FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 7th Corona Rally Mexico (3-5 March 2006


3rd round out of 16 in the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, 2nd round out of eight in the 2005 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
CORONA RALLY MEXICO
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
02.03.2006

Present:
Petter Solberg – Subaru World Rally Team
Henning Solberg – OMV Peugeot Norway
Marcus Grönholm – BP-Ford World Rally Team
Luis Moya – Subaru World Rally Team
Xavier Pons – Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Luis Perez-Companc – Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
Toshihiro Arai – Subaru Impreza
Gabriel Pozzo – Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q:
So, Petter, you’re sharing the stage with your brother! Do you think it will be the same on Sunday?

PS:
Well, I think so, that is possible. He has good backing and it can be an interesting rally for him. It’s his first time, maybe he needs to come into the rhythm, but he has a good package.

HS:
I hope so. It’s the first time here for me; it could be difficult, but I hope Petter has a good rally as well – the last two haven’t been good for him or for me. I hope we can both stay on the podium.

Q:
Henning, you are fresh from victory on Rally Norway. There is a big difference in the conditions, but does winning at home like that give you a big confidence boost heading into this rally?

HS:
It was a very good rally for me. I think it can be a very interesting WRC round for next year if it gets in. All things around the rally were good – I hope we get it. Of course, I start the year in Monte, and then in Sweden I wasn’t so happy. I did change the car for the last day in Sweden and did good times then. After that, we were fast in Norway and now we’re here. Shakedown was good, but the stages are difficult and the car’s not so fast – we have more time to think about the corners because of the altitude.

Q:
Petter, the start to your season has not been so good. Have you just been unlucky or are there other reasons? Mexico has always been an event where you and Subaru have shown good speed: why do you think that is? Can you turn your season around here?

PS:
We’ve just been very unlucky. We’re pushing the car to the limit most of the time and things like that can happen. We have to stay together and work on the details. I can push to the limit and maybe I can go off, it works both ways. I hope we have sorted most things. I got a good feeling on the first run at shakedown and we need do the same as always: go and do the best we can. We will see; it’s not just Mexico where I’ve gone well, other rallies also. I think we can go the same speed on every single rally. What can I say? We have altitude here, it’s good for our engine and that’s a bit of an advantage. We can go fast on every single rally if we keep on working on the details. We can have a good chance. I haven’t been attacking for a long, long time. I’ve been quick, but not in a fight. It’s important for points and the podium here, but if things are there and it’s looking good for a win, we will go for it. It’s nice to have a good start position to build the confidence.

Q:
First time for you here Henning, what do you think about it? How difficult is this rally for people who have never seen the stages before?

HS:
There are fast parts, slow parts, slippery parts: you have everything here. I know it’ll be difficult, but I start eighth on the road, which is a very good position. I know that Petter is right behind me – I know I’ve got to keep pushing the throttle.

Q:
Before the start of this rally, David Lapworth, Subaru’s Performance Director, moved to another role within Prodrive. What effect do you think it will have on the performance of the team? How do you feel about your Chief Engineer, Pierre Genon, moving into a different role within the team as well?

PS:
If I had been in the job 22 years doing the same thing, maybe I would need a change, to do something different, to put energy into something else. I will miss David, he helped me a lot through difficult situations, when I had lot of accidents in the early days. He was always very positive. I still have his phone number and his experience over 22 years is incredible. I will still push him, he’s still in Prodrive. The team has a lot of good people, but I’m not involved in the different strategies. I have very good faith in the team. Let’s go for it and see. As for Pierre, he’s been my engineer for a long time. We have achieved a lot of good results in four years, but also Pierre wants to try something else. He’s a good guy who is capable of doing many things. He’s good for testing and developing. It’s also a good thing that he knows what I need, so he can use his strength to develop. I have new guy, ‘FX’, I don’t know his real name yet! He has a lot of previous experience with Marcus (Grönholm). He knows his weak points – we will use them here!

Q:
Mexico has the highest altitude of any round of the World Championship, which makes a strong engine very important. Your Peugeot is well-known for having a very powerful engine – will that give you an advantage? What else do you think about the car?

HS:
I hope so. What are you laughing about Petter…?

PS:
You were complaining about the engine before… you have water injection; you have nothing to complain about!

HS:
We can fight a little here now, maybe! The engine is strong. We have a strong package, good tyres, but it’s my first time here, so it is difficult – that’s the thing I have to work hard with. It’s not easy to put that left foot away from the brake. That’s my biggest problem and something Marcus had with this car here as well. I need to trust the car, diffs and shocks, it will not be a problem. I need to be neat in the corners and I have to be hard with the left foot, but that’s part of the game.

Q:
How important is it for you to win here? Has there been a lot of work done to address the problems you experienced in Sweden? Are you going to be flat-out from the start here in Mexico?

PS:
It’s important not just for me, but the whole team. A lot of us have had a lot of sleepless nights. Everybody’s been flat-out to get back on track again. We deserve more than this after what started in Japan last year. We’re all trying everything to get a very good result. The win is the main thing, but points and the top three is the goal.

Q:
Marcus, you come here with a four-point Championship lead. Did you expect that? How comfortable do you feel?

MG:
I didn’t really expect to win two rallies, no, I was not expecting that. It’s a new car and new team – a fantastic start. I don’t feel comfortable because it’s only a four point lead, but okay that’s good. Now I’m first time on gravel and there are many new things. The car felt good in the test and at shakedown. Let’s see.

Q:
Luis, Petter has just been telling us about the changes at Prodrive. Does this mean that you are now in charge of the team? How does the structure work?

LM:
No, not at all. Paul Howarth becomes Team Manager and the number one person on rallies. In Banbury, it’s Steve Farrell. I have some more responsibilities. For example, here in the press conference, I will do a bit more in driver management, that’s more or less it.

Q:
Like all the other teams, Mexico is the first round where you have not tested in the local area. How much of a disadvantage is that? Your team boss Malcolm Wilson has said that he is potentially concerned about reliability issues here – do you have the same concern? On the last day of Sweden we saw that the Ford is not completely bullet proof yet…

MG:
Okay, we have a new car in these conditions and we don’t know what the high altitude will do. Hopefully it will be okay, I can’t say now, but we will see tomorrow. I’m not thinking about things, it will be okay I hope. In the test we were running without any problems, I’m really hopeful it will be the same here.

Q:
Last year Chris Atkinson showed a lot of promising speed here in Mexico, but the concern for Subaru now must be to get some points on the scoreboard. What is the plan for Chris here – can he drive as fast as he likes or do you need him to get to the finish?

LM:
It’s something between those two. We want him to drive fast, but we want the finish as well. The top five will be enough. Chris has proved he’s competitive in gravel and asphalt, there’s no reason why he cannot do it.

Q:
You drove the Focus on gravel for the first time recently: what did you think of it? What are the strongest areas? Where is it still necessary to do some work? Does the car have the same basic characteristics on gravel as it does on icy Tarmac and snow, like Monte and Sweden?

MG:
It’s good, as good as it was in Sweden, no question. I feel comfortable, now we have to see tomorrow. I don’t know how fast we are yet. The car is easy to drive and the suspension is really good. We can go really fast in the rough places – that’s really amazing. The strongest areas, we will see where we do the work. Okay, we can do a job with the differential and things like that, but I can tell you more on Sunday.

Q:
Earlier this week we heard the news that Suzuki will join the Championship and David Richards has stated that other manufacturers are set to join, what do you think this says about the Championship?

LM:
That’s good news. I think the Championship is going through one of its healthiest periods for a long time, even since I was competing. In Monte Carlo, we had 50 per cent more World Rally Cars; there are 14 here as well. Then we have 16 events in the WRC plus eight candidate rallies wanting a place. I feel very positive about the future.

Q:
And what do you think, Marcus? Does this help younger drivers, like Kosti Katajamaki, for example?

MG:
There are a few coming, Suzuki and somebody else. At the moment it’s hard for young drivers to find a good seat, but this can change in one or two years; I think we are going in the right direction.

Q:
Welcome to both of you. For Luis, this rally is a lot closer to home than it is for Xavier, but as native Spanish speakers, what is it like for you both to come here? Do you get a lot of local support?

LPC:
Yeah, it’s like being at home. It’s the nearest rally I have. The Spanish also, all the people, it feels like home. The stages are like home in Argentina as well. For me, I do get support. Spanish speaking is good, we communicate with the fans better when we are coming from the same continent.

XP:
The truth is, yes, we have more support – we communicate with the people also.

Q:
How tough is it to be Sébastien Loeb’s team-mate at Citroën? Are you learning a lot from him? Where do you think he finds the speed in the car from? How much closer to his pace do you think you can get by the end of the year?
XP:
Sébastien is magnificent, a great person. We get along well and I hope to improve. At the start of the season it was difficult, but I’m getting used to it now. Where he finds the speed? In the fast tracks, that’s where we are working – and in the slow tracks as well.

