FIA RALLY NEWS 

COMING EVENT - 19th Rally New Zealand (17-19 November 2006)


15th round out of 16 in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, 8th round out of eight in the 2006 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY OF NEW ZEALAND
Media FIA Pre-event Press Conference
16.11.2006

Present:
Nasser Al-Attiyah - FIA PWRC
Fumio Nutahara - FIA PWRC
Valentino Rossi
Sébastien Loeb - Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team
Mikko Hirvonen - BP-Ford World Rally Team
Petter Solberg - Subaru World Rally Team

Welcome to the pre-event FIA press conference.

Q:
Nasser, welcome. You come to New Zealand leading the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, but not by a huge margin. What do you have to do here in order to win the title? What are your tactics likely to be and are you feeling quite confident? How much experience do you have of this event?

NA-A:
Yes actually it will be difficult rally, it is fast and technical but we are six points in front and I will have a good strategy; if always we stay in front it doesn’t matter which position we are in. I will do my best for this race because last year I had a good run with only a few experiences, so now I am faster and will do my best. I have a lot of confidence for this race. From three years ago I remember our plan and now we are leading the Championship, I hope it will be fine and we will do our best. For this rally the speed is nothing because it is more technical. If you do one mistake all is gone, but I hope we have a good strategy and do what works best for this race because it is important for us to win the Championship.

Q:
Fumio, how about you; is this an event you like? Do you have to just drive flat-out to try and win, or is there anything else you can do to try and influence the result? How closely will you be looking at Nasser’s times? Is he going to be a tough competitor?

FN:
I am very happy to come to New Zealand but Nasser is six points ahead so it is very difficult. The New Zealand rally course is fast and difficult so I will try to drive my best rally. Maybe maximum effort so I hope that gets the result. He (Nasser) is very strong driver. I hope there is a good battle.

Q:
Nasser, the other interesting thing about this battle is that as well as being a battle between two drivers, it is also a battle between two makes - Subaru and Mitsubishi - and also two tyre companies - Pirelli and Yokohama. How closely do you think the two packages are matched? Which car do you think is likely to have an advantage here? How about the tyres?

NA-A:
Yeah, for us it is good because some places are more narrow and this is good for our car, but in some places it is fast and good for Mitsubishi, but both of us have a good chance and whoever is clever will get the good result, because mistakes will make it difficult to continue fighting.

FN: (Same question)
Mitsubishi and Yokohama are a good match. Subaru have a good balance in some sections but Mitsubishi has a more powerful engine so I think Subaru and Mitsubishi will have good battles.

Q:
Nasser, you’ve had a busy time recently competing on the UAE Desert Challenge in preparation for the Dakar Rally next year. How difficult is it to switch from cross country rallies in a BMW to the Production Car World Rally Championship in a Subaru? Does it take you any time to adjust? You’re also preparing for the Asian Games at the moment where you will represent Qatar at shooting; how is that going?

NA-A:
Yes, quite difficult because last week we are in the Dubai Desert Challenge six day rally and every day we have 300 kilometres, and when I finish the race and come to New Zealand we have a small test, so it is really very difficult. Cross country you can push everywhere and Group N you must be sensitive to the car with no mistakes. I will do my best though for leg one tomorrow, get more kilometres and see what happens. We have shooting in Qatar in December so I am quite busy. In 2002 I have two gold medals and I will try to defend and do my best at home with a lot of pressure.

Q:
You’ve been driving Group N cars for a while now Fumio; what are your plans for 2007? Would you like to compete in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship again, or do you have other ideas?

FN:
Next year I don’t know the brand, but I hope Mitsubishi, which will be very nice

Q:
Valentino, welcome once more to the FIA World Rally Championship. How have your preparations for this rally gone so far? What were your conclusions about the Subaru Impreza after your test session in Wales and which is better, Wales or New Zealand? What do you think about the stages after the recce? How good are the pace notes you have established with your co-driver Carlo Cassina? What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you here?

VR:
I have already small experience with the Subaru and last year I raced in Monza, but it was not a real rally. I had a test in Wales last week to understand the car but the real test is tomorrow to make some kilometres with the car, understand the car and the first target is fun and arrive at the end. For me it is difficult, I don’t know if better or worse in New Zealand, but it is very fast. But I don’t have the experience to know. The Subaru is always good to drive and a good experience and I want to come here because it is a good rally to understand the car on gravel. The pace notes are good, the recce is good; two long days but I am happy. I spend a lot of time with Carlo – four to five years. Tomorrow the car may become more difficult; I must start slow and get better. I want to understand a real WRC rally and to understand the future when I stop the bike racing. I need to know if I like it and if I have good potential for the future.

Q:
Seb, welcome back and it’s nice to see you, although a pity you will not be competing in the rally. What is the latest news from the doctors looking after your broken arm? When do they think you will be fit to drive again? Is it likely that you will be able to drive on Wales Rally GB, or not? How do you feel now; do you have full use of your arm? Was it painful for you to drive the two days of the recce? When do you think you might be able to resume some testing work with the new C4?

SL:
The doctors confirm it is broken!! Seriously, that it takes time and that of course is the problem. It is now a very long time for me but there is no miracle - it takes nearly three months for this kind of broken arm to fix and I cannot do anything so I have to wait. Now the doctor says it is in good way and healing normally, but not to drive. I have done the recce for next year and as for the next rally I am meeting with doctors next week to decide, but I don‘t think they will change their mind. For the moment it is most important to recover and be ready for next year. The recce was okay, we drive slowly with an 80 kilometre limit, so it was not a problem. The most painful thing is to go home now. I must drive the C4 rally car to prepare for Monte Carlo, especially if I can’t drive Rally GB.

Q:
How’s life been since you won in Australia; have there been a few parties back home in Finland? How much does this change things for you; do you have more confidence heading into this rally in New Zealand? Of course it’s a tense time for Ford as you can win the Manufacturers’ Championship here; what do you have to do exactly?

MH:
For sure you have to party for the first win but it hasn’t changed things; sure it felt good to win and think about it for a week but now it is behind us and we concentrate on the next rally. For sure it helps the confidence, there is no question, but it is a new rally and it is a big job and many things to improve, but it helps for sure. Our main aim is to win the Manufacturers’ title but here is not going to be easy. It is three points away but it is easy to say and not so easy to do it, so we will concentrate on that and hopefully go to GB with no pressure.

Q:
Welcome Petter. Second place in Australia was a good result for Subaru, after experiencing the problems that we all know about this year. The character of the stages here is a very special; fast and flowing, requiring a good rhythm and plenty of commitment. Do you think that they will be well-suited to the Subaru, or are they likely to provoke some of the handling problems you have experienced in the past?

PS:
Well yes, moving forward the guys are flat-out and obviously I’m still pushing hard to get quicker, but that can’t happen automatically. Everyone is doing all they can but we are looking forward, that is the main thing. If it is raining, then yes we have a very good chance but if it’s dry we will struggle a little. But there will be rain! The first day is difficult but second and third are perfect, I hope I am in top form and the car is good; we will see, trust me I will push, that is not the problem.

Q:
Valentino, what are your personal objectives for this rally? What sort of result are you realistically aiming for? How do these stages compare to Wales Rally GB, which was your last experience of the FIA World Rally Championship in 2002? How much have the cars improved since then? Do you think that the World Rally Championship is something you might like to do when your bike riding career is over? How much do you enjoy driving rally cars, compared to racing bikes or cars? You’ve competed on lots of events such as the Race of Champions and the Monza Rally before, but how much more difficult is it to tackle a three-day World Championship rally compared to those single-venue events?

VR:
I fight for the podium for sure! No, I don’t know if it is possible to maybe finish in front of someone from the WRC. I start 11th (on the road) and maybe this is my place, but if I can go faster it is better. I must not make mistakes early and must understand my speed and position. I think I like more these stages; they are very good, some more difficult and slow, but in Wales the feeling was worse because of the mud. From 2002 very much has changed with the cars; gearbox, brakes, the way to control the car is a lot better now. Rally is my great passion after motorcycling, because my father also did a lot with rally after he finished with bikes. I have passion for this sport. The rally is the hardest way in cars, I am a lot faster on the track but I need to decide; now I don’t know. It is completely another world, I make Monza for five or six years now; I am fast but is not the rally on the track.

