations (they left Service Park H without rear bumper). They also excluded car No 115, Hatzitsopanis-Petropoulos, for utilised water from a hose pipe after Refuelling Zone 12 to cool and fill the radiator.

Driver's comments after Leg 3

1. LOEB / ELENA, CITROEN Xsara
“The stages were nice, but really rough, which was bad for both cars and tyres. We have to drive very carefully, not to push a lot, but OK, I like that also.”

3. GRONHOLM / RAUTIAINEN, FORD Focus RS WRC 06
“The stages should not be used not even twice. Organisers must select the roads very carefully so that they could be run twice. It was like being in Safari Rally. Today we drove on a safe pace. Friday and Saturday were very good for us.”

4. HIRVONEN / LEHTINEN, FORD Focus RS WRC 06
“The result is what we expected. We had no problems. I feel very well.”

5. SOLBERG / MILLS, SUBARU Impreza WRC 2006
“We were very unlucky in this rally. What happened was incredible. I feel sad. The stages were rough. The organisers have to take care on small details. They can easily make them better. I think Athens is the best place for the rally.”

6. ATKINSON / MACNEALL, SUBARU Impreza WRC 2006
“It was a difficult rally, but we did a good job. We are disappointed for being nowhere in the classification.”

8. SOLBERG / MENKERUD, PEUGEOT 307 WRC
“The rally was rough but nice. I prefer Lamia. I am happy with the result. At the SSS2 the start button didn’t work, so that’s why I lost from Sordo (laughing).”

9. WILSON / ORR, FORD Focus RS WRC 04
“I am glad to be here. It was a hard but very good rally. I am happy I finished at top ten. If the organization had make a little more work with the graders it would be even better”.

11. ROVANPERA / PIETILAINEN, SKODA Fabia WRC
“Of course I don’t feel well. The result is not so good. The car didn’t work properly. It was a really hard rally”.

16. GARDEMEISTER / HONKANEN, CITROEN Xsara
“Real Acropolis. Rough, hot, sunny and with hard stages. We had a few punctures during the rally, but Acropolis has to be this way.”

31. ARAI / SIRCOMBE, SUBARU Impreza
“It was a very rough rally. We have no concentration. We want faster stages.”

32. LIGATO / GARCIA, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9
“Lamia or Athens for me is the same. I feel nice finishing here, as it was a difficult and rough rally.”

34. BELTRAN / ROJAS, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9
“We had two punctures. We had battery problems and couldn’t turn off the car, because it wouldn’t re-start.”

35. POZZO / STILLO, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9
“To sum it up, this has been a terrible event but normally I love this rally, We had bad luck as the car was working very well and before we lost the lead. But the points are good for me and good for the championship.”

36. BALDACCI / AGNESE, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 9
“We couldn’t win in the last stage. Teiskonen had a problem and we were behind him for 10 kms and lost 2 minutes since we couldn’t overtake him. I feel sad”.

37. LATVALA / ANTTILA, SUBARU Impreza WRX Sti Spec C
“In the last stage, we had no brakes. I feel very tired and my hand hurts a lot.”

39. AL-ATTIYAH / PATTERSON, SUBARU Impreza Spec C 06
“Of course it feels great to win this rally and I feel a little bit as if this result makes up for the penalty we got. Of course I feel bad for what happened to Teiskonen and Baldacci but I’m happy to get the points and this puts us a much better position in the championship with a good lead.”

41. KAMADA / ICHINO, SUBARU Impreza
“In the last stage I had o flat tyre. Road was very rough, but I think that’s Greece”.

45. TEISKONEN / TEISKONEN, SUBARU Impreza WRX Sti Spec C
“We took the whole rally very steadily just to avoid problems and then we hit problems on the final day but that’s rallying. In the last stage our front suspension broke. I am very disappointed and I’m sorry for Mirco who got stuck behind me but we just didn’t see him. And I’m happy to score some points this year even if it wasn’t for a win.”

