Saturday, May 27, 2006

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah wins Jordan Rally

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Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson extended their overall advantage in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship to 16 points, after taking a start to finish victory in the Jordan Rally, an official WRC candidate event held under the patronage of HRH Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, Chairman of Jordan Motorsport.

Al-Attiyah was fastest on 13 of the 17 timed special stages on the Dead Sea-based event and eventually finished 4m 13.8s ahead of second-placed Dubai driver Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum and co-driver Wael Marjan, who duly moved up to second place in the regional series.

"This was a very difficult and specialised event and I am so happy to win again," said Al-Attiyah. "We were trying a different suspension set-up today. I had more confidence with it and the car was more stable, but we took no risks. The event has made massive progress in the last 12 months and I am convinced that it could easily become a round of the WRC."

Jordanian Amjad Farrah and former championship-winning co-driver Khaled Zakaria completed the podium positions with third overall and the honour of being the highest-placed Jordanian crew on what has been labelled as the most important event in the 23-year history of the FIA Middle East Championship.

Farrah ­ the winner of the Jordan Rally in 2004 - was understandably jubilant to reach the podium after a season of mixed fortunes. "I am
delighted with this result and feel confident now for the rest of the season with the improvements we have made," said Farrah. "I knew that I was too far behind the leading two this morning, but we had a scare at the end of the first Rumman stage. The brakes were overheating and we got to the end of the stage and both tyres exploded. Luckily we carry two spares!"

Sharjah's Abdullah Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Steve Lancaster finished fourth overall in their new Subaru Impreza, despite overheating brakes. Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri was fifth and Lebanon's Michel Saleh completed the top six.


"I am extremely proud of the efforts of the entire organising team this week towards our goal of bringing the WRC to Jordan," said HRH Prince Feisal Al-Hussain, Chairman of Jordan Motorsport. "One year ago we set out our goals and we have fulfilled many of our objectives and put into place many of the requirements of our friends at the FIA. But we know there is work still to be done and we will do whatever it takes to bring the FIA World Rally Championship to Jordan. That ongoing work starts tomorrow."

Unseasonably hot weather, which had been caused by hot desert winds from Saudi Arabia, abated on the second Leg and teams were able to benefit from slightly cooler temperatures for the remaining seven special stages.

Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi had begun his climb back from 20th position and began the day in 15th place, although it was business as usual at the head of the field through the opening 16.76 kms of Kafrein, with Al-Attiyah controlling the pace. Al-Qassimi had been reseeded at two and was fastest in SS12, but the overnight top four held station on the opening three stages.

Over the sinuous roads at Rumman, Al-Attiyah extended his overall advantage over Al-Maktoum to 3m 16.8s. The remainder of the leaders were spread out, although David Scialom and Ahmed Al-Sabban were involved in a close fight for eighth overall.

Jordan's Faris Bustami began the day in fifth place, but lost five minutes in the Rumman stage and slipped to seventh behind Al-Marri and Saleh. "I was doing fine after the first couple of stages this morning, trying to catch Abdullah and pull away from Misfer," moaned Bustami. "I know the Rumman stage very well and decided to push. But I made a silly mistake on a medium left. I tried to cut, but we hit a rock on the inside and it flipped the car on to its right-side. We lost about a minute on the stage after that, but around four more trying to get the car back on to its wheels, because there were no spectators around to help."

Al-Attiyah extended his lead on the repeat loop of three stages. His advantage was 3m 29s after Kafrein, 3m 36s after Wadi Shueib and 3m 56s after the final Rumman stage. The organisers cancelled the final Dead Sea special and the 15.27 kms of Shuna were all that stood between Al-Attiyah and a fourth successive win of the year. He duly set the fastest time on the final stage to close out an emphatic win.

Twenty-two of the original 28 cars started the second Leg, with 12 benefiting from the SupeRally ruling. There were 19 finishers ­ Jordan's Ala' Khalifeh was declared OTL with a fistful of time penalties and suspension and axle breakages put Abed Al-Adham and Mohammed Jume out of the rally.

Jordan's Bashar Bustami was not able to restart this morning. "We were running well," said Bustami. "Then I spun at a tight part of the 10th stage and could not restart the engine until we were pushed. We made it to the stage finish, but it was too late."

While competitors in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship now switch their attention to the fifth round of the series in Lebanon at the end of June, Jordan Motorsport officials will be working behind the scenes to bolster their bid for inclusion in the WRC. A decision is expected at the FIA World Council meeting in early July.

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Alister McRae wins Zulu Rally in an Evo 8

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Alister McRae

Alister McRae co-driven by Gordon Noble driving a Jardine Lloyd Thompson supported Mitsubishi Evo 8 dominated the Zulu Rally which finished in Durban, South Africa this afternoon. The two day event offered 229 kms of special stages in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

The former British Rally Champion set fastest times on five of the twelve special stages. "It was a good fight against the S2000"s cars and unlucky for Serge Damseaux in the Toyota S2000 who was trying to make up time and went off the road on the penultimate stage, retiring from the rally. The event was well organised and the sun was shining. The S2000's were not as good as I thought they would be. Looking at how quick the car has been in the Italian Rally Championship I was expecting them to be quicker. I was going to test Serge's car on Monday morning, not sure if that will happen now but I certainly hope I get the opportunity to drive one of the 2000's before I head home. The roads have been very good they certainly make a driver work. The last 10kms of the last stage was cancelled which I am pleased about as the roads were very rough and it would have been easy to damage the cars. World Championship rallies are now sprint events and just because the rally is in Africa you don't need Safari type roads,"said Alister McRae after scoring his second international rally win of the year.

Neil Allport, former New Zealand Rally Champion who built and prepared the Mitsubishi Evo 8 which Alister drove was a very happy man after the stress of the days leading up to the rally. With a big smile on his face he recalled, ""The car was due to arrive in Durban on 11th May and when I arrived in the City on 18th May I was told that the boat from Auckland to Singapore had broken down. I was then given daily predicitions that the boat would arrive the following morning. The boat docked the Wednesday afternoon prior to the rally and we tested Alister's car two hours before scrutineering. Fortunately he was happy with the car.

I brought the Team from New Zealand and to win a rally in Africa with one of the most famous names in rallying will stay with us Kiwis for a long time."

