FIA RALLY NEWS 

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


1st round out of 16 in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, 1st round out of eight in the 2006 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
19.01.2006

Interviewer
What do you think the challenge will be for you here?

David HIGGINS
I think it will be exactly the same as everybody. It is a very big challenge and if you do get through the rally alone with no major problem I think you’ll be surprised how good result you can get but the difficulty you can get is when you get into very bad ice like today during the shakedown. You think you go slowly but you have to go slower again. The hard think is going to be the change of rythm from very very quick when the conditions are good to very slow when they are not. It obviously depends on what happen on the weather between now and the first stage tomorrow.

Interviewer
Nasser: Do you like the ice and snow conditions now? It is a bit different from the conditions back at home in the middle east?

Nasser AL-ATTIYAH
Yes it is a big difference. In the Middle East most stages are in the desert…

Interviewer
Last year Nasser you showed that you can win rallies, what is your objective for this year?

Nasser AL-ATTIYAH
It will be very difficult because I have to face a tougher competition and better drivers. It will be difficult for everybody anyway. I have 2 years experience and I learned a lot. Although it won’t be easy I would like to win the Championship this year.

Interviewer
Has your brother Mark been able to give you any useful advice?

David HIGGINS
The best advice is to do the opposite to him. He tells me the Championship is very competitive. I have raced against lots of these people in others countries/rallies and like in any Championship the secret is to get as many points whenever you can and not to give any away. It is not all about winning every event. It is also a different Championship because you drop two events from a series so it becomes very tactical on which event you do and which you don’t do. You are not necessary competing against the person that’s may be the closest rival on that day on that event.

Interviewer
Do you think the Mitsubishi is just as much competitive as the Subaru?

David HIGGINS
Yes I do. Although they both have their specificities there is very very little between the two. Mitsubishi have been very strong in Group N . Subaru had an advantage over the last few years and they have had more people in the car… I think it is very good for Mitsubishi to try to get up to the front again and try to be at the head of the Championship.

Interviewer
As a newcomer to this Championship, do you think you can win it or at least some events in your first year?

David HIGGINS
We hope so but we know it is going to be very difficult. We do lack experience (e.g. we have no gravel notes from last year). However, we’ll do our best.

Interviewer
How much does your experience help?

Nasser AL-ATTIYAH
It helps a lot. Without any experience you cannot do anything. There were a big gap between now and when I had no experience in 2002. I will do my best.

Interviewer
Last year the Championship was decided on the final round with a phenomenal finally, do you think it will be a similar situation this year?

Nasser AL-ATTIYAH
Yes, because of the tactical choice made by the drivers on which event they want to drop
It is a gamble…

Interviewer
Is it fair to say that this is the chance you’ve been waiting for your entire career 16 rallies on the entire world Championship.

Manfred STOHL
Yes, of course. It is a fantastic program for me. I am really happy and I hope I can make very good results. We’ll see…

Interviewer
Now as a manager, for what you can see so far, what’s most difficult?

Armin SCHWARZ
As you can see, it’s very easy and I am very relaxed now. I can’t complain like I did before. Both sides (driver vs. manager) have its own law and field. On the manager side you try to protect and not to fight for something like I had to do when I was a driver. You have to make sure everything is ready in order to make good results. It is very different for me.

Interviewer
Do you think that former competitors make the best manager or do you think that the mentality is completely different?

Armin SCHWARZ
I don’t think the mentality is different because if you were a driver before you have a clear idea of what it should be.

Interviewer
Manfred could you tell us a little bit about the Peugeot 307 you‘ll be driving this year. Last year some of its drivers complained about the handling of the car in particular. Do you agree with them?

Manfred STOHL
It is too early to say this. My first impression was good although I have not made so many kilometres with the car. I like the car. I am looking quite optimistic this year. I hope that with my team we can make up the right settings for my driving style.

Interviewer
Do you think you can win the rally this year following your fantastic result last year finishing second in Cyprus?

Manfred STOHL
I don’t want to think about this right now but we all know that everything is possible in rally. It is too early to say. We’ll see…

Interviewer
A question about another Austrian, Andreas Aigner: what do you see as his biggest strength as a driver? What do you think he might be to achieve this year?

Armin SCHWARZ
He came out from the Red bull driver search 2 years ago. He was chosen purely on his talent because he didn’t have any experience, neither in racing nor in karting. Last year he did very well in few PWRC races. He did very well but he still has a lot to learn and there is long way for him to be competitive in the World Championship. We all agree that you have to start very early to reach a high professional level in the World Championship.

Interviewer
What is his objective this year?

Armin SCHWARZ
I would really wish to see him at the finish line of the rallies. No matter the results, any stage he would be able to finish will help him for the future. He has just 250km of driving experience in a World Rally Car.

Interviewer
A question about your other car with Gilles Panizzi: the said man who was 3rd last year. Do you think he can do the same or even better?

Armin SCHWARZ
We have chosen Gilles because:
Of his past experience with Mitsubishi and the active differential. During the tests he knew straight away what he wanted. Of his strong history log on asphalt. We believe he will be a very strong competitor for us in Corsica and in Spain.

Interviewer
In Sweden you will have Mattias drive the car and Gilles will drive the car on the asphalt events. Who then will drive the car for the rest of the year (non tarmac ones)?

Armin SCHWARZ
It is still an open position for a driver on the gravel events. Any tips? It is left open because this is down to the field of marketing from Skoda and Red Bull.

Interviewer
The switch from Michelin brand to BF Goodrich: what was the strategy behind this decision?

Aimé CHATARD
The company had decided to dedicate its Michelin brand to the competition. Now the group has decided to promote its BF Goodrich brand. Michelin Group would like that BF Goodrich becomes a worldwide recognized brand and Michelin wants its brand to be better known in Europe. They want to pursue what has been done in the rally raid in order to achieve to a great fame within the next 5 years.

Interviewer
Apart from the change of the name, are there any other changes to the structure of the company?

Aimé CHATARD
It is quite challenging in a competition context to consider any changes between the 15th of November and the 1st of January. Tests were performed in December. Teams would have not agreed to change both the name of the tyres and the tyre patterns, compounds, and structure. Hence the Michelin experience has been transferred onto BF Goodrich. You will see more and more the BF Goodrich style on the WRC Championship

Interviewer
We all know that a new tyre has been tuned. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Aimé CHATARD
The Monte-Carlo rally requires not less than 7 different types of tyres for all the various road conditions. On behalf of BF Goodrich we come up with a new tyre: the “Gforce profiler centrage 0” .Some like it, others don’t. However if the road conditions permit we shall see some of these new tyres.

Interviewer
What are the main differences between driving for a private team and driving for Citroën Sport?

Sébastien LOEB
The main difference lies in the supervision although the differences are not tremendous. Kronos has to find the financing, and then rents the cars from Citroën. Both the development and the conformity with the new 2006 regulation on the differential were performed with Citroën. 
The differences are the followings:
250 people work for Citroën Sport whereas 30 work for Kronos.
The budget is tighter with Kronos
Citroën has decided to retire from the 2006 World Championship because it becomes too expensive. But it is a way for Citroën to keep one foot in the Arena through Kronos.
For me this year is a transitory one until 2007 when I come back with Citroën. Guy Frequelin is not here any more to manage the team. Marc Van Dalen has the job and he has to do it with a smaller team. I have made this choice because I believe it is the right one. Referring to last year Kronos’ results, I believe that this team can come up with good, reliable, and competitive cars. For the time being I have kept my engineer and this is crucial for the Monte-Carlo rally. Then we’ll see what’s next but we have faith.

Interviewer
You achieved 10 wins last year, fantastic record. Do you thing you can do this again?

Sébastien LOEB
It is obvious that 10 victories during a single year are not going to be easy to achieve again. Everything went fine: a reliable car, new Michelin tyres, and no worries. Gronholm was not always pleased with his tyres and his car. Soldberg had ups and downs. Therefore we had benefited from their misfortune. They now both arrive with brand new cars and I believe that they will fight hard. It will be tougher than last year and I only hope that I will be able to keep pace with them.

Interviewer
New overalls, new colour, what do you think of your new car?

Marcus GRONHOLM
I am really happy after the test and we will see tomorrow after the start.

Interviewer
How do you think Marcus will go?

Petter SOLBERG
He can’t say anything else rather than what he did now. It will be very exciting and Marcus will be a tough guy this year and Sebastien. It will be a good fight definitely

Interviewer
Big changes for many drivers, such as Marcus and Sebastien and……

Petter SOLBERG
What changes for Sebastien? I believe he will be as hard to beat as last year

Interviewer
We saw big changes for many drivers; however the situation at Subaru will be exactly the same. Do you thing this consistency can help you this year?