60. NASSOULAS / PATRIKOUSSIS, MITSUBISHI Lancer Evo 7
“We are happy to be back in the finish.”

Leg 3 News

The Ford Focus crew of Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen cruised to an emphatic victory in the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, which finished in Athens’ Olympic Stadium this afternoon. The all-Finnish duo won just one of today’s five stages but thrilled the crowd in the Stadium as they powered to victory with a winning margin of two minutes 20.8 seconds. This is Grönholm’s third win of the season, but arch rival and run-away series leader Sébastien Loeb claimed second overall today and maintains his lead in the Drivers’ Championship. However, Ford inched closer in the fight for the all-important Manufacturers’ title, and the British team are now just 15 points adrift of Loeb’s Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team. Ford’s youngster, Mikko Hirvonen, finished in third position and on the podium for the second consecutive event after a fine drive that saw him 37 seconds ahead of fourth-placed fellow Finn, Toni Gardemeister. Petter Solberg re-started the leg and claimed victory in four of today’s five stages, but it was little consolation for the Norwegian Subaru driver after yesterday’s road accident and the potential of a podium position slipping through his fingers. He ultimately finished seventh. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) was the day's main retirement when the Austrian rolled on the opening stage.

Team News:

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

At the end of the rough and rocky stages, Kronos Racing finishes once more with all three Citroen Xsaras in the points. Thanks to Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, who finished second, and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio, who were eighth the Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team will spend the two-month summer break leading both the drivers and manufacturers championships. Having swept the road clean at the start of the rally, Seb dropped 35 seconds on Friday. With a better set-up for the conditions he took second place and reduced the gap to the leader to 25 seconds, before a puncture on Saturday evening obliged him to call a ceasefire and settle for the eight points that came with second place.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: « It was a difficult rally » concluded the World Championship leader. « What with sweeping the road clean, getting a puncture and a tricky journey back to service, I’m very happy to come away with eight points for second place. Once more, I take my hat off to the entire Kronos team for putting my Xsara back into shape on Saturday night. Marcus was very quick, but nonetheless we managed to get some time back off him on Saturday. From Germany onwards, I know he’ll be right there. It will be a very close fight, as always, but those tight battles with him are always the best ones…

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Xevi Pons will probably be able to challenge for the world puncture record, having collected them throughout the event. Thankfully he was prevented from losing too much time by BFGoodrich’s anti-deflation mousse, which holds up the tyre if any air escapes. « I can’t hide the fact that I am personally a bit disappointed said Xevi openly. « I expected to be a bit quicker on this terrain that we were all discovering for the first time. As well as that – or perhaps because of that – I didn’t really enjoy myself here. It’s not nice to hear the car taking all those impacts, to be constantly on edge and not to be able to drive in a relaxed way. Luckily I succeeded in my main objective, which was to bring some manufacturer points to 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 won its third rally of the season today when Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen took an emphatic victory on the gruelling Acropolis Rally of Greece. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car led for almost the entire four-day event, excelling in the toughest conditions experienced in the FIA World Rally Championship for many years. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen secured a second straight podium with third in a similar Focus RS. It was the fifth victory for the Focus in Greece in seven years on a rally that is acknowledged as the toughest in the calendar. It was Grönholm's 21st world rally success and strengthens his grip on second in the drivers' standings while Hirvonen's podium promoted him to fourth. BP-Ford remains second in the manufacturers' championship.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "It's great to experience the winning feeling again," said Grönholm. "We have been on the pace all year but had some bad luck, but now we are back on the top step of the podium. It's satisfying to win such a tough rally. The Focus was strong and fast all the way through and that was down to the hard work during our test. It was terribly rough and I could never drive with total confidence because I knew how easy it was to damage the car on the rocks. "BFGoodrich's tyres were strong on such a demanding rally and when we had a puncture the mousse worked perfectly. I could not believe that the tyres withstood the impact from some rocks. The Focus has huge potential and I hope we can show that more over the next few rallies. I think we can push for victory everywhere during the second half of the season," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen established himself in fourth on the opening morning and climbed to third yesterday. With no pressure from his rivals, he cruised through the final leg. The 25-year-old Finn survived a scare when a broken centre differential meant he had to tackle the final test in second gear. "That's two podiums in a row and that is where I should be," said Hirvonen. "I hope my first win is not too far away. I saw on Friday that I could not match Marcus' pace so I just watched the split times in the stages and drove accordingly. I avoided problems all weekend and the team has done a fantastic job. It was really difficult today because it was too rough and not nice to drive as I was just trying to avoid the rocks. I'm really confident now for the rest of the season. My car is reliable and strong and I hope we can deliver more podiums."