Q:
Seb, you’ve had a chance now to look at some of the new stages this year. What do you think of them? How do they compare to those used in the past and are they still typical New Zealand stages? What has it been like for you since you won the World Championship (subject to official confirmation) in Australia? Has it been busy, or surreal, or both? Here it seems that Ford is in a strong position to win the Manufacturers’ Championship; is there anything that Kronos Citroën can do to hold them back, or is it all over? How much do you regret that your unfortunate accident compromised their chances of winning the Championship?

SL:
The stages are really nice, they were nice last year also but a bit different now, a bit more twisty, less fast, but the stages are really nice. You do the recce and then go home; it is not nice. Practicing I was imagining fighting here because it is a very nice rally. It has been strange to win (the Championship) in this condition. Here we have a party with friends and a lot of interviews but also I had to go back to the special centre for treatment. It was busy but not especially for winning the rally title but for the shoulder. Anything can happen; we saw that recently when I was on a bike! But okay, now Ford is in a good position so it will be hard for Kronos to beat them, but we will see. Sure, I regret it but what can you do. If I knew before I would fall, I would stay at home; this is the same for everything. We brought one Driver title to Kronos so I am happy, but would prefer to fight to the end for the Manufacturer title.

Q:
What do you think of the new stages Mikko; are they likely to suit you and the Ford? How much will you be thinking of the Manufacturers’ Championship and how much will you be thinking of just driving your own rally? Conditions in Australia were quite consistent; do you think that the variable weather here in New Zealand will make this rally more difficult?

MH:
Like Seb said, they are very nice. I wasn’t here last year but I think the stages are more twisty with more camber in a few places, so it is nice like always. If it turns out to be tricky I’m sure I will take it steady to secure the points, but when it rains here it doesn’t change the grip so much so it is not as bad as other rallies.

Q:
If it does rain, do you think that can hand you an advantage? Pirelli tyres have traditionally gone extremely well in the wet, so is rain your best chance here? How is work on the 2007 car progressing; will that fix the problems? Valentino will be driving the 2005 version of the Impreza; have you spoken much with him about it?

PS:
Yes, we’re looking forward to rain! Really, really looking forward to rain! I’m sure the new car will be very good; Christophe, the new engineer at base, is leading a good team and really looking forward to getting the new car. Valentino is clever enough to understand, he wants to enjoy and learn; I’m sure he will do well and have good fun.

Rally Preview

The rally shows major changes with the base moving 130km south from Auckland to Hamilton, close to North Island's west coast. There will be a single service park for the first time at the Mystery Creek Events Centre, a few kilometres south-east of the city. The event will not journey north of Auckland and instead all the stages are based west of Hamilton, many hugging the Tasman Sea coastline. Some have not been used since the mid-1990s, with two tests on the second leg brand new and another unused since 1982. The opening leg, south-west of Hamilton, is the longest and includes two passes over the 43.88km Te Koraha test, the longest of the season. The second leg is north-east of the city and both days end with a super special stage at Mystery Creek which surrounds the service park. The final leg is the only part of the rally common with 2005, and includes two passes over the classic Whaanga Coast test, regarded as one of the best in the entire championship. There are 17 stages in total, covering 358.48km in a route of 1354.26km.

Team Previews:

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

Despite a 19.000 kilometre journey in between Belgium and New Zealand, the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team is looking forward to the kiwi round. On 'Aotearoa' - the ground of the long white cloud according to the Maori legend - the complete team will be gathered for the first time since Cyprus and will be able to celebrate its heroes Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, now three times World champions. Seb and Daniel will be present in Hamilton, the rally's new host city, to complete the reconnaissance of a rather changed route in the aim to prepare next year. Once this finished, Seb will return to Europe, in the rehabilitation centre where he works on his full recovery. For the rally, Kronos Total Citroën entrusts once again its young Spanish squad. Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti will drive in Hamilton the same Xsaras which they have been competing with in Australia.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "In NZ, the stages are very fast. I enjoyed a lot driving there the past two years. For me, it would surely have been easier if nothing had changed. But on another hand, to be a good driver, you have to be capable of posting fast times with only two passes in recce. This is the reason why I will particularly focus on the recce to try and set one more good result to finish the season on a good note."

Dani Sordo/Marc: "Just talking about it makes me think that New Zealand is even further than Australia. It's terrible because the flight time will be even longer! Marc has described the stages like very fast but without trees on the sides of the roads. He has underlined the importance of 'road cleaning' and of the interest to take profit from driving in the rails left by the cars preceding. He also put the stress on the fact that it's 'forbidden' to drive out of those rails. Everybody says that it's an event to enjoy. It's one more territory to discover and this is very thrilling for a young driver."

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 can clinch the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title on next week's Rally New Zealand (16 - 19 November). It goes into the penultimate round with a 16-point lead. A 19-point advantage by the finish of the three-day rally on the flowing gravel roads of North Island will ensure the crown with one round remaining - so if BP-Ford outscores rivals Kronos Citroen by three points in New Zealand, then the Blue Oval will be guaranteed the title.
Six victories in the first season with the new Focus RS World Rally Car, five for Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and a maiden win for team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in Australia last month, have already made 2006 the most successful WRC year ever for Ford in terms of wins.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Of course I would like to win the rally because I start every event hoping to win. But my priority here has to be scoring good points for the team in the manufacturers' championship. Maybe I can do both! I have to be more careful than I was on the last rally in Australia when I crashed. I must avoid making any stupid mistakes."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Having won once I know that I can win again and I want to prove that Australia wasn't just a one-off, that I can fight for victory against Marcus and Seb. But in New Zealand the important thing to remember is our challenge for the manufacturers' title. I must not risk losing points by pushing too hard."

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

It's all change as the Subaru World Rally Team heads back to the southern hemisphere for Rally New Zealand, which has a new date, route and base for 2006. Only four of the 17 fast, flowing gravel stages are identical to those used on last year's rally. Of the other tests, Pirongia West and Te Koraha were last used on the 1998 event and the last time Port Waikato was part of the route was back in 1982! The new base is the Mystery Creek Events Centre near Hamilton, 120km south of Auckland on New Zealand's North Island. The venue will play host to the rally headquarters, indoor service park, plus a Super Special which is part of the route on Friday and Saturday night.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I'm very confident about New Zealand, because it has always been a good rally for us in the past. We were strong in Australia and hopefully can improve a little bit more on that. I'm really hoping to win again soon, but we have to take things step-by-step, and I know the team is working very hard, so we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out. We'll be using some stages that I haven't driven before, but all the other drivers will be in the same situation, so it won't be a problem. The pace notes will help us to get into a rhythm quite quickly. I'm sorry that it's going to be a little bit colder in New Zealand now that the rally has moved from April to November!"

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's going to be a tough rally with some long stages. We'll be looking to continue the good pace we showed at the beginning of Rally Australia, although I'll be looking forward to a bit of a change of fortune too. I've done Rally New Zealand twice before - last year I finished seventh with Subaru and the year before that I was driving a Group N Impreza - but we're going to be using some new roads for this year. In terms of a result, we'd hope to be running in the top five and if we can do that, there's always the chance of being in the hunt for a podium."

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team is very confident for the "Propecia Rally New Zealand", the next-to-last run to the FIA World Rally Championship from November 16 to 19. Manfred Stohl and co-driver Ilka Minor are especially motivated to reach the podium once again, following their third place at the Rally Australia. And OMV duo Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud is hot to score points after their retirement in Australia.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Weather forecasts predict alternating rain and sunshine for the weekend. That means that those will be in front who not only show courage but also prove lucky in the tyre lottery. Even though the new special stages will reduce the tempo somewhat."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I just like it when things get really speedy. And Waahanga Coast is surely one of the most beautiful and racy special stages of all."

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

It will be Companc, and his co-driver Jose Maria Volta's eighth rally this season and the second time they have ventured to the antipodean island of New Zealand. Once again both crews will be taking part in the 06 spec Ford Focus and hoping to add to their recent points haul which has boosted the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team's fifth position in the WRC Manufacturer Championship, 14 points ahead of nearest rival Red Bull Skoda.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "New Zealand is another fast rally, so it's one that I'm really looking forward to. Most of the stages are going to be new to pretty much all of the drivers this time, so it'll be interesting to see who makes the best job of making new notes and gets off to a fast start. Like on the last round in Australia, I'm keen to push harder on the opening leg to try and avoid running first on the road later in the rally. Unlike Australia, I'm keen not to make a mistake on the opening leg! The last round was really tough."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "Australia didn't quite go to plan for me. There was a mistake on the first day and then some tricky conditions. I had some good time in the car, though and I feel ready for New Zealand. The car felt fantastic - and what I really like are the faster roads. In Australia, in the quicker stages, everything felt good. I am sure I can keep this feeling for this week. I did New Zealand last year, but it was in a different place, so I will have to make some new notes this time. It's going to be interesting."