Alister returns to China in July where he leads the Chinese Rally Championship.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Toni Gardemeister drives again

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Toni Gardemeister has driven a sporadic season. The Finn has competed just once this season, in the opening round of Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo where he secured third overall in a Peugeot 307 backed by Astra Racing.

This has not stopped Toni from moving forward with his 2006 programme, as he test-drove his third World Rally Car in as many events this week in Bourgogne [France] - the Citroen Xsara.

"I'm impressed by the potential of the car and I have got immediately a very good feeling thanks to its fantastic handling and the suspension which allowed me to push hard and go flat out also where it was very rough," the former Ford driver stated after testing.

Astra Racing's Luca Pregliasco added: "The Xsara seems easy to drive and Toni found the limit at his first run. It's a very good car and it has proven reliability is important to help us to achieve a good result. This year the stages are new for all drivers and the experience of Toni will play an important role to manage the stages of one of the most difficult rallies of the WRC."

Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team plans three-pronged Moroccan challenge

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  • Peterhansel, Masuoka and Roma set for Morocco showdown
  • Mitsubishi aims to avenge last year’s defeat in crucial African event
  • Orpi Rally of Morocco, May 31st-June 6th, 2006
  • 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, round four

PONT-DE-VAUX (France) – The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team will send three Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions to next week’s Orpi Rally of Morocco, round three of the 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, which starts in Erfoud on Wednesday, May 31st.

The French duo of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret will be joined by Spaniard Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne and Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon in MPR12 versions of the Japanese manufacturer’s all-conquering off-road vehicles. Team drivers Luc Alphand and Peterhansel have already won this year’s Dakar, Patagonia-Atacama and Tunisia rallies.

“We know the area around Erfoud very well,” said Peterhansel, who led until the final stage in Morocco last year and was the winner of the rally in 2004. “For the last three years Mitsubishi has used the region for its summer and autumn testing and development programs. As we head south the stages around Ouarzazate are likely to be more difficult and I know from past experience that punctures can be a major risk on the big rocks and sharp stones.

“I am pleased that Cyril Neveu and his organising team have decided to use this part of the country after two years starting in Agadir and using stages in the south. Cyril deserves credit for always coming up with a new and innovative route where possible. At Mitsubishi we know that it will not be easy to win in Morocco this year. Our rivals have closed the gap and it is no longer possible to play a waiting game and plan your attack on a given day. To win in Morocco this year we will all need to be competitive from the start of the very first stage.”

Team mate Masuoka needs a good result in Morocco to maintain his confidence. “The Moroccan stages of this year’s Dakar Rally were the closest of the entire race,” said Masuoka. “I was forced to retire from the event there, but we know that are rivals are very competitive on these stages and this event will be important to us to assess our improvement and the progress of our rivals.”

Spaniard ‘Nani’ Roma came within a few kilometers of recording his second victory for the Mitsubishi team earlier this month on the Transiberico Rally. Roma is probably the most improved driver in the championship and has belied his relative lack of experience of rallying on four-wheels. Bearing in mind he only switched from motorcycles to cars at the end of 2004, Roma will be one of the favourites for a podium finish in Morocco.

This year’s Orpi Rally of Morocco will see the Mitsubishi Ralliart Team come face-to-face with a pair of Volkswagen Race Touaregs, driven by Carlos Sainz and 2003 event winner Giniel de Villiers. Former winner Jean-Louis Schlesser is also entered in a Ford-engined Buggy and former Mitsubishi driver Carlos Sousa makes his first appearance in a Phoenix Sport VW.

After scrutineering in the eastern town of Erfoud on Tuesday, May 30th, the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team will embark upon the opening 310 km loop stage around Erfoud on Wednesday, May 31st. The second 475 kms leg takes teams from Erfoud to Ain Beni Mathar and the third 479 kms leg returns to Erfoud.

The route then heads in a southerly direction towards the town of Zagora and on to the popular tourist city of Ouarzazate on Sunday, June 4th. The sixth and final stage of the event is a 311 kms loop around Ouarzazate, with the event drawing to a conclusion on Monday, June 5th.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jordan Rally Preview

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Jordan Rally, the fourth round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, will play host to an international crowd of drivers and officials as the next FIA World Rally Championship candidate event is set to take place this weekend in Amman. The number of represented countries will be nine: United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Ireland and Lebanon.

Leading the field will be Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, who has captured victory in each of the previous FIA Middle East Rally Championship rounds. Attiyah will be paired with co-driver Chris Patterson.

His nearest rivals are Qatar team-mate Misfer Al-Marri and Dubai's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum. Both drivers will drive to reduce the gap Attiyah has created in the previous rounds, but the task will be difficult. Attiyah recently won the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship class in Argentina just last month along with his three consecutive victories in the Middle East Championship.

"The stages are very smooth, quite fast and potentially very difficult," said Al-Marri. "They can be slippery and there is no margin for error. If you make a mistake here, then you could be in big trouble."

The rally is not only important to the drivers seeking a championship title, Jordan Rally is also playing host to the FIA in an attempt to join the 2007 WRC calendar. "No event in the Middle East region has ever been a part of the FIA World Rally Championship, so we know that the stakes are huge and the prize is within reach," said Ziad Louza, Clerk of the Course of this year's event. "We have received very favourable feedback so far and our entire team is relishing the prospect of a busy and very exciting few days. We started out on this long road back in 1982 when the event was rated nationally by the FIA and then we joined the regional championship one year later."

With the amount of candidate events vying for a spot in the top level of the sport, Jordan Rally hopes to showcase 18 timed special stages in the Dead Sea and Rumman areas of Jordan to the west of Amman. Several of these stages are completely new and others have been rebuilt, regraded and finely-honed to the exacting requirements of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Mitsubishi plans WRC comeback in 2008 with Evo X based car

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Isao Torii

After months of worry about the future of the Mitsubishi World Rally Championship team following the head office decision prematurely to end their world championship programme, MMSP Chief Isao Torii has explained the company's thoughts about the future. "Future rally competition plans will be based on the new Lancer Evolution X model, which will first be promoted in America, then elsewhere. "We are thinking about 2008, because by then the Lancer X will have been produced in the necessary 25,000 examples which will allow us to consider other projects, such as a future World Rally Car. No decision beyond the development of Group N cars has been made, except that should a future WRCar be considered, it will be based visually close to the production Evo X design."

Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05

Mitsubishi is studying the Super 2000 developments but have no plans to design a car for this formula. "For us, competition is still centred on Group N designs, which will be financially more acceptable to customers than Super 2000 designs."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sohlberg is Pirelli and Subaru's best

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Coming into the Rally d'Italia Sardegna Kristian Sohlberg* and the Team Red Devil Atolye Kazaz were only dreaming of a top ten finish. But the results are better than their dreams. Solhberg ended the rally in sixth outright, the highest placed Subaru and the highest placed Pirelli-shod driver.

Sohlberg drove a Subaru Impreza S11 (2005 spec) that was formerly Petter Solberg's Wales Rally GB winning car. Driving it for the first time, Sohlberg ended the event higher than the car's previous owner.

Sohlberg was very happy with the result and said he was looking forward to his next event the Neste Oil Rally Finland.

*Kristian Sohlberg is in no way related to Petter Solberg

Daniel Elena is the most successful WRC co-driver of all time

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Daniel Elena

Daniel Elena and Sebastien Loeb are used to winning rallies but this one is even more significant. It gives co-driver Daniel Elena a record 25 wins in the FIA World Rally Championship, making him the most successful co-driver of all time.

Winning this rally allows Elena to overtake Luis Moya in the co-driver ratings. "I am very happy," said Elena. "I am sorry for Luis. I dedicate this win to my daughter, my family. It's very good day. I hope for many more victories to come."

If Loeb takes two more rally wins then he will join Elena's high and become the driver with the most WRC victories.

Rally d'Italia Sardegna Leg 3 Report

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Rally d'Italia Sardegna - Leg three
21 May 2006

SS13: 0750 S. Giacomo 1 (13.46km)
After leaving Olbia parc fermé crews headed north for the sandy, narrow S. Giacomo stage, which featured a watersplash 11.5km from the start. Subaru’s Petter Solberg started the morning in the best possible way with the first stage win, just under a second quicker than overnight leader Sébastien Loeb. Petter’s time moved him to one second of seventh position overall. Team-mate Chris Atkinson also started well with fourth best time to consolidate fifth position. Skoda’s Harri Rovanpera broke a differential through the pass and lost over one minute, while François Duval stalled his engine on the startline and took over 10secs to get it restarted.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 10:09.3

Sebastien Loeb wins again, Daniel Elena sets record wins

SS14: 0841 La Prugnola 1(9.59km)
Chris Atkinson demonstrated the pace of the Subaru Impreza WRC2006 as he secured his first stage win of the 2006 season. The Australian had an excellent drive through the 9.5km La Prugnola speed test to finish over four seconds faster than reigning world champion Loeb. Chris’ Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg also had a successful stage as he vaulted into seventh ahead of Finn Kristian Sohlberg. Second overall Mikko Hirvonen set the third fastest time through the shortest stage of the rally, however his effort was over a second slower than Loeb and the Frenchman extended his lead to over two minutes 20secs with four stages left to run.
Fastest Time: Atkinson (Subaru) 4:46.0

Dani Sordo, 3rd place, first podium

SS15: 0920 Campovaglio 1 (15.92km)
The final stage of the morning’s loop of stages was Campovaglio, located to the north west of Olbia. The stage had never been used in the rally and ran through the middle of a quarry. Dust was kicked up by the first cars and many drivers, including Hirvonen and Solberg, reported massively reduced visibility. Loeb posted his first stage win of the day, with Subaru duo Atkinson and Solberg continuing their promising morning performance with the second and third fastest times respectively. Petter closed the gap to sixth-placed Jussi Valimaki by more than 10secs to just under 25secs.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:53.4

Jussi VÄLIMÄKI, 5th place, 4 points

SS16: 1051 La Prugnola 2 (9.59km)
After a 15 minute regroup in the town of Arzachena, the field headed back north for a further run through the morning's three stages. Petter Solberg started the second loop as he had the first – with a stage win. Crucially, Petter’s time closed him to within 18secs of Valimaki in sixth overall. In a very closely matched battle, the top three stage finishers recorded times within half a second of each other. Hirvonen and Atkinson were second and third respectively, with Loeb recording the fourth quickest time and Duval rounding off the top five.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 4:50.5

SS17: 1128 Campovaglio 2 (15.92km)
Petter Solberg’s hunt for sixth place continued in the penultimate stage of Rally d’Italia Sardegna. The Norwegian carved a further seven seconds from Valimaki’s advantage with the second quickest time through Campovaglio and the gap between the pair closed to 10.7secs. Loeb was fastest through the dusty 15km speed test to extend his lead of the rally to nearly three minutes from Mikko Hirvonen. Subaru’s Australian driver Atkinson was again third quickest, with Sordo fourth and Kopecky fifth. The result was the Czech driver’s highest finish of the rally.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:40.1

SS18: 1235 S.Giacomo 2 (13.46km)
Jan Kopecky scored his first-ever win on the last stage of the 2006 Rally d’Italia Sardegna. Subaru’s Petter Solberg collected a bent steering arm in the first half of the stage, but pressed on at a safe speed for the remainder of the pass. He lost over three minutes to Kopecky and dropped to ninth overall. Team-mate Chris Atkinson went off the road midway through the speed test after he was distracted by dust in the cockpit of his car and missed his braking point for a corner. The impact damaged his Impreza’s front-left suspension and Atkinson stopped by the side of the road. Under FIA regulations, the Australian was awarded a five minute penalty for failing to finish the stage and fell to tenth overall. Sébastien Loeb secured his fifth consecutive win of 2006 with the result making co-driver Daniel Elena the most successful co-driver in history with 25 WRC victories. Hirvonen finished second overall with Sordo in third, the Spaniard’s first-ever gravel podium.
Fastest Time: Kopecky (Skoda) 10:09.2

Final Result - Rally d'Italia Sardegna
Driver Vehicle
Diff Ldr
Diff Prev
1 LOEB CITROEN 03:54:18.9

2 HIRVONEN FORD 03:57:00.3 02:41.4 02:41.4
3 SORDO CITROEN 03:57:46.6 03:27.7 46.3
4 PONS CITROEN 03:59:47.2 05:28.3 02:00.6
5 VÄLIMÄKI MITSUBISHI 04:01:27.7 07:08.8 01:40.5
6 SOHLBERG SUBARU 04:01:55.8 07:36.9 28.1
7 STOHL PEUGEOT 04:02:37.3 08:18.4 41.5
8 DUVAL SKODA 04:04:04.7 09:45.8 01:27.4

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rally d'Italia Sardegna Leg 2 Report

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Rally d'Italia Sardegna - Leg two
20 May 2006

75 of the original 79 crews started Leg two. 28 of those were competing under FIA restart regulations.