Q:
Luis, a tricky event for you as it is your first time in Mexico. What is your impression of the stages? Are you going to drive flat-out or will you have to be tactical: your Stobart team is only one point behind Subaru, Will that be a factor in your performance?

LPC:
I like this rally very much. As I said, it’s pretty much like Rally Argentina, you have good wide roads. There are just one or two twisty stages, but in general it’s a very good rally – one you can really enjoy. I would like to go as fast as I can, but I have a two-year programme with Ford. This year’s for experience – to make sure I have good notes. My goal for this rally is to get to the finish on Sunday and go as fast as I can, but all of the time being safe.

Q:
How about you, Xevi: is your main focus going to be scoring points for Kronos? Or are you looking for a top overall result, now that you are back on a surface which you are a bit more familiar with? You’ve had some good battles in the past with another Spanish team-mate of yours, Dani Sordo. How do you think he will go here?

XP:
It’s important to finish the rally and take the most points. I like the rally a lot; I hope it will go well. Yes, I have had some good fights with Dani, but we’re in the same team – I’m looking forward to another fight with him.

Q:
You have driven a few different cars during your career, how does the latest customer-spec Ford Focus compare to them? Is your plan to upgrade to a 2006-spec car as soon as you can?

LPC:
It’s an incredible car, very easy to drive. Sometimes I would say it’s like a tank. I hurt it all the time, but it goes and goes. It’s proven to be a very good car. If I can drive a 2006 car that would be nice, that’s the idea, but first I have to know the car and get more experience with this one, then we’ll see.

Q:
Is it the sort of event where you need specialist experience to do well? Or can somebody contesting it for the first time still stand a reasonable chance of success?

XP:
It’s a rally I don’t know. It’s going to be okay.

Q:
Welcome Toshi, your first rally of 2006 and your first rally as defending Champion. You’ve got a new car this year – what is it like compared to the old one? In which areas are the biggest improvements? Do you feel a big difference when driving it, compared to the 2005-spec Group N Impreza?

TA:
I think it’s quite good. Subaru did some new areas: brakes and top mount, it’s better than before, with the transmission as well. I hope the centre diff is the biggest change; it’s feeling very good for the gravel. It feels quite different to drive: easy and good traction.

Q:
Gabriel, welcome back. It’s your first event of 2006 as well but you are a bit closer to home compared to Toshi: how good do you think your chances of class victory are here? Who will be the strongest drivers, do you think?

GP:
It’s the first time for me in Mexico, but it’s not going to be easy. Two laps (on the recce) is not enough, but we have a good car. Everything is new, we’ll try to do our best. I don’t know, anything is possible. The Group N is difficult, there are many drivers with a lot of experience doing WRC for many years from all over the world. They know the roads and the race, but I have very good feeling with the car. The two passes mean I can make the notes, but it’s not the same as knowing the stages. It’s very fast. It’s similar to Argentina, good grip and fast, but it changes all the time – sometimes fast, sometimes twisty. In the shakedown we don’t know, there were too many lines. In the rally I think the road will be okay.

Q:
Toshi, we’ve spoken with some of the other drivers about the problems of the altitude here: how does that affect a Group N car? Do you have to alter your driving style to make up for it?

TA:
It’s a bit slower than standard, not so good. We’re all the same, though, so I can’t be too sad. Some places I’m using a much lower gear, but not so big difference.

Q:
Is this a good rally for Group N cars? Are the conditions here quite similar to those back at home in Argentina? Do you think that it favours local drivers?

GP:
Yes. It’s nice, good, very good if you keep the lines, but difficult if you go off line – too slippery. It’s good because it’s fast. When it’s fast, it’s good for Group N. It’s difficult to get the opportunity to do many rallies and continue in other rallies, it’s difficult to get sponsors in South America; it can be hard to do a good programme.

Q:
How much testing have you had since you won the Championship last year? Do you feel confident that you can win it again? What do you think about your rivals this year, compared to those you faced in 2005?

TA:
Not so much testing here and in Japan. In Japan we had a lot of snow, so I cannot test. I hope I can win again. It’ll definitely be tougher as there are many tough drivers, particularly Gabriel and Marcos (Ligato)

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying), GB

Q:
Toshi, welcome back. Will you compete in the Asia-Pacific series this year?

TA:
It’s not decided yet, but I hope to compete in the APRC.

Rally Preview

Three weeks after leaving the snow-bound forests of Sweden, the FIA World Rally Championship heads to the warmer and sunnier conditions of central Mexico for the next event. Rally Mexico starts on Thursday 2 March and is based in the city of Leon. The World Championship’s only round on the North American continent will be the third round of the 16-event series. After two specialist asphalt and snow events, Mexico brings a return to gravel roads and is often regarded as the first ‘proper’ rally of the year. The medium to high speed gravel roads climb up the side of spectacular valleys, with some peaking at over 2,700 metres above sea level. Now in its third year of inclusion in the WRC calendar, the route takes crews to the highest stages of the season.

The hard-packed roads vary in character and call for a versatile car set-up that gives drivers sure-footed handling in all conditions. The high altitude brings additional challenges for engineers as the thin air saps power from engines. As a result, average speeds are far lower than on rallies run over similar terrain. With no stages further than 50km away from the single rally HQ in Leon, the route is one of the most compact in the championship. Commencing on Thursday 2 March with a ceremonial start in the World Heritage town of Guanajuato, the route will cover 17 special stages and 359.54 competitive kilometres. The stages remain largely unchanged from 2005, but this year the route includes a Superspecial stage, constructed at the nearby Puebla motor racing circuit.

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)

For the North American round of the championship, the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team, currently second in the Manufacturers’ standings, enters two 2006 Xsara WRCs which will be driven by Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. For the World Champion car, Citroën Sport has homologated on the 1st of March a new front bumper in the aim of improving the engine’s cooling system but also its reliability and its longevity. Thanks to his Spanish supports, who were overwhelmed by his Monaco and Swedish performance, reigning Junior World Champion Dani Sordo rents a 2005 Xsara WRC to Kronos Racing which he enters under his own name. As usual he benefits from the experience of c o-driver Marc Marti.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: At these altitudes, where people would ski in Europe, even turbocharged engines gasp for breath in the rarefied air, a consideration which calls for specific mapping . “The obvious loss of power is surprising at the beginning” explains Sébastien Loeb . “You feel it even more because you tend to over think about it… Then you get used to it and you forget. In any case, we are all faced to the same problem…” “It’s true that we haven’t been really lucky here so far! However it is quite high in my personal rankings. The stages are not narrow and I like this as it gives you the choice of driving line. The stages are all different, sometimes very fast and sometimes very technical. The weather is usually very nice, the landscape beautiful and people are warm and friendly. The main concern remains with the stones which have caused some much damage in the last two editions. Since two years, we experienced such problems already at the shakedown and we took part in the ceremonial start in Guanajuato by foot two years in a row. I also retired in 2004 after the sump broke on an impact on one of those stones. The solution? You need to remain extremely focused during the recce to locate a maximum of them.”

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: “Mexico is a wonderful country! And here we speak Spanish; it’s a bit like home. It is right that I have competed here in 2004 and 2005. Really, it’s a great event but also where it’s easy to make a mistake. The rally route changes all the time with some fast and some slow sections. What is surprising at the start is the loss of power due to the high altitudes…” “The rally route is demanding and most of the competitive kilometres are covered during the first two legs. Generally, I like the Mexican tests… In fact I like all the World’s stages (laugh) but liking them is one thing and performing the best way possible in them is another… To be a bit more serious, Mexico rally is a fantastic event.”

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

The unbeaten BP-Ford World Rally Team will take its lead in the FIA World Rally Championship to Mexico next week as the series moves for the first time onto the gravel roads which are the dominant surface of the season. After victories for BP-Ford on the two most specialised rounds of the series, the Rally Mexico is the first of 11 gravel events in the 16-round series and will offer the best guideline so far for the year ahead. Both Grönholm and Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have good records on a rally which has made a strong impression in only two years in the championship. Grönholm scored points on both previous outings, with a best result of second last year, while Hirvonen finished fifth on his only start in 2004.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: As championship leader, 38-year-old Grönholm will be first to start the stages on Friday's opening leg. Hot weather and little recent rain mean the tracks could be covered in slippery loose gravel, which would hinder the early starters. "I don't remember how much of a difficulty it has been in previous years," said Grönholm. "But Sebastien Loeb, who is our closest rival in the championship, starts only one car behind us so he won't have much of an advantage if there is loose gravel. But Petter Solberg could benefit a lot because he will start well down the order. It will only affect us for three stages on Friday morning because the afternoon stages are repeats. "Mexico is quite a normal gravel rally. It's not particularly technical but has a good combination of fast and slower sections. The stages are held on a good surface, which is quite smooth, but cars tend to pick up quite a bit of damage and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's a combination of high speeds and stones coming through the surface during the second run over roads. "Testing has gone well and I'm confident the car will be as competitive on gravel as it has been on asphalt and snow. I have a few small things to sort out with the brakes, but that's because I left-foot brake a lot," added Grönholm, who is recovering from 'flu which sidelined him during a ski-ing holiday in northern Finland.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen's two-day gravel test this week in Spain left the Finn full of confidence for Mexico. "The feeling with the Focus was very good and provided a huge boost ahead of Mexico. In fact, I was quite surprised just how good it felt considering this was my first test in the car on smooth gravel. Before this week I had only driven the Focud on rough gravel and that was a reliability test. I developed a good base setting from which I can work for all the gravel events. I will work with the engineers to concentrate on the small details and to fine-tune the settings," he said. "Mexico has a little of everything. It's surprisingly fast and I remember driving flat out for long sections. The surface can be abrasive and as the temperatures will be quite high, I think it could be hard for tyres, but I 'm sure that BFGoodrich will be well prepared. It's my first gravel rally since Japan last year but I've competed in Sweden and tested in both France and Spain on the loose so I don't see any problems in returning to the surface in competition," added 25-year-old Hirvonen.