Event Timetable

Leg 1 : Friday 17 November 2006

09h33 : SS 1 Pirongia West 1 (20,38 km)
Refuelling zone
10h31 : SS 2 Te Koraha 1 (43,88 km)
12h40 : Grouping area (37')
13h17 : Service area A in Mystery Creek (30')
Refuelling zone
14h50 : SS 3 Pirongia West 2 (20,38 km)
Refuelling zone
15h48 : SS 4 Te Koraha 2 (43,88 km)
18h00 : SS 5 Mystery Creek Super Special 1 (3,14 km)
18h10 : Service area B in Mystery Creek (45')

Leg 2 : Saturday 18 November 2006

07h00 : Service area C in Mystery Creek (10')
Refuelling zone
09h23 : SS 6 Port Waikato (18,18 km)
10h01 : SS 7 Klondyke (13,88 km)
10h34 : SS 8 Wairamarama (31,58 km)
Refuelling zone
12h54 : Grouping area (26')
13h20 : Service area D in Mystery Creek (30')
Refuelling zone
15h18 : SS 9 Te Akau South (31,82 km)
16h01 : SS 10 Te Akau North (32,64 km)
Refuelling zone
18h15 : SS 11 Mystery Creek Super Special 2 (3,14 km)
18h25 : Service area E in Mystery Creek (45')

Leg 3 : Sunday 19 November 2006

06h15 : Service area F in Mystery Creek (10')
Refuelling zone
07h38 : SS 12 Maungatawhiri 1 (6,69 km)
08h06 : SS 13 Te Hutewai 1 (11,23 km)
08h34 : SS 14 Whaanga Coast 1 (29,82 km)
Refuelling zone
10h05 : Grouping area (15')
10h20 : Service area G in Mystery Creek (30')
Refuelling zone
12h03 : SS 15 Maungatawhiri 2 (6,69 km)
12h31 : SS 16 Te Hutewai 2 (11,23 km)
12h59 : SS 17 Whaanga Coast 2 (29,82 km)
Refuelling zone
14h50 : Finish and podium ceremony

Leading positions after the first day of the rally:

Leg 1 News

The opening leg of Rally New Zealand has been a dream start for the BP-Ford World Rally Team, which is chasing its first FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers title since 1979. Finnish crews Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen hold first and second positions respectively, with Spaniard Daniel Sordo (Citroën Xsara WRC) inching into third after 131 kilometres of competition. Rally New Zealand, the penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship, is a favourite with the drivers and the roads on the North Island are considered to be some of the best in the world. Based in Hamilton - 130 kilometres south of Auckland - for the first time, the event’s roads are virtually new to the drivers, but the smooth nature of the gently winding gravel tracks pose few mechanical demands and tempt the drivers into really attacking.

Marcus Grönholm led from the outset, the Ford driver winning the first two of the day’s five stages to pull out a 17.7 advantage over team-mate Hirvonen, despite hitting a fence post and suffering a puncture in the first stage. The Finn continued to dominate over the afternoon’s repeated stages and ended the leg with five stage wins and a 31.2 second lead. Hirvonen has been hot on his heels throughout the day and, despite not being entirely happy with the handling of the car, has claimed second-fastest in four stages. Austrian Manfred Stohl (Peugeot 307 WRC) was third throughout the leg and in a close fight with fourth-placed Sordo. However, a 1.4 second advantage turned into a 2.2 second deficit after the closing 3.14 kilometre super special stage and Stohl slipped to fourth overnight. Sordo’s Kronos Total Citroën team-mate Xavier Pons has climbed into fifth, but the two crews still have a task ahead of them if they are to deny Ford a Championship title. Petter Solberg’s woes continue and the Subaru driver overnights in sixth, a lack of grip causing him and team-mate Chris Atkinson on-going problems.

Valentino Rossi - MotoGP star and winner of a total of seven World Championship titles - is competing in his second World Championship rally. The Italian, who is determined to finish the event and assess his potential in the sport of rallying, lost time in the first stage with a spin. He nevertheless progressed during the day and overnights in 24th position.

Team News:

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

At the end of the short final spectator superspecial stage at Mystery Creek, which surrounds the service park, the two Citroens of Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio, finish the day in third and fifth places respectively.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: " I spun on the opening stage, Pirongia. A bit further on in the same stage I was distracted by rising water temperatures and so I spun again. After that I drove very much within myself on Te Kohara 1. On the second run through the stages though, everything went brilliantly. Not even three punctures slowed me down, thanks to the anti-deflation mousse. With a perfect car, I was able to make back a lot of lost ground. It's a good omen as we head into the second leg tomorrow, as I feel very much at home on these flowing roads. "

Dani Sordo/Marc: "As everybody told me, driving on these roads is enormous fun - particularly on the faster sections. It's important to know how to slow down the rhythm on certain more twisty bits before picking up the pace again as quickly as possible. I'm very pleased to see that my pace notes are good : I only made a few adjustments to them after the first run through the stages. As for tyre choice, I had no problems at all with my soft BFGoodrich tyres in the morning nor with the medium compound rubber in the afternoon. I had two punctures, but I did not lose any time thanks to the anti-deflation mousse."

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 dominated today's opening leg of Rally New Zealand as Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen powered into first and second respectively. Grönholm completed a clean sweep by winning all five speed tests in his Focus RS World Rally Car to lead the similar vehicle of Hirvonen, who was second fastest on four special stages, by 31.2sec.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I've been driving steadily rather than at maximum pace so to be leading is a good position. The biggest pressure has come from Mikko. He has good confidence and is driving well. I would really like to win this rally so I will try hard to stay ahead of him. It was muddy this morning but drier with good grip this afternoon. Last night's rain helped me with my road position. I hit a few stones but nothing to worry about. The first three stages tomorrow are new but I know the afternoon stages well so I will push hard through those tests."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "They are heavily cambered and this morning I was braking the wrong side of the camber which made the car slide into the corners. I made a new differential map last week on the Rally GB test which worked well in the UK. However, the stages are different here and it didn't work so well for me so I made changes at the lunchtime service."

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 has two cars within the top ten at the end of the first leg. Petter Solberg holds sixth position, with team-mate Chris Atkinson in ninth spot. Petter and Chris had a tough morning and both drivers struggled to find grip on gravel roads made treacherous by heavy rain the previous night. As the weather brightened and the roads dried in the afternoon, so did the team's fortunes. Some set-up tweaks at first service improved the car and Petter was fourth fastest on stage four, the longest of the rally. Chris and Petter were respectively second and third quickest through the final stage of the day, the Mystery Creek Super Special.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "The day improved as it went on, and the last two stages were better than when we ran them in the morning. We made some changes to the car at the midday service and on the high-speed sections of SS4 we were the fastest out there, but we're still losing time on the twisty sections, and that's what we need to concentrate on now. Tomorrow the character of the stages is a little bit different, hopefully they should suit us better, we'll have to see." Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We just haven't had the speed today, for whatever reason. We're working on that, but I don't feel confident to push so I'm not taking any risks and I'm just making sure I get through the stages. The car felt better in the afternoon but the conditions were very different, so it was difficult to compare and get any useful information. For tomorrow a lot will depend on the weather and our road position; if it's dry and we're first on the road then it'll be very tough, if it's wet then it should be better. We've given away a lot of time today, but we'll do all we can to improve our position tomorrow."

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team has stood their ground on day one of the "Propecia Rally New Zealand". Manfred Stohl is on the course for a podium place despite several minor problems. The 34-year-old OMV driver lies in fourth place after five of 17 special stages. Henning Solberg, who had to wrestle with a broken water conduit in the beginning, still managed to finish the first day in seventh overall place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "The spin was my fault. In a way I was punished by breaking out into a cold sweat now and then during the 20 kilometres from the fourth special stage to the service, wondering whether we were going to make it with the damaged radiator. Luckily, we did indeed make it. Unluckily, I did gamble away a nice lead by this. But I am sure that we will once again be able to keep up the pace of Grönholm und Hirvonen on Saturday."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "Just like in Cyprus the water conduit for sprinkling the radiator broke. Since this conduit passes the dashboard my shoes were suddenly in the water. Thus the pedals became extremely slippery and one loses concentration. In the afternoon things went better. But it still was difficult to find the right speed."