Leg two featured a further two loops of three stages to the south of Olbia. The route was a combination of stages used in 2004 and 2005 and covered 137.96 competitive kilometres.

Temperatures ranged from 18ºC to 33ºC. No rain fell.

Gronholm, H. Solberg, Katajamaki, Galli

SWRT summary
Chris Atkinson continues to lead the Subaru World Rally Team’s challenge on the second day of Rally d’Italia Sardegna. With six more stages to run tomorrow Chris holds fifth place overnight. After retiring from the first day of the competition, Petter Solberg restarted with the primary objective of testing set-ups for the forthcoming gravel rallies. The Norwegian demonstrated the performance potential of the Subaru Impreza WRC2006 by setting four top three stage times and winning SS10 outright.

SS7: 0930 Loelle 1 (25.20km)
The narrow 25km Loelle pass south west of Olbia opened Leg two of Rally d’Italia Sardegna. Overnight leader Marcus Gronholm consolidated his advantage by collecting the first win of the day, just over a second quicker than Sébastien Loeb. Subaru’s Petter Solberg, who had restarted after his retirement on Leg one, posted the third best time, over 11secs quicker than next fastest Mikko Hirvonen. Italian Gigi Galli was fifth quickest to jump into fifth overall ahead of young Spaniard Dani Sordo. Skoda driver Harri Rovanpera restarted following his Leg one retirement.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 15:30.8

Jussi Välimäki - Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05

SS8: 1028 Monte Lerno 1 (31.20km)

The longest stage of the rally provided a dramatic twist as rally leader Marcus Gronholm hit a rock 23km from the start, lost engine oil pressure and retired. Loeb inherited the lead, despite hitting exactly the same rock as Gronholm. Several other drivers also experienced problems through the pass, including Kosti Katajamaki, who hit a stone halfway through and Dani Sordo who reported four punctured tyres. The second test of the Leg included a spectacular jump 21km from the start which launched cars metres into the air. Subaru’s Chris Atkinson was one of the highest fliers but a violent nose heavy landing crushed the front end and air-intake of his Impreza. He continued with reduced engine power for the rest of the stage and lost 39secs to stage winner Loeb.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 20:32.8

Gianluigi "Gigi" Galli - Pirelli Peugeot 307 WRC

SS9: 1113 Su Filigosu 1 (12.28km)

Chris Atkinson and co-driver Glenn Macneall made repairs on the road section to SS9 and unblocked their car’s front end. The Australian duo went on to finish the stage in the sixth quickest time, 13secs from stage winner Loeb. Second overall Hirvonen hit a bank close to the end of the speed test and damaged his right rear suspension, while Henning Solberg retired 300m when he ran into a tree. Henning’s retirement allowed Galli into third and Sordo into fourth. Petter Solberg continued his objective of testing set-ups for forthcoming rallies and had a clean run through the pass to record the third quickest time.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:17.8

SS10: 1440 Loelle 2 (25.20km)
After a 30 minute service halt in Olbia crews headed south for a repeat of the three morning stages. Petter Solberg had an excellent start to the afternoon as he recorded his first win of the event with a time over 17secs quicker than his earlier run. Team-mate Chris Atkinson however collected two minutes 20secs of penalty time as he checked out of the midday service 14 minutes late. Subaru technicians had worked hard on his car to repair the front end damaged in SS8. In the process, several critical steering components were replaced and the crew used more than their allotted 30 minutes to make sure the car was absolutely safe before it left. Chris dropped to eighth as a result of the delay. Gigi Galli was second fastest through the stage to hold onto third position from Sordo while rally leader Loeb was fourth to extend his advantage over Hirvonen to nearly two minutes. Finnish driver Kosti Katajamaki’s difficult rally came to a premature end when he rolled his Ford Focus early in the stage and retired.
Fastest Time: Solberg (Subaru) 15:22.3

SS11: 1538 Monte Lerno 2 (31.20km)
Reigning world champion Sébastien Loeb took his third stage win of the day through the Monte Lerno test. Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo was second fastest, crucially six seconds quicker than Galli in the fight for the final podium position. The Spaniard’s time closed the gap to under a second. Subaru’s Chris Atkinson began to climb back up the leaderboard after his earlier delays and moved into seventh overall after setting the fifth quickest time.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 20:12.7

SS12: 1623 Su Filigosu 2 (12.28km)
Leg two concluded with the narrow, tree-lined Su Filigosu speed test. There were two changes in the top ten as Sordo finally took third position with the third fastest time and Atkinson moved into sixth. Chris’ Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg completed a consistent afternoon performance with the fourth quickest time. Loeb extended his lead to two minutes 17secs with one day of competition remaining. There was disappointment for Gigi Galli after the end of the stage. The Italian stopped by the side of the road when his Peugeot lost all its oil and the radiator lost water. Unable to make it back to service, Galli retired from the Leg.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 8:06.1

Overall Leaderboard after Leg 2

Pos. Driver Vehicle Time
1 Loeb / Elena CITROEN Xsara WRC 03:02:26.0
2 Hirvonen / Lehtinen FORD Focus RS WRC +02:17.0
3 Sordo / Marti CITROEN Xsara WRC +02:56.0
4 Pons / Del barrio CITROEN Xsara WRC +04:27.1
5 Atkinson / Macneall SUBARU Impreza WRC +05:56.7
6 Välimäki / Kalliolepo MITSUBISHI Lancer WRC +06:01.6
7 Sohlberg / Tuominen SUBARU Impreza WRC +06:29.1
8 Solberg / Mills SUBARU Impreza WRC +06:57.8
9 Stohl / Minor PEUGEOT 307 WRC +07:12.3
10 Duval / Pivato SKODA Fabia WRC +08.20.7

Friday, May 19, 2006

Rally d'Italia Sardegna Leg 1 Report

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Event Bulletin
Rally d'Italia Sardegna - Leg one

19 May 2006

(Photo by Massimo Bettiol)

SS1: 0846 Terranova 1 (24.10km)