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

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Rally Mexico driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Petter won Rally Mexico in 2005 by a margin of 34.5 seconds, having led the event from start to finish. The Norwegian will be looking to repeat the success and score his first points of the 2006 season. This year’s event will be Chris’ second Rally Mexico.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Well, we’ll try again in Mexico! We’ll try very hard to get some points by finishing on the podium, but winning is the goal. I hope everything will be in good shape – the car, the tyres and me. We’ve got a good starting position and I hope we can go well on all three days. The team is very confident and we had a good test in Sardinia. There’s so much more to come from us.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: It’s exciting to get back to Mexico where we made our World Rally Championship gravel debut. We had a good run last year where we set some encouraging split times and matched the pace of other more experienced drivers. Based on this performance and the fact we know the event now we’re looking for a good result, hopefully top five. After Sweden I did some testing with the new car. We’re still learning about the Impreza WRC2006, but things are definitely going in the right direction.”

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

The World Rally Cars lose about one percent engine power per 100 metres altitude difference. The vicinity of Leon (approximately 3500 kilometres north of Mexico City) lies at about 2.500 metres sea level, which means ¾ of the usual engine power. Even though the Sweden Rally was almost a home rally for Henning Solberg, the Norwegian is yet looking forward to Mexico. Having already won one WRC-point, Manfred Stohl’s OMV teammate is confident that he will also be able to score at the premiere in Mexico. Prior to the departure to Mexico, gravel tests had been scheduled for last weekend in France (close to the Bozian Racing headquarters in Lyon). On a length of 120 kilometres, OMV drivers Stohl and Solberg were able to get acquainted with the gravel performance of the Peugeot. In the manufacturer’s ranking the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team lies in excellent third place with 10 points. The goal is to defend this place in Mexico since only Manfred Stohl will be competing in the following two WRC-runs, which means that the results will only be valid for the driver’s ranking but not for the manufacturer’s WRC.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "It will be decisive which team will be best able to adapt to these circumstances and get the best possible performance out of the car. But I’m sure that Bozian Racing has prepared the Peugeot 307 WRC perfectly and we will be able to compete with the best”, explains OMV driver Manfred Stohl. The Austrian had already competed in Mexico two years ago – back then in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Stohl: "We already had problems on the first day and then had to retire on leg two. Even though I’ve almost forgotten this incident I still would like to wipe out this mistake. "The OMV Team is well aware that they will have to put their foot down from kilometre one. Stohl: "My two special stage best times in Monte Carlo give me confidence – I want to compete right at the top." Re testing: "It was exceptional. We’ve really got a grip on the Peugeot now. And we are much further than we were at this point last year. The main focus was on shocks-testing. I’m sure we were very successful.”

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We already had a pretty good grip on the car in Sweden. Shortly thereafter we won the Rally Norway where we gained further experience. I’m really looking forward to this rally despite having never yet competed in Mexico. Especially since gravel is among my favourite surfaces.” Re testing: "Everything is highly professional. I can focus solely on driving which makes each kilometre almost count double. The Peugeot performs admirably on gravel, which will be a great advantage in Mexico.“

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

The privately run Stobart-VK-M-Sport Ford Rally Team has entered two 2004-specification Focus RS WRCs. Britain's Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr and Argentines Luis Perez Companc / Jose Maria Volta will be the drivers, the first time Perez Companc has been nominated for points. Irish crew Gareth MacHale / Paul Nagle will drive a privately-entered similar car. Britain’s youngest-ever full-time professional rally driver, 19-year-old Cumbrian Matthew Wilson, will take on the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Mexico next week. The Ford driver arrives in Leon, north of Mexico City, on a high, after scoring his first WRC point for the Stobart VK M-Sport team on the previous round in Sweden, early last month. Like the first two rounds of the championship, Rally Mexico will be completely new for Matthew. And this time he won’t have a more experienced team-mate to talk tactics with – as Luis Perez-Companc has never contested the rally before either. Both drivers will set out with the aim of furthering the team’s points tally in the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship, particularly as the Stobart VK M-Sport arrive in central America just one point behind Subaru World Rally Team.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: “I said from the start of this season that the first two rallies were always going to be quite tough for me; I didn’t know too much about Monte Carlo and its ever-changing grip levels and I didn’t know much more about Sweden and driving on snow. But, I do know a bit about gravel. The 2005 Focus is just an amazing car to drive on any surface – but on gravel, it’s absolutely fantastic. I did a two-day test before this event, with both my rally engineer and Roman Kresta (2005 Ford Team RS driver). Both of them were fantastic, so much help. I worked on all sorts of settings for the car through the two days, and then on each afternoon, Roman got in the car with me and helped me with my driving. We were doing the kind of stuff you just can’t do on a rally – things like going through corners on totally different lines to see which was the quickest, it was really interesting and tremendously helpful to be able to compare the data.”

Luis Perez-Companc/Jose Maria Volta: “I’m really looking forward to getting back in the car after Sweden. My first snow rally was really tough. I had a small accident, which didn’t help, but apart from that it was a really enjoyable event. I’ve never contested Rally Mexico before, either, but at least I’ve driven on gravel plenty of times – so I know a bit more about what to expect. It’s such an experience driving the Focus on these rallies.”

Manufacturer 2: Red Bull Skoda Team / Skoda Fabia WRC05

The Red Bull-Skoda team are not competing in Mexico.

Event Timetable

Thursday 2 March: Ceremonial Start

Start Guanajuato 21.00

Friday 3 March: Leg 1 León - León

Start León 09.00
SS1 Ibarrilla 1 22.41km 09.37
SS2 Guanajuato 1 28.87km 11.00
SS3 El Cubilete 1 21.61km 11.51
Serv A León (30 mins) 13.21
SS4 Ibarrilla 2 22.41km 14.28
SS5 Guanajuato 2 28.87km 15.51
SS6 El Cubilete 2 21.61km 16.42
Serv B León (30 mins) 17.57
SS7 Nextel Superspecial 1 4.42km 19.17
Serv C León (45 mins) 19.47
Finish León 20.32

Saturday 4 March: Leg 2 León - León

Serv D León (10 mins) 09.00
SS8 El Zauco 1 25.23km 10.08
SS9 Duarte 1 23.75km 11.26
SS10 Derramadero 1 23.27km 12.17
Serv E León (30 mins) 13.42
SS11 El Zauco 2 25.23km 15.10
SS12 Duarte 2 23.75km 16.28
SS13 Derramadero 2 23.27km 17.19
Serv F León (30 mins) 18.29
SS14 Nextel Superspecial 2 4.42km 19.49
Serv G León (45 mins) 20.19
Finish León 21.04

Sunday 5 March: Leg 3 León - León

Serv H León (10 mins) 07.45
SS15 Leon 37.99km 08.28
SS16 Silao 18.01km 10.11
SS17 Nextel Superspecial 3 4.42km 11.26
Serv I León (20 mins) 11.56
Finish León 12.30

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

1. P Solberg/P Mills Subaru Impreza 1hr 27min 44.8sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Ford Focus RS 1hr 27min 49.6sec
3. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 1hr 27min 54.3sec
4. M Stohl/I Minor Peugeot 307 1hr 29min 30.7sec
5. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen Xsara 1hr 29min 46.1sec
6. M Wilson/M Orr Ford Focus RS 1hr 30min 41.0sec
7= H Solberg/C Menkerud Peugeot 307 1hr 33min 22.1sec
7= G MacHale/P Nagle Ford Focus RS 1hr 33min 22.1sec
9. T Arai/T Sircombe Subaru Impreza 1hr 35min 07.6sec
10 R Trivino/C Salom Peugeot 206 1hr 36min 11.2sec

End of Leg Press Conference Friday 3rd March 2006

Present: 
1st Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team 
2nd Mikko Hirvonen, BP Ford World Rally Team 
3rd Sebastien Loeb, Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team

“Welcome to the end of leg Press Conference. We have joining us Petter Solberg, Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb.”