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

Petter Solberg finished the Acropolis Rally of Greece with a flourish by winning every gravel stage of the Leg. The Norwegian proved the speed of his Impreza WRC2006 in the most difficult stage conditions seen so far this year. But even Solberg’s best efforts weren’t enough to make up for the time lost through no fault of his own on Saturday and he ended the rally seventh overall. Chris Atkinson also had a mountain to climb after his own problems earlier in the rally. The Australian drove well throughout the day and moved up two places to finish eleventh.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: I’m really disappointed as I just did not deserve this luck this weekend. Despite the accident yesterday I’ve got to say that we have seen some very good improvements in the car and it looks positive. We need to take the positive points and put them into a package and I know we can get there. The team are going to be busy all through the summer but we know where we can improve and we are not going to give up. We’ll be back.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “It’s been an unbelievably tough weekend. Glenn and I didn’t really make any mistakes and I’m happy with how I drove which makes it all the more frustrating that instead of a podium we are not in the top ten. I’m looking forward to having a clean run through a rally, however we need to work together and sort out the problems we encountered.”

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 “bp ultimate Acropolis Rally of Greece” with a top result. Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud (Nor) reached fifth place after 355,62 special stage kilometres. Beside four points in the driver-WRC this also means five points in the manufacture ranking. The Austrian OMV Team was less lucky. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor overturned on the first special stage of the last day. Fortunately they remained unhurt, but couldn’t take up the rally again and therefore finished in 17th place in the overall ranking in the context of the SupeRally regulation.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: For Manfred Stohl the Acropolis Rally ended prematurely. After the OMV driver had finished the second day in fifth place, problems arose at the final service on Saturday. The exchange of the exhaust manifold on the Peugeot 307 WRC lasted nine minutes longer than the permitted repair time-frame of 45 minutes. Therefore Stohl received a 1:30-minutes time penalty and dropped back to seventh place. Troubles continued for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team on the morning of the final day. The car started to lose oil on the connection stage to the first special stage. Even though the leak was sealed the problem became acute once again after a few kilometres at racing speed. The 33-year-old Austrian switched to the emergency program. Stohl: “This causes quite a loss of engine power. We basically ambled through the stage. In a left turn I was too far on the inside and we overturned three times down the embankment. It wasn’t too bad but the car was unsteerable, of course. A sad ending to a rally that was filled with a lot of minor problems.“

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: After a heart-stopping finale on the super stage in the Olympic Stadium of Athens, his lead on Daniel Sordo (Spa/Citroen) was only 0,8 seconds. Thereby Solberg also repeated his best result this season in Mexico. In an internal brothers-duel he remained two places ahead of Subaru works driver Petter Solberg. Solberg: “In the end I’m very happy about this result, even though we had planned to attack once again on the last day in order to reach fourth place. We managed to overtake Sordo but couldn’t ward off Gardemeister’s attack. This is also due to the fact that we were rather cautious in the end. Following the bad luck in Argentina and Sardinia I didn’t want to put this good result at stake.“ Thus, with currently eleven points to their account, the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team Henning Solberg moved up from eleventh to seventh place in the World Championship driver ranking.

