FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 6th Rally Japan (1-3 September 2006)


11th round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 5th round of the Production Car World Championship 2006

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY JAPAN
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
31.08.2006

Present:
Fumio Nutahara - PWRC
Takuma Kamada - PWRC
Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Marcus Grönholm - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Matthew Wilson - Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team

Welcome to the FIA pre-event press conference.

Q:
Fumio, the Championship started well for you in Monte Carlo with a victory in the PWRC. This is your third event this year, what do you hope to achieve in your home rally? Without Nasser (Al-Attiyah) here - the Championship leader - do you feel there’s a good chance of picking up 10 points?

FN:
I’m very happy to be here, it was a shame about Rally Mexico, but I would like to win in my home event. The leader is not here, I am very motivated and eager to run because it’s been so long since I won in Monte Carlo. I would surely like those 10 points. This is the first challenge of three rallies for me.

Q:
What do you think of the stages here in Japan? It sounds like they’re going to be quite tricky. Is there any extra pressure on your home event?

FN:
The Rally Japan stages are high speed, but they are very slippery because of the rain and some stones were being pulled out into the road. The roads can be quite rough and we have to make sure we don’t get any punctures. I don’t feel any pressure. The only problem for me today was that I crashed a little into the barrier at shakedown.

Q:
We’ve heard how Fumio feels, but what do you think about the stages on your home rally? There’s great rivalry in Japan between Subaru and Mitsubishi; who do you see as your main rivals?

TK:
This is the first time I’ve been here as a PWRC driver. Because of the rain, the roads will be very tough for us. It’s like Fumio says, Nutahara is a strong rival, but I’ll do the best that I can on this rally. Every other competitor is also a very good driver.

Q:
Interestingly, you have an English-speaking, French co-driver in Denis Giraudet. That must present some unique challenges!

TK:
I have been using English pace notes for a long time, so it shouldn’t be a problem. The major problem is the timing of the notes, but my co-driver is very experienced, so this should be good as well. This the first time for me to be with him, so it’s quite difficult to take in the timings and the communications.

Q:
Sébastien, we heard earlier from the PWRC drivers that the stages are difficult here in Japan; what are your thoughts? There will be changing grip levels on this rally, but you’re famously quick on asphalt where the grip changes. Is it more difficult to master these conditions on gravel stages?

SL:
I think it depends on the weather. The conditions we had in the recce were very difficult with a lot of water and mud. The grip was changing in the corners. If it’s like this in the rally, it’s hard to keep the car on the road for three days. If it’s not like this, the rally will not be more tricky than in the last years – although it will be tough without the gravel crews. I don’t like the grip changing on Tarmac when it’s tricky, but I can do good times. Perhaps I understand the colour of the Tarmac changing, but on gravel, especially in the recce, I didn’t understand why sometimes I was sliding and sometimes not. Maybe it will be better on the rally when we have the right tyres.

Q:
Where’s the main opposition coming from; will it be the three guys sitting alongside you? We’ve all been looking at the record books recently. Do you think you can get that 27th win here, to break Carlos Sainz’s record?

SL:
Marcus is always very fast and Petter won here two years ago and was leading last year before he went out. For sure, I will have to push very hard if I want to beat these two drivers. Last year I was not pushing very hard, I wanted to keep the car on the road for the Championship. This year I will do what I can and we’ll see. Sure, I think about the record, but it doesn’t need to be immediate. For me, the most important thing is the Championship. I hope, one day, I will have this 27th victory. Before the rally I think about the event, to do some good work with the setting and things, then after the rally we will think about that.

Q:
Marcus, after that win in Finland and a win here last year, you must be feeling full of confidence? Sébastien has a big lead in the Drivers’ Championship; how much are you looking at overhauling him and how much are you thinking about the Manufacturers’ Championship?

MG:
Last year I was behind Petter; I couldn’t catch him, but finally we won. Confident and confident! Finland was a different story; I couldn’t say how it will be here. It’s very difficult out there. I don’t say anything and then we’ll see on Sunday. The team has not said anything, how to drive or that we have to win. I’m just doing my normal driving. I think we have a chance to fight for Manufacturers; there’s five or six rallies to go. But everything has to go well.

Q:
These stages are going to be difficult, as the other drivers have mentioned. Is there any margin for error with such tight and narrow stages?

MG:
It’s everywhere the same, but here it is narrow and fast. There’s not a lot of space to put a wheel wrong or you will be in the ditch.

Q:
Matthew, your first time here and you’ve done just two passes on the recce, what’s your opinion of the country and stages and do they compare to any other rallies in the WRC?

MW:
It’s a totally different culture, we’ve got the first time with the 2006 car and that’s a big challenge as well. It felt good this morning, but it’s hard to tell at shakedown. Like Seb said, there was a lot of heavy rain in the recce; it’s hard to see the real slippery places. It is narrow and quick, if you put a wheel wrong, you’ll be off. If we can get around and get to the finish, I’ll be quite happy. They’re fairly unique stages, not really like anything else I’ve seen. There are a couple of stages which are wide and quick, but under the trees – where the daylight doesn’t get to – it’s slippery and tough.

Q:
You’re driving the 2006 specification Focus for the first time. Having done the shakedown, what do you think of it and how different does it feel behind the wheel? With no experience here, what’s a realistic target that going to make you and your father (Malcolm Wilson) happy?

MW:
It’s the first time I’ve driven a car with passive differentials. It was quite tight and slippery at shakedown this morning, so it was hard to tell. We’ve only done 38 km (in the car) so far, we’ll see what happens in the morning. It’ll be a new challenge. If you look at the entry, then it’s possible to get points – but I’m sure dad will say get to the end and make the finish. But if we can make some points then I’ll be happy.

Q:
Petter; your home rally, so how much added pressure do you feel in Japan? A rally of mixed emotions for you too; the first year you won and last year you dramatically retired while leading. What’s it going to be this year?

PS:
We had more pressure last year. After a disappointing start to the season, it’s not so bad. We can show the Subaru people what we’re good for. The plan to start with is to go for a podium finish and take it from there. We need to start from scratch again; it’s been a very long season. There was so much rain on the recce, but I like the rally. It’s very tricky and easy to be caught out by loose rocks on the side of the road. I hope we can come through with no problems. I like the rally, though. The stages were and are very narrow.

Q:
It was a rock last year that cost you victory, how badly do you think the stages will rut up this year and will you really have to be on your guard?

PS:
There’s nothing you can do, just keep in the ruts and hope that it will not happen to anybody. The stone is in England and everybody is spitting on it sometimes!

