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Spain WRC (J) - 02-05 Oct 08

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:22 PM - 8068 Hits

Round 12 - 2008 World Rally Championship

Duval generosity helps Hirvonen to podium place in Spain

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:22 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finished third and fourth on Rally de España today after three days of tough competition in the hills above Spain's Costa Daurada coast. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed the final podium place, their ninth in 12 rallies this season, in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car while team-mates François Duval and Patrick Pivato were fourth in a similar car after an incident-free weekend on the asphalt roads of Catalonia.

The two Ford pairings held third and fourth from Friday's opening kilometre, with Duval holding the upper hand over 28-year-old Hirvonen. However, the 27-year-old Belgian, drafted into the Ford line-up for his asphalt expertise for the first time since 2004, allowed Hirvonen to move ahead on today's final leg to boost his challenge for the drivers' crown in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn retains second in the standings, 12 points from the lead with three of the 15 rounds remaining. Reigning champion Ford continues to hold second in the manufacturers' table.

This is the fastest sealed surface rally of the championship, the smooth asphalt and flowing bends likened to a race circuit by drivers. However, yesterday's second leg contained new sections of road which were tighter and twistier than the traditional speed tests. Some parts were also slippery as drivers cut corners and dragged stones and dirt on to the road surface. Competitors tackled 18 special stages covering 353.62km in the Tarragona region, south-west of Barcelona.

Duval started today's final leg, covering six tests and 93.88km, with a 13.2sec advantage over Hirvonen. He was fastest over the opening test and increased the margin to 20.1sec by the mid-leg service at the rally base in Salou. As he eased off during the second pass over the roads, Hirvonen came to the fore and won the final three stages to head his colleague by 8.3sec at the finish.

"This was a good weekend for me and I'm happy to be back in the Ford team," said Duval. "I made no mistakes and suffered no punctures and this has given me real confidence for next weekend's rally in Corsica. This isn't my favourite asphalt event because the surface is too pure and too smooth, like driving on a motorway at times. However, I found a good set-up for my Focus, my pace was consistent and I enjoyed the tougher and more slippery roads yesterday.

Hirvonen was frustrated at being unable to find a good rhythm until yesterday afternoon and paid tribute to Duval. "This wasn't how I wanted to take a podium and I really have to thank François. He was a true team player and helped me to score an extra point. Winning the drivers' championship will be very difficult now but it isn't out of the question so I will keep trying. I finally found a good rhythm yesterday afternoon and I've learned a lot about driving on this surface this weekend.

With no pressure on the BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers from behind, Hirvonen tested Pirelli's soft compound PZero tyre this morning to gather data for next weekend's rally. "We wanted to know how the soft tyres would work in these conditions, even though we knew it wasn't the compound we would have chosen in normal circumstances, and I hope that information will pay off in Corsica," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 21st in their Focus RS WRC. They retired after the final stage of the first leg with differential problems following a spin into a ditch and restarted under SupeRally rules the next day in 42nd. "The weather made it easier for us," said Al Qassimi. "I changed my settings a lot and it was only on the last three or four stages that I was really happy and able to step up my commitment. I've learned how to drive on asphalt and have more confidence now."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said the team delivered a strong performance after a difficult first day. "François' performance proved it was the right decision to bring him into the team. He did a great job to support Mikko in his quest to be drivers' champion. Now our attentions turn to Corsica where we feel the nature of the stages will better suit our cars and drivers," he added.

Mark Deans, Ford of Europe's motorsport director, said: "Francois came into the team to help our championship aspirations. We've greatly appreciated his efforts in fine-tuning the set-up of the Focus on asphalt and, of course, his spirit in assisting Mikko's title challenge this morning. I hope his professionalism can be rewarded further in Corsica next weekend."

Munchi’s sail through Spanish stages

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:20 PM

A trouble free RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España has seen both crews in the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team finish inside the top-12 on this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship.  

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud topped the team’s time sheets finishing the event in 11th position while Federico Villagra/Jorge Pérez Companc finished one place back in 12th on just their second ever asphalt event.  

Rally Catalunya was the first and only Tarmac round of the Munchi’s Ford WRT’s 10 event 2008 campaign and while both drivers finished just outside the points the team still maintains its two point advantage over Suzuki in the Manufacturers’ Championship.  

Solberg began cautiously on Friday morning as he experimented with the setup of his Munchi’s Ford Focus RS WRC07 to try and find the correct balance and subsequent pace on the sealed surface.   