Petter SOLBERG
I hope so. Although Marcus has gone to a different team and the new regulation about the differential I don’t thing there is a massive difference. It will be tough…

Interviewer
With the swap from active to mechanical differential, does the car feel different to drive?
What is the effect of these small changes?

Petter SOLBERG
In many different road conditions (twisty, fast, narrow…), it will be a small difference yes. But it shouldn’t be any slower than last year it should be even faster it is not a massive difference.

Interviewer
How difficult is it to a new team after 7 years with Peugeot?

Marcus GRONHOLM
It was not so difficult to change because Peugeot stopped. It was quite natural that I would go somewhere else. The divorce was not so bad. The test has been like at home. It feels good but it is first rally. I don’t know yet all the people and all the mechanics and this is the main problem. Once I know everybody it is going to be easier. It feels comfortable and I am confident for the future.

Interviewer
Monte-Carlo has been a bit of an unlucky event for both of you in the past. Why that?

Marcus GRONHOLM
It is not an easy Rally. You have to go out with slicks although there is ice on the road because it goes faster on wet tarmac. Tomorrow it will be difficult to make the good choice of tyres in the morning because there are ice and negative temperature on the first stage. And then it quickly changes. At 10 o’clock we then face completely different conditions and that’s the reason why I don’t really like this rally. You cannot go flat out from the start to the end.

Interviewer
For you it’s a home rally. What do you thing of it? Is it one that you desperately like to win?

Petter SOLBERG
For me the statistics are not very good, finishing one time out of six. Similar to Marcus we like to go flat out and we like to push on the limit. I don’t thing that it is suiting to our driving style too much. I hope this time we will be grown up and we will have good result both of us.

Interviewer
How do you thing the weather conditions will be? Will it be as inconsistent as we’ve seen in the past or with some cold weather with more snow? Do you think it might be a little easier this year?

Marcus GRONHOLM
In the recos it was full snow with 20cm on the road and it was really difficult to make notes for the new stages 1, 2 and 3. Then it was melting quite quickly. I don’t know how it looks now. It is not really a full winter rally but more a mix.

Interviewer
Sebastien won 10 rallies last year. How annoyed does that make you feel?

Petter SOLBERG
I am very happy for him. He was the best. But it will be a different story this year. It can’t happen twice in a row.

Interviewer to both
How many rallies do you believe he will win this year?

Petter SOLBERG
It doesn’t matter how many rallies he wins. What’s sure is that he won’t win so many.

Marcus GRONHOLM
I don’t say anything. We first have to finish the first rally and then I can start to give comment but I think we are very bad if he wins 10 rallies.

Rally Preview

The 2006 FIA World Rally Championship will kick-off with the classic Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo this weekend - renowned as the most prestigious event in the schedule. The combination of glamour and opulence makes this rally one of the most eagerly anticipated WRC events of the year, but its twisty route with little margin for error also makes it one of the most fearsome for drivers. The Rallye Monte Carlo will also play host to the first round in the 2006 FIA Production WRC - a change to the norm, as Monte Carlo is usually a Junior WRC event. The rally will feature 18 stages and a competitive distance of 366.39 kilometres. The first leg includes a return of the classic St Sauveur sur Tinee-Beuil last used in 1997 and two new stages, with the famous Col de Turini stage run on the final leg on Sunday.

2006 will bring a range of challenges for teams and drivers, with new technical regulations demanding the removal of several computer controlled systems and a longer season stretching into December. Sebastien Loeb and Citroen won the drivers' and constructors' championships last year, however Citroen won't be present this season in an official capacity. Instead Loeb will be with a 'privateer' outfit. 

As well as the team entries, Gigi Galli takes to the event in a 2005 spec Mitsubishi Lancer WRC, Alexandre Bengue drives a Skoda Fabia WRC, and so does François Duval and Jan Kopecky, Toni Gardemeister is entered in an Astra Racing Peugeot 307, and a host of other drivers in WRC cars. It looks to be a competitive Monte Carlo.

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)

Sebastien Loeb will be run in the WRC this season by Kronos Racing, following Citroen's decision to take a sabbatical from the sport, before returning in 2007 with the all new C4. The Frenchman is hopeful he can begin his title defence with a win - making it four-in-a-row at Monte Carlo. Bearing number one and two on their doors, these Xsaras depend on a team registered in the ‘Manufacturers one’ category, and comply with the 2006 technical definition. The most known measures of these new regulations are the prohibition of the electronic front and rear differentials and an increased restriction of the spare parts changes. After dominating in 2002, and winning three times consecutively in Monaco, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena cannot escape the fact they will play the role of favourites for another victory. No matter how confident they can be, they remain very cautious. Seb does not ignore that the changes in the other teams’ line-up - and how they will adapt to the new regulations - raise many questions. In any case, some of the answers will be given by the first stage times.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "After clinching our second world title, Daniel and I received a lot of various requests...and it was of course really nice. But in this very busy period, we absolutely had to do two big test sessions. The previous years, during the Monte tests, we were just checking everything and fine-tuning the settings. This time, with the comeback of the mechanical front and rear diffs, we had a lot to do. We started from a basic definition and we worked mostly on the car’s balance which is our priority It took a while. In tests now, we don’t change the differentials’ settings. We simply change it with a new one: either the rear diff itself, or if it’s the front one, the gearbox in which it’s located. In that case the car could be stopped for around an hour."

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "In 2004, I discovered the Monte in the Super 1600’s category. In very difficult conditions, we went off the road and unfortunately we couldn’t go any further. Last year was my first outing with a World Rally Car. There was a huge difference. I think we set some interesting times. Unfortunately, our engine broke two stages before the end of the event. This rally is very difficult but I enjoy it. You should remain calm and much focused due to all the traps you can encounter."

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

Rallye Monte Carlo heralds a new era for Ford. An exciting new Focus RS World Rally Car is complemented by a fresh driver line-up comprising the experience of double world champions Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and the raw talent of rising stars Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. The new Focus RS WRC, based on the recently launched Focus ST road car, encompasses the innovative design of BP-Ford World Rally Team technical director Christian Loriaux, his team of designers and engineers at M-Sport and the expertise of Ford TeamRS. After a test debut on the Rally Australia last year, the car lines-up for the first time in serious competition at the start of a 16-round championship which covers gravel, asphalt, snow and ice across five continents.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "The car is ready on asphalt," said the 37-year-old Finn. "Testing has gone well and I already have a good feeling with the car. I feel excited about this season and I have been counting down the days to the start since the end of last season. It's best not to try too hard on Rallye Monte Carlo though. It's a tough rally and my aim is to score a good result and avoid making any silly mistakes in the unpredictable conditions. "The rally is historic and it has to be in the championship, but it's far from being my favourite event. It's scary to start a stage when you don't know what the road conditions are going to be like. You can encounter asphalt, ice and snow and when you know you don't have the perfect tyres for one of those, you can't drive flat out. Some years I have driven in first gear on snow and ice for 3-4km because I have asphalt tyres on the car and I don't like that. You really don't know what to expect round the next corner," added Grönholm for whom this will be his seventh start.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I want to be able to learn without the pressure of having to deliver victories on my first few rallies," he said. "This is a great opportunity for me at Ford and I want to make the most of it. Testing has gone well for me so far. Asphalt isn't my favourite surface but I scored my best result on an asphalt rally in Spain last year so I know can drive well enough on it. "I've had no problems settling into the team. Many of the faces are the same as when I drove for Ford in 2003 and that has made it easier. I know testing is different to the heat of competition, but I'm confident I can start the season well and open the year with a good, solid result," he added.

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

The Subaru World Rally Team launches its 2006 World Rally Championship campaign in style next week in the glamorous principality of Monaco. Commencing on Friday 20 January, the historic Rallye Monte Carlo will see the competitive debut of the Subaru World Rally Team’s latest title challenger, the Subaru Impreza WRC2006. Petter Solberg, Stéphane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson continue with the team in 2006. Chris Atkinson makes his Monte Carlo debut with in a Subaru Australia-entered Subaru Impreza WRC2005.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I hope a podium will be possible in Monte Carlo, but it will be a very tough rally with lots of good cars and drivers. Marcus and Sébastien will be our main rivals but we are well prepared and I hope we’ll be able to fight with them. The team has worked hard to be ready and has planned everything very well. A lot will depend on the weather as always in Monte Carlo. Cold, wet and snow would be the best conditions for us."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prevot: "This is my second Monte Carlo Rally with the team and I’m more relaxed than last year as I have more experience now. I know the team, I know the car so it is automatically better. We did well on tarmac last year and I have a very good car so I think we can have a very good event and get a good result. This is a very exciting rally as you never know if you will have snow or patches of ice or just the tarmac, making it very difficult for tyre choice. I hope all the same to get some solid points. We could get in the top four."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "This will be my first Monte Carlo Rally and I’m really looking forward to the challenges of the roads. To get ready for the event I’ve been watching through videos of the stages to get a feel for them. We’re running last year’s car, which will make it easier for preparation as we won’t have to get used to a new car and a new rally. Of course Petter and Stéphane are nominated to score points for the manufacturers’ championship, but it would be nice for us to get some points too. Overall though the goal is to get miles and experience of this specialist rally."