Q:
There are legions of Subaru fans cheering you and Chris (Atkinson) and Toshi (Arai) on. What would it mean to them and the whole team to finish on top of the podium in Japan?

PS:
I think, for everybody, the whole top management from Subaru and Fuji Heavy Industries and of course all of the fans, it would be good. I hope we can do the best we can; with some good teamwork we can do it.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Fred Billet (Echappement, France)

Q:
Has your dad been hard with you, giving you a car with a longer track here?

MW:
The car is a lot bigger and the stages are narrow, but it’s a fantastic car; that is proven already. We just need to keep it looking like new!

Rally Preview

The FIA World Rally Championship heads to the Far East for the eleventh of the 16-round series. Rally Japan, the Subaru World Rally Team’s home event, is based in the city of Obihiro on Hokkaido, the most northerly of Japan’s islands, and takes place from 1 to 3 September. As the only round of the WRC to take place in Asia, Rally Japan usually attracts hundreds of thousands of fans from all over the continent. Last year over 200,000 people attended the three days of competition, while the ceremonial start alone drew 52,000 spectators. Rally Japan is a highly technical event with narrow, loose gravel stages which run through dense woodland on the edge of the vast Tokachi plain that stretches inland from the Pacific Ocean. Each Leg will be a grueling test for crews with up to 10 stages per day, ranging from short, twisty 3km sprints to fast, flowing roads more than 34km long. With stages separated by long liaison sections, drivers can be on the road for over 12 hours a day.

Changeable weather is as much a feature of Rally Japan as the long days. Although Obihiro is protected by two mountain ranges, it lies in the path of Pacific weather systems which bring high winds and torrential rain to the island. This year’s rally takes place in the height of the typhoon season and it’s highly likely that heavy showers will fall each day, leaving the soft ground saturated with water. With some stages used four times, the roads will become heavily rutted as more cars drive through.

This year, the route features 27 stages, one more than in 2005. Changes for this year include a new Superspecial on the edge of the service park that will be used five times during the rally and once as the shakedown stage, while the mammoth 50km Kunneywa-Niueo stage has been broken into three shorter stages. After a ceremonial start in central Obihiro on Thursday night, the first competitive stage of the rally begins at 0803hrs on Friday 1 September. The podium finish is scheduled for 1500hrs at the Kita Aikoku service park six kilometres south of Obihiro.

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)

To tackle the third edition of the Rally Japan, the Kronos Total Citroën WRT, currently leading the Manufacturers’ championship, enters two 2006 Xsara WRCs. They will be driven by two-times World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, clear leaders of the ‘Drivers’ rankings, and by the Junior World rally champion Dani Sordo, as usually co-driven by Marc Marti. As championship’s leaders, Seb and Daniel will start first on the road on day one, facing the road sweeping in the morning. They hope this task won’t turn into ‘heavy road-works’ as it was the case last year in some sections covered in a rocky layer. But they also hope they could still be in position to get in the fight for a win after that. However, their comfortable lead in the championship allows them to choose in between the Bushido – the warrior path – and the Go Game, all about tactics. In the ‘challengers match’, such important for the Manufacturers’ Championship, Dani Sordo discovers the event and has two less participations than Mikko Hirvonen. However, this does not bother the Junior World champion as he is decided to concentrate on learning the terrain and find the right pace to reach the finish with the maximum number of points for the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team…

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: “It’s not my favourite but there are nice things though. I like feeling ‘disorientated’ and there aren’t places above Japan for that. The enthusiasm of the crowd when they shake little flags is both amusing and nice. Some stages are interesting even if their narrow character stops from choosing a line. Last year, some of speed-tests situated on the long road section in between Obihiro and Rikubetsu, had too soft grounds which became rutted too quickly. All the drivers have talked about it at the finish. I hope this year’s route will be modified in that direction.”

Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti: Quote not available.

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

Victory in Finland earlier this month for Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen's Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was the squad's fourth in 10 rounds. It also ensured that with six rounds still remaining, Ford is enjoying its most successful championship season since 1993. Both Grönholm and Rautiainen and BP-Ford team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have competed on both previous Rally Japan WRC events. Grönholm, who lies second in the drivers' championship, won last year and was fourth in 2004. Japan marks 26-year-old Hirvonen's 50th WRC start. "If I had to pick any highlights from the first 49 rallies, I would choose two," he said. "The first would be in Spain last year when I finished third in a Focus as a private entrant. The second would be Finland last week. That was also very special.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: I'm excited about all these last six gravel events," said 38-year-old Grönholm. "I will start each of those believing I can win. I had absolutely no problems with the car in Finland and that's really encouraging. If a driver is happy about the reliability of his car it makes a big difference to his confidence and his general approach to an event."The stages in Japan are mostly narrow, but still fast, and there isn't much room to choose your line. They remind me of the stages in Britain and some are even like Finland, but without the big crests and jumps. If I can be as fast in Japan as I was in Finland then I will be quite happy! It's important to take care coming out of the corners. The ditches are close to the road and there are usually bushes and leaves covering them so you can't really see them properly. Some are quite deep and it's quite easy to drop the car into one just because you can't see it," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I quite enjoy Japan. In fact Finland was a good shakedown for next weekend because the stages in both countries are fast and I'm already in the right attitude. We're not allowed to test outside Europe before events but the stages are not so different to Finland so the set-up of the car will be pretty much the same. "The narrow roads are the main feature. But they are changing. Even last year, when it was only the rally's second time in the championship, the roads were a little wider. People were braver in cutting corners and when that happens the bends change in character and eventually become more open," added Hirvonen.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)
14 Toshihiro Arai / Tony Sircombe (J/NZ)

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter one Impreza WRC2006 for Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and one car for Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Toshi Arai (co-driven by Tony Sircombe) will also drive an Impreza WRC2006. Petter Solberg makes his third Rally Japan appearance this year. Petter won the inaugural WRC event in 2004, however his 2005 rally came to a premature end when, with a 22secs lead, he hit a rock on the penultimate stage of the rally. Chris Atkinson first contested the rally in 2003 when it formed part of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. The Australian has an excellent record in Japan; in 2004 he won the Super 1600 class and in 2005 he achieved his highest-ever WRC finish when he secured third position. The result was the first time an Australian had finished on a WRC podium since 1992. Toshi Arai competes in his home rally for the fourth time this year. Like Chris, the Japanese driver has an excellent record on the rally; at the wheel of a Group N specification Subaru Impreza, he has won his class every year he’s entered.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: “I enjoy Rally Japan a lot, it’s always been a good rally for us, but this year I don’t want to make any predictions. Let’s start, get into a rhythm and go from there – we need a good finish. Ideally it would be on the podium – if we’re lucky and everything on the car works okay, we should be more than capable of doing this. It would be a great result for all of the fans there; it’s definitely a boost for a driver to have that kind of incredible support.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: Rally Japan is Subaru’s home event so it’s a big rally for the team. We did well there last year, and I enjoy the narrow, fast, tricky roads, but it could be difficult to get that result again. We’ve made some steps forward with the car, now it’s all about getting to the stage where we’re consistently on the pace. We shouldn’t underestimate the task we’ve got in front of us but, all the same, we’ll be doing our best to get a good result for the Subaru supporters.”