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 fought off food poisoning to finish the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally, arguably the FIA World Rally Championship's toughest event, in tenth place after a strong and consistent run through the order where his M-Sport-run Ford Focus RS ran faultlessly to take two manufacturer points. Harsh gravel stages littered with rocks which Wilson described as being as big as footballs characterised the 336km of competitive distance around the Greek capital of Athens with the rally starting and finishing with a Super Special in front of tens of thousands of spectators in the Olympic stadium built for the 2004 games. Whilst Wilson's run was trouble-free the same could not be said for the second Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team Focus RS with the Finnish crew of Kosti Katajamaki and Timo Alanne. The first day saw the duo in a fine 12th position despite having to battle through a stage with no power steering in ambient heat in excess of 30 degrees. On the second day an off over rocks in the morning damaged their gearbox which failed on the final stage. Sunday saw the pair break two track rod ends and have to park their car on the second stage of the day.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's good to get to the end of the rally. We had a drama before the end of the penultimate stage with the steering arm and we had to change it, but that was the only mechanical problem we've had. The car took a real battering so it was good to be at the end and with manufacturer points too. Compared to the dramas of the last event in Sardinia, mechanically it has been a dream come true. It's been a tough old rally, we knew after the recce it would be a tough rally and it certainly lived up to its reputation."

Kosti Katajamaki/Timo Alanne: "In the first stage this morning we had a puncture. The mousse worked so we could keep on driving but then the tyre exploded and we were driving on the rim which eventually broke the steering arm which we had to stop and change in the stage. We continued and everything was okay until the second stage. We came over a jump and landed badly off the road and the steering broke again. We were lucky to stay on all four wheels and be able to stop safely. It has been my worse rally ever.

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

For Red Bull Skoda the negative aspects outweighed the positive ones. Raimund Baumschlager and Armin Schwarz give their summary as team representatives: “The only positive aspect of this WRC event was that we brought both Fabia WRCs to the finish, even though we had no mechanical issues to speak of. We mainly worked on the handling of the cars here, changed a lot of parts, but that didn’t lead to the desired effect. It was worse for Harri, there’s still something wrong with the entire package, for Andreas it was a little bit better. We need to use the summer break until Germany to develop new parts and test them beforehand. Kudos to our drivers and the entire team for their efforts.”

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: “I still have a certain limit while driving right now which I can’t transgress yet because of my car setup. We changed a lot, but haven’t found the settings that would allow me to bring home some points for the drivers’ championship. So we need to continue to work together to improve this situation as fast as possible. It was a tough rally by the way, too many rocks led to numerous tyre failures.”

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: “Our car tipped over and on its side in a hairpin corner on the first stage. Klaus and I couldn’t put the Fabia back on its wheels. Unfortunately there were no spectators at hand, so we had to wait for three minutes before three fans came to the rescue and enabled us to continue. Apart from that I was very satisfied with my performance in this rally. The flu bothered me, as did the frequent tyre failures and having to run 60 kilometres on the rim yesterday. Today I just missed a top ten time on two stages as 11th fastest, but I want to build up on these results in the future. I was very happy with the Fabia WRC, the car was virtually problem-free.”


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
ACROPOLIS RALLY OF GREECE
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
04.06.2006

Present:
Marcus Grönholm - BP Ford World Rally Team
Timo Rautiainen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Daniel Elena - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Jarmo Lehtinen - BP Ford World Rally Team
Representative of the winning Manufacturer BP Ford WRT – Malcolm Wilson/Jost Capito

Welcome to the post event FIA press conference of the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally.

MW:
Thank you. On behalf of Ford, I would like you to be upstanding for a one minute silence following the tragic loss of Edouard Michelin.

Q:
Marcus, congratulations on another fantastic win, your third of the year. Was this one of your best wins yet? You led from the front and won by a margin of nearly two and a half minutes; does this make up for the disappointment of Sardinia? How was the super special at the end?