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

Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg will participate to the 2006 World Rally Championship in a two car team at the wheel of Bozian Racing Team’s Peugeot 307 WRC“full spec 2005” ! Manfred and Henning who already illustrated themselves in the Peugeot 206 WRC in 2004 (Henning finished 6 th overall in Rally Sweden and Manfred 6 th overall in Acropolis Rally) will compete for Manufacturer points in 12 events of the WRC within the “OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team” regrouping both drivers in BOZIAN RACING structure. Both cars will contest the rounds in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Greece, Finland, Cyprus, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. Manfred Stohl, who will contest the whole championship, will additionaly participate to Catalunya, Corsica, Deutschland and Japan ! Former Ski Champion, Philippe Roux will also join the team with a Peugeot 206 WRC in Monte Carlo.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "The initial impressions of the Peugeot 307 WRC were fine but I've learned not to rely on feelings too much. The first rallies will show how we really will be getting along," OMV driver Manfred Stohl explains. In the beginning Manfred Stohl had to wrestle with the vehicle length which is 20 cm longer than the one of his car last year. But the problem was duly solved. Said the OMV driver, tongue firmly in cheek: “After a few kilometre the front and rear bumper were missing – and we were back at the old measurements."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Teammate Henning Solberg is impressed by the engine power of his new vehicle: “I'm very confident for my first start in Monte Carlo. The team has prepared the car perfectly."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Pieter Tsjoen / Eddy Chevaillier (B)

The Eddie Stobart Motorsport team step-up to the WRC this year, after two years in the British Rally Championship. Cumbria’s Matthew Wilson will make history when he arrives in Monte Carlo for the start of this year’s World Rally Championship on Thursday the 19th of January. The 18-year-old becomes the youngest driver ever to start a full programme of events in the sport’s global series. Despite owning a driving licence for less than two years, Matthew will go head-to-head with the best drivers in the world as he travels through 16 countries and crosses five continents in the next 11 months. And what a place to start: right outside Monaco’s iconic Casino. The World Rally Championship might be new to him, but Matthew’s already proved his mettle in international rallying. He won Rally Yorkshire – one of the highest calibre events in the UK – last October, driving a Ford Focus RS WRC similar to the one he’ll be driving in Monte Carlo. But for Matthew, this year is what his whole life has been leading up to: the chance to play his part in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team. The chance to take on the world. Matthew won’t be alone in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team this season. The team’s second Ford Focus RS WRC will be piloted by four drivers through the year. On round one, triple Belgian champion Pieter Tsjoen takes the wheel of the number 10 Focus. This is Pieter’s sole 2006 outing with the Cumbrian team, but the 31-year-old brings a wealth of experience. Along with a plethora of domestic triumphs, he has also tasted victory on the world stage, having won a highly competitive battle on the production car round of the 2002 Catalunya Rally.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "This is an amazing opportunity that people like the Stobarts and Steve Perez, from VK, have provided me with. I certainly intend to make the most of it. Monte Carlo is a really tricky rally to start the programme. Unfortunately, I was too young to do the recce last year, you have to be 18 to drive on the roads in France – I was only 17. I’ve heard all the stories about Monte, about the changing road conditions and things like that. I think one of the hardest things will be the first time I come across a patch of ice when we’re on slick racing tyres. I will have to slow to virtually walking pace, there’ll be no grip at all. Pyschologically, that’s quite tough – you have to keep telling yourself that everybody else is doing the same thing. The minute you try to push a bit harder on the ice, you’re likely to go off the road. It’s going to be very different to the events I’ve done before, but right now I just can’t wait to get started."

Pieter Tsjoen/ Eddy Chevalier: "Since I started rallying in 1998, I’ve been aiming for a drive like this. To be part of the Stobart VK M-sport Ford Rally Team on what is probably the most famous rally in the world is fantastic for me. Having driven in the Belgian Championship for so long, I have a lot of experience of asphalt rallies. Some of those events, such as Condroz, are run in wintry conditions similar to Monte Carlo, but it’s still going to be a very big challenge for me to take on the best rally drivers around on round one."

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

Baumschlager Rallye Racing (BRR) is the name of the new Red Bull Skoda Team that will be taking on the field of the Rally WC 2006. Gilles Panizzi, Mattias Ekström and Andreas Aigner are the names of the drivers, meaning the private BRR team will be represented at the Rally WC 2006 with a promising mixture of experienced star pilots and powerful youngsters. Experience is what the 40-year-old Frenchman Gilles Panizzi has in spades. Panizzi was for years unbeatable on asphalt (earning him the nickname “Tarmac Expert” in racing circles). As part of BRR, he will compete in the WC races in Monte Carlo, Spain and Corsica, joined by his brother Herve as co-pilot. It has also been announced that for the second WC race in Sweden, "local hero" Mattias Ekström will be taking the wheel. At 28, the Swede has already had a remarkable amount of experience with winning: he captured the DTM in 2004 and finished second behind Gary Paffet in 2005. Ekström, who has long displayed ambitions to drift from the asphalt, was the Group N winner at the Sweden rally. The third man, and the rookie of the team, is Austrian rally talent and Red Bull Rallye Junior Andreas Aigner. The 21-year-old was discovered two years ago. This year, he’s already made a name for himself at several Rally WC races in Group N. "Andreas, in particular, will profit from the experience of the two older pilots and learn a great deal," says team coach Raimund Baumschlager.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: illes Panizzi about driving the Skoda Fabia WRC for the first time: "I got along very well with the car right away. The mechanical differential worked faultlessly, and I was quite happy with the times I achieved. Therefore it should be possible to get a top result in Monte Carlo."

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: Junior Andreas Aigner, who in December already completed a day of testing in the Czech Republic, was enthusiastic as well: "We tried different setups and tested various tyre compounds. I learned quite a lot, it was a perfect test session. That’s why I can hardly wait for the rally to start, although it is going to be tough."

Event Timetable

Thursday 19 January: Ceremonial Start

Start Place du Casino, Monte Carlo 18.30

Friday 20 January: Leg 1 Monaco - Monaco

Start Monaco 06.50
SS1 St Sauveur sur Tinee - Beuil 22.23km 08.33
SS2 Guillaumes - Valberg 13.60km 09.31
SS3 Pierlas - Ilonse 23.22km 10.19
Serv A Monaco (30 mins) 12.12
SS4 St Sauveur sur Tinee - Beuil 22.23km 14.25
SS5 Guillaumes - Valberg 13.60km 15.23
SS6 Pierlas - Ilonse 23.22km 16.11
Serv B Monaco (45 mins) 18.04
Finish Monaco 18.57

Saturday 21 January: Leg 2 Monaco - Monaco

Serv C Monaco (10 mins) 06.00
SS7 Sigale - Bif. D10 / D110 22.54km 07.53
SS8 St Antonin - Toudon 20.22km 09.06
SS9 La Tour sur Tinee - Utelle 18.73km 10.19
Serv D Monaco (30 mins) 12.02
SS10 St Antonin - Toudon 20.22km 14.30
SS11 La Tour sur Tinee - Utelle 18.73km 15.43
SS12 La Bollene Vesubie - Sospel 31.25km 16.38
Serv E Monaco (45 mins) 18.03
Finish Monaco 18.56

Sunday 22 January: Leg 3 Monaco - Monaco

Serv F Monaco (10 mins) 06.50
SS13 Col de Braus - La Cabanette 12.60km 07.55
SS14 Col St Roch - Lantosque 14.45km 08.23
SS15 La Bollene Vesubie - Sospel 31.25km 08.56
Serv G Monaco (30 mins) 10.19
SS16 Col de Braus - La Cabanette 12.60km 11.44
SS17 Col St Roch - Lantosque 14.45km 12.12
SS18 La Bollene Vesubie - Sospel 31.25km 12.45
Serv H Monaco (20 mins) 14.05
Finish Monaco 14.25

Event Statistics

- The total length of the 74th running of the championship's longest running event is 1,336.13 km, including 366.39 km divided into 18 special stages (9 different).

- Recce takes place over Tuesday January 17th (8.00 until 18.00) and Wednesday January 18th (08:00 until 17:00).

- The shakedown (Thursday from 08.00 until 12.00) uses the same stage as in previous years (at the exit of the village of Sospel, Col of Castillon-Col St Jean and finishes on the D54). The shakedown service park will be settled in the village of Sospel.

- On Thursday, after the traditional photo shoot for drivers and co-drivers at 15.00 (“Jardins des Boulingrins” in Monaco), the FIA press conference will be held in the media centre at the Sporting d’Hiver at 15.30

- Thursday's programme ends with the ceremonial start (Place du Casino, Monaco, 18:30).