The Subaru World Rally Team had a strong start to the 2006 Rally d’Italia Sardegna as Chris Atkinson stormed through the first stage in the second fastest time. Atkinson’s team-mate Solberg finished fourth despite losing time with a spin. The Norwegian had difficulty turning the car round on the narrow road and lost 18secs to stage winner Marcus Gronholm. Several drivers reported a very loose, slippery surface and had problems, including Gigi Galli and Matthew Wilson. The Italian spun five corners from the start, while the young British driver picked up extensive rear suspension damage when he hit a rock one kilometre into the stage. Wilson had started the event with a one minute penalty after his team changed his Focus’ engine before Thursday’s shakedown.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 17:06.9

Gianluigi GALLI/Giovanni BERNACCHINI/Privateer Pirelli-Peugeot
(Photo by Massimo Bettiol)

SS2: 0958 Onani 1 (18.47km)

The second test of Leg one started with a long, fast downhill section that pushed brakes and tyres to their limits as crews descended via tight bends. Also featuring a 1.1km asphalt section, Onani was one of the fastest stages of the event with crews reaching an average speed of more than 90kph. Gronholm extended his overall lead to 20 seconds with his second consecutive stage victory, while Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was second quickest. Hirvonen’s time moved him ahead of Chris Atkinson into second overall. After a slow start to the day, Sébastien Loeb recorded the fifth fastest time and moved ahead of Petter into fourth overall, just 0.5secs from Atkinson in third. Kosti Katajamaki fell from 11th to 14th position when his Focus developed throttle and brake problems, while Wilson fell down the order as he lost nearly six minutes to Gronholm as a result of his suspension damage.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 12:46.0

(Photo by Massimo Bettiol)

SS3: 1110 Siniscola 1 (22.25km)

Gronholm hit a gate in the early part of the test although still retained the lead of the rally with a third stage win. Henning Solberg was second fastest and moved up two places into fifth, while reigning world champion Loeb was third to vault Atkinson into third overall. The Frenchman finished the morning’s loop of stages just 0.3secs shy of second-placed Hirvonen, who had reported reduced engine power as a result of dust in the air intake. With a road temperature of 34 C, Subaru’s Solberg held onto fourth overall but felt his tyre choice was too soft for the conditions. The Norwegian also collected some minor suspension damage after a collision with a rock on the racing line.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 17:29.3

(Photo by Massimo Bettiol)

SS4: 1436 Terranova 2 (24.10km)

After a 30 minute service halt in Olbia, crews headed south for a repeat of the three morning stages. Loeb made amends for his slow start with his first win of the day and leapfrogged Hirvonen into second. Gronholm however retained the overall lead by 39secs with the second fastest time. Petter and brother Henning were evenly matched through the sandy 24.2km pass as they finished just 0.4secs apart. Henning edged closer to Petter in fourth, but both drivers had their share of problems. Henning ran off the road on a short stretch of asphalt while Petter picked up two punctures on the rocky surface. Matthew Wilson’s difficult rally continued as he was nearly four minutes slower than Loeb. His team had repaired the Ford’s suspension in service however he suffered a suspected ECU problem through the first speed test of the afternoon.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:32.4

Daniel SORDO/Marc MARTI/Privateer Citroen
(Photo by Massimo Bettiol)

SS5: 1548 Onani 2 (18.47km)

Loeb carved a further four seconds into Gronholm’s lead as he took his second stage win of the day through the repeat of the Onani speed test. After the end of the previous stage Petter Solberg changed one of his two punctured tyres but picked up another puncture through SS5 and lost 48secs to Loeb. The delay allowed brother Henning into fourth and team-mate Chris Atkinson into fifth overall. After reporting he was not completely satisfied with the handling of his Peugeot in the morning’s loop of stages, Manfred Stohl recorded his best stage finish of the day in fifth.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 12:27.4

Jussi VÄLIMÄKI/Jarkko KALLIOLEPO/Privateer Mitsubishi Motors
(Photo by

SS6: 1715 Siniscola 2 (22.25km)

In a disappointing turn of events for Subaru, Petter Solberg retired on the final stage of the Leg. The Norwegian started the test on two punctured rear tyres but by the 14km point the tyres were so badly damaged he pulled off the road. Petter will restart Leg two with a five minute penalty. Henning Solberg was delayed when he stalled the engine and lost 15secs as he tried to restart. He finished the Leg in fourth with a 20secs advantage over Dani Sordo, who had inherited fifth following Petter’s retirement. Marcus Gronholm won his fourth stage of the day to finish the Leg with a 35secs gap back to second placed Loeb. Chris Atkinson finished the Leg in seventh overall.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Ford) 17:12.8

Overall Standings after Leg 1
Driver Vehicle
Diff Ldr
Diff Prev
1 GRÖNHOLM FORD 01:33:39.9

2 LOEB CITROEN 01:34:15.3 35.4 35.4
3 HIRVONEN FORD 01:34:44.1 01:04.2 28.8
4 SOLBERG PEUGEOT 01:35:24.4 01:44.5 40.3
5 SORDO CITROEN 01:35:44.2 02:04.3 19.8
6 GALLI PEUGEOT 01:35:46.7 02:06.8 02.5
7 ATKINSON SUBARU 01:35:54.0 02:14.1 07.3
8 PONS CITROEN 01:36:09.5 02:29.6 15.5

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Red Bull Skoda's Rovanpera 11th and Aigner 15th at Sardinia shakedown

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Red Bull Skoda

Red Bull Skoda is well-prepared for its first true gravel rally of this year’s WRC season.

In today’s shakedown, all performance checks were satisfactory, both Fabia WRCs are in perfect condition.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen (FIN) managed position eleven, Andreas Aigner (AUT)/Timo Gottschalk (GER) are classified 15th.

Rally Italia-Sardinia got under way today with the shakedown run on four kilometres of closed-off road near the seaport of Olbia.

Harri Rovanpera, who has completely forgotten about Monday’s testing accident, ran the stage three times and was more than satisfied: “Since we tested very thoroughly prior to this event we could limit our work to performance checks. These gave me the confirmation that we will start in a very well-prepared car tomorrow. My strategy is to be among the top ten after the first leg and in the top six on the final day.”

Andreas Aigner, the young man from Styria, can hardly wait for his first ever gravel event at the wheel of the Fabia WRC: “Everything is going well for me in Sardinia so far, testing and shakedown included. In the car I feel very confident, I like the gravel, and the times show that. I believe I can afford to be optimistic for the rally itself.“

The only team boss at hand in Sardinia is Armin Schwarz, since Raimund Baumschlager is competing in a rally in Austria: “I believe we can look forward to this rally because of our very thorough preparation. It’s important that the entire team makes no crucial error, a good result may be the reward.”