The Norwegian’s search for speed paid off by Sunday’s stages as he began to set more competitive times and secured his 11th position after a weekend long battle with team-mate Villagra. Despite not posting any driver points Solberg still remains seventh in the WRC drivers’ classification.  

Villagra had a positive Rally Catalunya on just his second ever Tarmac round in the World Championship. Driving for the first time on the Pirelli PZero asphalt tyre it was a steep learning curve for the Argentine who adapted both well and quickly as he continues to gain maximum experience of top-level Tarmac rallying.  

The only issue for ‘Coyote’ was, in places, a lack of rhythm between his driving and the pacenotes made during recce earlier this week. With the high-speed, racing-circuit-like nature of the Spanish stages, pacenote precision is a key ingredient in finding the confidence to go flat out on these roads.  

The event ran an identical layout on all three days with a repeat loop of three stages broken up by a midday service. Saturday played host to the longest stage of the event when crews passed over the monster 38.27 kilometre El Priorat/La Ribera d’Ebre test.  

Rally Catalunya was seen as another successful event with tens of thousands flocking to Costa Daurada creating the perfect atmosphere for this fast-paced, action-packed asphalt event based in the tourist town of Salou.  

The next event for the Munchi’s Ford squad is the team’s final round of the year and sees Solberg again join the side for Rally Japan next month.          

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Henning Solberg said: “I came here knowing I had to drive to the conditions and learn as much as possible and that’s what I did. We are not able to push from the start as I need to have a good feeling with the car and with no tarmac testing before the rally, this was always going to take some time. We found a really positive diff setting on Saturday which let me settle down and concentrate on perfecting my driving style. But it’s difficult here with all the cuts and gravel on the stages so it’s important not to get carried away. With Corsica just a few days away we needed to keep the car undamaged and the setting we have should hopefully work in Corsica and help us to be faster from the start of the rally. I have also been doing some work on my pacenotes here to help me with faster lines on Tarmac.”  

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Federico Villagra said: “I don’t have much experience on this surface so the rally was always going to be a big learning experience for me. The test before the event was a huge benefit and we got some good information from there. But we stuck to the game plan, which was to try and get to the finish with no problems, and this was definitely the correct decision. We changed the rear anti-roll bar on Saturday and that helped a lot in making the car more stable and precise as one of the problems we had early in the rally was some understeer. This has been a good event and a positive experience for me and we know a lot more about this rally and the conditions.

Kris Meeks Retires on Last day

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:16 PM

Lightening Latvala speeds home for Stobart in Spain

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:13 PM

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila have stormed home on round 12 of the FIA World Rally Championship to finish sixth on this weekend’s RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España.  

Team-mates Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin also put in a solid performance to finish ninth and claim the final manufacturer points position for their Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team who maintain fourth position in the championship.  

Latvala began this morning in eighth place but quickly advanced two spots after some positive changes to the setup of his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 overnight which increased his confidence tenfold. Fighting in a two-day battle with Australian driver Chris Atkinson the Finnish youngster came out on top by a mere 1.1 seconds after starting today’s final leg 2.5 seconds down.  

The 23-year-old struggled over the opening two days to find a good feeling with the car and his confidence after what he describes as a ‘black August’ which saw him have three accidents in as many WRC events. Sunday, however, the Finn was a changed man setting some amazing stage times including a second fastest on the 16.32 kilometre Riudecanyes 2 test.  

A slight fading of brakes on the initial sections of the opening stage of the rally was the only major issue for Wilson who also battled with understeer on the opening two days as he got to grips with the smooth tarmac stages.  

Sitting in 10th position for the majority of the event the 21-year-old was happy to advance one place today after taking a calculated risk this morning by opting to run on a soft compound Pirelli PZero tyre despite most WRC crews electing to run with the firmer option. It was an option, however, which proved to work in his favour as he set relatively faster times on all six stages today.      

Tens of thousands of fans flocked to the Costa Daurada region this weekend to catch a glimpse of their WRC heroes as Rally Catalunya kicked off with a ceremonial start on Thursday night in the main street of Salou – the host town of Rally HQ and Service Park.  

Eighteen fast-paced special stages set the course for competitors as they covered a total of 353.62 kilometres of competitive distance over the three days. The itinerary was laid-out identically on all three days with the setup being a repeat loop of three stages broken up by a midday service. The longest stage of the event came on Saturday when crews passed over the 38.27 kilometre El Priorat/La Ribera d’Ebre test.  