- Tyres: the authorised quota per driver is 80 asphalt tyres and 40 snow tyres. The bar-code references of these tyres must be registered by January 16th. Three tread patterns are permitted but all tyres must have an interior diameter of 18 inches. The drivers will be allowed to use only 50 tyres of their quota during the rally, shakedown included.

- Both chassis and engine, which will be sealed in Monte Carlo, will have to be used in Sweden too

- Servicing: the event's single service park will be located on Monaco's harbour front. The end of leg 1 and 2 services will use the flexi-service system (cars of the same team serviced one by one). The 10-minute morning service and the 30-minute mid-leg services, and 20-minute (before the final podium) work according to the traditional system.

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen Ford Focus RS 1hr 09min 30.8sec
2. C Atkinson/G MacNeall Subaru Impreza 1hr 10min 54.5sec
3. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen Peugeot 307 1hr 10min 57.9sec
4. G Panizzi/H Panizzi Skoda Fabia 1hr 11min 05.4sec
5. M Stohl/I Minor Peugeot 307 1hr 11min 09.9sec
6. F Duval/P Pivato Skoda Fabia 1hr 11min 36.6sec
7. S Sarrazin/S Prévot Subaru Impreza 1hr 12min 17.6sec
8. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 1hr 13min 14.4sec
9. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen Xsara 1hr 13min 28.2sec
10. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Ford Focus RS 1hr 13min 29.6sec

Leg 1 Unofficial News

World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) built up a 1min 16.4sec lead before crashing into retirement 5km after the start of the final stage. It is not yet known whether he will restart tomorrow under SupeRally regulations. If so, he will be ninth. A second world champion to retire was Petter Solberg (Subaru). The Norwegian lost a minute after selecting slick tyres this morning. He climbed back to seventh before an oil leak in the final stage irreparably damaged his car's engine. Team-mate Chris Atkinson excelled on his first Rallye Monte Carlo appearance to hold second, ahead of Toni Gardemeister (Peugeot). Gilles Panizzi (Skoda) held second midway through the leg but poor handling dropped him to fourth. Also out was Gig Galli (Mitsubishi) who retired from fourth in stage four with a broken steering arm after hitting a stone.

The second leg is the longest of the rally and is primarily based to the south of the Var river. As today, it comprises two groups of three stages which are split by a return to the Monaco service. It includes a test which has not been used for 14 years and ends with the first of three passes over the famous Col de Turini. Drivers leave Monaco at 06.00 and return for the overnight halt at 18.56.

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)

This Friday is known in the church as Saint Sebastian’s day. It started off as Seb’s party, in every way. He was the hero of the morning, with an inspired choice of ‘BFGoodrich Winter’ tyres, containing a row of studs on the inside of the tyre. The two-time World Champion exhibited the sort of form that has earned him three consecutive Monte Carlo victories, taking a commanding lead from the beginning. He extended his advantage using ‘Dry’ tyres for the second run through ‘La Couillole’ (SS4) which was the opening stage of the afternoon’s loop.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Then about five kilometres after the start of ‘Pierlas/Ilonse’ (SS6), his rally was turned on its head. « I just got caught out, » he admitted with characteristic honesty. « It was even more important to be aware of the amount of grip on each corner during the afternoon than it was in the morning, when the studs gave us a certain amount of safety. On that particular corner, taken in fourth gear, I thought that the black asphalt in the braking area was simply damp. In fact, it was extremely greasy. Having arrived at it too fast, the car started to understeer and so to try and get it back I pulled the handbrake. We went into a spin and the car slid backwards down a steep slope. But we did not hit anything, which makes me hope that there is no real damage to it. We will have to wait to find out if it is possible for us to re-start the rally tomorrow. And if that is the case, we will see what we can hope for over the distance that remains… »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Friday was also a memorable day for Xavier Pons and Dani Sordo. An extensive traffic jam at St Sauveur sur Tinée, the start of SS1, meant that they were unable to contest any of the three stages that made up the morning’s action. They were also handicapped by the notional times they were awarded – giving them a total time which was a full three minutes off the leader ! «It’s frustrating but these things happen, » said Xevi afterwards. « Now we will just have to concentrate on the next loop of stages. » It started with a spin on ‘La Couillole’ (SS4). «I’m not used to driving on ice with dry weather tyres, » explained Xevi. « The spin was nothing special, but it was a good warning and I decided not to take any risks, especially as it was the first time we were seeing these stages after their cancellation in the morning. My aim is to get to the finish and so I’m going to take everything one step at a time. »

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: At the end of his first day of driving a World Rally Car, Dani Sordo explained : «Dropping three minutes in the morning without even starting a stage was not too serious in itself. What hurt me most was the lack of competitive time in the car, which I am seriously in need of. Having said that, I am not at all unhappy. The car is perfect, my ice crew did a good job and my tyre choice was correct. More than ever, my goal is to get to the end of this rally – which I can honestly say is the most difficult of my career so far ! »

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 made a sensational debut in the new Focus RS WRC06 to lead the Rallye Monte Carlo after today's opening leg. The Finns lead by 1min 23.7sec on their first appearance with the Ford squad after a demanding day's driving over slushy and icy mountain roads in the French Alps. This opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship is the first full competitive outing for the new Focus RS WRC. Grönholm posted fastest time on two of the day's five speed tests in the mountains north-west of Monaco, and a consistently fast pace through the remaining special stages propelled him to the top of the leaderboard on the three-day rally. Team-mates and fellow countrymen Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are 10th in a second BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS after a more difficult day. A poor tyre choice this morning and a handbrake problem on the hairpin-lined roads this afternoon cost time on a rally in which Hirvonen has limited previous experience.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I spun about 3km after the start of the first stage on a right hand corner," said Grönholm. "It was marked in my pace notes as 'really slippery' but it was really, really, really slippery. The car ended facing the way I had come. I stalled the engine a couple of times trying to manoeuvre it back in the right direction. It was difficult to make our tyre choice and maybe we should have opted for half studs. My tyres would have been good for stage three but unfortunately we didn't find out."The 37-year-old Finn opted for soft compound dry weather rubber this afternoon. He climbed to second on the opening test and powered into the lead on the final stage with his second stage victory - by a massive 15.5sec. "It's fantastic to be leading and the Focus has been perfect all day," he added. "I drove a little too carefully sometimes but conditions were terrible and it was hard to judge the correct speed. I've not enjoyed the day but I am enjoying leading. The big thing for the rest of the weekend will be tyre choice. There is slush, ice, wet asphalt and dry asphalt and it is so hard to decide what is the right option."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen opted for dry weather rubber this morning and paid the penalty. He was 10th on the opening stage and 11th on the next to return to service in 10th. "The conditions changed totally between my safety note crew driving the stage early this morning and me starting," he admitted. "All the ice had turned to slush and I just did not know what the conditions were like around the next corner. I didn't push because I couldn't trust my notes and I didn't want to make any mistakes." Twenty-five-year-old Hirvonen was fourth fastest on the afternoon's opening stage. However, a handbrake sensor problem on the last test cost more than a minute. "It was a twisty stage and I needed the handbrake at hairpins. But when I pulled on it the car went into launch control mode and activated the clutch. It meant they were controlling the car and not me! The engine stalled and when I restarted it the system released itself. It happened about five times," he explained.

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

The opening Leg of Rallye Monte Carlo brought mixed fortunes for the Subaru World Rally Team. Making a remarkable Monte Carlo debut, Chris Atkinson finished the day second overall after a trouble free run through the twisty asphalt stages. The young Australian recorded three top-five stage times. Petter Solberg struggled with a poor tyre choice on the morning’s icy roads but turned things around in the afternoon and recorded the second fastest time on the final stage of the day. But soon after disaster struck when Solberg’s engine developed an oil leak on the road section back to service. Forty seven kilometres from his destination his car came to a halt and he retired. Frenchman Stéphane Sarrazin also struggled on slick tyres in the morning, but fought back to secure the second fastest time in SS5. He will start Leg two in seventh place overall.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I still can’t really believe it. We were cruising home after the stage and it just happened. We stopped and tried to fix it but there was nothing we could do. The oil had leaked out and we had no chance. Up to then the rally had been getting better and better for us. We didn’t start well - in fact I don’t think our tyre choice could have been any worse - but the afternoon was good, and our pace on the final stage was very encouraging. It’s incredible really; it seems I have no luck here in Monte Carlo. It must change soon."