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

South America's fastest rally driver Luis Perez Companc ended the opening leg of Rally New Zealand in a sensational, point-scoring position for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team. Companc was on scintillating form through today's five stages - four of which ran to the south-west of the event's Hamilton city base. Companc's team-mate, 19-year-old Briton Matthew Wilson retired from a top 10 position after an impact with a rock caused water loss from his engine, resulting in the unit overheating and forcing him into leg one retirement. The decision on whether or not Wilson will re-start under SupeRally rules will be taken after the team have a chance to inspect the engine.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I had great fun this morning, but not so much fun this afternoon. The roads are fantastic, just as good as everybody says. I had a spin on the first stage, it was in a slow left hander, just coming into a hairpin. I dropped about 10 seconds with that, but otherwise it was fine. There are a few corners where I'm coming out and thinking we could have been a gear higher through there. That's not a major problem on my first attempt at this event, which is fairly specialised, but it's frustrating when those corners lead onto a long straight and you know just how much more speed you could be carrying down the straight. Everything went a little bit wrong this afternoon. I'm obviously really disappointed with what happened, I didn't hit anything but the wheel clipped a rock and I think maybe a pipe was broken. The consequence is very bad, and that's how I feel: really bad. To come to the other side of the world and this is what happens is not good."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "I found the roads really slippery this morning. The overnight rain was quite heavy I think and the slippery nature came from the rain and the mud, probably being pulled out from the cars ahead, rather than the loose gravel on top of the road. The car is working so well, we have no problems from it at all. Sometimes, it is actually quite hard to keep the car on the road in the conditions, but we're managing to do that and enjoy ourselves at the same time. I thought our road position would be working well for us today, but it seems to be the opposite way around. This afternoon, the stages were much drier and the grip more constant, which made things a little bit easier. To be in the points is good news for me and the team."

Leading positions after the second day of the rally:

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 56min 17.2sec
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 57min 07.5sec
3. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 58min 23.4sec
4. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 2hr 58min 40.3sec
5. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 2hr 58min 55.6sec
6. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 59min 42.3sec
7. L Perez Companc/J-M Volta ARG Ford Focus RS 3hr 04min 58.3sec
8. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Subaru Impreza 3hr 07min 25.3sec
9. M Baldacci/G Agnese I Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 07min 29.6sec
10 R Mason/S Randall NZ Subaru Impreza 3hr 08min 45.3sec

Driver's comments after Leg 2

Leg 2 News

Ford continues to dominate Rally New Zealand, its two Finnish crews holding first and second positions after two days of competition. Marcus Grönholm maintains his lead, which he has marginally extended during the day, while team-mate Mikko Hirvonen - second - has consolidated his position ahead of third-placed Manfred Stohl (Peugeot 307 WRC).

Torrential rain in the morning caught many of the crews on the wrong tyres and, with driving rain and fog in places, it was simply a matter of keeping the car on the road for most of the contenders. Unlike yesterday, Grönholm didn’t have it all his own way and, while he won the opening stage, Australian Chris Atkinson claimed victory in the following two, the Subaru driver enjoying a better run before retiring this afternoon when a puncture caused him to go off the road.

With three victories from the day’s six stages, Marcus Grönholm takes a 50.3 second lead into the final six stages of Rally New Zealand on Sunday. Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen has had a steady run, but remains on Grönholm’s heels as the team paces its crews to ensure it claims three more points than rival Kronos Total Citroën to clinch the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers.

Having slipped to fourth last night, OMV Peugeot Norway driver Manfred Stohl has climbed back into third but is still in the thick of a battle with Daniel Sordo (Citroën Xsara WRC). Overnight the pair are split by 16.9 seconds. Fifth and sixth positions are maintained by Xavier Pons and Petter Solberg, the Norwegian suffering with the wrong tyres and a broken drive-shaft. Brother Henning Solberg, who was seventh, rolled in the penultimate stage of the day, but struggled back to the Mystery Creek service park to complete the final super special stage. He dropped to 14th overall.

MotoGP rider Valentino Rossi has had a good day, steadily upping the pace in only his second FIA World Rally Championship event. Despite losing 30 seconds with a spin, the Italian has climbed into 13th position during a difficult day.

Team News:

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

Having finished the second day in fourth and fifth places respectively, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio have not given up on their hopes of making the podium in New Zealand. They have six more stages, comprising nearly 100 competitive kilometres, in which to do it.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: "I really enjoyed myself this morning, but my feeling in the afternoon was less good - especially in the Te Akau North stage that was difficult because it was very quick and very slippery. It's always hard to see a rival drive away from you when you have every intention to try and catch him. But our team boss Marc Van Dalen has said we are free to do what we want now, so we'll set off again tomorrow to try and reverse the trend. "

Dani Sordo/Marc: "I look upon today as a learning experience that has been very fruitful. Our weather crew did a very good job this morning. Marc Marti, my co-driver, says that in his opinion Te Akau North is the best stage on the whole World Championship. Personally I'm not so sure yet. The fast and undulating roads we found this afternoon have not been the easiest I have ever driven on, but I still enjoyed myself. So maybe next year I'll agree with Marc!"

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

Ford World Rally Team remained firmly in control of Rally New Zealand during today's rainswept second leg. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen, who have led since the opening kilometre yesterday, extended their lead over team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen to 50.3sec with just one day remaining of this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Both drivers are at the wheel of Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars. 

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: "This afternoon I had a few troubles with my windscreen wipers, which I had to keep switching on and off to get them to work. I'm happy with the way the day has gone and it's great to have Mikko up there at the top with me. I'm thinking about the finish and getting there without doing anything stupid but the Whaanga Coast stage is used twice tomorrow and that's long and difficult."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "This afternoon's stages were just fantastic. I had the perfect tyre choice and despite the rain I really enjoyed those flowing roads. I wish every stage I drove was like those two."

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 experienced an up-and-down day, although both drivers showed flashes of pace after overnight set-up changes took the performance of the cars in the right direction. Chris Atkinson was the star of the morning and set two fastest stage times, but on the first of the afternoon's tests he collided with a rock and was forced into retirement. Petter Solberg, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday, finished the leg in sixth, but some quick times in the afternoon moved him to within striking distance of fifth-placed Xavier Pons.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's been quite tough for us, with a few problems in the morning and tyre choices that didn't turn out to be the best for the variable conditions. There are some positives though, the car felt better to drive today - even without the right tyres - and as the roads were less twisty than yesterday the car worked better and we were able to be more competitive. But we still need more traction, that's the main thing. Tomorrow we'll try some new things and you can be sure that I'll push as hard as I can."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "We were trying to push on after some good fastest stage times this morning when an open wheel just caught a rock over a blind crest and took the tyre off. It was just one of those rallying incidents; I think everyone else would have hit it if they had been in my position - they were all swerving to avoid it when we were warning them. It wasn't our rally anyway, so I'm not going to get too disheartened. In fact, up to that point today things had been pretty encouraging; the car was working a lot better, we could push more and I was really enjoying myself, it's nice to be able to do that."

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

On the second day of Rally New Zealand the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team can rejoice with Manfred Stohl. The 34-year-old Austrian fought a duel with Citroen works driver Dani Sordo and finally overtook him on the ninth special stage. Thus the OMV driver lies in third place after eleven of 17 special stages. Henning Solberg was less lucky. The Norwegian overturned on the tenth special stage and thereby lost over 14 minutes. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Suddenly everything went smoothly. We were able to keep up a very high pace. But there is still a very tough day ahead. We definitely mustn't ease up on Sunday."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "It happened in a left turn," said Solberg. "We got too far on the outside and rolled down over an embankment. Since we ended up lying on the roof fans had to help us set the car right again. That took a long while."

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

Teenage rally hero Matthew Wilson turned in a consistent and quick performance in his Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team Focus RS WRC 06 on today's second leg of Rally New Zealand, the penultimate round of this season's FIA World Rally Championship. The 19-year-old rocketed back up the Rally New Zealand leaderboard during today's six stages north-west of the event's host city of Hamilton, after clipping a rock and damaging a water pipe on leg one. Wilson's team-mate Luis Perez Companc also had plenty to celebrate this evening. Despite a spin in the morning, Companc moved up one place on his overnight eighth, to claim a fantastic leg two seventh position - potentially his best result for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "We've been running first on the road this morning, which hasn't been too bad. In fact, I think it's possibly the best place to be. The surface has been really slippery, but the gravel has bound together quite well which has helped us. After losing the water from the engine yesterday, we are keeping an eye on the temperature - but everything seems fine. I had a half-spin at the end of the last stage this morning, which was annoying. I think the note was a bit too optimistic: we kept sliding wider and wider, eventually we stopped. This afternoon was good. Again, I really enjoyed the stages, they're mega fun. We lost the windscreen wipers just before the start of the last long stage, which was a pain. It was okay for most of the stage, but then it started to rain for the last eight kilometres, which wasn't much fun. It was tricky, there was so much water in the screen - I really couldn't see anything. I was listening to the notes and pushing where I knew it was a bit straighter."