Q: “If we can turn first to Sebastien Loeb – Sebastien, how was your day?”

SL: “OK. It was a good day. We lost time this morning and there was not a good feeling with the car. We changed the set-up and I tried very hard this afternoon.”

Q: “You always seem to be very quick the second time through the stage. Can you explain to us how the different set-up affected you?”

SL: “We just came back. We tried something new at the start and the second time through there was more grip and it was a bit more like tarmac which I like.”

Q: “There is a 9.5 second lead gap between you and Petter. Are you going to increase this tomorrow?”

SL: “Yes, OK. But most important is to stay on the road. Mikko is very fast but we are driving easy.”

Q: “If we can turn now to you, Mikko. You’ve had a great day. Did your position on the road help?”

MH: “In the morning it definitely helped. It is difficult to say.”

Q: “You had a podium finish in Spain and are really mixing it with the big boys. Are you going to go for it tomorrow?”

MH: “I will try to fight back as it’s very close. We’ve had a good time so far. We had a damper problem today but we will see how it goes tomorrow.”

Q: “Marcus made some mistakes today and we all know that Rally Mexico can be deceptive. Just how difficult is it to go flat out here?”

MH: “Well, it’s not difficult to go flat out but for sure, it’s tricky here. It looks much smoother and faster during recce but when you get onto the stages there are some deep ruts and you have to be careful as it’s very easy to make mistakes.”

Q: “Turning to you, Petter. It’s no big secret that there’s been some huge changes in the team recently so how does it feel to be lifting the team spirit with your performance today?”

PS: “Yes, of course, it feels good. I had an advantage in the start and had no problems winning the stages. But I had problems with my tyres on the second run through the stages this afternoon. These guys had harder compounds and we lost a lot of time.”

Q: “How much of a worry is it for you when Sebastien gets his foot down?”

PS: “The stages for tomorrow are a bit different. Today we had 46 degree ground temperatures and 36 degrees in the air but of course we will see more tomorrow.”

Q: “And how are you feeling?”

PS: “I’ve been sick for a week now and yesterday I wasn’t eating anything and sleeping was difficult.”

Q: “And tomorrow? How will you keep these guys behind you?”

PS: “There will be a big fight, definitely! On the second run through the stages we will see.”

Leg 1 Unofficial News

The first day's gravel competition of the 2006 season took a heavy toll on the leading drivers. First to go was Xavi Pons (Citroen) who retired with engine problems 12km after the start of the second stage. After Grönholm's accident, Chris Atkinson (Subaru) rolled out of fourth place after hitting a rock in stage five. Petter Solberg (Subaru) was fastest on the opening four stages to build a 11.5sec lead before tyre troubles late this afternoon reduced his advantage. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) ended the morning in fourth but two fastest stage times this afternoon promoted the Frenchman to third, just 9.5sec behind Solberg. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) lies fourth despite struggling for grip this morning, ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen). Morning brake problems cost Henning Solberg (Peugeot) a minute and he dropped over three minutes on stage five when he stopped to change a puncture. The second leg follows a similar format with two identical loops of three stages north and east of León, followed by a second run over the superspecial stage. The opening section of the first test on each loop covers roads used in the opposite direction today. After leaving León at 09.00, drivers tackle 148.92km, before returning for the final overnight halt at 21.04.

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 a thrilling second half to leg one, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their faithful Citroen regained the majority of the time that they lost in the morning because of road position. The reigning World Champions end leg one in third overall, 9.5 seconds behind the leader Petter Solberg. Up-andcoming Spaniard Dani Sordo, co-driven by the experienced Marc Marti, is a delighted fifth place. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio were forced to stop on SS2 with an engine problem.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Having requested some set-up changes on his Xsara, Seb bolted on hard tyres and attempted to make up the lost time. The first stage of the second loop, " Ibarilla ", showed that under equal conditions the gaps were small. By winning the next two stages, " Guanajuato " and " Cubilete ", the reigning World Champion managed to claw back much of the lost time, and he ended the day fewer than 10 seconds behind the leader after the final spectator superspecial. "It was very much a day of two halves " concluded Seb. " Halfway through the leg, it was very difficult for us to quantify how much of the time we lost was down to sweeping the road clean. Afterwards, we were able to read the situation much more clearly. I was particularly pleased with our set-up changes in between the two loops of stages, and the high level of performance from our BFGoodrich tyres on hot and clean stages. Tomorrow, our goal is to continue climbing up the order… "

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: For Xevi Pons, the rally came to a premature end. After a promising opening stage, the Spaniard decided to switch off the engine 11 kilometres into SS2 after noticing a drop in power from the engine accompanied by an unfamiliar noise. A detailed examination at the service area sadly confirmed his retirement with a broken engine, caused by an ignition problem.

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 Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen ended today's tough opening leg of Rally Mexico in second place. The Finns were a model of consistency in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. They were second fastest on all six gravel speed tests high in the mountains above the city of León to end the day just 4.8 seconds from the lead of this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates and championship leaders Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen were third after this morning's loop of special stages. However, they crashed on this afternoon's opening test and retired. The car was not badly damaged and they will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: Grönholm was handicapped this morning by starting the stages first, encountering plenty of slippery loose gravel on the road surface which his Focus RS swept clear to leave a cleaner and faster run for those behind. "The car felt great but it was a shame that I was first on the road," he said. "It wasn't so bad but there wasn't a clean line and that makes all the difference. It meant there was more wheelspin and I had to brake earlier. I couldn't have done any more this morning." The 38-year-old Finn was determined to attack on the cleaner afternoon roads but was caught out at a tricky left-right sequence of bends 9km into stage four. "I entered the left corner too fast and then slid into a ditch on the right bend. The car ended on its side and we pushed it back onto four wheels but couldn't regain the road. It was my mistake. I was attacking too hard and tried to brake late," he said. The Focus RS suffered rear-left suspension damage but the team replaced the unit. Time penalties for not completing the leg dropped Grönholm to 23rd but he remains confident. "I think I can still score manufacturer points here," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "My start position gave me an advantage over Marcus this morning because the roads were cleaner," said Hirvonen. "The altitude sapped engine power and that made it tricky in corners because there wasn't the same power available as normal to pull the car through the bends. I was surprised how rough it was and I hit a lot of stones. The brakes worked well but they were on the limit in this heat. The thinner air meant they didn’t cool in the same way as they would elsewhere."

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

Petter Solberg started his campaign to win a second consecutive Rally Mexico in style as he led Leg one from start to finish. The Norwegian’s Subaru Impreza WRC2006 ran faultlessly all day and powered him to the fastest time on four of the day’s seven stages. Petter will start tomorrow’s second Leg with a five second advantage over second-placed Mikko Hirvonen. Solberg’s team-mate Chris Atkinson held fifth position throughout the morning’s loop of stages, but accident damage on SS5 brought his day to a premature end.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: “I’m very happy to be leading the rally tonight. The car has run perfectly and we’re on target for the result we came here for. It’s been quite a tough day though. The starting position gave me an advantage on the morning loop of stages and we were able to make the most of it, but we struggled to match that pace on the stages in the afternoon. The ground temperature during the last two was more than 40 degrees and even with our hardest tyres we had to work very hard to keep the speed. Tomorrow I think the first loop of stages will be okay, so I’ll do all I can to make up more time, but like today I reckon the second time through will be hard work. In general though the feeling is good but after what happened in Australia and Japan I’m not making any predictions. I’m taking one day at a time. I’ll do my best and we’ll have to wait and see what result that gets us.”

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: “It’s very disappointing to retire from the Leg, especially as things had been going according to plan up to that point. The rock we hit was in the middle of the road. It looks like it broke the wheel rim, which badly affected the handling around the next corner. I could feel we had a problem as soon as I tried to brake, then we slid wide, into a ditch and rolled. The rally isn’t over yet though. We have to pick ourselves up and concentrate on getting the best points finish we can.”

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

It was a good beginning at the Corona Rally Mexico for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Aut) lie in sixth overall place after three of 17 special stages. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Nor) were handicapped by brake problems on the first two special stages but caught up with the top field thanks to an excellent fourth-best overall time on SS 3 which brought them back up to ninth intermediate place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Manfred Stohl is not discontent with sixth intermediate place after three special stages. The 33-year-old OMV driver didn’t want to take too much risk at the beginning of the Rally Mexico due to extremely difficult road conditions. Even more so if one has to take up the rally from third position. Stohl: „I must admit that I misjudged the conditions. I didn’t count on it being so slippery. We don’t have any grip – it’s just like in Monte Carlo. I’m not yet feeling 100 percent confident but time will mend that. The second turn will definitely be easier.“

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Stohl’s OMV teammate Henning Solberg had to deal with overheating brakes during the first two special stages. Therefore the Norwegian in the Peugeot 307 WRC lost over 1:30 minutes and fell behind scoring ranks. But fourth-best time on SS 3 took him back up close to eighth place. Solberg: „It wasn’t possible to go faster on the first two special stages. You just can’t attack without brakes. The third special stage went uphill which was to our advantage. We’re sure that we will be able to catch up since we really feel comfortable here.“

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson got off to a fantastic start in the third round of the World Rally Championship, ending the first day of running with sixth position in the overall standings and second of the M2 runners in Corona Rally Mexico. Wilson belied his lack of experience relative to the competition in Mexico, steering the fine line between placing fast times and getting to the end of the stages. Many far more experienced competitors failed to make it through leg one and its tricky gravel surface. Indeed, Wilson put in top ten times on all of today’s seven stages, rounding off Friday with a stage best of the fourth fastest time on SS7.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: I didn't expect to be sixth at the second service that's for sure. The rocks on the second run through were really bad, they were hitting and scraping along the sumpguard, you can feel them all the way down the underneath of the car. And that’s with us raising the ride height from the first run. If you move off line to avoid the rocks you end up going off the road, so you've just got to try to take the line and avoid them as best you can. We're going quicker but it's finding that next step on the second pass. It's encouraging that we're able to go quick on the first run as it means the notes are working.”