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prevot: "This morning was extremely difficult. There was so much ice and snow on the ground that it was impossible to do much with the slick tyres that we’d chosen. To be honest, I’m still feeling quite lucky to be in the rally, it was so easy to make a big mistake. The second loop this afternoon was much better, I’m feeling good about the car and my driving and I’m very much looking forward to a big fight tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Obviously I’m very happy; it’s been a good day for Glenn and me. We’ve stuck exactly to our pre-event plan, haven’t taken any risks and have ended up in second place overall. In fact, I think that’s the only thing that we weren’t really planning for. The stages today have been very interesting and a tough challenge. We haven’t been going slowly but we haven’t been taking risks either. We’ve just driven sensibly, on safe tyres and the results have been incidental. We learned a lot on the asphalt rallies last year and we put it to good use. Our plan for tomorrow is to keep it consistent, just carry on doing what we’ve done today and see where it gets us. I’m looking forward to it."

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

The circumstances at the 74th edition of the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo were no piece of cake. The biggest challenge was to reach the start of the first special stage. Only eleven competitors made it. The rest had to return to the service zone in Monte Carlo. Manfred Stohl unfortunately made a wrong choice of tyres. The Austrian’s tyre distributor had recommended slicks – which proved to be a mistake. Luckily the third special stage was cancelled, therefore the Viennese is only two minutes behind the top. But on the second three special stages the Austrian OMV driver gathered momentum. A fact that was proven by third SS-time on SS 5 and second SS-time on SS 6. This means fifth place in the intermediate standings – only 15 seconds behind second place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I felt rather desperate. It was extremely icy and all I could do was to try and remain on the road." "I only had a spin on SS 4. The rest was smooth sailing. I’m actually rather surprised that we can keep up this well. I’m feeling right at home in the Peugeot and Bozian Racing are doing a perfect job."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Henning Solberg wasn’t too happy when he reached the serive in Monte Carlo at noon. The Norwegian had completed over 100 kilometres – but without racing a single special stage. Solberg: "What a disappointment. But that is rallying for you. There are over 50 drivers who had to face the same fate.“ In the afternoon the former World Champion’s brother was finally able to show his forte. At the end of the day he found himself in twelfth overall place. „We’re quite content. The rally is long and we still have reserves."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Pieter Tsjoen / Eddy Chevaillier (B)

Matthew Wilson and Pieter Tsjoen, driving a brace of Stobart VK-decaled Ford Focus RS WRC 04s, were looking forward to three tests in the French Alps, north of the event's base in Monaco. Unfortunately for the duo, the narrow roads had been blocked by two buses. Despite being only two kilometres from the start of stage one, there was no way through and the organisers were forced to cancel. Matthew and Pieter finally got their chance at a little after 1430 this afternoon, when the re-run of the morning's stages began without any problems. Much of the snow and ice had melted from the roads by the time the world's finest rally drivers arrived for the afternoon competition. The conditions allowed Matthew and Pieter to use slick, racing tyres, offering sensational grip on the dry asphalt but zero resistance on any lingering patches of ice. Matthew posted a highly-respectable 17th fastest time on his first test, while Pieter slid off the road and into one of the many snow banks lining the road. He dropped five minutes digging the car out of the bank and would spend the next two stages racing back through the field, trying to make up for the time loss. After another top-20 time on SS5, Matthew was settling in and feeling more comfortable with the conditions. Unfortunately, that didn't last. Close to the finish of the day's final test, he clipped a rock on the outside of the corner and bent a steering arm. He made it to the end of the stage, where he tried to fix the problem. Unfortunately the repair didn't last and he retired on the road section back to Monaco. Otherwise both his M-Sport-run and the sister car of Pieter Tsjoen ran without fault.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "What a day! After all the build-up to this event, I was so keen to get on with the driving this morning. I'd taken a studded tyre, which would have worked really well in the icy conditions, but then we never even got the chance to compete. It made the nerves a little bit worse, just sitting in the traffic waiting to start. We stalled in SS4, my first in the rally, and dropped 20s, but okay, the tyres were working and I was feeling happy with the car. It was the same in SS5: everything was good. There was a section of about six kilometres, towards the end of the stage, which was pure ice. We got through without any problems and I'd learned a lot about what speed you can drive in these conditions – maybe I backed off too much, but I just wanted to get to the end. Then, on the final stage, things weren't so good. I clipped a rock on the outside of a corner and damaged the front-left steering arm. After the stage, I tried to put a new arm on the car, but the steering rack was damaged. We had to put the old arm back on and continue. Unfortunately this broke about half-way back to Monaco. It's so disappointing this has happened, but the Monte Carlo Rally is full of these kind of stories. The positive thing is that I can continue tomorrow. I need to carry on, I need more experience and that's what I'll be looking for."

Pieter Tsjoen/ Eddy Chevalier: "Both times I've done the Monte Carlo Rally before, I've had problems on the opening day. I really hoped I'd left that behind this year. Unfortunately, I hadn't. I hit a rock in stage four, which spun the car across the road and into a snow bank on the opposite side. With the car buried in the snow, my co-driver and I weren't going to be able to get it out. We managed to get some spectators to come and help us, but still we lost about five minutes. Apart from that problem, I've also had some difficulties with my pace notes. Basically, I'm driving at a higher speed than we thought we would be and the notes are a little bit too slow – we're trying to work around this. It's been frustrating, but tomorrow's another day – and this is certainly a fantastic car."

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

Quite a positive first day for the Red Bull Skoda Team. After lying second overall this morning, local hero Gilles Panizzi managed P4 at the end of the day despite a spin in Special Stage 6.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: Special Stage 6: "Unfortunately I had a spin at the exit of the very first corner of SS 6. Even before that the car handled rather twitchy, so I lost some time there. In spite of this mishap I am pretty content, especially with this morning’s round, and I hope for a similar performance tomorrow."

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: Because of a traffic jam on the access roads to SS 1, only 11 cars contested the first two stages, so Andreas Aigner saw his first competitive action on Special Stage 4: "I was very comfortable and ran the stages without any unnecessary risk. By choosing intermediates I took a safety-first approach with tyres as well. My first duty has to be finishing my first world championship event in the Skoda Fabia WRC and show a respectable performance. With each and every kilometre I am able to gain further experience, which I hope will come to good use later on."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen Ford Focus RS 2hr 36min 10.2sec
2. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen Peugeot 307 2hr 38min 16.1sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor Peugeot 307 2hr 38min 19.0sec
4. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 2hr 38min 51.8sec
5. S Sarrazin/S Prévot Subaru Impreza 2hr 39min 13.6sec
6. C Atkinson/G MacNeall Subaru Impreza 2hr 40min 53.0sec
7. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen Xsara 2hr 41min 11.8sec
8. G Panizzi/H Panizzi Skoda Fabia 2hr 41min 30.2sec
9. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Ford Focus RS 2hr 41min 37.5sec
10. X Pons/C Del Barrio Citroen Xsara 2hr 42min 53.1sec

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 Unofficial News

Behind Grönholm, Manfred Stohl and Toni Gardemeister (both Peugeot) enjoyed a huge battle for second. Stohl started the day in fifth but the pair swapped places throughout before Gardemeister grabbed second on the final test, just 2.9sec ahead of Stohl. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) bounced back from yesterday's retirement to post fastest time on all five stages to climb from eighth to fourth. Team-mates Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson (both Subaru) rounded off the top six, Atkinson unable to reproduce the pace which carried him into second last night. François Duval (Skoda) crashed out of fifth place on stage nine while Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) retired for the second consecutive day after the same test with a broken gearbox.

The final day covers familiar territory in the mountains above Monaco, close to the town of Sospel. After restarting at 06.50, drivers face two identical groups of three speed tests covering 116.60km, split by a return to the Monaco service park. The last test in each group crosses the famous Col de Turini before a dramatic descent through spectacular gorges near the village of Moulinet. Drivers return to the Principality for the finish ceremony at the Palace at 14.25.