Toshi Arai/Toni Sircombe: “I’m very excited about competing in Rally Japan with the Subaru World Rally Team. I know the team well – there are still the same faces, although some of them have moved up a level since I was last here! There’s quite a lot of pressure as it’s my home rally and my first time in a WRC car since 2001, so the goal for me will be to get a good finish. Realistically we’ll be aiming for a top five position, but if we get there and one of the top three has a problem, you never know, we could be on the podium.”

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is primed for the next assignment. Following two rallies in Europe the WRC goes overseas once again for the “Rally Japan”. With Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor, the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team will only be represented by one car in the land of the rising sun. Which means that the hunt is only on for driver points at the eleventh run to the FIA World Rally Championship. At the remaining five rallies the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team will once again be competing with two cars. On Tuesday Manfred Stohl will be facing one of his last big adventures in the Rally World Championship. Following 104 starts in the royal class of this sport the 34-year-old OMV driver will compete in an event for the first time – the Rally Japan.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: “I’ve been there several times and especially enjoy the food in Japan but I’ve never competed in a rally. It is bound to be a great experience. I’m sure that we won’t have any problems since I am usually good at adapting to new rallies. And the Rally Japan should also suit the Peugeot 307 WRC. After all, Marcus Grönholm won last year with this car.“

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

Rally Japan, the eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, will be a momentous occasion for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally as it debuts its brand-new Ford Focus RS WRC06 cars, driven by Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc. After ten WRC events this year using the familiar older-style Ford Focus RS WRC04, the Stobart team takes its next step forward with the move to the 2006 generation Ford Focus RS WRC06, based on the latest Ford Focus road car and the same car that has been used by the BP Ford World Rally Team since late last season. It is the early debut of the ’06 generation car by the BP Ford World Rally Team, run by the same M-Sport operation which run the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team, which enables the squad to become the first-ever team other than the Manufacturer One operation to use a Focus RS WRC06.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: “It’s not an event I’ve done before and I’ve only driven the new Focus very briefly so it’s going to be interesting. Michael’s done the rally before so I’ll be relying on him a lot. Getting to drive the 2006 Focus is probably something I’ve been looking forward to more than anything else this year so it will be really good to finally be in the car. In Finland it was good to get a top ten result and we’re just going to have the same approach as every rally this year and go out and learn the event.

Luis Perez Companc/José Maria Volta: “I have not done Rally Japan before so it will be very interesting to see the event. It will be my first rally in the new Focus and I am very much looking forward to that. Everyone has told me it is a very narrow rally, very fast, but with not much room for error. This will make it a very difficult rally and I don’t really know what to expect.

Event Timetable:

Thursday 31 August: Ceremonial start

Start Central Obihiro 19.30

Friday 1 September: Leg 1 Kita Aikoku - Kita Aikoku

SS1 Pawse Kamuy 1 9.05km 08.03
SS2 Rikubetsu 1 2.73km 08.51
SS3 Kanna 1 13.86km 09.27
SS4 Puray 1 34.96km 09.50
Serv A Kita Aikoku (30 mins) 12.20
SS5 Pawse Kamuy 2 9.05km 14.23
SS6 Rikubetsu 2 2.73km 15.11
SS7 Kanna 2 13.86km 15.47
SS8 Puray 2 34.96km 16.10
SS9 Obihiro 1 1.30km 18.45
SS10 Obihiro 2 1.30km 18.55
Serv B Kita Aikoku (45 mins) 19.08
Finish Kita Aikoku 19.53

Saturday 2 September: Leg 2 Kita Aikoku - Kita Aikoku

Serv C Kita Aikoku (10 mins) 06.00
SS11 Emina 8.18km 07.26
SS12 Rikubetsu 3 2.73km 08.28
SS13 Niueo 1 20.75km 08.53
SS14 Sipirkakim 1 22.43km 09.25
SS15 Menan 16.25km 10.35
Serv D Kita Aikoku (30 mins) 12.20
SS16 Rikubetsu 4 2.73km 14.48
SS17 Niueo 2 20.75km 15.13
SS18 Sipirkakim 2 22.43km 15.45
SS19 Menan Short 9.17km 16.55
SS20 Obihiro 3 1.30km 18.45
SS21 Obihiro 4 1.30km 18.55
Serv E Kita Aikoku (45 mins) 19.08
Finish Kita Aikoku 19.53

Sunday 3 September: Leg 3 Kita Aikoku - Kita Aikoku

Serv F Kita Aikoku (10 mins) 06.00
SS22 Rera Kamuy 8.76km 07.19
SS23 Panke Nikorpet 1 17.04km 07.44
SS24 Penke 1 24.88km 08.20
Serv G Kita Aikoku (30 mins) 10.00
SS25 Panke Nikorpet 2 17.04km 11.43
SS26 Penke 2 24.88km 12.19
SS27 Obihiro 5 1.30km 14.09
Serv H Kita Aikoku (30 mins) 14.22
Finish Kita Aikoku 15.00

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen 1hr 11min 01.9sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena 1hr 11min 12.4sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 1hr 12min 04.0sec
4. M Stohl/I Minor 1hr 13min 22.6sec
5. D Sordo/M Marti 1hr 13min 56.5sec
6. C Atkinson/G MacNeall 1hr 13min 58.0sec
7. T Arai/T Sircombe 1hr 14min 22.4sec
8. P Solberg/P Mills 1hr 14min 36.9sec
9. M Wilson/M Orr 1hr 15min 06.7sec
10 L Perez Companc/J-M Volta 1hr 15min 44.2sec