Luis Perez-Companc/Jose Maria Volta: The first stage was okay, very good, no problems. The second stage, in the middle of a village, I had bad notes and I hit the side of the road which made us spin. The car stopped, but, after receiving a push from the crowds, we were back on the road. The third stage, with no notes, was a challenge. It was very difficult as I just had to look at what was in front of me. Jose was making signs at me to stop or push more but we got to the finish line. In stage five I took a corner too close to the side and hit a rock which broke a driveshaft. Up till then everything was going well, I like very much driving on gravel.”

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 3hr 07min 57.1sec
2. P Solberg/P Mills Subaru Impreza 3hr 08min 34.8sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor Peugeot 307 3hr 11min 46.8sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen Xsara 3hr 12min 19.0sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud Peugeot 307 3hr 18min 17.9sec
6. G MacHale/P Nagle Ford Focus RS 3hr 21min 09.8sec
7. T Arai/T Sircombe Subaru Impreza 3hr 26min 49.2sec
8. R Trivino/C Salom Peugeot 206 3hr 27min 25.1sec
9. N Al Attiyah/C Patterson Subaru Impreza 3hr 27min 30.1sec
10 C Atkinson/G MacNeall Subaru Impreza 3hr 27min 43.0sec

End of Leg Two Press Conference Saturday 4th March 2006

Present: 
1st Sebastien Loeb, Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team 
2nd Petter Solberg, Subaru World Rally Team 
3rd Manfred Stohl, OMV – Peugeot Norway

“A warm welcome to the end of leg Press Conference on the end of the second leg of the 2006 Corona Rally Mexico. As is customary, we have the top three drivers with us; Sébastien Loeb from Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team. Sébastien has a lead of 37.7 seconds from Petter Solberg from the Subaru World Rally team and joining us is Manfred Stohl from the OMV – Peugeot Norway Team.”

Q: “If we can turn first to you first, Manfred. Last night you did a few interviews and when I spoke to you, you said you weren’t happy with the set up of the car and you were going to try and find a new set-up to get more out of the performance of the 307. Was it better today?”

MS: “Yes it was better but still, I’m not quite happy with the times we do. We are far off the pace from the top cars and it makes it a bit disappointing, but we work on it and I hope we will be better for the next rallies.”

Q: “What areas do you feel that you need to improve because you’ve got a lot of gravel rallies after the next two tarmac rallies. To get up with Sébastien and Petter you’re probably going to have to make quite a few changes, aren’t you?”

MS: “I don’t know exactly. Yesterday I started really badly and the conditions were completely different to what I was expecting. It was very loose and very difficult and I was not driving well and altogether it was not perfect. Better today, but still not 100 percent confident."

Q: “You’ve got a young Spaniard, Daniel Sordo, 32.2 seconds behind you. There’s 60 kilometers or so tomorrow and he’s probably going to be quite fast so there’s maybe a little bit of pressure on you?”

MS: “I think there will be no difference tomorrow. We know rallying is finished on the last stage and we have to see.”

Q: “You don’t seem too happy about your car or your driving really, but if you do get a podium tomorrow, to come all the way to Mexico and get that, that it good."

MS: “Of course, the position is fantastic and I’m quite happy. But here there are not so many cars and we are three minutes behind and when we look at other rallies we were much closer so that makes me not so happy. The next day looks very hard for me and that’s why I’m thinking a lot of now. But I have to say it’s not the car or the tyres; the problem is the complete package – I’m still not confident.”

Q: “If we can turn to you now, Petter. If we can forget about the last two stages for the moment and talk about the positives from today. When you started off, you and Sébastien traded the lead and it’s been a really exciting battle to watch. What’s it like being in the car for you?”

PS: “It’s been really good, actually. We have done some different set-ups because we had a lot of tyre wear yesterday and lost 20 seconds on two stages and you know, that’s not good! We know that they have much harder tyres than us but still we try and it was better than I expected today, actually - after a couple of the stages, it was not bad.”

Q: “Well, as you said, the start of the day was OK and better than you expected but what happened in stage 13?”

PS: “First of all, I hit a dog this morning and that was one thing. The next stage we almost hit two dogs and two goats and on the last stage we came across a cow. And it was incredible, there were so many bad rocks in places but obviously the biggest problem was when I went downhill into a right hander and there was a small rock in the middle of the road and I came sideways and hit the inside wheel and well, that’s a part of the game. But I wasn’t expecting to lose all that time on the Super Special tonight...”

Q: “What happened there, just explain that?”

PS: “Yesterday, it was completely dry and we tried to be clever and tried to put on a tyre with not so much rubber to get precision on the tarmac. But today it was wet and muddy and that was not the plan, so I spun on the third corner and stopped the engine.”

Q: “Problems aside, you’ve come to this rally with a little bit of a shake up in the team with David Lapworth’s departure. You’re probably not being able to catch Sébastien tomorrow but if you finish on the podium with eight points that’s going to be pretty good isn’t it, after the disappointment of the first two rallies?”

PS: “Yes of course we are hoping to win, that’s the plan. He can still make a mistake tomorrow with punctures on rocks - you can be very unlucky and obviously anything can happen. But I am going to try tomorrow morning, definitely! I think everything is possible.”

Q: “But how hard are you going to try? You want eight points; you don’t want to go off.”

PS: “No but I won’t go off, I will just push very hard.”

Q: “Thanks Petter. OK, Sébastien, what a day for you. You’ve changed the lead so many times. How much have you enjoyed this battle with Petter?”

SL: For me it was also really exciting. It was really close and before the last stage I just took the lead for four seconds and then there was more time and now my lead is more comfortable. But it was a really exciting fight today."

Q: “ It’s been a day full of surprises – every animal under the sun and a deviation in one of the stages. Can you explain that?”

SL: “Yes, in the fourth stage of the day that we were repeating, there was a bridge. In recce and the first time through we took the bridge but on the second time through, the bridge was closed and we had to go down to go through a watersplash and come back and we didn’t know anything about that. So, it was a bit of a surprise and like Petter said there are a lot of rocks about - some from the cars and some from people who put rocks in these places and it’s dangerous. So tomorrow, I hope I can avoid everything and continue like I have been.”

Q: “If you can stay out of trouble, you’re going to get ten points and be leading the World Rally Championship, so it will make the trip to Mexico really worthwhile.”

SL: “Yes, even if I have eight points it would also be good for the Championship but I would prefer ten so I will try and keep it together.”

Leg 2 Unofficial News

The second leg of Corona Rally México belongs to Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb who set six fastest stage times during the day and took the rally lead from Petter Solberg on the fifth stage. The Frenchman took advantage of Solberg’s tyre wear problems in the afternoon and then furthered his lead when the Norwegian suffered a loss of power steering in the penultimate stage of the day.  Loeb now has a 37.7 second advantage over Solberg who finishes the leg in second place in his Impreza WRC 2006. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) was much happier with his car's handling and maintained a steady third ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen), despite almost hitting a herd of cows. Sordo's only problem was a spin on the penultimate test. Henning Solberg (Peugeot) opted for caution as he struggled with brake problems all day but is a comfortable fifth. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) restarted under SupeRally rules and climbed to 10th. The second leg took in 148.92 competitive kilometers over two identical loops of three stages, plus a Super Special in León in the evening.  The soaring temperatures have made life inside the cars uncomfortable for many and the dusty, slippery and twisty stages, so typical of Corona Rally México, have created a real challenge for all the crews.  Some fared worse than others – namely Mikko Hirvonen and Matthew Wilson whose rally hopes were dashed in the first stage of the day.  Hirvonen came over a crest very quickly about 1.7 kilometers into the stage and rolled the car while 19 year-old Matthew went off the road approximately four kilometers into the stage.