Shakedown times: 1. (tied) Marcus Gronholm (Ford) and Chris Atkinson (Subaru) 2:57.5 minutes each, 3. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) 2:57.8, 4. Henning Solberg (Peugeot) 2:58.6, 5. Petter Solberg (Subaru) 3:00.0, 6. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) 3:00.3, additionally 11. Harri Rovanpera (Red Bull Skoda) 3:05.5, 15. Andreas Aigner (Red Bull Skoda), and 18. Matthew Wilson (Ford) 3:10.7

Technical accounts at Sardinia

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Kronos Citroen Total

Of the world championship competitors, only Subaru appeared with new cars for this event but two of the private WRCar teams had cars which were new for them. The Red Devil Atolya Kazaz team had an S11 (2005 spec) Impreza for the first time (Solberg's Wales Rally GB winning car) for Kristian Sohlberg to drive, and First Motorsport acquired another Skoda Fabia for Francois Duval to drive, the car which Hirvonen had crashed in Japan last year. The main pre-event difficulty faced by teams in Rally d'Italia Sardegna concerned the curious 2006 engine pairing rules. This situation meant for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team made a hasty return of cars from Argentina. This was safely accomplished, but then there was panic because Matthew Wilson's engine sprang a water leak the day before the start and an engine change (with a mandatory one-minute penalty) was deemed wise.

This was the first time in the championship where not only chassis and engine had to be paired, but also transmission units as well. Except for the special rules regarding the M2 team engines, all these items are to be used next month on the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally. On technical specifics, Marcus Gronholm's Ford had the latest version uprated engine while Hirvonen had an engine built to Gronholm's previous specification. A team engineer explained why Hirvonen had his valve failure in Argentina: "It was to do with both shipping practicalities and event pairing rules! The valve weakness was identified last January, but by that time the engines were on their way to Mexico, and the engines had to be used also in Argentina with no chance for us to rectify the trouble. It was a problem waiting to happen."

The reason why Gronholm had transmission troubles in Argentina was surprisingly found to have been due to - a water splash. Water had ingested the electrical systems which in turn led to damage in the transmission.

In the FIA Junior World Rally Champiosnhip there was a change when Estonian driver Jaan Molder entered a Suzuki Ignis in place of the Fiesta he had driven in Sweden and Rallye Argentina. The two official Suzuki cars of Andersson and Wilks were new Swifts, but otherwise, it was "business as usual."

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Gronholm and Atkinson fastest at Sardinia Shakedown

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Marcus Gronholm

BP-Ford World Rally Team's Marcus Gronholm is looking to fulfill a pre-event promise to win it all after capturing the quickest time during today's Shakedown. Gronholm completed his run in 2 minutes 57.5 seconds. Subaru World Rally Team's second driver Chris Atkinson completed Shakedown with an identical time as Gronholm.

Ford Focus RS WRC

Reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb was the day's third quickest driver - 0.3 seconds behind Gronholm and Atkinson. Loeb comes into the Italian rally with a 21 point advantage in the drivers' standings above Gronholm, and if the Shakedown times are any indication of the weekend's event, the top drivers promise to be close.

Chris Atkinson

OMV-Peugeot Norway World Rally Team's Henning Solberg finished as the fourth quickest driver - a full 1.4 seconds ahead of his younger brother and Subaru's number one driver Petter Solberg. Solberg finished Rallye Argentina second overall last month and is looking to continue his positive run of gravel events and claw his way back into contention for the drivers' championship.

Subaru Impreza 2006 WRC

Team-mate to Henning Solberg - Manfred Stohl - completed as the sixth quickest driver. Stohl was 0.3 seconds behind Petter Solberg's time. Stohl and Subaru's Solberg both have 18 points in the drivers' standings leading into Italy and both will be looking to distance himself from the other in the standings.

Jussi Valimaki completed Shakedown as the seventh quickest driver in a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC at three minutes 0.9 seconds and was followed by the 2005 FIA Junior World Rally Champion Dani Sordo, who finished the day as the eighth quickest driver.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Harri Rovanpera crashes his Fabia during test

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Harri Rovanpera - Red Bull Skoda

Red Bull Skoda's Harri Rovanpera suffered an accident during pre-event testing Monday on his Fabia WRC test car. Rovanpera was nearly midway through a five-hour test session when he drove wide into a corner, touched a wall, and his wheel hit a stone, which caused him to roll his car.

"I came too close to the outside, there was plenty of loose gravel but unfortunately also a rock which destroyed the rim," Rovanpera said after the incident. "Then the car rolled rather violently, thank goodness I suffered no injuries. Risto complained about a slight headache. Except for this incident our test was very informative, too."

Rovanpera is still scheduled to compete at this weekend's Rally d'Italia Sardegna.

Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Roma loses thrilling Transiberico Rally in final kilometers

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  • Spaniard Roma edged out of victory by rival De Villiers on final stage
  • French duo of Alphand and Picard consolidate third overall
  • Vodafone Transiberico Rally, May 12th-15th, 2006
  • 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, round three
  • Leg 4 - Liaison 146.04 km, Special 112.32 km, Liaison 14.71 km, Special
  • Weather conditions: hot and sunny with a slight breeze ­ 16C-28C

ESTORIL (Portugal) – Spaniard Joan ’Nani’ Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne were deprived of victory on the final kilometres of the final stage of a breathtaking 2nd Vodafone Transiberico Rally, when they lost crucial seconds and the win to arch South African rival Giniel de Villiers, today (Monday).

Nani Roma

The Spaniard, who only switched from motorcycle enduro racing to join the Japanese manufacturer’s team at the end of the 2004 season, had increased his 25-second overnight lead to 36 seconds after the fourth leg’s first two stages and was cruising to an emphatic win until the last dramatic kilometers. Team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard finished a solid and distant third overall in a second Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution.

"I cannot believe it," said Roma. "I drove a good stage and could not believe that I had lost the race. I am so disappointed. I improved on each of the laps today and set a better time every lap. I was absolutely flat out this morning. I had no option. You know if you make a slight mistake, each second lost is going through your mind. I think this is the hardest I have ever pushed a car since I switched from bike racing.