Leg 1 News

Finland’s Marcus Grönholm has taken the early advantage in Rally Japan, the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Ford driver holds a slim 10.5 second lead after the opening leg and, in an identical situation to Rally Finland two weeks ago, is being hunted down by series leader Sébastien Loeb and team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. The rain of the last few days has finally given way to clearer conditions, but the stages in the forests on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido remain muddy and extremely tricky. All the crews have been struggling for grip however Marcus Grönholm has powered his Ford Focus over the slippery gravel roads in commanding fashion. However, despite winning six of today’s 10 stages, the Finn - like many others - has had a few scares and narrowly avoided going off the road on a fast section this afternoon. Arch rival Sébastien Loeb is the only other driver to have won stages today and after claiming four fastest times in the Citroën Xsara - including two on the super special stage - has been on Grönholm’s tail throughout the leg. While these two battle it out for the lead, Mikko Hirvonen holds third in the second Focus, comfortably ahead of fourth-placed Manfred Stohl (Peugeot 307 WRC). In his first outing in Japan, the Austrian is struggling for grip and getting used to the conditions. Dani Sordo (Citroën Xsara) climbed to fifth during the two closing super special stages after a close fight with Chris Atkinson in the lead Subaru Impreza. The Australian also picked up a 50 second penalty earlier in the day for leaving the service park late when the team experienced difficulties replacing suspension components. Subaru has once again been struck by more bad luck, however. Going into the third stage - in third position - brake problems slowed Petter Solberg and then in the following stage the Norwegian lost nearly two minutes as the condition worsened. He dropped to 10th, but has since climbed to eighth in the team’s home rally.

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)

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena versus Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen : this is undoubtedly the match of the season and once more it is living up to all expectations. At the end of leg one of the Rally Japan – the 11th encounter between the two rivals this year – Loeb is keeping Grönholm in his sights, by holding the runner-up spot 11.5 seconds behind the Finn. After a day of learning the narrow and damp roads of Hokkaido, a concentrated Dani Sordo ends the leg in fifth place.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "I swept away the loose gravel in Pawse Kamuy , made a few small mistakes in Rikubetsu, then I had a good feeling in Kanna. But in Puray the feeling was not so good, as the grip level was constantly changing…" The second loop of stages was a carbon copy of the first and Seb limited the time loss to Grönholm to just 2.2 seconds, having once more set fastest time in Kanna. Nonetheless, the reigning World Champion stalled on the slowest hairpin in Puray, and later asked the service crew to check the function of his semi-automatic gearbox command. «I’ve got a problem with Pawse Kamuy, » reflected Seb during final service. «For three years now I’ve never quite got to grips with that stage. That’s where Marcus built up the bulk of his advantage. I was quicker in Kanna and he was in Puray : that’s what a fight is all about ! I’m sure it will be very exciting again tomorrow… »

Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti: «In the afternoon the stages were cleaner and less damp. As it was my second run through them at speed, I felt happier and more confident. My times got better and so I made up two places… Tomorrow, I’m going to stick with the same tactics. I will get to know the stages carefully, try to improve during the second run, and above all I want to avoid mistakes. My main aim on this rally is first and foremost to score as many manufacturer points as I can for Kronos. »

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 Rally Japan after controling today's opening leg. The Finns powered their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to the front from the opening kilometre this morning and were never headed as they won six of the gravel speed tests, building a 10.5sec advantage. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen hold a comfortable third in a similar Focus RS after setting a consistently quick pace.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "After our win in Finland on the last rally, I felt confident here before the start," said 38-year-old Grönholm. "It has been a good battle with Loeb today but I must admit I was hoping my lead would be bigger tonight. It's obviously going to be a hard fight and I need to stretch my advantage tomorrow because the gap at the moment isn't big enough. One small mistake could be costly. "We made a good tyre choice. The roads were extremely muddy and slippery this morning and the conditions became worse with the passage of every car. I've not tested in that weather but everything was OK and it was drier this afternoon. Loeb beat me twice on the same stage and I remember losing time there last year. Maybe I need to have a closer look at my pace notes next year," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "About 3km after the start I hit a concrete post on a bridge on a fifth gear right bend," he explained. The impact bent a rear wheel and I lost my confidence. I dropped a few seconds over the remaining kilometres, especially in the slow corners, and if I back off even a tiny bit then Marcus and Seb move ahead. "I had good grip all morning in the mud but sometimes the odd corner was like ice and then the car just slid wide. It was better this afternoon but the roads cut up badly and it was like driving on a railway track in places because the ruts were so deep. I can't catch Marcus and Seb and I need to be a bit braver to match their pace. It is the same situation as it was in Finland a fortnight ago and I'm just going to follow it and drive so as not to make mistakes," he added.

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)
14 Toshihiro Arai / Tony Sircombe (J/NZ)

At the end of a difficult first day of competition in Japan Chris Atkinson holds sixth place overall and leads the three car Subaru World Rally Team entry. The day started well for Subaru, with Petter Solberg jostling for a top-three position, but a brake problem on the fourth stage cost him almost two minutes and dropped him down to tenth overall. It was a similar story for Atkinson; he started well, but dropped down the order – in his case after collecting 50 seconds of penalty time for leaving service late. On his first outing in a WRC car since 2001, much of Toshi Arai’s day was spent familiarising himself with the latest Impreza model. In front of his home crowd he set consistent top-ten times and holds seventh place overnight.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "We are trying very hard and everybody is absolutely doing their best, but we still need to do more. We had some more problems this afternoon and we know why, so we’ll look at the problem with the car and see what we can do for tomorrow. It’s certainly tough, but then it’s tough for the entire team and that’s how it is at the moment."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Today’s been a challenging day in some quite difficult conditions. We had a couple of small problems which we’ll fix and then get on with it again. The aim is to keep going, have a trouble-free day tomorrow, and try hard. I’m sure we can make up some positions."

Toshi Arai/Toni Sircombe: "The first bit of today was not so bad but the second half I lost a lot of time and then had to slow right down in the Superspecial with a clutch problem. The first stages were quite good I think, so tomorrow I will try and drive at the same speed as I am still learning the car."