In the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, reigning World Champion, Toshi Arai is in a league of his own having led the day from start to finish in his Subaru Impreza STI.  He has a comfortable 40.9 second lead over second placed Nasser Al-Attiyah, despite having to stop to fix a puncture in stage 12.  Mirco Baldacci took third place from Marcos Ligato on the penultimate stage of the day and Poland’s Leszek Kuzaj lies in fifth.

The final leg is the shortest of the rally, containing just 60.42km of competition in three stages. It begins with the 37.99km Leon test, the longest of the event, and ends with a third and final pass over the superspecial stage on the edge of the city which will be broadcast live on television. Drivers depart León at 07.45 and return for the finish ceremony at 12.30. 

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 Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won the stage of ‘El Zauco’ in the morning, they were fastest again this afternoon but only 0,3 s in front of Petter Solberg who still kept a tiny lead of 1,7 s overall. In the next stage, the French team-mates decided to give everything they could considering Petter was the quickest in the morning. On the third stage of the loop, the World Champion experienced a difficult start as he was 5 seconds slower than the Norwegian driver on the first split time. He explained.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: “We really had to do our maximum, explained Seb. This is the reason why we started flat out…” They won that stage with a margin of 6,5 s and took the lead for 4,8 s. “In a long straight in sixth gear, a group of cows was standing in the middle of the road without moving. I had no other choice than braking really hard to go round them very slowly. I was scared that one of them would move suddenly.” (Manfred Stohl who started on the road just in front of Seb had hit a cow. This explains the other animals gathered around the hurt one.)

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Retired.

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 and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen both hold points scoring positions after today's second leg of Rally Mexico. But neither Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was challenging for a podium place on this third round of the FIA World Rally Championship after Hirvonen crashed out of second place this morning to follow Grönholm's accident yesterday. Both must now rely on SupeRally. Hirvonen retired from the leg and will restart tomorrow's final day in 17th after accumulating a 35 minute penalty for not completing today's speed tests. Grönholm started today under SupeRally rules and climbed from 23rd to 11th. Both are currently in points positions for BP-Ford in the manufacturers' championship.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I didn't enjoy being first on the road again," said Grönholm. "It's a difficult rally to be in that position but there are so many rocks and stones and sometimes I just had to drive over them because there was nowhere else to go. Everything was OK until the last stage. I overshot a junction before halfway and had to reverse back onto the road. Then I came round a corner and found about 20 goats in the middle of the track. I managed to avoid all of them except one. And, worst of all, I came across some large rocks which had been placed across the road." The Finn opted for harder tyres this afternoon in the higher temperatures and posted top four times on all four tests. "They are difficult stages for the tyres but we had no problems at all with durability in the heat," he said. "Early in stage 12 I found a rock the size of a tyre in the road, with several smaller ones around it. I avoided the big one but had to drive over the smaller ones. I've not been testing anything, just driving to get as many kilometres in the car on gravel as I can."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: I thought I would attack a bit more today," said 25-year-old Hirvonen. "But I came over a crest and the car lifted a bit. As I landed a rear wheel hit the bank and the impact rolled us across the road and down into a deep ditch. I didn't have it marked as a jump in my pace notes and I simply came too fast over the crest."

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

The Impreza WRC2006 proved its rally leading pace throughout the morning’s stages when Petter Solberg was locked in an intense battle for first place with Sebastien Loeb. The pair swapped the lead several times until the sixth stage of the day when Solberg dropped 23 seconds to his rival after his power steering was damaged in a collision with a rock. Petter will start tomorrow’s final Leg 37sec behind Loeb, with 60 competitive kilometres remaining. After crashing out of Friday’s first Leg, Chris Atkinson restarted today under Superally regulations. The Australian moved back into the top ten with a string of top six times, including the third quickest time in SS12.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Apologies, quote not supplied.

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: Not bad. But obviously running second on the road the surface is still quite loose. Marcus is doing good times but we’re not too far behind and on the last one we took some time off him. We’re fifth in the manufacturers’ competition now and that’s important for the team. They did a great job with the car last night and it’s pretty much spot on. It took me a little time to get my confidence back after the roll but we’ve got a good rhythm now and we’ll keep pushing to get the best result we can.

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 was never really content throughout day one – even though fourth intermediate place doesn’t seem to mirror this emotion. It is the fact that he is 1:45 minutes behind Petter Solberg (Nor/Subaru) that causes grief for the 33-year-old OMV driver – due to set-up troubles of the Peugeot 307 WRC. Hennig Solberg had once again to deal with brake problems during the afternoon of day one. The Norwegian OMV driver nevertheless reached fourth-best overall time on SS 4 – followed by a set-back during the next special stage. Following a tyre damage the mousse didn’t work perfectly anymore and Solberg/Menkerud had to change the tyre during the special stage. The incident cost them almost three minutes.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Stohl: “We did some testing on gravel last week in France. Everything seemed all right then. Unfortunately conditions are completely different here. What had worked out in Monte Carlo and Sweden doesn’t do so at all here in Mexico. Now we’ll have to change the whole set-up in order to test for the forthcoming gravel rallies. The final place is no longer as important.“ On this note the complete car set-up had been changed at the service on Friday to a harder set-up for dampers, suspension and stabilisers. This already proved successful in the evening at the 4,42 kilometres long superstage in Leon. During the direct OMV Peugeot-duel with Henning Solberg, Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor achieved SS best-time. Stohl: “Of course, one can’t really draw conclusions after such a short SS, but it seems to work out better. In any case it’s a motivation boost.“ It was already the third first place in the Austrian’s career, following his SS best-times in Monte Carlo.

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: “First the tyre damage and then recurring brake troubles. We’re happy to have reached the finish. I could have gone even faster on SS 4 but in the middle of the stage my drink bottle slipped below the pedals and it took some time to retrieve it. I sincerely hope that we’ll solve the brake problems until Saturday.“ The OMV duo has fought its way back up to seventh place in the intermediate standings.

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

After a career-best sixth in the overall standings on the first day of Corona Rally Mexico, it was a contrast of fortunes for Matthew Wilson in the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team at the start of the second leg. The 19-year-old retired from the leg after making contact with a rock bank on the first stage of the day. Although Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr were uninjured, the suspension of their Ford Focus RS WRC 05 was damaged beyond roadside repair, meaning a return to service on a recovery vehicle, and to the rally for Sunday under SupeRally regulations. Wilson's impact came just a kilometre into the 25.23km El Zauco 1 stage, when a bump in the middle of a right-hand bend threw the Focus off the line and into the bank on the exit. A front wheel and suspension arms were damaged, while one of the mounts was partially ripped from the subframe. Wilson and Orr attempted to repair the car at the side of the road but the damage was such that they were unable to even remove the damaged wheel, let alone fashion a repair to get them to the end of the stage. The sister Ford Focus RS WRC 05 of Luis Perez Companc had a trouble-free day, with Companc and co-driver Jose Maria Volta ending the day in 13th place after this evening’s Nextel Superspecial test.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "About a kilometre into the first stage this morning we basically went wide coming out of a dip on a third-gear corner and hit a bank on the outside. We bounced along the bank which did quite a bit of damage to the steering. The steering arm, the cross-member and even up into the floor as well were all damaged. If the cross-member hadn't been bent we'd have got away with it, and at least got out of the stage and been able to change a steering arm. The corner had felt really good; we'd braked, turned in well, but it was just the way the dip and the compression went which flicked the car sideways. We took the corner at what we thought was the right speed, it didn't really seem like a big problem. Our biggest priority once we'd stopped was slowing the cars and making sure nobody hit us as we were in a bad place. We tried to fix the car but it's not easy when you're on uneven ground and you've got it jacked up and there are still cars going flat out past you. We had a good go; but it just wasn't to be.”

Luis Perez-Companc/Jose Maria Volta: “I'm trying to drive safe. I want to finish the rally I don't want to have any problems. So many cars are having offs, so I'm just driving in the middle of the road and keeping the car safe. The last stages at the end of the loops were without brakes but in the first part I could go fast and it felt good. For tomorrow I like very much the stages, but I have liked all the stages on this rally. There are three runs, with one of 38km - where I'm really going to have to take care. I'm happy the car is in one piece, I hit it a lot as it is very, very rough, but it is good. I'm happy.”

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 3hr 47min 08.8sec
2. P Solberg/P Mills Subaru Impreza 3hr 47min 57.7sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor Peugeot 307 3hr 51min 47.9sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti Citroen Xsara 3hr 52min 36.5sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud Peugeot 307 3hr 59min 44.2sec
6. G MacHale/P Nagle Ford Focus RS 4hr 03min 11.1sec
7. C Atkinson/G MacNeall Subaru Impreza 4hr 07min 48.3sec
8. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen Ford Focus RS 4hr 08min 53.0sec
9. T Arai/T Sircombe Subaru Impreza 4hr 09min 43.4sec
10 R Trivino/C Salom Peugeot 206 4hr 09min 56.5sec

Leg 3 Unofficial News

World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) cruised through the final leg to score his first victory of the season and move to the top of the drivers' championship. He won by 48.9sec from Petter Solberg (Subaru) with Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) taking the final podium place. Fourth was a career best result for Dani Sordo (Citroen) on his first gravel event in a World Rally Car. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) climbed back into the drivers' points after his first-day roll. He finished seventh.