MG:
Of course it feels very good, after many rallies we didn’t have luck. It’s one of my best rallies. It was not an easy one; it was rough and difficult, now we have a fast and strong car. It looks very good now for the rest of the season. Yes, of course, we had a good test before this rally. We were trying to smash the car and find weak points before the rally. Now it’s good to have a small break. Then we start in Germany and I hope I can give Sébastien a good fight. The spectator stage was okay; it felt like we could have won an Olympic medal, but okay, good!

Q:
Congratulations Timo. In many ways the story of the rally was the roughness of the stages. Just how bad was it? How relieved are you to get to the end? Did you and Marcus have any experience of these stages from before?

TR:
It was quite bad. It’s been bad in many rallies like Cyprus and Sardinia, but here in many stages I was sat in my seat wondering: “How can these tyres resist those impacts?” We come very fast into the corners and there are sharp stones and rocks waiting in the corners. I really have to thank BF Goodrich for developing such strong tyres that they could last. Many times we were on the limit, with rims bent and holes in the tyres, but we did it with no time loss. We have done before part of the Kineta stage – SS9 and 12 – and also stages 3 and 4 were partly familiar from 1999. I really am relieved to get to the end. It’s what we expect on the gravel events; on all of them we have the chance to fight with Sébastien, but we could not all of the time, partly down to our own mistakes and some small technical probs. I feel relieved, yeah.

Q:
You were one of the victims of these rough stages. Talk us through what happened yesterday. Were you worried that you would have to retire? What was it like on the road section? Was the car perfect today, or did it still have some scars from yesterday afternoon?

SL:
We had a puncture in the stage. We had to finish the stage like this then do all the road section on three wheels, not so easy as it was very long. It was difficult for the car and when we arrive here it was a lot of damage. But the [fuel] tank was not damaged and all the pieces that were broken, we could change in 45 minutes. It was okay. Today we had a new car, the mechanics did a good job. It was completely perfect, like new. Of course we could finish the rally, but today it was really really rough. If the car had not been perfect, it would not have been possible.

Q:
What was your tactic today and were you confident you could hold on to second place, or was Mikko a threat behind you?

DE:
It’s more important to be at the finish. This morning we drive slowly, we look at the time as Mikko, we take the same time – when it’s rough, we brake. There was no attack, it was most important to be at the finish line. If you push in this condition it’s easy to break the car and it’s not the position you start the day.

Q:
Congratulations on your second consecutive podium finish, and a very well-deserved one in tricky conditions. How difficult was it to work out how hard you could push? Did you start the rally with a plan of keeping out of trouble, or did you have a bit of luck as well? How tricky was it to steer clear of punctures?

MH:
Well it was definitely a lot easier than Sardinia. I had a good lesson in Sardinia, and on Friday we find we can’t fight for the podium. We took it steady and tried to be faster than those behind. The podium was a small present from Petter. It worked well for us. We had a little luck as well. We had no problem with the car on the stages, but then there was a lot for the mechanics to do. I really have to thank the team; they did a good job to fix the car every time. I don’t know; maybe I drive slow enough to avoid the stones. Today we broke all of our tyres in both loops, so maybe that was luck.

Q:
Was there any pressure from Dani Sordo, then Henning Solberg, on the final day? You started it just under a minute ahead of that battle, but was that a comfortable gap? Of course, on the final day in Sardinia you already had some practice at driving safely to a podium finish.

JL:
Seeing what happened in Sardinia and on Friday and Saturday here, I was confident. The stages were so rough. Mikko learned his lesson – I was confident. It helped a lot, it’s not easy to control speed and not have full attack all of the time – it helped a lot.

Q:
Malcolm, congratulations on another fantastic result for Ford. Looking at the number of fastest stage times set by Marcus, it was clear that the Focus was the fastest car here. Where does this superiority come from? Can Ford translate this form on rough gravel into the same sort of speed on asphalt and fast gravel, in Germany and Finland?