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team passed the first day of the “Rally Japan” with flying colours. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor rejoiced over fourth intermediate place at the end of the leg. A top performance that was made possible by faultlessly completing the special stages for there were no retirements at the top so far. Even Petter Solberg (Nor/Subaru), winner in Japan in 2004, or WRC shooting star and Citroen works driver Daniel Sordo (Spa), currently third in the WRC, are no match for the OMV duo.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: : “Maybe we were a little bit too cautious in several passages. But now we know that we can go faster and will be able to attack on the second turn.“ Said, done. The weather didn’t improve – but Stohl did. Thus he was able to break away from Petter Solberg, Daniel Sordo or Subaru-works driver Chris Atkinson (Aus). Stohl: “I am especially happy that we are in front of Atkinson. He is very fast here in Japan and even had the lead last year after three special stages. Now it is important to defend fourth place during the next two days. And I’m sure that we can go even faster in the course of the rally.“

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

The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team has completed its first day of rallying with its new Ford Focus RS WRC06 rally cars with drivers Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc ending the day strongly in the top ten of Rally Japan, the eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. As a change from the previous ten rounds of the championship, the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team used the latest generation Ford Focus RS rally car for this event. Compared to the previous version there were significant differences for the two crews to learn as they tackled the first day and 124 km of competitive distance of the event spread over ten stages based out of the city of Obihiro in Japan. The latest car has a five speed gearbox as opposed to the older car’s six. The front and rear differentials are passive as opposed to active on the earlier version and the car is both wider and longer. A different centre of gravity allied to different suspension means all new set-ups have to be learnt by the team as the event progresses.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It was alright to start the rally like that. There’s not a lot to report except that I’ve got a sore back as we’ve covered over 600 km today. The first stage was very nice but the third and fourth ones were really difficult as they’re so narrow but they’re really fast in places. The biggest challenge is getting used to the car. The engine has different torque characteristics and there are five gears instead of six. It takes time to know which gear you should go through the corner in. You have to drive it differently from the last one but it’s going alright. You really have to concentrate, and the fact the stages are narrow and tricky makes it difficult. Our pacenotes are not where we need them to be but that’s something that everyone says in their first time in Japan. Because you can’t see what’s around the corner the notes have to be exactly right, especially on the long corners, and it takes time to get that. It has been a very good day. We’ve had a clean run with no major problems. I need to get my seating position changed, but that’s the only thing we need to do at the end of the day."

Luis Perez Companc/José Maria Volta: "A new car and a new rally. In the fourth stage I went off two times, just doing a bit of grass cutting, but luckily there was nothing wrong there. I did spin at a hairpin and the engine shut off, but I restarted it without problem. It has been a long day and we had problems with the intercom on the second loop, it’s not easy if you can’t hear the pacenotes. I was more confident when the stages were drier in the afternoon. Other than that it’s been fine, the car is wonderful, I’m very happy as it’s a tough event, it’s an incredible car."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 27min 45.7sec
2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 28min 11.3sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 29min 28.8sec
4. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 2hr 32min 09.8sec
5. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 32min 26.1sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 2hr 33min 11.3sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 33min 17.4sec
8. T Arai/T Sircombe J Subaru Impreza 2hr 34min 25.4sec
9. L Perez Companc/J-M Volta ARG Ford Focus RS 2hr 35min 38.7sec
10 G MacHale/P Nagle IRL Ford Focus RS 2hr 37min 08.8sec

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 News

Marcus Grönholm’s hopes of a second consecutive victory in Rally Japan took a setback today when the Finn lost time to arch rival Sébastien Loeb and dropped to second in the overall standings. Grönholm’s Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen maintains a comfortable third position, but Loeb now looks set to become the most successful driver in the history of the sport if he claims his 27th world rally victory tomorrow. Grönholm started the day with a 10.5 second advantage over Loeb and consolidated his position with two fastest stage times early this morning. However, in the fourth stage, a spin lost him more than 23 seconds and the lead of the event. He then went off the road in the following 16 kilometre stage, dropping another 10 seconds and extending the deficit to nearly 30 seconds. Despite winning three of the remaining stages, the closeness of competition meant Grönholm was simply unable to reel in sufficient time to overhaul Loeb. As a consequence, the French Citroën Xsara driver heads into the final leg with a 25.6 second lead after another faultless drive. Mikko Hirvonen has maintained position in the second Focus, the Finn happy with his pace and secure in third position with nearly three minutes in hand to Subaru’s Chris Atkinson. The Australian started the day in sixth and was lucky to escape with just cosmetic damage to the car when he went off the road and hit a tree. Despite the loss of time, he was locked in a close battle with Manfred Stohl (Peugeot 307 WRC) this afternoon and has powered into fourth in the lead Impreza WRC. After yesterday’s brake problems, Petter Solberg has climbed only one position, into seventh, but is battling hard with young Spaniard Dani Sordo (Citroën Xsara). The duo are split by just 6.1 seconds going into the final leg.

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)

Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Kronos Total Citroën WRT Xsara took the lead of the Rally Japan during the morning. Having ended the day with two runs through the Kita Aikoku spectator superspecial, Seb and Daniel now have a 25.6 second advantage over Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were grateful for the more consistent conditions of leg two, and enjoyed a trouble-free day to end up sixth.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "There are about 100 competitive kilometres left, and having pushed hard from the start I'm going to keep pushing hard to the end. Marcus will probably do the same thing, so the battle continues ! »

Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti: «For a beginner, it's a lot easier to drive on roads that are more consistent. These stages are tricky enough as it is without the weather making life even more difficult - so I'm pleased. Today was much better. On the first loop of stages, our notes were not so good on the sections where we had done the recce in the heavy rain. I made quite a few corrections for the second loop, and with a slight change to the set-up at midday service, I felt a lot more confident. I think I could have gone quicker, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.»

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 ended today's second leg of Rally Japan on course for a double podium. With one day remaining Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen lie second in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after winning five speed tests, while team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are third in another Focus RS.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I'm not sure what I can do tomorrow but I will try hard to catch Seb. I need to ensure that I am as close as possible to him just in case he makes a mistake, so there's no way I'm giving up on this just yet."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "When the roads were muddy and slippery then I took it easy because I didn't want to go off, but when conditions were drier it felt really good to let the car go and push harder."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)
14 Toshihiro Arai / Tony Sircombe (J/NZ)

Chris Atkinson continues to lead the Subaru World Rally Team's challenge after today's second Leg of competition on Rally Japan. The 26-year-old Queenslander put in a strong performance on each of the day's eleven stages and moved up the leaderboard from sixth to fourth place. After frustrations on Leg one, Petter Solberg's car's performance improved considerably and the Norwegian ended the day strongly by setting the second quickest time on the last two proper stages. Solberg holds seventh place overnight, ahead of the team's third driver, Toshihiro Arai, who lies eighth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "We've been able to split Marcus and Sebastien which is very pleasing, but on the other hand it's been quite tough as we lost so much time previously. We've made quite a few changes to the car and it has improved a lot and we have been able to be competitive. Tomorrow I hope to catch Sordo, but I'm not thinking too much about that as I am driving for all the fans."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a good day. We made up a couple of spots and now we've got a bit of a gap over Stohl, which is exactly what we wanted to do. We had a few scratches this morning when we took a few chances, but this afternoon I took it pretty easy. We took a good choice of tyres that was a pretty safe option and tomorrow we'll judge the pace and drive accordingly."