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)

After their problem on the ‘Pierlas’ stage yesterday, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were on a mission to make up time. Helped by their flawlessly reliable Citroen Xsara WRC, they were quickest on five out of five stages today. It could well have been six out of six, had the second run through the 19 kilometres of ‘La Tour sur Tinée/Utelle’ (SS11) not been cancelled. By the end of their thrilling day, the reigning World Champions had made up four places and returned to Monaco knocking on the door of the podium. They started the leg’s action with a gap of 3m43.6s to leader Marcus Grönholm, but slashed the deficit to 2m41.6s heading into the last day.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: At final service, Seb took stock of the situation. «It’s been a trouble-free day, apart from a spin at a hairpin bend on ‘St Antonin’ [SS8], » he said. « For the second loop of stages, I opted for harder tyres than my rivals. I took advantage of that choice on the second run through ‘St Antonin’. On the other hand, those tyres cooled down a lot during the three kilometres of snow after the Col de Turini [SS12] and I was never really able to get temperature back into them for the end of this long stage. I still won it, but it was not easy. The gap of 161 seconds to Marcus will be impossible to make up under normal circumstances, in the 117 kilometres or so that are left to run tomorrow. But we have come back to within 35 seconds of a possible second place, and we are going to do everything possible to try and take it tomorrow… »

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: « It’s good to see a difficult day end well! » said Pons, a former world Enduro champion, after making up two places. « Today’s leg was maybe not quite as challenging as yesterday, but it was difficult nonetheless. The car is exactly as I want it, well-balanced and consistent. On sections of road that are dry or damp, I’m able to give it everything. But I struggle when I have to drive on roads that are snowy or icy with slick tyres. My inexperience of these conditions results in gaps to the opposition which are too big for my taste. I need to work hard in order to reduce them…and getting to the finish is the best way to do that. »

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: It’s all about learning – learning as much as possible! » This is also the personal maxim of Dani Sordo, who is feeling more and more comfortable at the wheel of his Xsara WRC rented from Kronos Racing. The reigning Junior World Rally Champion was satisfied with his day’s work. « We’ve made some good tyre choices, avoided mistakes, and set a fourth-fastest time [SS7] and a second-fastest time [SS10], making up two places, » he said. « I will remember my second day at the wheel of a World Rally Car as a very good experience… »

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 in the Rallye Monte Carlo during today's second leg in the French Alps. Ice and slushy snow on the winding mountain roads once again made conditions treacherous, but Ford's Finns controlled their pace throughout the day to return to Monaco this evening with a 2min 05.9sec advantage in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Grönholm and Rautiainen posted top five times on every speed test to extend their leg one lead by 42.2sec on their debut drive in the new Focus RS. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie ninth in a similar Focus RS with one day remaining of this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: I spun just after the top of Turini," he said. "The conditions there were terrible, the worst I have ever seen them, and we have to go over there twice more tomorrow so anything can still happen. The Focus has again been really good today but the conditions mean that it's not enjoyable to drive this rally because on every corner I'm waiting for something to happen. "It's hard to judge what is a good pace. I'm looking at Loeb's times and calculating the pace at which I need to drive. I'm not trying to beat his times. I hope I don't make any mistakes tomorrow because in these conditions that is so easy to do," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen and Lehtinen tackled the day's opening stage using the back-up manual gearchange system on their Focus RS after a clutch sensor problem en route to the test. However, the Finns, made light of the situation and two top five times on the next two tests lifted them to eighth. "I fixed the problem after the first stage by disconnecting the chassis controller and had a steady drive in the next two," said Hirvonen. "I hit a wall in the third stage but it wasn't a problem. The road was narrow, covered with gravel and with big ditches alongside and it was easy to make a mistake." Hirvonen spun 7km from the top of the Col de Turini this afternoon and dropped about 30 seconds and a place on the leaderboard. "I slid wide at a hairpin, the back of the car caught the snow and I spun round. But just to reach Turini was fantastic for me because I've never got this far before. Everyone told me it was a tough stage and that's true, but I've finally driven it so I'm happy. "I tried to find a good speed but be cautious at the same time because I could earn a good finishing position without being on maximum attack. I think I can move up tomorrow. I think sixth is possible and that's my target," he added.

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

Both Stéphane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson had a trouble-free run through Leg two of Rallye Monte Carlo to end the day in fifth and sixth respectively. All of the day’s five run stages were won by Sébastien Loeb, but Sarrazin was the closest challenger when the Subaru driver finished just two seconds behind him in SS8. Sarrazin finished every stage in the top ten to move from seventh to fifth, with his team-mate Atkinson in sixth. Subaru’s youngest driver continued his aim of gaining more experience on asphalt, often matching the pace of more experienced drivers.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Retired

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prevot: We did some good times and I’m very happy with the car, it feels very strong. Today our tyre choice was spot on, so it’s a good average. I’m sure a lot is down to confidence, all the time I’m learning more about the new car with the mechanical diffs and so on and I have had to adapt my driving style to cope. Of course for tomorrow I will try to catch up the cars ahead but I’ll try to push without going crazy – something like the level I was pushing at today.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “It’s been quite a challenge for us today. We knew we would drop a few places anyway but we’ve lost a bit more time than we wanted. We had a few slow spins in the morning and then this afternoon we were massively too cautious on the Turini stage. I’ve never done that stage before and everyone was warning us about how tricky it was. In the end I took it too carefully and threw away some time. Tomorrow I think we can go at a much faster pace than we did today, that’s for sure, but we still want to finish the rally, that’s the main thing.”

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

One half of the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT has reason to be satisfied with day two of the 74th Rallye Automobile. Manfred Stohl lies in excellent third overall place after twelve of 18 special stages. He is only missing 2,9 seconds on second-placed Finn Toni Gardemeister. Henning Solberg, on the other hand, was less successful. After having chosen the wrong set of tyres in the morning, the Norwegian lost a lot of time in the afternoon due to a spin and ensuing technical problems. Up to now Manfred Stohl has achieved more than he had dared to hope. Originally his main focus at the season’s WRC-premiere in Monte Carlo had been on getting to know his new Peugeot 307 WRC more intimately. But the OMV duo Stohl and co-driver Ilka Minor soon found the right rhythm.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We didn’t know our exact standing after the tests last weekend. But the initial special stage times gave us confidence. We also didn’t make any grave mistakes up to now – and so this comes from that. But Sunday will be tough and the time differences aren’t exactly huge." The Austrian is referring to the 2,9 seconds he lies behind Gardemeister but also to the 32 seconds he still has on Loeb. Stohl: „There is still a tough fight to come with Gardemeister. If Loeb keeps on performing like he did today we will hardly be able to cope with him. If I want to reach the podium I’ll have to beat Gardemeister – and I want to. But Toni know this rally inside-out. After all he came in second last year.“

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: It was a day to forget for Henning Solberg. Wrong tyres in the morning and eventually a spin on the last special stage of the day – which caused problems with the engine power. The Norwegian of the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT was able to finish the stage but had to park his Peugeot 307 WRC immediately afterwards in order to prevent engine failure. Solberg: "We don’t know what really happened. But it is better to give up now and rather compete again tomorrow thanks to SupeRally. Since this problem occured on the last special stage of the day and we’ve already lost a lot of time we don’t mind the five-minute-penalty. At least we’ll try to really put our foot down on the last leg.“

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Pieter Tsjoen / Eddy Chevaillier (B)

The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team of Matthew Wilson and Pieter Tjoen left Monaco at 0630 this morning, bound once more for the icy mountain passes of the French Alps, north of the Monaco base for this opening round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship. Once again, the route provided a mixture of old and new. Stages like St Antonin-Toudon has always been part of the fabric of this event. The road from Sigale through Le Mas and on towards St Auban, however, hadn’t been used for 14 years. No matter how often they’re used, at this time of the year, these stretches of asphalt remain among the most challenging in the championship, with black ice, snow, slush and even gravel waiting to catch out the unwary. Mindful of a troubled opening leg, courtesy of a bent steering arm for Matthew and a fourth-stage excursion for Pieter, both would be taking a cautious approach to leg two. Saturday’s stages, however, didn’t deliver quite the same level of difficulty in terms of surface changes. That was, until the crews arrived in La Bollene late this afternoon. In the fading light, Matthew and Pieter nosed their Fords into the last stage of the day, which included the pass over the awesome Col de Turini. This stage had everything: a true test of nerve and skill as the drivers skated their way across a surface shorn of anything resembling grip.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: “It’s been a bit of a mixed day. Some of the stages have been fantastic, really dry and good grip, giving lots of confidence. Then you go into the next one and it’s completely different again, really slippery, with lots of ice. I knew Turini was going to be tough and it lived up to its reputation. When I was sitting on the start line, I actually felt really privileged, knowing all the great drivers who had sat there before me. The stage itself was absolutely unbelievable. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve driven through there! It was just starting to get dark when we came over the top of the Col, which added to whole experience. I could see all of the camera flashes and fires going, it was stunning – I think I even saw some Union flags flying. It was one of life’s experiences, something I’ll never forget. After all that, though, I was pretty pleased to see the finish. We came over the top of the Col and it was ice for about five kilometres down. I was driving so slowly, but I knew that as soon as I tried to go any quicker, we’d go off the road. I feel more comfortable with that kind of thing now. The experience is coming – and that’s what I’m here for.”

Pieter Tsjoen/ Eddy Chevalier: I’m not here to race with anybody – I don’t want to push the car too hard, that’s not my plan. I’m here to learn and that’s what I’m doing. Going up the Turini I was trying to be really smooth, just drifting the car on ice, really trying not to make any mistakes. As soon as you spin, you’re going to lose a lot of time. I came through with no spins and was really pleased.”

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

The second day of the 74th edition of the Monte Carlo Rally was again a quite successful one for Red Bull Skoda. Although Gilles Panizzi dropped down to P8 from his fourth position yesterday, points are well within reach for the Frenchman at this year’s season opener.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: "My car seems very twitchy since Friday evening, I had a spin and lost some time. This situation stayed pretty much the same this morning, and I informed the team about it."

