Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WRC's mid-season break

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So what are the teams doing during the mid-season break? While the world is celebrating World Cup in Germany, in August, the Germans are yet preparing for the start of the second half of the season which kicks off with Rally Deutschland

Subaru's break

After a rough first half of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship season, the Subaru World Rally Team's drivers are planning on using the mid-season break for relaxation, testing, and other motorsport opportunity.

Petter Solberg spent the days after the BP Ultimate Acropolis Rally coasting the Mediterranean on a private yacht with members of his family - including his competitor and older brother Henning Solberg - while visiting some of the Mediterranean's most beautiful locale. Solberg will test the Subaru Impreza WRC2006 this week in Wales and will also undertake a development test in Spain 2-5 July.

Chris Atkinson will spend part of the break contesting the Nurburg 24-hour on 17-18 June. Atkinson will use the opportunity to gain valuable tarmac experience as well as to stay fresh during the hiatus.

Stephane Sarrazin will undertake the Le Mans this weekend- one of the most prestigious and historic racing events in the world - and will also conduct tyre development testing with Pirelli later in the break. In July, Sarrazin will conduct testing for the next rally - Germany - with his Impreza WRC 2006.

Loeb and Sarrazin in Le Mans

The reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb and the Subaru World Rally Team's tarmac ace Stephane Sarrazin will both compete in the 24 hours of Le Mans (17-18 June). Both Frenchman are staying busy during the mid-season break with testing and development, but both drivers have found time to compete in the historic and monumental race. Loeb will be partnered with Eric Hélary and Franck Montagny for the contest while Sarrazin will join Pedro Lamy and Stephane Ortelli in an Aston Martin DBR9.

Sarrazin will fly to Italy after Le Mans for a four day test session with Pirelli. The Frenchman will also test again in July as the Subaru field prepares for the OMV ADAC Rallye Deutschland.

Loeb, on the other hand, plans to continue to develop the Citroen C4 during the break, as well as work with the Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team to test the Xsara for the second half of the season.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Citroen and Peugeot Progress

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Kris Meeke's class win in the Rajd Polski European Championship Rally was a great encouragement for Citroen Sport's customer development work, on account of beating Super 1600 cars which were running in the same class as his C2 R2. This is a car designed to comply with FIA regulations which take worldwide effect at the start of the 2008 season. Citroen used the event as a promotional exercise, giving Kris the chance to extol the car to the media present.

"On average, the R2 is about 2 seconds per kilometre slower than the Super 1600 but one of the great assets of the R2 is that it has about 40bhp LESS. With the Super 1600 cars we spend a lot of time playing with the throttle trying to find traction. With the R2, you can safely push the throttle to the floor! The rally spectators kept asking if we were using traction control systems because the wheels were not spinning like those on the Super 1600s. . ."

Meeke explained that there were only a limited number of places, where superior power is essential. "On fast flowing roads the R2 is almost as fast as Super 1600 cars, also in places where you want a car that is easy to drive". The organisers of the Rajd Polski quoted Meeke as saying that the R2 was one fifth the cost of the S1600. In reality the price distinction is the difference in the cost of the conversion kit - about 22,500 Euros as opposed to 120,000.

Although both Citroen and Peugeot have officially withdrawn for this year from the FIA World Rally Championship, both companies are eagerly developing future rally machines. Citroen is also busy working on their C4 World Rally Car which they hope to run in world championship rallies in 2007, Peugeot meanwhile is proceeding with a 200bhp 2-litre 206RC model based on the R3 regulations, which appeared at the recent Limousin national French championship rally where it finished 13th overall, third in class behind two 2-litre Kit Cars. Peugeot Sport also started testing their Super 2000 car last week, which is being prepared ready for use in the 2007 season.

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Hirvonen at Rallyday 2006

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Mikko Hirvonen

BP-Ford World Rally Team ace Mikko Hirvonen has been confirmed to appear at this year's Rallyday which will take place at Castle Combe Circuit on Saturday 22 July. Hirvonen will showcase the Ford RS 2006 on track in front of an estimated 10,000 rally fans. Also scheduled to appear is Stobart VK M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Matthew Wilson, who will make his first appearance at the event.

To help raise money for charity, a ride with Hirvonen in the co-driver's seat will be offered during the event. To have a chance of winning this prize, visitors need only to buy a raffle ticket from the Castrol stand on the day. All proceeds are being donated to Save the Children charity.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Kuzaj wins Rally Poland

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Leszek Kuzaj

Polish driver Leszek Kuzaj won his country's premier rally for the second time at the weekend. With the overnight leader Michal Solowow restarting first car on the road of the gravel rally today, Kuzaj had high hopes of overhauling Solowow but on the first stage of the day (34km) Solowow beat Kuzaj by 14 seconds and his overall lead was extended to 20.9 seconds.

Then it all went wrong. On stage 8 Solowow had two punctures and dropped back behind both Kuzaj and the Swedish driver Oscar Svedlund into third place where he remained for the rest of the event. Staying in fourth place all day was Giandomenico Basso (Fiat Punto Abarth 2000) who thereby pulled clear in the FIA European Championship. Dropping to tenth at the finish, but 83 seconds ahead in the two-wheel drive category, was Kris Meeke in the budget level Citroen C2 R2, who finished ahead of the Super 1600 cars of Frycz and Kosiuszko.