Toshi Arai/Toni Sircombe: "I had a big moment today when I hit a very, very big rock and went off the road on SS16. We got back on the road and continued but after I found out that I hit a photographer, a friend of mine, Naoki Kobayashi. He was okay and even sent me a message to say good luck and continue! I hope to see him out on the stages again very soon!"

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

After the second day of their Japan premiere the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is still absolutely satisfied. Despite losing one place, their first performance in the land of the rising sun shows that they can keep up with their works opponents. Only the slippery road conditions trouble the OMV duo Stohl/Minor to some extent. Even Marcus Grönholm, who was part of the Peugeot works team last year and won this rally, confirms that these conditions are not exactly the forte of the Peugeot 307 WRC. But in 2005 there was no rainfall.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We are very satisfied with fifth place after the second day at our first Rally Japan. It wouldn't make sense to ride a no-holds-barred attack on Atkinson in front of us. The works Subaru is very fast and Atkinson knows the Rally Japan like the back of his hand. But we'll have to watch out for Petter Solberg. He got faster and faster on Saturday afternoon. It is still a long way to fifth place on the finish ramp. We will have to give our best on Sunday."

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

After a superb debut on Rally Japan, Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson experienced a low at the start of the second day of the eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship with turbo failure and his car becoming stranded at the side of the road on the day's fourth stage. Wilson suffered a loss of turbo boost pressure on the road section to Saturday's first stage. Despite Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr trying all they could to diagnose and rectify the problem, they were forced to drive the initial stages of the loop with their car suffering from this ill.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "There was nothing at all wrong with the car yesterday, but on the road section to the first stage we lost boost about 3 km before the stage start. We crawled through the stage then afterwards we tried everything we could to try to fix it. We started the second stage on time but had to drive through it slowly again. After that one we went through everything again and arrived late at the third stage. We'd made the decision that we had to get back to service, but as we were going so slow other cars were catching us. When Chris Atkinson caught us we pulled over into what looked like a nice big grass lay-by. Unfortunately there was a man-made drainage ditch covered by the grass, and it was about two foot deep. We had no power so couldn't drive the car out. There were a couple of photographers about but they weren't enough to help. When you look at the times today and how close it is between Petter and Luis we could have been in the points which is really disappointing."

Luis Perez Companc/José Maria Volta: "It was a very good day, I am very happy. Being second out on the stages is not so good as the track has not been cleaned by cars ahead, but I am learning the car more and more with every stage. I went off at one corner with some mud on it, it was a close call but I could get back on to the stage without a problem. We are correcting our notes a lot when we go through. I am getting more confident with the car and it's getting much better with every run through. It's good to be here with the car in one piece. The problem will be Cyprus when I have to go back to the old car."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 22min 20.4sec
2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 22min 26.0sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 25min 06.9sec
4. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 28min 28.2sec
5. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 3hr 29min 31.1sec
6. T Arai/T Sircombe J Subaru Impreza 3hr 31min 25.5sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 34min 04.1sec
8. F Nutahara/D Barritt J Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 45min 17.8sec
9. G Pozzo/D Stillo ARG Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 45min 45.2sec
10 M Ligato/R Garcia ARG Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 46min 19.0sec

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Leg 3 News

Frenchman Sébastien Loeb made history today when he claimed a record-breaking 27th world rally victory at the finish of Rally Japan, the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Citroën Xsara driver, co-driven by Daniel Elena, now has the honour of being the most successful driver in the sport and, with his seventh win of the season, is one step closer to claiming a third consecutive world title. Ford driver Marcus Grönholm mounted a massive assault today, providing a thrilling fight to the finish. Ultimately he lost out to Loeb by a mere 5.6 seconds after 345 kilometres of competition. His team-mate Mikko Hirvonen finished third. In the FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers, Loeb extends his advantage over Marcus Grönholm by another two points and takes a 33 point advantage with five rounds remaining. Mikko Hirvonen’s fourth podium finish of the season sees him retain fourth in the series, the Finn closing the gap to third-placed Spaniard Dani Sordo. In the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers, BP-Ford closes the gap, leaving the battle wide open for the remainder of the season.

Today’s route included six stages and 93 competitive kilometres and Loeb and Grönholm once again topped the time sheets. Starting 25 seconds adrift this morning, Grönholm managed to reel in 10 seconds over the first three stages and then slashed another 6.9 seconds off the deficit in the following stage. Another victory in the penultimate stage left the Finn just 5.4 seconds off the lead but, with only the short 1.3 kilometre super special stage remaining, the nail-biting battle between the reigning and former World Champions was as good as over. Mikko Hirvonen, unchallenged in third, cruised to the finish ahead of Subaru’s lead car driven by Australian Chris Atkinson. While the Japanese manufacturer has salvaged something from its home event, the disappointment surrounding Solberg’s brake problems - which continued in the final leg - will doubtless overshadow Atkinson’s best result of the season. Manfred Stohl, not registered for points for OMV Peugeot Norway in this event, drove solidly to finish fifth with Toshihiro Arai, driving a Subaru Impreza WRC for the first time in four years, climbing to sixth, ahead of Petter Solberg. Dani Sordo finished seventh in the second Citroën Xsara but was excluded at the end of the event for not wearing seat belts in one stage.