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: "The weather wasn't so good this morning, it's been tough. The roads were really narrow and difficult, harder than yesterday. Everything was okay, though, through the first couple of stages, but then five kilometres into the last stage we slid wide and hit a rock with the right-rear wheel, which damaged the suspension. I couldn't get the car turned around, it was so narrow. I had to go back up the stage one corner before I could get it in the right direction again. Once I had managed that, I then had to stop so I could get my seat belts on again. It cost me quite a lot of time. After that problem, I just wanted to focus on getting to the finish through the afternoon. We picked up a couple of places and that's where I want to stay until the finish."

Final positions after the third day of the rally:

1 Grönholm / Rautiainen Ford Focus RS WRC 06 04:02:30.7 00.0
2 Hirvonen / Lehtinen Ford Focus RS WRC 06 04:03:26.7 +56.0
3 Stohl / Minor Peugeot 307 WRC 04:05:10.0 +02:39.3
4 Pons / Del barrio Citroen Xsara WRC 04:05:26.8 +02:56.1
5 Sordo / Marti Citroen Xsara WRC 04:05:51.4 +03:20.7
6 Solberg / Mills Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 04:07:27.8 +04:57.1
7 Perez companc / Maria volta Ford Focus RS WRC 06 04:13:22.3 +10:51.6
8 Latvala / Anttila Subaru Impreza WRX Spec C 04:18:53.1 +15:22.4
9 Hänninen / Sallinen Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9 04:20:00.9 +17:30.2
10 Mason / Randall Subaru Impreza WRX 04:22:50.7 +20:20.0

Driver's comments after Leg 3

Leg 3 News

The BP-Ford World Rally Team celebrated a double victory at the end of Rally New Zealand with an emphatic one-two on the podium and a world title. Finns Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen led from start to finish to claim victory, while team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen took their eighth podium position of the season by finishing second. Maximum points also assure Ford the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA), a title it has not won since 1979.

Today’s leg of the penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship took the crews over the closing six stages and, once again, overnight rain resulted in damp and tricky conditions. Marcus Grönholm continued to dominate, winning the first three stages to extend his lead to 55.5 seconds. After another stage victory, the Finn eased the pace over the final two stages to finish with a winning margin of 56 seconds. Like Grönholm, team-mate Mikko Hirvonen has driven faultlessly on a rally that was critical to BP-Ford’s title aspirations and he finished nearly two minutes ahead of his nearest rival.

Third position was taken by OMV Peugeot Norway driver Manfred Stohl. The Austrian had been in the thick of a battle with fourth-placed Daniel Sordo (Citroën Xsara WRC), but managed to extend his advantage to claim the position by 16.8 seconds. Team-mates Sordo and Xavier Pons have also been battling hard and, when Pons set two fastest times, he overhauled Sordo to take fourth position. Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza WRC) rounded off the top six.

Motor cycling's multiple World Champion Valentino Rossi finished 11th overall. The Italian suffered a couple of spins during the day, but overcame difficult conditions in only his second FIA World Rally Championship event.

Rally New Zealand was also the final and deciding round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah claimed the title with British co-driver Chris Patterson. The final round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship takes the crews to Wales Rally GB, which is based in Cardiff on 30 November - 3 December.

Team News:

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

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti have finished the final leg of the Rally New Zealand with no problems. The two Spanish Kronos Total Citroen crews end the event in fourth and fifth places respectively. In the absence of Sébastien Loeb, who went home after completing the recce of the new route, Xevi Pons was once more entrusted with the number one Citroen Xsara. Confirming his current form and impressive turn of speed, Xevi drove one of the best rallies of his career on roads that he loved. Having been slightly delayed by a spin on Friday, the Spaniard set two fastest times on Sunday that allowed him to move past his team mate.

Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: For the third time in succession, we’ve finished just off the podium, » said a delighted Xevi, having congratulated the entire team. « I think that we’re getting there now. I really like fast roads and we found them here : I had a lot of fun even though the surfaces were very slippery. These conditions prepared us well for the Rally Great Britain, and I hope to have the same success in Cardiff.

Dani Sordo/Marc: In New Zealand, Dani Sordo had to get to grips with a brand new rally for the fifth consecutive time. The reigning Junior World Rally Champion took particular care to do a good job on the recce. It worked : he had the satisfaction of seeing that his notes were correct during the actual rally. Dani occupied a provisional podium place on Friday night, having been encouragingly quick on stages that were new for everyone. But the Spaniard wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour, eventually dropping two places en route to a faultless finish on Sunday. « It was a difficult rally for me, and I imagine that is the case for any driver coming here for the first time, » he said. « I’m very happy to have got to the end without problems in quite a good position, and I’m very happy with the notes I made with my co-driver Marc Marti. I think we’ve done an excellent job with an eye to the future… »

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

The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car 06, which made its Championship debut just over a year ago in Australia, has continued its successful first year in competition by securing the FIA WRC Manufacturers' Championship 2006 for Ford. With a 25-point lead Ford has secured the Manufacturers' title even though there is still one final WRC round in this year’s competition – Rally GB, 30 November – 3 December. This is the first time that Ford has won the Manufacturers' Championship in 27 years and represents the pinnacle of achievement since Ford of Europe initiated its partnership with Malcolm Wilson and M-Sport in 1997. The entire Focus RS project was overseen by Christian Loriaux, M-Sport’s Technical Director.

“This Championship victory is the result of a tremendous team effort, and everyone at Ford is proud of what the car and the team have achieved this year,” said John Fleming, President and CEO of Ford of Europe. “To secure the manufacturers' title in our first year of running with an all-new WRC car is more than we had dared hope for, and I would like to pay tribute to everyone involved with the BP-Ford World Rally team.”

“Over the years, I believe the team has developed into one of the best squads in the Motorsport business,” said Jost Capito, Director of Ford TeamRS. “This victory means a great deal to the team, but it is also a huge reward to all of the Ford employees, Ford Motorsport fans and Ford performance vehicle enthusiasts worldwide who have given us amazing support at every event. The title would not have been won without the most significant members of the team delivering superb results over and over,” Capito said. “The BP-Ford World Rally Team pairings of Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen plus Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have driven with determination, perseverance and world class ability. We are very proud of them.”

BP-Ford World Rally Team Director Malcolm Wilson commented: “I’m over the moon with this result. As one of the world's leading drivers, Marcus Grönholm was expected to lead Ford's title challenge, and he has done so brilliantly. But few commentators at the start of the season would have expected to see Mikko Hirvonen develop as quickly as he has into one of the WRC’s leading drivers.”

BP-Ford World Rally Team today secured the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title after powering to a 1-2 finish in Rally New Zealand. Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen took their sixth victory of the season in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, finishing 56.0sec ahead of team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in a similar car. The maximum points haul means that with one round still remaining BP-Ford has built an unassailable 25-point lead. It is Ford's first manufacturers' title since 1979 and the squad's seventh victory of the season. Grönholm had already secured second in the drivers' series while Hirvonen's result means he is now assured of third. This was also Ford's 75th consecutive points scoring finish in the WRC, a record unrivalled in the sport's history and dating back to the opening round of the 2002 championship. Grönholm and Rautiainen led from Friday's opening kilometre. With no pressure from behind, the 38-year-old Finnish driver eased through today's final leg, comprising six stages and 95.48km near the coastal town of Raglan, to secure victory. He set a clean sweep of fastest times on the opening day by winning all five speed tests and increased his rally total to 13 with five more wins today.

Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: It's a great feeling to win the rally and secure the world title for Ford on the same day," said Grönholm. "When I joined the team I expected a high performance level from the Focus RS WRC because it was a new car and to experience the fantastic level of reliability that we have enjoyed during the season was a big bonus. This wasn't such a hard rally as the Focus RS has been absolutely perfect."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen, too, was under no pressure from behind today and took no risks on the slippery stages. He finished 1min 43.3sec ahead of his nearest challenger. "I'm thrilled to be part of a world title-winning team," said the 26-year-old Finn. "The whole season has been fantastic and I have secured third place in the drivers' series. But that stays in the background because to win the manufacturers' title is a huge achievement for me. I started my career in world rallying with Ford. Malcolm Wilson gave me the chance to prove myself at the beginning of my career and again this year, so it is even better to be here helping Ford to the title."