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: The 21 year-old from Styria, who was the first to tackle today’s stages thanks to his 15th position yesterday, coped well with this new situation: "On one hand, you feel honoured, on the other hand there are quite a few stones lying around on the tarmac, which you will clear away for the other competitors whether you want to or not. I especially need to improve at the start of a stage, where I am still losing time because of bad timing. I will try my best to reach the finishing line in my first WRC event."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 11min 43.9sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 4hr 12min 45.7sec
3. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Peugeot 307 4hr 13min 07.0sec
4. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 4hr 13min 26.2sec
5. S Sarrazin/S Prévot F Subaru Impreza 4hr 15min 04.1sec
6. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 4hr 16min 46.3sec
7. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 18min 03.4sec
8. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 4hr 18min 59.1sec
9. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 4hr 19min 26.8sec
10 G Panizzi/H Panizzi F Skoda Fabia 4hr 21min 13.7sec

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Leg 3 Unofficial News

Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed a masterful victory on their debut in the new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on the Rallye Monte Carlo today. The BP-Ford World Rally Team duo triumphed on the legendary Monaco-based event, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship, after three-days of demanding competition in treacherous ice and snow in the French Alps. Behind Grönholm, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) completed a tremendous recovery to finish second after crashing on the opening day. The Frenchman overhauled Toni Gardemeister (Peugeot) on the final stage over the Col de Turini to lead home the Finn by 21.3sec. Gardemeister pulled clear of Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) to claim a comfortable podium with team-mates Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson completing the top six. Gilles Panizzi (Skoda) fell back to 10th after hitting a wall shortly after the Col de Turini and breaking his car's rear right suspension. However, he and team-mate Andreas Aigner claimed the final manufacturer points in 10th and 13th respectively.

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)

With 10 stage victories from the 16 that were run, Sébastien Loeb and his Monegasque co-driver Daniel Elena were once again quickest on the roads around Monte Carlo - as they have been for the last five years. After a sensational start to the rally, which seemed set to propel the reigning World Champions to a fourth consecutive Monte Carlo victory, they were forced to fight tooth and nail for a second place that was spectacularly taken in the last metres of the final stage.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "Of course I'm very disappointed to have made the mistake on Friday that dropped us down to eighth overall - especially for the team..I can only blame myself. On the other hand, I can honestly say that from the inside of the car this rally turned into a thrilling chase ; the sort of battle that I really like. It showed us that our Xsara can more than stand up to the opposition, and that my new team is working really well. It's a very good sign for the future."

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "For the first time today, I was pleased with my driving on ice with 'slick' tyres. I've been amazed by Seb's achievement, and I know that I will be able to learn a lot from him. Finally, I'd like to congratulate Dani Sordo, my friend and old rival in the Spanish Championship, on an excellent World Rally Car debut."

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: "To be at the end of the rally with a second-fastest time in our pockets (SS10), one championship point, and an intact car is fantastic. Step by step I think I've learnt a lot since Friday and I can't wait to get to Sweden now to learn some more."

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

Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed a masterful victory on their debut in the new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on the Rallye Monte Carlo today. The BP-Ford World Rally Team duo triumphed on the legendary Monaco-based event, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship, after three-days of demanding competition in treacherous ice and snow in the French Alps. Their success, on the first fully competitive appearance for the 2006-specification Focus RS, was their 19th world rally victory, but their first on asphalt. It was Ford's first Rallye Monte Carlo success since 1994. BP-Ford team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished seventh in another Focus RS as Ford powered into the lead of the manufacturers' standings after the first of the 16 rounds. Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "This is the best feeling. I had a good lead and didn't need to get involved in a massive fight. It is my first win on asphalt, although it wasn't pure asphalt because there was so much ice and snow. It is fantastic to score so well on the first rally and I'm really looking forward to driving on the snow in Sweden on the next round."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "The first stage this morning was great fun because there was a lot of snow and ice - but then I really hated the dry sections!" said Hirvonen. "I pushed hard in that stage because I had good confidence in those conditions, and not quite so hard in the other two. Once I moved into seventh, then I knew I could hold that position. It was a hard weekend and a good one, but it could have been better for me. Without problems and mistakes, I think fifth could have been possible, but considering all that and the weather, this is a really good result and a great start to the season."

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

The Subaru World Rally Team had a successful end to the first rally of the season. Stephane Sarrazin finished the rally in fifth position, scoring valuable manufacturer points on the Subaru Impreza WRC2006s debut.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Retired

Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prevot: "I'm very pleased that we've finished in the points on the first round of the championship and with a new car. It's good for me and for the team. Mechanically we've had no problems at all, but we were caught out by the weather on Friday and that cost us a lot of time. But it's a part of the game, this time we lost but next time we might win. It's been a very difficult rally, the grip is variable and driving in snow on slick tyres isn't easy, but I showed I can fight with the top drivers in these conditions and that's good for my confidence. In performance terms the car is a big step forward already and before Corsica and Catalunya I will test a lot so I should be very familiar with it by then."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We're ecstatic really. When you look at it, coming to our first Monte Carlo, to finish in the top six and to have such a good result all weekend is fantastic. Glenn and I drove exactly according to our pre event plan, we learned a lot and we'll head to Sweden in a very positive frame of mind. Sweden was our first event with the team last year and we showed some good speed. The conditions suit me a bit better than the ones here and I'm looking forward to going back."

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 WRT has met success already at the first run of the FIA World Rally Championship. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor gave a sensational performance and finished in excellent fourth overall place. They only missed 19,2 seconds on the podium.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We really tried our all on the last special stages to reach the podium. Unfortunately the spectators shoved too much snow onto the road on SS 16. We lost too much time there due to the slicks. But fourth place is a sensational start into the WRC, nevertheless. We got a grip on the Peugeot sooner than we'd thought. Bozian Racing did an excellent job. Though there is always room for some minor adjustments during the next rallies. The last two special stages are definitely a story to tell to my grandchildren"

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "It's a pity. We desperately wanted to contribute to the manufacturer's ranking. It was an extremely difficult rally for us since it was not only the first start in Monte Carlo but also the first WRC-run on tarmac. But the Peugeot 307 WRC is excellent and I'm sure that our performance will improve in Sweden."

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Pieter Tsjoen / Eddy Chevaillier (B)

Cumbria's Matthew Wilson brought his Ford Focus RS WRC 04 to the finish of the Monte Carlo Rally on his first attempt this afternoon. The 18-year-old claimed a highly-credible 15th overall, despite never having tackled anything like the conditions he faced in the French Alps over the last three days.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's been such a long week for me. I was so nervous about this whole thing before the start. Once we got into it, it was okay. Once we got onto the ice and started to get through the stages, my confidence was coming. Now I feel much better. I'm actually quite glad the conditions were like they were. Obviously it would have been easier to come here and do a dry Monte, but we wouldn't have learned nearly as much. Now I just can't wait for Sweden!"

Pieter Tsjoen/ Eddy Chevalier: "Now I'm up to speed with this car, I can start to appreciate just how good it is. I'm really looking forward to the start of the Belgian Championship now, I think we'll be really competitive. I was really careful today, like I have been for all of the rally really. I wasn't going to risk everything and push like crazy when we could go off the road. I'm very happy with our finishing position."

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

A successful first run for Red Bull Skoda at the season opener in Monte Carlo: Having both cars finish, and both in a points-paying position for the manufacturers' championship, is very satisfactory to team managers Armin Schwarz and Raimund Baumschlager.

Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: "The modifications we made to the Skoda Fabia WRC yesterday evening really had a positive effect. This morning, we were able to set some very competitive times. Unfortunately we damaged the suspension and a brake disc in a small incident and lost a lot of time. After changing the rear axle, everything was back to normal in the afternoon. All in all we've got to be satisfied. We were able to prove the potential of the Skoda Fabia WRC not only in the beginning of the rally with a second place in the interim results, but today as well."

Andreas Aigner/Klaus Wicha: " It was really fantastic. To drive the Skoda Fabia WRC through the narrow mountain stages around Monte Carlo was just breathtaking. We met our goal of finishing our first rally and we were able to gain a lot of experience on the way. To end up getting points for Red Bull Skoda in the manufacturers' championship is even more terrific."


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
22.01.2006

Present:
1st Marcus Gronholm – BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st Timo Rautiainen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd Sébastien Loeb – Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
2nd Daniel Elena – Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team
3rd Toni Gardemeister – Astra Racing
3rd Jakke Honkanen – Astra Racing
1st team Principal Malcolm Wilson – BP-Ford World Rally Team

Welcome to the final FIA press conference. Joining us are the winners Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen, second-placed crew Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena and Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen who finished third. BP-Ford World Rally Team principal Malcolm Wilson joins us on behalf of the winning manufacturer.