Amended information following the exclusion of Car No. 2 (Sordo/Marti) for a breach of Appendix J, Article 253, Article 6, Seat Belts

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)

Last year, the Franco-Monegasque pairing clinched a second consecutive world title in Japan. This year, after 27 stages, Seb and Daniel took their 27th career victory and claimed one of the few remaining records that had not yet been in their possession : the record for the total number of career wins, which they had held jointly with Spanish legend Carlos Sainz since the Rallye Deutschland. Now, this historic landmark is theirs alone. On the penultimate stage of the rally, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were stopped by the car of Luis Perez Companc blocking the road after he went off. They lost their sixth position overall in the incident. The Kronos team asked the Race Control that their case should be studied and a notional time be given. This request was rejected. Furthermore, the Stewards watched the on-board cameras on that stage and noticed the Spanish crew did not correctly refasten their seat belts after returning to their car. In consequence, the Stewards have decided to exclude Dani Sordo and Marc Marti from the final classification of the Rally Japan 2006.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: « How was that for close ? At the start of the final leg, I thought that the eight points for second place would have been a good result for the championship. Then we took the decision just to go for it, to try everything. The fight was too good just to walk away and settle for second. Mentally, that was an important turning point. But once we had decided on that course of action, Daniel and I were only thinking about one thing. We had no split times so it was just a question of going flat-out and driving as quickly as possible on order to try and win. On the last stage, we took a few risks. The smell of victory, and the potential joy of a team that once again performed faultlessly, made it all worth it. »

Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti: Excluded

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 claimed a double podium on Rally Japan today after Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen almost secured their third win in four events during a breathtaking final day's action. The Finns came within just 5.6sec of victory after their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car outgunned Sébastien Loeb in a thrilling final day shootout in the remote hills of Hokkaido island. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished third in another Focus RS.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "That was a really great fight with Seb, I was on the limit all day today. A win was possible but it just wasn't to be. I tried so hard to catch him and I just needed one more stage and a few extra kilometres and I would have done. I think Seb was worried but it's difficult to consistently beat him by eight or nine seconds on every stage which is what I had to do today. My mistakes yesterday cost me the win."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "It was quite an easy weekend for me in one way because I settled into third and wasn't challenged. I've learned how to drive at a consistently fast pace and that's important. It's good to be fighting with Dani Sordo for championship position and I want to make sure I'm battling for a podium on every rally. It's a good feeling to step onto the podium after a difficult rally like this and it's important for Ford that we keep picking up good points finishes. My consistency has improved and now I need to get closer to Seb and Marcus."

Manufacturer 1: Subaru World Rally Team / Subaru Impreza WRC 2006
5 Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (N/GB)
6 Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall (AUS)
14 Toshihiro Arai / Tony Sircombe (J/NZ)

Subaru's Chris Atkinson finished Rally Japan in fourth place today after an excellent performance on the final Leg of the competition. Atkinson, who was third on the rally in 2005, set a string of top-five times on the day's six stages and was the Subaru World Rally Team's highest-placed finisher. Bringing his Subaru Impreza WRC2006 home in sixth place, Toshi Arai was the best-placed Japanese driver, while a frustrated Petter Solberg finished eighth.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "We watched the battle at the top of the rally and I wish I was involved. I can't wait to get back into those fights again, but for now we have some problems and we need to work together as a team to find the solutions. It's difficult not just for me, but everyone. There's a lot of hard work from all of us to be done and I hope that at the next event we can be getting a bit closer."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a tough weekend for everyone, to get to the finish and give the fans something. Today we had a clean run with no major problems as all I had to do was cruise through the day and take a bit more time off Manfred. The result is the best we could have hoped for coming into the rally. For sure we are driving better than ever and certainly more consistently, getting mostly top five stage times."

Toshi Arai/Toni Sircombe: "Generally not so bad throughout the rally. Yes, we had a few problems but I am pleased to get as good a finish as this as I had to learn the World Rally Car and now feel that I know it quite well. I also got used to the car speed and it felt quite comfortable. I wanted to thank Subaru for this opportunity and hope maybe that we can do it again."

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has reason to celebrate their Japan premiere. The reward for 345,72 special stage kilometres of hard work: fifth place and four points for the driver ranking of the FIA World Rally Championship. Thus Manfred Stohl consolidated fifth intermediate place. During the last three days the OMV driver relied on the experience of 104 WRC-runs and was nevertheless surprised by more than the kindness of the Japanese people.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I am really very satisfied with this result even though I would have loved to be on the podium. But you can't count on even scoring points prior to such a tough rally. At today's rallies experience only goes so far. It is much more important to compete in one and the same run as often as possible. These four points are obviously also important for the driver World Championship. Prior to this season my goal was to be among the top five. I was able to consolidate this place and even break away from Solberg as far as points are concerned."

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

The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team have completed their first event using the latest generation Ford Focus RS WRC06 with both Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc setting times well inside the top ten over the three days of Rally Japan, the eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The team also scored five Manufacturer points to further consolidate their fifth position in the Manufacturers' championship. Matthew Wilson endured a turbo charger failure on the rally's second day. The 19 year-old Cumbrian fought back with maturity to finish in seventh position of the Manufacturer entered cars, scoring two points. In the sister car Luis Perez Companc featured strongly in the top ten for 25 of the 27 stages but an off on the event's penultimate test meant he had to take SupeRally penalties for the final two stages. His efforts were sufficient for a sixth placed finish of the Manufacturer entries, taking three points, and eleventh overall.

Matthew Wilson "The final day was very good, it wiped out what happened on Saturday. The car is fantastic and I can't wait until I'm out again in it in Australia and New Zealand. Everything about the car is totally different and I feel more part of the car and that has showed with the times which have been at a good pace even when I'm still getting used to the car and with missing a day. We did have an off on the final morning, if you can call it that. I got the car sideways in the braking zone on a downhill section coming to a right-hander. It was the same corner as Luis had his off in the morning and we lost about 30 seconds there. On Saturday we were on the road section to the first stage when the turbo boost went. We crawled through the stages and tried to fix the car between them. There was nothing we could do as the unit itself was broken which hasn't happened for years. I moved over to let Chris Atkinson through on what looked like a big grass lay-by but there was a drainage ditch under the grass. Because we had no power and there were no spectators we couldn't get out. On the first day the biggest challenge was learning the car and I had a sore back, but other than that nothing to report. It was a very good day."

Luis Perez Companc "It was a new car and a new rally for me. The car is wonderful and I'm very happy about it. I have been learning the car more and more with every stage. We were correcting our notes every time we went through a stage, they are very narrow and tricky. The problem for me will be Cyprus when I have to go back to the old car."

Malcolm Wilson, Team Manager "I'm really pleased with Matthew's performance. His first day was superb and on the final day he went out after a really disappointing Saturday and been quicker than far more experienced drivers. I'm disappointed with what happened on Saturday as we've never had a turbo problems on a new car before, we won't know what really happened with it until we get it back to M-Sport. I'm pleased that apart from the turbo issue there's been no reliability issues from either car which is a real positive from my point of view. It may be a strange thing to say but I think Matthew looks very much at home in the new car. Even on the first day there were a couple of stages where he beat Dani Sordo and that sends out a lot of the right messages when you consider the amount of experience he has. Luis was very happy with the car so it's disappointing what happened on the penultimate stage."