"When we passed a section which I thought was flat out on the first lap, I told Henri and he made a mental note to modify our road book for the next lap. There were many places where I thought that we could be quicker on the repeat runs."

Nani Roma

Alphand and Picard began the day in third place and the Frenchman accepted that it was unrealistic to think about catching his rivals. He slowed to a sensible pace to conserve the car and earned a second podium place for Mitsubishi, "Today was merely a case of making sure I finished third and not damaging the car, because it is needed for the next race in Morocco," admitted Alphand. "I knew that Nani and Giniel would be pushing hard and there was no way that I could make up eight minutes. The starter problem yesterday was so disappointing. A puncture can happen at any time, but to lose four minutes with that problem really cost us the race. One big positive though was to regain my confidence after the accident in Tunisia."

Today’s trio of 112.32 km special stages were located to the north of Portalegre in a rural region to the south and east of Castelo Branco. The special ran in an anti-clockwise direction, started to the west of the town and skirted Vila Velha de Bodao, before heading in a north-easterly direction to a finish near the town. Teams then embarked upon a 254.29 km liaison section across the breadth of Portugal to Estoril.

Nani Roma/Henri Magne

Roma and De Villiers were inseparable after 16 km of the opening stage, but Roma edged into a seven-second lead at the 49 km point, with Alphand and Kahle trailing well behind. Roma led by 10s after 65 km and nine seconds after 88 km, but De Villiers regained vital seconds over the faster closing kilometers, as Roma reached the finish a mere one second ahead of his rival to extend his lead to 26s. Alphand used the opportunity to try out
suspension settings and set the third fastest time, the Frenchman finishing the stage 2m 20s behind Roma.

As the excitement and tension mounted, the leaders embarked upon the second lap. "I was feeling a lot happier before the second lap," admitted Roma. "It is much better when you have seen the stage and know what to expect, but I am sure it was the same for Giniel."

Roma and De Villiers were again closely matched, but Roma managed to edge a further 10 seconds ahead over the sixth stage and headed into the final 112.32 km section with a lead of 36s in the overall standings. Alphand was an untroubled third, 13m 32s adrift.

Volkswagen Race Touareg

The drama continued with De Villiers edging seven seconds ahead of Roma at the 16 km point on the final stage. The difference remained the same after 32 km, but Roma had overturned the difference by PC1 and was eight seconds ahead of his rival and 44s to the good with less than half of the stage to complete.

The difference was up to 11s on the stage after 65 km, but De Villiers had overturned the momentum after 88 km and was running 16s in front of Roma. It set the scene for a thrilling showdown, with the Spaniard defending a 20s lead over the closing 24 km. But Roma was unable to hold De Villiers at bay over the final nail-biting kilometers and the South African took full advantage to take the outright lead and victory by the margin of just 24 seconds after nearly 15 hours of racing.

"It was a truly exciting race and one on which the whole team can be proud of their performances," said MMSP’s Team President Isao Torii. "I am obviously disappointed for Nani. He did not know where he had lost those seconds at the end of the last stage. He had beaten his first two lap times and is improving all the time as a driver. We must accept this defeat and use it to make ourselves stronger for the next race and for the Dakar Rally next year."

The 2nd Transiberico Rally ran over a total route of 2,075.85 km and 1,173.08 km were competitive, with teams tackling a total of seven timed special stages and a super special over four days. Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Joan Roma won five specials, including the opening timed super special, while Volkswagen’s De Villiers clinched victories on the first, fourth and final stages.

Provisional final positions at end of leg 4:
1. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 14h 51m 41s
2. Joan Roma (E)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 14h 52m 05s
3. Luc Alphand (F)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 15h 06m 55s
4. Matthias Kahle (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 15h 39m 14s
5. Pedro Grancha (P)/Pedro Tavares (P) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero 16h 13m 49s
6. Filipe Campos (P)/Jaime Baptista (P) Renault Mégane 16h 27m 37s

Monday, May 15, 2006

First European gravel rally

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Marcus Gronholm BP-Ford WRT

The seventh round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship season - Rally d'Italia Sardegna - is the third gravel event of the season, but it is the first gravel event, which will be held on European soil. The BP-Ford World Rally Team is anxious to make a good impression on the European rally fans by posting a solid result in the Italian event.

"The rally has a mix of everything," said Marcus Gronholm, who currently holds second in the drivers' standings leading into Sardinia. "Some of the stages are quite tight while others are more open and faster. Quite a lot of the competitive distance is new for this year, and I think these roads will be faster than the ones that have been dropped. It's not one of my favourite rallies but neither is it one that I really dislike."
Ford Focus RS WRC

"It's important to score good points here and my target is clear - to win. The car has shown it is fast on gravel but my mistake in Mexico and a problem in Argentina meant that I didn't score the points I feel we deserved. But it's also important to remember that this is still a new car and we continue to fine-tune it as the season progresses. This will be the first time in competition in Sardinia with this Focus RS and I'm sure we will learn more about it during the event," added the Finn.

Gronholm is currently 21 points behind reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb in the drivers' standings, and though he has posted quicker stage times in recent rallies, Gronholm's mechanical problems have kept him from claiming his third rally victory of the season.

Petter Solberg: "We need to win"

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Petter Solberg - SWRT

The Subaru World Rally Team ace Petter Solberg has struggled in each of the European rounds held thus far in the 2006 season. His best European result this season has been his seventh place finish at the RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada in March. The biggest difference between the previous European rallies and the coming Rally d'Italia Sardegna is that the Italian rally will be a gravel event - and Solberg has driven well on both gravel rallies held this season - finishing them both with second place positions.

It's no secret that Solberg has found his pace on gravel, and the Norwegian even lead both Corona Rally Mexico and Rallye Argentina before giving his position to rival and points leader Sebastien Loeb.

Solberg commented at the end of Argentina that if there were no problems with his Impreza WRC2006, he would win the Italian rally - a bold prediction but not totally unfounded. Solberg's pace in Argentina was a match for Loeb, and the Impreza seems suited for the Sardinian gravel. This event has also been positive for Solberg in the past as he finished second in 2005, and lead the event from start to finish in 2004.

"I was very happy with my drive in Argentina," said Solberg. "Okay, things could have been even better but I think we're getting there. We tested in Greece last week and we're making small steps in performance, plus the reliability is improving a lot. We have to prove now that when everything goes well, we can win. This is what the whole team wants, everybody. We need to win."