MW:
You want to know Sébastien where our speed comes from? I couldn’t tell you! What Marcus said, we did a lot of work here. I’m really struggling here – sorry. (Jost Capito steps in, as Malcolm Wilson lost his voice.)

JC:
We had the top management of Ford here and Malcolm talked so much to them, he lost his voice! It was all good talk, though. As Marcus said, we had a good test under difficult conditions. The speed was there before; it’s not new news for this event. I think there will still be work to do, but the previous rallies have shown the speed is there. This is still our development year. We were caught a little by the calendar – the asphalt rallies coming earlier. Now we have some time to improve the performance before the next rally on asphalt – Rallye Deutschland.

Q:
Marcus, Malcolm and Jost seem optimistic for the future. Do you feel the same? It’s clear that you will be strong in Finland, but will you be in a position to win in Germany? You’ve taken two points off Sébastien’s World Championship lead now but do you think you still stand a chance of winning the title this year?

MG:
We have many improvements on the car for Germany and a test there. Well yes, I think we can do a good job, but Sébastien has won there many times. I don’t know, but I will definitely try. It’s quite difficult for the Championship; I need help from Sebastien in that case! We are fighting the next rallies, we have to try to win and we have a good chance for the Manufacturers’ title – that’s the aim and the goal for me and the team.

Q:
What was it like driving defensively with such a big lead today? How anxious were you in the car? Were there any tricky moments? Do you think the move to basing the whole rally here in Athens has worked or not?

TR:
It felt good. We have had both experiences: we have gone to the last day with a big lead and to the last day still fighting hard. Okay, we follow Sébastien’s split times, he follows Mikko’s split times and he follows somebody’s else’s split times. It was quite a useless day for me. I suggested when we came in after the first two stages, maybe we could skip the next two and wait for two hours before doing the super stage. Those two were so rough, I didn’t see any point to drive them. When you have a big lead you need to control it, we all agree the s**t can happen when you have a big lead. Yeah, today maybe it was a good idea to go slow. It’s nice to be here in Athens, I like the nature of the stages, but driving them three and four times is too much. Some stages you can only drive once; with a good selection of the road, you could drive them twice – but no way four times, that was far too much. We have lot of work to do before Germany, some tests – luckily I’m not needed more than four days and I think just one PR day. For Marcus, I’m afraid more. For the rest of the time I will go to my summer house and turn off my telephone!

Q:
We’ve seen the pace of the Ford now in Sardinia and here in Greece. How tough do you think it will be to beat it in the second half of the season? Are there any developments coming before the season starts again in order to make it faster? Are you confident that you will be able to control your Championship lead until the end of the year?

SL:
Sure, we saw since the start of the season, every rally we are fighting together. We won some, he won some. It will be the same every time. We have an old car now, it’s still really, really well, but we stop to improve it – we have to work on the C4 for next year. Ford will continue. It may be more difficult for me. At the moment the fight is very close with Marcus. Germany will be interesting; we fought together two or three years ago. I will continue to push and do my best. There’s not a lot coming on the Xsara, we have two more tests: Germany and Finland and then it’s finished testing with the Xsara.

Q:
It’s the first time now that we have a 10-week break in the middle of the season. What do you think of this idea?

DE:
It’s a very good idea. It’s more important for me: I wait for a baby halfway through July. In two months we have no rally, we have a break. It’s perfect. Not for the constructor with a lot of tests, but for us we have two weeks of test – that’s not bad.

Q:
You’ve recently made a jump up in the World Championship – how confident are you that you can keep up this pace and be scoring podiums for the rest of the season as well? Do you have any particular target as to where you would like to finish in the drivers World Championship this year? Obviously your next objective will be to win a rally – when do you think that might happen?