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)

Reigning world champions, Citroën and Sébastien Loeb, have taken the lead in the World Rally Championship following a thrilling fight to the finish between Loeb and Subaru's Petter Solberg in the Rally of Mexico at the weekend (3-5 March 2006). Loeb got off to a steady start on Friday sweeping the roads clean for the benefit of Petter Solberg amongst others, but still hung on grimly to limit the deficit to just a half a minute. The next step was to make up the time lost, reducing the gap to a combative Solberg. It was only on Saturday night, after SS13, that Seb found any sort of breathing space after very tightly fought battle with Subaru driver that turned the event into a two horse race. The final phase of the victory plan, which took place on Sunday, consisted of a precise control of the lead, a painstaking task in which Loeb excels. All victories taste sweet, but for Seb - sheltering under a sombrero at the finish - this one was special. The same joy was shared by Dani Sordo, who finished just off the podium in fourth place in his first gravel event in the Citroën Xsara WRC.

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "To start with, it's the first win that I have the pleasure of sharing with the Kronos team," he explained. "Also, I've won a rally that has not been kind to me in the past. Finally, it's been a win that I've had to go out and grab by the scruff of the neck. The tight battle makes this victory really worth it. Also, it's put us at the top of the championship. In other words, everything is good!"

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: "How do I describe it?" he commented. "Fourth place is fantastic in itself. Added to that is the satisfaction of having had a good feeling with the Xsara on gravel, setting some decent times, and having made only one mistake - a spin at the start of the rally. Also, I have the knowledge that next I am going to drive the Xsara on asphalt on my home rally - the surface on which I have most experience. So how do you think I feel!"

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 and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen both claimed points finishes on the Rally Mexico which ended today. Grönholm recovered from a first day crash to finish eighth in his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car while Hirvonen bounced back from rolling yesterday to take 15th in a similar car. The result maintains the team's record of scoring points on every world rally since the start of the 2002 season. Both BP-Ford pairings retired from the leg after their accidents but returned the following day under SupeRally regulations to complete this demanding three-day event, the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship 2006. Grönholm fought back from 22nd to claim drivers' and manufacturers points while Hirvonen secured the final manufacturers' point. Ford now lies second in the standings and Grönholm holds second in the drivers' championship.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "We've enjoyed really good reliability and speed from the car on our first gravel event - it was the driver that made the mistake," said the 38-year-old Finn. "I've felt confident here and that is a good sign for the other gravel events this season. I would have liked to have had a good fight with Loeb and Solberg and I could have taken a good result without that mistake. I'm sure we can respond on the next two asphalt rallies because the Focus has a good history on that surface."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Twenty-five-year-old Hirvonen started this morning in 17th. His aim was to preserve the final manufacturers' point for BP-Ford and he took no risks to achieve that. "I'm happy with my speed this weekend but I just need to put my mistakes away," he said. "I realise now that I don't need to take any risks to set good stage times. I need to be a bit calmer. But at least we know that the Focus RS is competitive on gravel. It has been perfect - it just doesn't run very well on its roof!"

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

This afternoon Petter Solberg kick-started his campaign for the 2006 drivers’ title by finishing second on Rally Mexico and collecting his first championship points of the season. Solberg blazed through the final three stages of the rally and set the fastest time on the penultimate test, clearly demonstrating the rally winning potential of the new Subaru Impreza WRC2006. Chris Atkinson secured a double points finish for the team. The Australian started the Leg in tenth position, moved up three places in the first stage and maintained the position until the finish.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I am very, very happy with the result of this rally. Of course we set out to win but when that wasn't possible we kept pushing for second. I went flat out on Leg one to get a gap and it was unlucky to pick up the problem on the second day, but I tried hard to keep the time loss to a minimum. It was always going to be difficult to make up the time, but the car was very fast with everything working well. We showed that there is definitely more to come. It's good to finally get some points and now I want more. It will be close and I'm going to give it everything."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "The rally has been pretty good for us. Of course it’s unfortunate that we hit the rock and then had the problem after that, otherwise I think we could have made the podium. We proved that the pace is right, it’s just unfortunate we weren’t able to translate it into a better result. It’s a tough sport. It’s some consolation that we got seventh overall and some useful points for me and for Subaru. We can take plenty of positives from this 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 had had a lead of 32,2 seconds over Daniel Sordo (Spa/Citroen) at the end of leg two. Normally a safe time cushion, yet it bothered the 33-year-old OMV driver a bit for he only had a soft rubber mixture at his disposal for the final leg. But a few kilometres into the first special stage showed that there was no reason to worry. The Spaniard wasn’t able to put pressure on Stohl. After only 5,3 kilometres the Austrian had gained another 5,2 seconds – which became 27,4 seconds at the end of the 38 kilometres long “royal” stage of the Corona Rally Mexico. Thus he had a lead of almost one minute over Sordo for the last 22 kilometres. A lead the OMV driver wouldn’t yield at his 97th WRC assignment. He took the third podium place of his career, the first this year. A final highlight was his best time on the superstage. Henning Solberg topped off the impressive result of the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team with fifth place – in spite of having to deal with brake problems throughout the rally. After each special stage he was only able to bring the Peugeot to a stop by employing the handbrake. But the effort payed off, nevertheless: five points for the manufacturer’s WRC and four points for the driver’s World Championship. This result brought the Norwegian OMV duo Solberg/Menkerud up to eighth palce in the FIA WRC intermediate standings.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: “All in all I’m obviously satisfied with the result. Still, the time difference to the top two does bother me. We’ll have a lot of work to do to find the right gravel set-up. But a place on the podium is great in any case. This time I had luck on my side, especially since I didn’t expect too much here in Mexico.“

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: “Starting from day two all I did was trying to get the car across the finishing line. It would have been useless to attack since I had continous brake problems. I was far enough ahead of sixth place but way too much behind fourth place. In the end I’m satisfied with fifth place. Even more so since this was my first start here.“

Manufacturer 2: Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team / Ford Focus RS WRC04
9 Matthew Wilson / Michael Orr (GB)
10 Luis Pérez Companc / Jose Maria Volta (RA)

A fourth fastest time in a World Rally Championship stage, a career-best sixth placing in the overall standings, a day-ending off just a kilometre into the first stage of leg two and a brake-binding problem slowing him on the final day. Corona Rally Mexico delivered a roller-coaster of emotions for Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson on the 19-year-old's first ever visit to Mexico. Wilson made a superb start to his third rally of 2006, the third round of the World Rally Championship. The young Brit was immediately into the groove on day one’s treacherous and technical gravel stages. Wilson and co-driver Michael Orr adopted a cautious approach, yet their times were firmly in the top ten on every test. By the end of the day, Wilson and Orr sat sixth in the overall standings, a best-ever for Wilson and for any competitor so young in the World Rally Championship.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: “It's a bit frustrating to end the rally with problems but the good thing is on Friday we showed a bit of our pace and if we can do that on the next gravel rally I'll be happy. I didn't expect to be sixth at the second service on Friday, that's for sure. It was encouraging that were able to go quick on the first run through stages, it means the notes are working. The corner which caught us out on Saturday felt really good; we'd braked, turned in well, but it was just the way the dip and the compression went which flicked the car sideways. Our biggest priority once we'd stopped was slowing the cars and making sure nobody hit us as we were in a bad place. We tried to fix the car but it's not easy when you're on uneven ground and you've got it jacked up and there are still cars going flat out past you. We had a good go; but it just wasn't to be.”

Luis Perez-Companc/Jose Maria Volta: “After my off I tried to drive safe. I wanted to finish the rally I didn't want to have any more problems. Thankfully there were no problems, the plan was to come home all in one piece so I'm happy. It's very good getting the two points for the team, very good. I'm looking forward now to my next rally in Argentina as with each rally I'm getting a better feel for the car so I hope in Argentina I go better.”


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
CORONA RALLY MEXICO
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
05.03.2006

Present:
1st Sébastien Loeb – Total Kronos Citroën World Rally Team
1st Daniel Elena – Total Kronos Citroën World Rally Team
2nd Petter Solberg – Subaru World Rally Team
2nd Phil Mills – Subaru World Rally Team
3rd Manfred Stohl – OMV Peugeot Norway 3rd Ilka Minor – OMV Peugeot Norway
Representative of the winning Manufacturer Total Kronos Citroën WRT - Marc Van Dalen

Welcome to the final FIA press conference. Joining us are winners Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena from Total Kronos Citroën, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, who finished second for the Subaru World Rally Team, and Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor who took third for OMV Peugeot Norway. Marc Van Dalen is also in attendance as the representative of the winning manufacturer.

Q: Congratulations on your first win of the year, which puts you in a five-point lead in the World Championship. You had a big fight with Petter throughout the rally, but moved significantly ahead last night after Petter had a steering problem at the end of the day. Without Petter’s problem, do you still think you could have beaten him?