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY JAPAN
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
03.09.2006

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

Welcome to the post-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Sébastien, congratulations on your 27 world rally victories. How does it feel to be the most successful driver in the history of the sport? Has Carlos Sainz telephoned you to say well done?

SL:
Yes, sure, it’s a very good feeling to break Carlos’s record. He was the man who had the most victories. I’m sorry for him. It was a pleasure and good experience for me to work with him. He learned me a lot, maybe now he thinks he learned me too much! Now, with 27 victories the most exciting thing is that this victory was a very big fight with Marcus – a really incredible rally. No, I think Carlos is sleeping now!

Q:
Mikko, you finished in a commendable third place - your fourth podium of the season. You must feel pretty satisfied.

MH:
For sure it’s good to be on the podium again. Now that’s my fifth time on the podium, which is good. The consistency is getting better and the speed is going as well. These two (Loeb and Grönholm) are going so fast, there’s still more to improve on the coming rallies.

Q:
Jarmo, was it particularly tough on the stages? There seemed to be quite a few drivers making mistakes.

JL:
For sure it was difficult. The grip level changed at almost every corner. Fair play to Mikko, though, there were no mistakes. A couple of times we went wide, but that is what you would expect in these conditions.

Q:
Mikko, what have you thought of the rally? It has been exceedingly well organised, with more fans than ever. Have you enjoyed it?

MH:
Yeah, it’s fine. There are a lot of spectators and the stages are nice, but we need to move headquarters about 100 kilometres north towards the stages. That would be perfect. People say all this for three years; the road sections are too tight and the sections too long, this is something which needs looking at.

Q:
Congratulations Marcus, eight points and a podium second; not quite what you wanted, but such an exciting end to the rally. How was it for you and Timo in the car?

MG:
I said I took no risks, but we were always on the limit. I was not thinking about points, I just wanted to catch him. Two mistakes yesterday cost me too much. Anyway, it’s quite okay to be second after this fight - normally I don’t like to be second.

Q:
Timo, the crucial time for you and Marcus was yesterday on SS14 and 15, with those two spins. Why did it suddenly go wrong for you?

TR:
The mistakes at this speed could happen anywhere, they just happened to be there. On the first, it was one long right corner. It was all going well, it looked like we would go normal through the corner. Then the front wheel touched the grass and we spun and stalled across the road. It’s something that cannot happen if you want to win against Seb. He is always there, sometimes behind you or sometimes ahead. There is no space for errors like that. Then Marcus is a fighter, he wanted to take all 22 seconds back in the next stage, so we went 10 seconds backwards with another spin! It’s very easy to make a mistake – what can I say?

Q:
Marcus, you’ve been fighting Sébastien hard for the last three or four seasons. I know you would prefer 27 victories, but what do you think of his achievement?

MG:
Absolutely, for me he is the hardest driver I ever fight since when I started to win rallies. Seb is the fastest and the most difficult to beat. For me, he is the right man for the record, but don’t worry, we will be catching him, don’t worry!

Q:
Marc, congratulations to you and the team. It’s been another fine victory. What are your thoughts about your record-breaking driver?

MvD:
First, we are very proud. When we start the season, nobody expects seven wins like that from Seb. It’s a dream for us. I am very happy because it’s real team-work all the time. Everybody works in the same way, and we don’t have to forget Daniel – that’s the most important thing for us, the human atmosphere we have in the team.

Q:
How do you see the rest of the season? Will it be more records and victories for Seb, and then the manufacturers title?

MvD:
Like we are now, there’s still five rallies to go. We will do the best we can to catch the Championship. The gap to Ford is only 15 points, we stay at the same level after Finland, which we are very happy about. We are very happy with Dani (Sordo) as well. It was a difficult rally. We will try and then see where we are after GB!

Q:
Daniel, congratulations. You became the most successful co-driver earlier in the year, but you must be pleased to help Seb get his record.

DE:
I am happy for Sébastien, but it’s not my fault if I have broken my record before him! Thanks Luis (Moya), he stopped early. It’s hard for the co-driver; if I break the record at the same time as Sébastien, then the co-driver’s out (forgotten)… thank you Seb!

Q:
Sebastien, you’ve got the 27 victories, did you ever imagine people would be talking about Sébastien Loeb in the same sentence as Kankkunen, Sainz and Makinen?

SL:
Sure it’s really nice to be in the position to have this record. It’s good, I’m really happy for that. When I’m driving, though, it’s more my passion for the fight in the stages than the record, and to do a rally like that today is nice. If I break the record with 27 wins, it’s not because I’m a better driver than Carlos; it was another time – perhaps more people fight for the victory, perhaps different cars. Like Marcus said, he will try to beat it, we will see for the future.

Q:
Can you break the other big record and make it five world titles in a row?

SL:
Yes. But, er, for the moment I’m fighting for the third! Next year is a new season. We took a lot of points advantage in the six, seven or eight first rallies, and since that it’s been really close. Next year is a new season, we have a new car. Marcus and Ford are really ready and ready from Monte Carlo, it can be more difficult, but I hope it will be as exciting as it was here – that’s the most important thing.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHP

1st Fumio Nutahara
1st Daniel Barritt

Q:
Fumio, congratulations on your win at home. Did you think it had all gone after the three stages on the first day?

FN:
I would like to thank the organisers for such a good event and Mitsubishi and Yokohama, who have supported us. It was a difficult rally for us, we tried to push hard, but we lost one minute with the punctures. Jari-Matti (Latvala) drove very fast. We hoped to catch him, but we knew it would be difficult. At the same time, (Gabriel) Pozzo was pushing from behind. It was lucky for us and unlucky for Latvala that he had an accident and we won.

Q:
Daniel, this is your second win of the season, what does this mean for your Championship? Is there any chance of beating Nasser Al-Attiyah for the title?

DB:
We couldn’t have asked for a better result this weekend. Like you say, Nasser is going to be very difficult to beat. We’ve got three rounds to score and he’s only got two. If we can have a good result in Cyprus then we’ll see what happens on the last two events.

Q:
How difficult was this rally from the co-driver’s perspective. It’s easy to make mistakes.

DB:
It was very difficult. The recce was very important and from our point of view it helped having previous experience of the event. He knew where the bad places were, we had to keep it tight on the narrow sections and that’s what we did for the whole three days.

Q:
Fumio, what do you think of the home support and what has the rally been like for you?

FN:
We have never won the PWRC event in Japan. Toshi (Arai) was driving the World Rally Car, so we didn’t compete with him. After the punctures I almost gave up on winning, we focused on finishing. This rally is really very important for me being Japanese.