Leszek Kuzaj (1st place): "Victory tastes wonderful. I drove a little too slowly on the first Sunday stage, and couldn't keep pace with Michal Solowow. But then he made a mistake that I tried to take advantage of. To be honest, I was really impressed by the pace Michal set."

Run in beautiful weather in North Poland, this FIA World Championship Candidate Rally event was organised without apparent glitch. Concentration on the structure of the future world championship is expected by the FIA authorities in the next few days, ahead of the World Rally Championship Commission meeting on 14 June. At this meeting, proposed events will be nominated for the January-May 2007 world championship half-season.

About Rally Poland..

The second oldest rally in the world wants to regain its position in the sport's highest category, a status which it held on one occasion (in 1973), the only time any event in the eastern side of Europe has been in the world rally calendar. With the impending World Rally Championship Commission policy meeting on 14th June, three days after the finish, the 63rd running of Rajd Polski (Rally Poland) will be one of the most significant events in the long history of the series. Already a unique event, being the only gravel surfaced rally in the FIA's regional European Championship, Rajd Polski has manoeuvred itself this year to impress the FIA officials in its additional standing as the sixth (and final) world championship candidate rally.

Poland stands proud in its claim for world status. The stages have been moved closer to the headquarter town of Mikolajki in the Mazurian lakes region north of Warsaw, and there is a new young team headed by former champion co-driver Grzegorz Gac. The country is one of Europe's leading car markets, Michelin (though not specifically supporting the event this year) is building a major new tyre factory locally, the country has a support of considerable volumes of experienced rally fans, and this is a most experienced rally region of the country where champions Marian Bublewicz and Krzysztof Holowczyc lived and proved themselves. The Mazurian region is not far from popular central rally areas in the Baltic countries, and itself is a popular tourist region with considerable infrastructure. The event has the support and encouragement of Jacek Bartos, once the team manager of Poland's FSO world championship rally team, now the FIA's Safety Delegate and vice-president to the country's sporting federation.

The rally begins with a ceremonial start on Friday evening, with six stages on both Saturday and Sunday. The 76 competitors that are on the entry list include the ECR regular drivers Giadomenico Basso on his first gravel event in a Fiat Punto Abarth, Oscar Svedlund from Sweden and Dimitar Iliev from Bulgaria. There is a promotional entry for Citroen in a C2 R2 car. This is a prototype for customer use under the FIA's future Group R category, to be driven by Kris Meeke. As things stand, Poland hope their event will not only be the best of the candidate rallies but also the biggest, ahead of Portugal who had 71 starters and Norway who had 69.

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Monday, June 5, 2006

Henri Magne loses his life after a tragic accident in Rally of Morocco

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OUARZAZATE (Morocco) – Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart withdrew Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret from the Orpi Rally of Morocco after the final 222 km selective section, as a mark of respect to team co-driver Henri Magne, who lost his life in a tragic accident between the first and second passage controls at the 60.30 km point of the event’s final selective section. Peterhansel had been leading the event when he crossed the finish line of the final stage, unaware of what had happened behind them, but the crew were officially withdrawn for the rally by MMSP Team Director Dominique Serieys at the arrival control.

Henri Magne, winner of the Rally of Morocco in 2000, 2001 and 2002, had been co-driving Spaniard Joan ‘Nani’ Roma when the accident happened before the assistance point on the day’s special. The crew collided with a concrete wall front side. Magne was officially declared dead by event medical staff at 10.02 hrs (local time), less then five minutes after the accident. Driver and Team-Mate Nani Roma is not injured.

Team mates Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon stopped at the scene of the accident to offer assistance and did not continue from then on.

“For over 25 years Mitsubishi has been competing successfully in this sport without any tragic incident of this kind,” said MMSP’s Team Director Dominique Serieys. “Today, tragically, Henri ran out of luck. In the name of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) and MMSP I give my deepest sympathy to Henri’s wife and family.

“Henri was a good friend and colleague. He was a gentile man, always smiling, always cheerful. We worked together when I was a co-driver. Henri was a true professional, without any desire to end his career. The next goal for us will be dedicated to Henri. My heartfelt sympathies are also with Nani after this awful day. It will not be easy for him to get over this, but we will all support him all the way.”


Henri Magne was born in France in March 1953. He first took part in the Dakar Rally in 1982 and finished 21st overall and first in the diesel category. In 1985 he co-drove a rapid support truck for the official Mitsubishi team and finished ninth in the Trucks class. His career began to move forward rapidly and he and Kenjiro Shinozuka finished second overall in the 1988 Dakar.

Henri Magne won the Dakar for the first time with Kenjiro Shinozuka and Mitsubishi in 1997 and repeated the feat on the Paris-Dakar-Cairo Rally in 2000 with Jean-Louis Schlesser. He finished fourth with Carlos Sousa in 2003 and in a similar position with Luc Alphand in 2004. Both he and Sousa also won the 2003 FIA World Cup title and the 2004 European Baja Cup.

After taking part in the 2004 UAE Desert Challenge with Andrea Mayer, he joined Joan Roma for the first time in the 2004 Qatar Baja, finishing second overall, and then in the 2005 Dakar Rally and onwards through last season - the highlight being a maiden win together in the Baja Spain Aragon. The pair began this season with a superb third overall in the Dakar Rally, second in the Patagonia-Atacama Rally and a second place in the Transiberico Rally.

Magne is survived by his wife Lucette and two adopted children. MMSP offers their deepest condolences to all members of Henri’s family at this time.