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’s focus for the final leg of Rally New Zealand was to get Petter Solberg to the end of the rally in a points-scoring position and gather data ahead of the final World Rally Championship round in Wales in two weeks’ time. Even though changeable weather made conditions difficult, Petter’s car ran reliably throughout the day and he consistently set top-five stage times on his way to a sixth-place finish.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I tried as hard as I could but I’ve simply not been able to challenge the fastest guys this weekend. Of course it’s very frustrating; I want to win rallies, and it’s not much fun when that isn’t possible, but I will keep positive and focus on improving the pace. We made some small improvements this weekend; we learned some more about the car and the tyres, and hopefully that will enable us to get a better result on the last round in Wales."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: Retired.

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

The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team can celebrate another great triumph. Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor reached the podium at the “Propecia Rally New Zealand”, just like they had three weeks ago in Australia. The OMV duo held the attacking Citroen works team at bay during the final day. After 17 special stages the Austrians were 16,8 seconds in front of Xavier Pons (Spa) in the World-Championship-car of Sebastien Loeb and more than 40 seconds ahead of rally shooting star Dani Sordo (Spa). During the last kilometres Henning Solberg was able to secure one manufacture WRC point for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Manfred Stohl has already been counted among the best rally drivers in the world prior to this weekend. But his third place at the Rally New Zealand has once more proven the prowess of the 34-year-old OMV driver. Following more than 350 special stage kilomtres under the toughest conditions he left the works drivers of Citroen and Subaru in his wake. It was the fifth podium place in the career of OMV duo Stohl/Minor, the third already this year. Stohl: “It is a very special experience. The more so since we beat very tough opponents and were able to confirm the success in Australia. The fight versus Pons and Sordo was a real challenge. Furthermore, the Rally New Zealand is one of my most favourite events. But we also had a lot of luck and, in the end, Jesus wanted us to make it.“ In the driver FIA World Rally Championship the OMV driver has now secured fifth place for good. 46 won points mean that he lies twelve points ahead of former World Champion Petter Solberg (Nor/Subaru). And fourth place is still within reach since he is only one point behind Dani Sordo. Stohl: “We will do our all to overtake Sordo in Wales. We like the rally and are under no pressure whatsoever.“

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Following his rollover on the second day, the aftereffects of which had cost over 16 minutes, Henning Solberg secured one point for the manufacture WRC by a spirited performance on the final day. The Norwegian OMV driver kept Brit Matthew Wilson (Ford Focus WRC) at bay despite brake problems. Solberg: “We had a lot of bad luck and the slip cost us a top result. But it is no use crying over lost driver points. Now we will thoroughly prepare for Wales and make good these points at the season’s finale.“ The 33-year-old Scandinavian still lies in seventh place in the driver World Championship with 25 points to his account.

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

Britain’s leading world rally star Matthew Wilson set a blistering pace through the final day of Rally New Zealand, one of the FIA World Rally Championship’s toughest events, near Hamilton today. Wilson continued to impress onlookers, demonstrating pace and maturity well beyond his 19 years, as he tamed some of the most difficult conditions in this year’s championship. Once again, the day was hit by frequent weather changes, making a tyre choice perilous for the two loops of three stages running on the Tasman coast. Wilson ended the event in 13th position having climbed back from 34th at the end of leg one. On his final outing with the team this season, Luis Perez Companc (Argentina) turned in a fantastic day, maintaining the pace he showed throughout this event to end the rally in a strong seventh position. The performance of both Wilson and Companc cements the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team’s fifth place in the manufacturers’ championship.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: “There was a big puddle on the inside of a right-hand corner in the third stage today. I got the wheel a little bit too far in, the water was a bit too deep and it spun us around. That wasn’t a problem at all, but the last 10 kilometres of that stage were awful – so slippery. It wasn’t gravel slippery, either, it was all mud, which made the going quite tough. Apart from that, I’ve been fairly happy with the way things have gone. Obviously, it wasn’t good news to hit the rock on the first day, I’m disappointed with that – it cost us the chance of points. We have, however, driven all the stages at a competitive speed. I’ve enjoyed these roads and the rally, the stages have been among the most enjoyable of the whole season. The time in SS13 earlier today was good for me, really the whole thing has been mega – particularly dad [Malcolm, M-Sport team principal] winning the manufacturers’ world championship – he deserves it more than anybody in the world.”

Luis Perez Companc/Jose-Maria Volta: “The rear dampers weren’t right in Whaanga Coast. I think the gas was starting to leak from them, they had lost their efficiency. This made the handling from the back of the car quite strange, it was hitting the bump stops a lot. It wasn’t so easy to drive this morning. This afternoon everything was fine – everything was great. I enjoyed the second run through the stages. They were slippery in some places, but all I wanted to do was get to the finish and take some points for the team. This has been great experience for me.”


FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
RALLY OF NEW ZEALAND
Media FIA Post-event Press Conference
19.11.2006

Present:
1st - Marcus Grönholm – BP-Ford World Rally Team
1st - Timo Rautiainen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Mikko Hirvonen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
2nd - Jarmo Lehtinen – BP-Ford World Rally Team
3rd - Manfred Stohl – OMV Peugeot Norway
3rd - Ilka Minor – OMV Peugeot Norway
Malcolm Wilson, Representative of the winning Manufacturer BP-Ford World Rally Team

Welcome to the final FIA press conference.

Q:
Malcolm, let’s start with you. It’s been a crucial victory as Ford now wins the Manufacturers’ Championship* for the first time in 27 years. There’s a lot to talk about, but maybe you could describe your feelings about this achievement and talk about what it means to you personally and to Ford? It’s been a long time coming; why has it taken until now to win the title, and what are the circumstances that have allowed you to do so?

MW:
I’ll try as long as I don’t get too emotional. This is a special moment for me and for Ford as well. I have been running the team for 10 years and been close on a few occasions but never delivered the ultimate prize. It’s been 27 years since Ford won a title. For me the whole of my life has been dedicated to Ford in one way and another and to be able to win the Manufacturers’ Championship is the biggest achievement for me and means more to me than anything else. When we won Acropolis in 1997 the feeling was better than anything I achieved as a driver, but to win the title for Ford - which has a wonderful heritage in the sport - is the icing on the cake. More importantly it takes time to get in a position to challenge for titles; 10 years is a long time but we have been building the infrastructure and resources to get to this position, now we are in a position where we can sustain it and we really look forward to the future and are confident we can go on from here next year and be in a position to win rallies. I would really like to say the drivers (have made the difference) but in all honesty the stress they have put me through on this rally, it is difficult to say that! But in all honesty I have to go back to the design of the car. We have a great team led by Christian Loriaux; unfortunately he is not here but everyone has played a part and they are all celebrating and linked back in the factory on a web cam. But really this year is about the drivers. It was a great moment for me to get Marcus to the team when it was going to be our development year. But when the chance came up we took it, although the negotiations were interesting! And then looking to the future we decided on Mikko. We had worked with him in 2003 so I had confidence in what he can deliver and we thought what a great opportunity for two Finns to work together and for Mikko to learn from Marcus. That is there for everybody to see. It is great the way they have worked as a team and they have played a big part in developing the car. We had a fantastic start in Monte Carlo and Sweden and then hit the problems we expected to hit, but the guys did a great job addressing those issues which has put us in the position we are in now.

Q:
Marcus, congratulations on your sixth win of the season. How difficult was this one for you Did you think that Mikko would challenge you at all? It was a very important win as it earned Ford the Manufacturers’ Championship. How much was this on your mind as you drove through the stages?

MG:
Maybe it looked easy but still we have to drive and go fast. The first day we were pushing normally and okay only a small gap to Mikko and he was not attacking so much because he wanted to take points for the Manufacturers’ Championship. After that we were looking and waiting for the finish. It was quite easy because we had no problems with the car. The Championship was always on my mind, because it is easy to make a mistake and then I would look stupid in front of Malcolm because we needed the points and I was thinking a lot of that.

Q:
Timo, congratulations on another win. How often was Malcolm on the radio to you during the rally? This one was in some ways a strange rally for you as you were a long way in front with no real battle; did it feel lonely at all? The second day of the rally was characterised by heavy rain, how difficult was it to drive then and control your advantage?