Q: Marcus, your first victory on asphalt and your first for Ford. Would you have predicted this after the first stage on Friday, when Sebastien Loeb was 25 seconds quicker than everybody else? You lost a podium place here last year on the final afternoon, after some spectators threw some snow on the road on the last passage over the Col de Turini. Were you nervous today that this might happen again? MG: Not really. I had a spin in the middle of the first stage. It was really tricky conditions; icy. I couldn’t imagine anything like this. I’m always worried on this rally. My speed was not fantastic, I’m not happy with that, but I’m happy with the win. I was afraid on the slicks on the snow and ice, it’s not comfortable. Anything is possible on this rally.

Q: Obviously Sebastien had that problem which cost him time, but he set several fastest times on the way to second place. Without that problem, do you think you could have beaten him anyway? Did you have enough in reserve? TR: No. On the first day, of course, we were pushing like idiots, then the spins in the first stage had taken so much time, it looked already difficult. The second stage was okay, then the third stage was cancelled, the fourth and fifth we lost to Sebastien. Already it was clear we cannot beat Seb. He had his moment on stage six and it looked like we could win. But without that I don’t think we could have won.

Q: Sebastien, congratulations on second place and an amazing come-back drive. Your rally was turned on its head at the end of the first day - what exactly happened? Do you think it is easier to make a mistake with this new generation of cars that rely on mechanical diffs? Often you have been in the situation where you have controlled the rally from the front but here you really had to fight for it. Was that more fun?

SL: It happened in a place where I was confident. I thought the road was a bit wet, but it was more slippery. I braked for the left corner, but we were going too fast and we went off the road and then had a spin. The car went into a ditch and was 10 metres below the road. We could do nothing to come back on the road. I’m really happy with the handling of the car, it’s all working well but Monte is a tricky rally. In this place I was a bit too fast. Yes it’s more fun to fight back, that’s sure. Marcus knows that it’s very difficult to drive with a big lead like he had; during two days in tricky conditions, it’s not funny. For two days we were pushing very hard to try to come back and take the place on the last stage. It was a very good moment.

Q: Tell us about the battle with Toni Gardemeister today. It seemed to be quite close? DE: Yes, sure. In the last one it was very fast. When you start the last lap with a difficult decision for the tyres, it’s not easy. But he did very well in the first and second stages. In the last stages, it was maximum attack, because we had Manfred Stohl fighting with us. We had to take the maximum risk to keep second place.

Q: Toni, congratulations on third place, after an exciting battle. Did you think it was going to be possible to hold Sebastien off? What do you think of the Peugeot 307? Is it as bad as some drivers have said it is? In the modern era, this equals the best result for Peugeot here… TG: I was confident that we could try to keep him behind. But I know it’s very difficult, at least we tried. The first stage was bad, it was very slippery, maybe I was too careful on the ice. Then we had a good fight with Seb, he was so quick, we had no chance to beat him. When the conditions were good and I trusted the tyres, the car was very good, especially on the fast roads. When it was really slippery you could push the car. It wasn’t so bad, I was very happy with the car.

Q: You held an advantage over Sebastien Loeb right up until the final stage, the famous Col de Turini. What happened there? JH: The thing to look at is the cars have changed, now we have passive front and rear differentials and some other changes. We have changed the cars; Marcus has Ford and we have Peugeot, but the drivers are in the same order. Seb is still the king, Marcus next and we are third! Look at the speed, nothing has changed, Sebastien is the king today.

Q: It’s been 25 years since Ford won a Championship, and you and Marcus have got off to a perfect start. You’ve said before that you weren’t targeting the Championship this year – does this raise your expectations a bit? MW: I’d like to think so, but being realistic we felt quite confident coming here. The biggest hurdle was Sebastien. He made a mistake, and at the end of the day that can happen. I really believe we can win many rallies throughout the year. There will be some fascinating battles. The long haul rallies will be the hard ones for us: you can’t test there, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t challenge for victory on every event.

Q: How confident do you feel now Marcus? Are you 100 per cent at home in the car? The next rally is Sweden, where you have always been particularly fast as well. How good are your chances of making it two wins back to back? MG: Maybe not yet 100 per cent. I had no problem in the car, it was fantastic on this rally. That’s good. My only problem was the throttle position - I couldn’t push full throttle all of the time - it’s true. It will be okay in Sweden, I think. I hope and I think we have a good chance in Sweden; it’s my favourite rally. I’m really looking forward to it. It should be snowing. When it’s a winter rally, it’s one we really enjoy.

Q: Was this one of the most difficult Monte Carlo rallies you can remember? How difficult was it to react to the changing conditions? Are you more happy to be in second place here, or disappointed not to win for the fourth time in a row? SL: It was not so easy. For me one of the most difficult and tricky Monte Carlos. You never knew what was going to come next. One time it was dry, then snow, then wet, then ice. It was not easy not to make a mistake. Okay it’s the Monte, and sometimes the tyre choice wasn’t so difficult.

Q: One of the best things you did on this rally was choose a half-studded tyre for the first loop of stages, whereas most of your competitors chose a winter tyre or even a slick. How did you arrive at this inspired choice? DE: Yes, it’s a very good choice for the first loop, but it’s with the information from the gravel crew. They did a very good job here. We have confidence in them and that’s so important. The choice comes from the gravel crew, they’re last through the stages – they helped us make a very good choice.

Q: After such a good result with this Astra-run Peugeot, is it possible that you could extend your programme? Which rallies are you likely to do, or which ones would you like to do? TG: I hope we do a lot of rallies: all of them. At the moment I don’t know, maybe nothing. But I hope we know something soon. Sweden for sure, we don’t go. The entry is closed. We don’t know after that.

Q: Malcolm, what do you think the level of competition on this rally says about the health of the Championship at the moment and your decision to sign Marcus? MW: For me, the WRC is in great health. Look at this rally, there’s been 26 World Rally Cars – a record. Six teams going for the Championship. For me, if it was too expensive, you certainly wouldn’t get private teams and drivers investing in the WRC. To have a private driver finish on the podium sends out the right message. It is possible with these technical regulations. You would have to say the technical regulations are also in very good health. Okay nobody likes to see manufacturers disappear, but I think there’s enough evidence to see there will be more teams coming. It was a long negotiation with Marcus, starting in March or April last year, but as you can imagine, we’re delighted. What he’s done here is fantastic. In his entire career, I don’t think he’s ever had to drive like this. It’s been tough to control, especially, as Sebastien says, it’s been the most difficult rally. You could see how tough it was from looking at the splits. It’s been a difficult job for Marcus, who likes to drive at 100 per cent. On his first rally with the team, and his first Tarmac win, it’s a great boost for our operation. Not only for those here, but also those back at home in the factory who have worked so hard on this project.

2006 FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present: 1st Fumio Nutahara 1st Daniel Barritt

Now for the final press conference of the FIA PWRC, we have the winning crew of Fumio Nutahara and Daniel Barritt.

Q: Many congratulations on your first Monte Carlo victory. How difficult was it and how do you feel? FN: I’m very happy to come back here as the winner. It’s my first Monte Carlo, it was such a difficult rally. The hardest thing was the road conditions, the Tarmac was wet, damp or snow or ice. I chose good tyres, but it was very difficult.

Q: It was your first rally with Fumio and your relationship has got off to a perfect start. How easy was it to adapt to his pace note system and get everything working properly? DB: It’s been quite difficult, we don’t speak the same language. It was quite tricky out of the car, but in the car we found a way of working. It took a few stages for us to get used to it, but otherwise it’s been good.

Q: Nasser al-Attiyah was in the lead at the start of this rally, until he crashed. Do you think he will be your biggest rival this year? Who do you fear most? FN: Today in the faster stages, Nasser was very, very fast, but I and Nasser took different tyres. Nasser was on a snow tyre, my choice was slick plus stud. I was thinking ”just keep pace.” I went fast in leg one, two and three, but always wanting to finish. I’m very happy. The fast drivers are last year’s winner Toshi (Arai) and on this rally Latvala and Nasser; they’re fast. David Higgins was also very fast. This year there are many fast drivers; we will have an exciting season.

Q: Conditions here were extremely slippery and changeable. Were there any times when you thought that you might end up off the road? DB: It was hard for both of us. It was the first time either of us had done Monte Carlo. Everybody was telling us to go slow on the snow, but it was hard to work out how slow to go. We went a bit too fast on the ice and had a few moments, we learned to go slow and then even slower.

Q: You were the only competitor running on Yokohama tyres here. Do you think that they handed you an advantage? Finally, can you tell us what your programme is for the rest of the year and which rallies you are looking forward to most? FN: My tyres are very good for this rally because I think the low temperatures are good for them.

Q: Dan, what’s the rest of your programme? DB: Mexico and then we have a gap until Japan at the start of September.