BF Goodrich goes for seven

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Tyre maker BF Goodrich has had a remarkable start to the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship season. They have finished each event of the season with the rally victory - thanks to Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team's Sebastien Loeb and BP-Ford World Rally Team's Marcus Gronholm, both run BF Goodrich tyres.

The BF Goodrich development team knows that the Rally d'Italia Sardegna has been one of their weaker events in recent years. In 2004, Petter Solberg - running Pirelli tyres - jumped out to an early lead, which he never returned and captured the victory. Though, BF Goodrich has created a surprise tyre for their drivers.

"We call it a 'joker' because although testing went very well it doesn't yet replace an existing tyre," said BF Goodrich's Aime Chatard. "You always got to be careful not to be lured into a false sense of security when testing in rallying. For one thing, the drivers know their test bases increasingly well and that can false the benchmarking process of tested tyres. Also, unlike in circuit races, the drivers don't go over the same roads on the event itself, so the challenge is to extrapolate the results obtained in testing for as yet unknown territory, especially when you're talking about extremely responsive tyres."

"Gravel rally tyres are becoming more and more like racing tyres," Chatard added.

The Rally d'Italia Sardegna will be run 19-21 May.

'Nani' Roma extends Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team’s advantage in Transiberico Rally

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  • Roma and Magne take 25-second advantage over De Villers into final day
  • Starter problems and flat tire spoil Alphand’s chances on Spanish stages
  • Vodafone Transiberico Rally, May 12th-15th, 2006
  • 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, round three
  • Leg 3 - Liaison 152.16 km, Special 155.74 km, Liaisons 7.36 km, Special 155.74 km, Liaison 74.66 km – Total 545.66 km
  • Weather conditions: hot and sunny – 16C-27C

CÅCERAS (Spain) – Spaniard Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne extended their overnight advantage from nine to 25 seconds after two punishing special stages, which made up the third leg of the 2nd Vodafone Transiberico Rally in western Spain, today (Sunday).

French team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard maintained third position in a second Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution, but lost four minutes with starter problems in the first stage of the day and sustained a time-consuming flat tire near the start of the repeat run on Sunday afternoon. They will start the final day 8m 25s behind their team mates.

Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard

Roma and Magne led from the front this morning and extended their leg two advantage over South African Giniel de Villiers to 1m 20s after setting the fastest time in SS3. They finished the second stage 55 seconds behind their rival, but will take a 25-second lead into the final three stages in Portugal on Monday.

Nani Roma/Henri Magne

“The problem I found this morning was finding a fast line through the stage,” said Roma. “I lost a lot of time early on. There were no tracks. I was making the tracks for the others to follow. On several occasions I saw that I was not on the fastest line. It was frustrating. But I was much happier for the second lap. I could see where I made mistakes this morning and was able to take a quicker line.”

Alphand and Picard began the day 57s behind their team mates and in third position on the road. They were running at such a pace that they would have taken the overall lead at the end of the opening stage, until they stalled and lost valuable time restarting the Mitsubishi’s V6 engine.

Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard

“We went straight on at a left-hand corner, but only for five meters,” groaned Alphand. “I maybe braked too much and the engine cut out and would not restart. We waited and I tried many times to start the engine. Gilles eventually got out of the car and we had to push it to get going again.”

“It was such an annoying thing,” added co-driver Picard. “The engine stopped. Luc selected reverse gear and it was impossible to start the car. I had no option but to push.”

Today’s pair of 155.74 km special stages ran on punishing terrain just across the border in Spain to the south-east of Portalegre and to the north of the Portuguese town of Elvas and the larger Spanish town of Badajoz. Servicing was centralised on the outskirts of the village of Alburquerque.

Luc Alphand

Roma soon came under pressure from De Villiers this morning and the South African was ahead after 16 km, with Alphand a mere five seconds behind. Roma slipped over a minute adrift of De Villiers at the 40 km point, after finding it difficult to run as the first car on the stage, while Alphand slipped into contention for the outright lead by running ahead of his two rivals. He was a full 19s quicker that De Villiers after 40 km.

After 100 km, Germany’s Matthias Kahle was running on a similar pace to Alphand, although the Frenchman looked to be heading for the outright lead of the event until he approached that innocuous left-hand corner and stalled the engine. Kahle also hit problems and Roma duly coasted to his second successive stage win and extended his overall lead over De Villiers to 1m 20s, as Alphand slipped 5m 18s behind his team mate.

With renewed confidence and a better knowledge of the special for the repeat run, Roma decided to try and press home his advantage. He and De Villiers were inseparable after 40 km, but Alphand punctured and fell a further three minutes behind his rivals. De Villiers edged 15s ahead of Roma at the 81 km point and 20s in front after 101 km, but the Spaniard remained in close contention to finish the stage 55 seconds behind his rival.

Isao Torii and Luc Alphand

‘I am disappointed with what happened with Luc’s car today on the first stage,” said MMSP’s Team Director Dominique Serieys. “Maybe there was a mistake by one of the mechanics, but we cannot afford things like this if we want to keep up our winning streak. I was pleased with Nani’s performance. He started slowly and really pushed hard when it mattered. He did a great job today and is making excellent progress.”

“This is developing into a very interesting race,” said MMSP’s Team President Isao Torii. “Our rivals are getting better and it is getting closer each day. On some sections of the stages we are quicker. On others the VWs are faster. It is fascinating. We have to learn from this and put the information to good use in our preparations for the next Dakar.”

Tomorrow (Monday), the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart will tackle the longest and potentially most difficult final leg of this year’s Vodafone Transiberico Rally. Three 112.32 km special stages are planned after a 146.04 km liaison returns teams across the border into Portugal. Servicing will be centralised in Castelo Branco, before a 254.29 km liaison returns the surviving crews to Estoril, south-west of Lisbon.

Positions at end of leg 3 (unofficial):
1. Joan Roma (E)/Henri Magne (AND) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 10h 15m 38s
2. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 10h 16m 03s
3. Luc Alphand (F)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 10h 24m 03s
4. Matthias Kahle (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 10h 55m 24s
5. Pedro Grancha (P)/Pedro Tavares (P) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero 11h 04m 52s
6. Filipe Campos (P)/Jaime Baptista (P) Renault Mégane 11h 14m 17s