TR:
Not at all on the radio, only once after the final stage. We could see during service he (Malcolm Wilson) was not relaxed; the drivers and co-drivers were more relaxed than management during the rally. I think this is quite normal, I am happy for the team and their efforts over the last two years; this is great, they really deserve this - WE really deserve this. Like Marcus said, there is a fine difference between pushing like an idiot and pushing to be safe and secure. I am sure the photographers and fans on the stages could see we were not driving to be secure, apart from the last stage, but during the three days we were driving almost flat-out. Saturday morning was difficult; we know rain was coming but what stages and what time would it start? So we took harder compound tyres not to destroy them if it does not rain. Then it rains an hour before we go to the stages, some were muddy and slippy, but Marcus and Mikko could drive to the conditions and we managed without any problems.

Q:
Mikko, second place here and another podium after your win in Australia. Were you pushing as hard as you did in Australia? Do you think that you could have challenged Marcus for the win, or were you thinking about points for the Manufacturers’ Championship? You’ve not driven on this rally for a while, so how difficult was it to come here with no recent experience of New Zealand? You have played a vital role in securing the Manufacturers’ Championship for Ford; how does that make you feel?

MH:
It’s a little bit different to think about points all the time, but for sure on Friday - especially the second time through - I pushed hard and wanted to know if I can do the same speed as Marcus. But then again, thinking of the points all the time. You know when you have good rhythm you can take risks, so yes I did try, but he was the man and the fastest, I need to get faster and learn a bit more. The rally is in a new area and there are new stages for almost everyone, apart from Marcus who has been here every time since… how long (MG: 1975!), so he knows all stages. New Zealand is the same every time with flowing stages, so if pace notes are correct you can drive fast every time. The Championship feels very good. I started my world rally career in Ford in 2003; then I had a chance to show Malcolm my potential and again he signed me this year, so I am happy to help the team and win the title for Ford.

Q:
Congratulations Jarmo. Another excellent performance from yourself and Mikko on very difficult roads. How difficult was it to find the right pace over the three days of the event? You had Marcus quite a long way in front and Dani (Sordo) a fairly long way behind; did that make it difficult to keep your concentration?

JL:
Our approach was to find a nice steady rhythm and we did it from the first stage and it was easy from then to find a good rhythm. It was pretty easy, the only thing was Saturday morning when we had wrong tyres and the windscreen was misting up, but we were lucky nothing happened there.

Q:
Although you have good experience of New Zealand, the event has changed a lot recently so did you expect to finish on the podium? You had a bad tyre choice in the rain on the second morning; how much did that compromise your chances? How difficult was it to drive the car in those conditions?

MS:
The stages here are slower than in the north, but as Mikko mentioned before the stages are all nice here in New Zealand; wherever we go they find nice stages, they are all great and it is fantastic to drive here. Luckily I was not the only one to make a mistake (with the tyres). We expected the rain later and it comes and we go the hard tyre choice; it was a big mistake and I was angry because we make many, many mistakes on tyre choices this year so that is why I was unhappy on Saturday morning.

Q:
Congratulations on your second consecutive podium; did finishing third in Australia give you more confidence heading into this event? How difficult was it for you to be back in New Zealand on new stages? Was it tricky for you and Manfred to come up with the correct pace notes?

IM:
Manfred was quite relaxed in the car and pushing from the beginning; normally the first few stages are not good, he is sleeping a little bit! But in New Zealand he started from the beginning and I was feeling good in the car. The notes were good this time, we didn’t make so many amendments on the recce and it fitted well, and on the rally as well as normally we make changes during the stages, but not this time.

Q:
Marcus, now we head onto Wales Rally GB, a home event for Ford. Do you feel confident of ending the year with another win? You’ve won six rallies so far; would you describe this as one of your most successful seasons?

MG:
It is possible (to win), we were testing before I came here for four days in GB and it looks good. It is a difficult rally, it can be snow and ice and it is late now so it can be tricky. Yes, if you look at the statistics yes, I have won maybe five times before and now six, but still I am unhappy about Australia. That could have been better and we could still be fighting for the Drivers’ title, but otherwise a good season. I made a few mistakes this year and next year hopefully I can avoid them as we now have a very good and strong car and I am confident next year we can fight for the win on all rallies.

Q:
What do you think of some of the new stages Timo? The rally has changed a lot and do you feel that the move to Hamilton and the use of some different stages has been successful?

TR:
First of all I think it’s a good idea to centralise and have one service park instead of driving north and south; I prefer to keep the rally here instead of the north. Okay, we have long road sections here as well, but I think it’s good for everyone and the teams are happy logistics wise. The roads like everyone has said are nice, we cannot affect the weather it was what it was. But the stages are nice, some maybe too slow - Marcus and I prefer faster stages like SS9 and SS10 and I think many other drivers as well prefer these instead of the not so challenging slow left, slow right - it is not much fun.

Q:
Next we head for Wales Rally GB; what do you think about it? It’s been an amazing end to the year for you – first your win in Australia, the Manufacturers’ title in New Zealand – it must be difficult for you to imagine life getting better…

MH:
I have secured my own position in the Drivers’ Championship so I don’t have any pressure on in GB; I can do whatever I want! That is right, I’m not going to listen to Malcolm (Wilson) in GB, I think Malcolm will stay here and celebrate this win! Conditions in GB are those I need to learn the most, it will be a big challenge and I will go as fast as I can. For sure the dream is to be the fastest through three days in every rally; when I can do that then I am happy and can relax - but that is the final aim.

Q:
You and Mikko have shown some fantastic consistency in the second half of the season in particular; what do you think will be the next step for you? Do you think that there is any way in which you can improve further now?

JL:
We need to get a step closer to Marcus (Grönholm) and Seb (Loeb). We have been third fastest all year and now we need to get closer and closer and fight with them all three days and win some days; that is the target.

Q:
Manfred, last time you were here we asked if there was any news about your plans for next year. Are you any further forward with that? How pleased have you been with Peugeot and Bozian this season?

MS:
It’s the same situation, Brigitte (OMV sponsor) is not here but when I get home maybe there is a present, a new contract or something. I think the same position for next year; I am looking optimistic for it. I like very much the car, we had a good season and we make a lot of improvements in the car. The new Ford is fantastic, but I am happy with my car and whatever the future may bring.

Q:
Next you head to Rally GB; do you think that will be a good event for you and Manfred?

IM:
Normally it suits Manfred quite good, but with the weather conditions there is always fog so this is difficult for everyone.

Q:
Let’s leave the last word with you Malcolm. We’ll shortly be hearing from Richard Parry- Jones and Jost Capito, but do you have any final thoughts about how you will remember this day?

MW:
Obviously it really is a huge team effort and I think that is what I am proud about most; the commitment from everyone to get us in this position. But it is important as well to have every ingredient to get to this position. There has been mention of tyres on this event, lots of talk about wrong choices and we were in that position as well. But if you think about it, it is the only thing between the car and the road and we have a long and good relationship with BF Goodrich and I would like to thank them for their support and technical help over the years, and obviously it is great for them in their first year in the World Championship, as such. But for me it is just an incredible moment; we’ve been trying for 10 years, there’s been a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of people, and myself, but it is a fantastic feeling, one I will treasure forever and to do it for the Ford Motor Company, it gives me great pleasure to be sat here in that position.

FIA PRESS CONFERENCE FOR THE WINNER OF THE 2006 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP FOR MANUFACTURERS, BP-FORD WORLD RALLY TEAM
(* Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA)

Present:
Richard Parry-Jones - Global Vice-President for Product Development
Jost Capito - Director Ford Team RS

Q:
Richard, what does this result mean to people in Ford of Europe?

RP-J:
Well I think it is going to be really special because if you imagine the heritage that Ford has in motor sport, and how long it is since we won the World Rally Championship, the employees in Ford have been following the Championship closely and this will really resonate in the Europe team because it reaffirms and rewrites the next chapter in the history and the heritage of Ford motor sport, and I think it instils confidence and pride, not only in employees but in customers.

Q:
As the most senior engineer within Ford, what is your perspective on what the team has achieved here with the Focus World Rally Car?

RP-J:
I think above all it has been earned through a lot of hard work, professionalism, world- class technical competence and constancy of purpose. It is too easy to get disillusioned in this game because we have been tantalisingly close a number of times in the last 10 years, so to get it home is a fantastic achievement for the team and a measure of the integrity, constancy and consistency of going after the goal for a long time. I hate to use this pun but the team has been absolutely focused on this victory.