SL: It’s difficult to say, it was close. Petter lost 30 seconds with his problem yesterday, but I lost 30 seconds on day one when I was cleaning the road. It was a good fight, really interesting. Then I had a more comfortable lead for today and it was easier for me to finish the rally in this position. Then also on the first leg we had Mikko and Marcus, we will have some nice fights in the future. It’s interesting to drive like this, when you fight for seconds in a 25 kilometre stage, very exciting. We had some very good moments on this rally. The car was perfect; we had no problems all weekend.

Q: How difficult was this victory for you? Many drivers complained of animals on the road: did you hit anything?

DE: The temperature is very hot in the car because the engine needs heating, so we sit there all day with the heater on – it’s not easy, I don’t like that. The roads were okay, but on day one, on SS6, we saw four dogs, then yesterday you have the cow. Manfred touched it, then Petter touched the dog. It’s very dangerous. If you don’t want to compromise the result, the solution is to check for animals on the stages.

Q: Petter, you said you felt very confident but then you had a steering problem which ruined your chances of victory. What exactly happened? Did you still think this morning that you might have a chance of catching Sébastien? Without the problem, do you think that you would have won the rally?

PS: Well, we were flat out. We tried to get some time from Loeb, on the last split we were five seconds ahead. We came downhill, very sideways into a corner. I hit a rock a little bit and then lost the power steering. I said I broke it, but the engineers tell me from the data it was a leak from one of the pipes; it happened before I hit the rock. It was very unlucky, we pushed very hard so we wouldn’t lose too much more than 22 seconds. I didn’t think I could win, not really after the Super Special. We tried hard from the start this morning, it came up to minus one but when there was still a long way to go, it was difficult.

Q: Phil, Daniel was telling us about how he and Seb hit a dog. Did you have problems too?

PM: We did. Yesterday especially. On every stage we saw a dog, a donkey, a goat, cow… everything. I actually got quite concerned at one point. We’ve all seen what hitting an animal at high speed can do. We spoke to the organisers and today there was nothing at all. Hopefully that problem has gone away now.

Q: Congratulations on another podium place Manfred – your first with the Peugeot 307 WRC. You had quite a big gap to Sébastien and Petter in front, but Daniel Sordo seemed to be coming up quickly behind you. How difficult was it to stay in front of him?

MS: In the rally everything can happen. He was very inconsistent, he would make one good time then one bad time. I knew if he was doing it all the time, we knew what he could do – but in the end it was okay.

Q: This result has also reinforced OMV Peugeot’s third place in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Judging from the performance you have seen in the three rallies so far, how realistic is it for the team to finish in the top three manufacturers at the end of the year? How high in the Drivers’ Championship do you think you and Manfred might be placed?

IM: This is difficult to say. We had a very good run in Monte Carlo and then a good start in Sweden before the accident. We make some big improvements on the car and hopefully we can make some more podiums and more good results, but to keep third place is going to be difficult.

Q: Congratulations Marc. How hard was it for Kronos to achieve this win, given that the team has never been to Mexico before? Did the early retirement of Xevi Pons cause you some concern about Seb?

MVD: It’s hard work from the middle of last year to achieve this deal. It’s really not been easy to convince the sponsors of what we were trying to do and to get them involved. Today I’m so proud, first to be ready for Monte Carlo and then to make this result. I want to thank Sébastien and Daniel. We’re so proud to win our first WRC round. It’s a dream come true for everybody. We weren’t worried about the engine problem, it was a plug which broke on Xevi’s car; it wasn’t directly involved with the engine. We checked Sébastien’s engine, but it was okay – it wasn’t directly linked.

Q: This gives you a Championship advantage of five points over Marcus and now we head for Spain and Corsica, which has been extremely successful for you in the past. Is this the best opportunity for you to make up points of the season? How confident are you feeling now?

SL: I hope to make up some more points in the next rallies. I know on Tarmac we usually go well and I’ve won a few rallies on Tarmac. Our car and tyres work well on this surface. I hope we can win some other rallies.

Q: Daniel, What do you think of Catalunya and Corsica, can you win?

DE: Yeah, sure. You see for the first time we won Corsica and Catalunya last year, but it was not easy. They seem to get faster each year, but you can still make a mistake, we will see at the end of the race.

Q: Petter, how worried are you about the two asphalt rallies that are coming up next? Sébastien has been stronger than you there in the past. Do you think you will be able to fight on equal terms with him again?

PS: No, we have to be positive. We’re going to have some testing next week and we’ll try very hard. Pirelli has some new tyres, if they come with some big improvements – as we hope – then we have a good chance of win on Tarmac. We’re not far away. If we work as a team then I think it is possible.

Q: Now you’ve got some points on the board, how much does that increase your confidence? How much pressure to score points were you and Petter under here? Was that pressure a distraction for you both on the event?

PM: We go to every rally with the approach to win it. It does do the confidence good to get points. Coming here with nothing was strange. We start every rally with the approach to win it, that’s what it’ll be for the next 14, 13 whatever we have left. I don’t think we were really conscious of the pressure. We just wanted a strong finish, then we took the lead and the whole thing got quite interesting…

Q: What about you, Petter?

PS: To have zero points is not very cool, is it? With everything that happened it’s been quite difficult. I’m very happy with second, unfortunately we could have had a great battle, but we had a boring day. We want more points. If we can come a little closer now, then we can take more risks, but points are the important thing now.

Q: You altered the set-up a bit during the first day of the rally – which changes did you make? Are you now happy with the way the Peugeot handles on gravel? What do you think of the car generally?

MS: The biggest mistake was not expecting the road to be so loose on top. I changed suspension and the anti-roll bars which gave me more confidence in the car, but still it was not perfect. On this surface, the feeling in the car is perfect, but the times are not perfect so we have to work on that. I don’t know too much about the car on this surface, I was much happier on the snow.

Q: Neither of you have ever been to Mexico before, but you know the stages in France and Spain a bit better. How much do you think that will help your performance? Do you think that is possible to have another podium on the asphalt rallies?

IM: The experience is less than here. We did Spain in 2001, but Tarmac is not our specialist thing. Manfred doesn’t like it and I don’t like it. We just hope we can make a good position.

Q: There have been some reports in the press recently that Kronos will continue to run the Citroën programme next year with the C4 – is this correct? How exactly will the collaboration between Citroën Sport and Kronos work?

MVD: This is the first time I read about it. It was a great opportunity to run Sébastien and Xevi Pons this year, like we did with Manfred and Ilka last year. We run cars at a very high level, which means we have the best drivers. We will see, I hope the result we did so far will help in the future, but we are not expecting to run the C4 next year.

2006 FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present: 1st Toshihiro Arai 1st Tony Sircombe

Now for the final press conference of the FIA PWRC, we have the winning crew of Toshi Arai and Tony Sircombe.

Q: Toshi, congratulations on your first win of the year, which puts you jointly in the Championship lead. How difficult was it for you to achieve this victory because it seemed to be an eventful rally with a big fight on?

TA: This year’s roads were quite hard and twisty. It was very difficult driving the Group N car. It would have been easy to get a puncture or to have problems on the rough surface. Actually, the Subaru is strong; our problem was punctures.

Q: How fast did you have to drive?

TA: Two stages a bit steady, then harder, then some problems, but then steady again.

Q: Tony, many congratulations. What did you think about this year’s route – was it a rally that you enjoyed?

TS: I enjoyed the rally, we had a relatively problem-free run, but as you can see from the results, not many cars actually finished the event without SupeRally. That says what the event is like for Production Cars.

Q: There were some hot temperatures and high altitudes here – what did you think about the performance of the new Impreza under these conditions?

TA: Yeah, very good, especially in the high speed areas, where the aerodynamics worked quite good. Also, it has good balance in the twisty stuff. It was not so bad in the high altitude or temperatures. It was no problem.

Q: It must be good for the confidence to start with a win?

TA: Yes. It’s good to start with a win.

Q: Tony, when do we see you and Toshi out next? Which events have you chosen and why?

TS: We’re out next in Argentina, which is the next PWRC round. Then it’s Greece for us. We’re dropping Japan before we go to Australia. We dropped Monte Carlo earlier in the year because it was a newly-homologated car from Japan. Logistically, it would have been a bit of a push to get everything sorted out. And on top of that, it’s a difficult rally which Toshi and I have never done. We wanted to concentrate on the events we have done and we’re happy that the car’s strong enough for those rougher events.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK)

Q: Toshi, can you explain what happened when Mr Nutahara gained a tool at your expense. Did he ask first?

TS: The situation was that Toshi and I had a problem in SS5; we’d hit a bank and taken the rear spoiler off. We were in a bit of a quandary and trying to get ourselves sorted out. We were working on our own car when Mr Nutahara – who had apparently had a brake problem – helped himself to tools from our car. The understanding was that he said something, but Toshi was so busy doing his own thing that he didn’t hear him.