MH:
We had the speed in other rallies this year, now it’s more from the team. The car is reliable and very strong. We can deliver the podium from now on. On the fast gravel rallies we can improve the car and I’m very confident. I would like to be the first one, but Sebastien is too far away at the moment, maybe third is possible in the Drivers’ Championship – but that will be hard with Petter (Solberg) and Dani (Sordo). If we can get more results like this, anything is possible. Winning a rally; I don’t know how far or how close that is – at least I’m getting closer. Finishing rallies and getting podiums is important, for sure one day it will happen. It’s not that far.

Q:
Jarmo, how do you feel that Mikko has improved as a driver since he started this season? This was a very mature drive from him: how confident are you of more improvement over the rest of the season?

JL:
I’ve always known his talent and raw speed, and it’s nice to see him getting more mature. In Sardinia we controlled the speed, now we need the next step, It’s always Marcus, Sebastien, Petter and then us, we are in the middle – we need more speed now.

Q:
Jost, as we mentioned earlier, Ford seem to be on something of a performance roll at the moment. What further developments do you have planned over the rest of the year? You’ve been quicker than the Citroën on gravel; can you be quicker on asphalt too?

JC:
As I said already, we have to continue the development on all areas of the car, especially the Tarmac rallies. We are working on this for Rallye Deutschland at the moment. Also the drivers are getting used to the car and that’s a great improvement – we are very happy with the way this is working.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
Nasser Al Attiyah
Chris Patterson

Q:
Congratulations on a well-deserved victory. How tough were these conditions for a Group N car? Was the biggest problem avoiding the punctures? Are you impressed by the strength of the car?

NAA:
In some places it was so tough, at some place it’s not normal. We must work with the car and we don’t have any problems for all three days. I have good experience for rough rallies. I’m happy for the 10 points. Actually we didn’t have any punctures. Only today, the last five kilometres a flat tyre, but we tried to keep going as we didn’t want to lose points. It’s difficult for tyres here, but we finished the race.

Q:
Chris: Are you surprised to be here after the events of the weekend?

CA:
Very surprised! It took a couple of phone calls down the motorway to realise. Our Team Manager was calling us, we had to call him back three times to ask if he was sure we won. It still hasn’t sunk in. I’d like to thank all the organisers, time-keepers and marshals for giving up their time in the sun. There was chat about it being rough and maybe shortening the last couple of stages, but we needed every kilometre, so we’re really glad they didn’t shorten them. A bit of rough suits us.

Q:
You’ve got a good lead in the Championship. How do you feel about this?

NAA:
You know, it’s good when you win the race. You have more confidence for the other ones. Since we start in the PWRC, we were third in Monte Carlo, second in Mexico, won Argentina and won here. There is more confidence now. Now we can do much better in the Cyprus Rally; I’m so happy with this performance.

Q:
How much of a problem was the heat on this event? Was it a big effort to concentrate on the pace notes?

CP:
It was hot. But, we were in Jordan last weekend, where the temperature was 45 degrees at the Dead Sea, so when we came here we were looking for a fleece or a jacket! It is hard work. You have to keep concentration all of the time, but you do become accustomed to it. If you drink lots of water, you’re fine.

Q:
Was there a fight on the final day, or did you manage to control your advantage? There were lots of very competitive drivers here? How nervous were you feeling on the final day?

NAA:
Today we started number three in the PWRC. We tried to do our best for the first two stage and see where we were. We took a good time, and in the second lap we try to push very hard. When we finish the last stage, we have a text from our Team Manager to say we were leading by 11 seconds.

Q:
What are you and Nasser’s plans now over the summer?

CA:
Me and Nasser have a rally in three weeks in Lebanon, it’s a Tarmac rally. We are off there and looking forward to coming back on Tarmac and gaining some experience of this surface. Then we have a six or seven week break before the Syria Rally. Syria is the same weekend as Japan Rally, so we’ll miss that one. Our next PWRC outing is Cyprus. Nasser is off training in Russia, though. He’ll be shooting in the Asia Games, so Nasser doesn’t get a summer break, he’s training for the Asia Games.