Q:
Now you have won the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers, and you must be comfortable with the car’s development, will you expect to win both titles next year?

RP-J:
Well, I think the car is in good shape, the drivers as we’ve seen and heard are well settled in the team and driving well so we have the ingredients in place. Of course you never expect anything because this is rallying, after all, but you certainly aim to win both the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ Championships so we have the ingredients in place but we must not be complacent. We know our competitors are working like hell to catch us up, so we have to keep pushing and there are plans in place to significantly improve the car for next season, which we will have to do to defend this title.

Q:
Jost, Ford has won the title for the first time since 1979. How do you feel getting this title a year ahead of schedule with the new car?

JC:
First, the feeling is absolutely fantastic and I think we can realise it tomorrow, not today. It is overwhelming; the emotions of the team, and everybody is congratulating us saying Ford deserves it and is happy, but I think we will realise this tomorrow. We had a four year plan from 2005-2008 and we worked hard on that and we did not change from that plan, but in our best dreams we didn’t think of winning the title this year before the middle of the season. But the team round Christian Loriaux did a great job of designing the car and getting the car out of the box in just nine months development to win rallies. We took this year as development, but the car was reliable and competitive straight out of the box so that put us in a position to win an unexpected title and everyone in the team, every individual, did a fantastic job and was focused and that led to the title.

Q:
Ford Motorsport activities are under your supervision. How do you see this achievement in the context of your motorsport career?

JC:
I have had some success before; winning the Paris-Dakar and Le Mans 24 Hours were great achievements, but winning an FIA World Championship that goes from January to December has to be focused and determined for 12 months of the year. This is something very special, so you can’t lose concentration and you have to work with a team all year and to think it is the highest you can be in motorsport and the pinnacle of the success you can get winning one of the FIA World Championships. I think it is absolutely fantastic and I am happy to do this with Ford Motor Company, one of the global players in the motor industry and also with this heritage of motor sport, to be part of it is outstanding and fantastic.

Q:
You mentioned other successes, how does this compare with those?

JC:
As I said, this is a whole Championship and it needs a push for the whole year. The others were fantastic as well and all different, and in different roles, but I think winning an FIA World Championship is the highest you can achieve in motor sport.

FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Present:
1st - Jari-Matti Latvala
1st - Miikka Anttila

Q:
Jari-Matti, congratulations on your second consecutive win after triumphing in Australia as well. You must be very pleased with your performance here, although it was a very tight battle with Mirco Baldacci – talk us through it. In which ways are these roads particularly challenging for a Group N car? How difficult is it to maintain the correct rhythm over these very tricky stages?

J-ML
It is a good feeling to be here. We had so many problems at the start of the year with technical problems, and I made mistakes, but we have been more clever at the end of the year; we had a good run in Australia and are glad to do the same here. Mirco was driving very fast and we had a good battle for two days over more than 200 kilometres, but then I got the time penalty on Saturday evening for speeding on Friday evening in the service area and after that I know that on Sunday we won’t be able to catch Mirco. But I go as fast as I can and see if Mirco makes a mistake. But unfortunately Mirco has problems with his car and after that we got the lead and held on to it to the finish and we are happy. The stages here are very nice, some of the best in the world, with lots of camber; it’s like dancing with the car. But sometimes it is hard in a Group N car when you don’t have the power and you have to go uphill and are turning corner after corner and also it might be under steering. You need a good rhythm and to think about braking points and get the right gear to get the good speed out of the corner, because without the power the car can easily die and getting speed back is difficult.

Q:
Unfortunately, your chances were compromised when you were given a one minute penalty for speeding in the service area. Did that affect your tactics? Do you think that you could have caught Mirco even without his problem?

MA:
In the morning when we started I was not confident, I thought it would be too much but we decided to go for it, as we know if we are half a second faster the whole day we can catch them.

Q:
The next rally in Great Britain will be a massive opportunity for you as you will be driving the 2006 specification Ford Focus WRC. How excited are you feeling, and what do you think you can do with this car?

J-ML:
It is a great opportunity for us with a very fast car - I think the best car you can get at the moment. What we want is to get the good speed and not make mistakes, and okay I would like to be in the top eight there, but at the moment it is difficult to know how fast the other cars are going because we have been competing with Group N cars and we have won two rallies but it is difficult to know what our speed will be in a World Rally Car. Maybe we will do little test before the rally to get confidence, and we need to do our own speed and see how fast others are going, then we can realise if we go fast and try to make the results better. It will be interesting to see.

Q:
Miikka, you’ve only done asphalt events in an older World Rally Car this year; how difficult will it be to adapt to gravel in the newer Focus World Rally Car?

MA:
I think it is another way around; this will be quite easy for a Finnish driver who is used to driving on gravel. Driving on Tarmac has been very challenging for us, but driving on gravel will not be a problem.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR:

Martin Holmes (Martin Holmes Rallying, UK)

Q:
A few years ago a guy who won Group N in Australia and New Zealand went on to become World Champion four years later. Do you think you will be World Champion in four years time?

J-ML:
You have a good question. You never know what will happen in the future, we are here and we go forward. Our target is to be one day in a manufacturer team, so the next step is to try to get victories in world rallies. But it is like a dream, you can imagine, but that is why we drive rallies, why we are here, that is our target.

FIA PRESS CONFERENCE FOR THE WINNER OF THE 2006 FIA PRODUCTION CAR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
(Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA)

Present:
Nasser Al-Attiyah
Chris Patterson

Q:
Nasser, congratulations on winning the FIA PWRC title. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for you today; describe what happened. How nerve-wracking was it for you to watch the final stages as a spectator, knowing that the title could be taken away from you at any moment?

NA:
We had a problem with the engine and it was a brand new engine, but immediately we stopped because we saw a lot of smoke and I thought it would be a fire in the car. But after we lose the pressure in the engine and it was a shame. I would like to finish and continue because we have a good strategy for this rally to be in the top five; this is important for us and the extra point for the Championship, but I am so happy now that we win the Championship and it is fantastic and a great thing. I have been at the last Olympics in Athens but never have I been like this situation here. Everybody thought I was here to relax, but when we retired I was very nervous; I couldn’t stand, walk and be relaxed. But I also feel sorry for Nutahara and Baldacci; we have a great season and I hope to come back next year.

Q:
Chris, congratulations. You and Nasser came into the Championship with a three-year plan and now it’s come good. In what ways have you seen Nasser develop as a driver over those three years?

CP:
Nasser was talented from the word go and in 2004 he was fast and talented and we have used those two years to gain experience. We were second in the Championship last year and really we came this year with a view to winning. Nasser’s driving has come on with experience, these rallies are difficult and you need to use your head a lot, and that has come on and it has been really good. He is an ultimate professional sportsman and for me it’s a privilege to co-drive and watch from the co-drivers seat. He is a professional, not only in rallying but in the Olympics and Asian Games as well.

Q:
How difficult was this event for you, even without the Championship battle? I think the second leg was actually the first time you had ever driven a rally car in heavy rain; it’s certainly a very different environment from Qatar!

NA:
Yes actually when we saw Nutahara retired and doing Super Rally we relaxed a little, but I was really afraid and scared for leg 3 because the feeling was not good, and then we have the problem. But it is good we win the Championship.

Q:
Chris, how difficult was it for you to judge the pace here? You obviously wanted to do well, but also keep an eye on Fumio Nutahara’s times. Do you think you judged that balance correctly? Were you tempted to try and push harder?

CP:
It was difficult, which was a great shame as it would have been fantastic to come here and have a great race. Congratulations to Jari-Matti and Miikka because it has been a fantastic race and we would love to have been in the middle of that battle. But the Championship to us was more important and to pace ourselves the whole way through. On the first day we struggled to find the pace, but on the second day we found some rhythm and it was easier. But it was difficult to go too slow without crashing and not go too fast without crashing; it’s a fine line. We found it halfway through Friday and stuck to that, but unfortunately our engine went today.

Q:
Finally Nasser, what are your plans for next year? Do you think that winning this Championship will open a few doors for you? Is your plan to defend your FIA PWRC title, or would you prefer to step up to a World Rally Car?

NA:
I would like to defend this title and come back next year, but we have a meeting next week and we will see what my sponsor and the Federation plans, because I signed for five years with the Federation and if they want to do the PWRC I am ready, but if they want to move to WRC I am ready too. But I would like next year to do the PWRC because I have great fun and a great season with all my driver friends and it is fantastic to come here and be with all the drivers and gain that experience.