Conditions stayed friendly for the entire event with blue skies and sunshine temperatures climbing as high as 25 degrees centigrade. Team weather crews played very important roles this event with crews given the option to choose between a hard or soft Pirelli PZero asphalt tyre for the second time this year. With no time to rest the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team will now head straight across the Mediterranean for round 13 of the WRC next week; Rally de France – Tour de Corse.  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said: “This rally started off quite frustrating for me but actually, when I look back, it was positive and we found a good setting. Without a test before the event it took us some time to get things feeling the way I wanted and Friday morning was frustrating as I didn’t have a good feeling and also my confidence was low. But we changed some things and I started to drive a bit less aggressively and that seemed to work. The setting we found on Saturday is working and the first stage we had today was great – I can say it was one of my best stages on Tarmac this year. Now the car setup is right I have the confidence to push some more so from that point of view it has been very productive. Also I’m pleased to have scored some more points for my old team Stobart and hopefully I can repeat this next week in Corsica.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said: “It’s always great for me to score more points for the team and especially here in Spain as most of the top drivers have had tests before the rally. It was also important to not make any mistakes with Corsica so close as this takes some pressure off the Stobart team mechanics and we haven’t put a wheel wrong here. We tried a few different settings, which took some time, but got a good diff setting and feeling with the car on Saturday. We tried the soft Pirelli tyres this morning and they felt positive in the middle stage, and we were able to leave the braking slightly later, so that information is very useful heading to Corsica. With no real testing I find it beneficial to have two events very close together; we finished off this rally well, with a good setup and confidence, and that means we will start in Corsica with this fresh in my mind.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said: “Once again it has been a strong team performance form the Stobart team and both drivers have really improved throughout the duration of the rally. They haven’t put a wheel wrong and preserved the cars well for Corsica. It was great to see Jari-Matti’s confidence improving as the event progressed and I’m pleased he managed to clinch sixth place on the final day. Matthew’s pace has improved and his consistency has been important throughout this event so things are looking good for the rally next week.”  

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“This has been another proud day for our Stobart team and after learning his trade with us last year it has been fantastic to see Jari-Matti back in the squad and scoring points. Matthew has also done a great job here and both crews have been consistently improving throughout the weekend. Corsica is only a few days away and I believe it will be a strong event after the progress the team have made here.”

Final twist in Spain sees all three SWRT entries in the top ten

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:12 PM

On the final day of Rally Catalunya, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson were locked in yesterday’s tooth-and-nail battles for position, making for a tense finish to the Impreza WRC2008’s second asphalt rally. Frenchman Brice Tirabassi successfully completed his competitive debut with SWRT inside the top ten having delivered an impressive performance on only his second time behind the wheel of the new Impreza.

“It was a solid performance from all three of our drivers today” said David Richards. “Now the key is to build and improve on this as we go to Corsica in only one week’s time.”

The final day of Rally Catalunya started with a chill in the air, causing some split tyre compound decisions across the field. Solberg and Atkinson opted for hard tyres all day, whilst Tirabassi was one of three front-running crews to opt for the soft variant in the morning. Whilst posting some very fast stage starts, including the joint second fastest opening sector in the morning’s first stage, Tirabassi was penalised over the first three stages as the air and tyre temperatures increased.

Trading stage times with Urmo Aava throughout the day, Solberg and Phil Mills battled hard in a tense scrap with the Citroen entry. Edging further ahead of the pursuing Aava in the morning, the Estonian clambered ahead in the early afternoon as the two crews traded times in the most exciting battle for position of the rally. Solberg and Mills responded on the penultimate stage and were on track to re-pass Aava before he slid off the road mid-stage, and the SWRT crew reclaimed a hard-won fifth position.

“For sure it’s been a tough rally for us, and fifth place is fifth place but it’s good to be a little way up there” said Petter Solberg. “The car actually felt a little better in the last two stages after I made some changes, so it’s the right direction but we still have more to do. Now we have Corsica straight after to continue this work.”

Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot similarly stretched their lead over Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala with a solid performance in the morning, nearly doubling the overnight gap to 4.3seconds. The race between the two was equally as exciting and tense, the gap as slight as 0.1seconds at times. As the rally neared its feverish conclusion, Latvala edged ahead of the Australian who, also benefiting from Aava’s early exit, crossed the finish in seventh overall. “For me I had a good weekend and personally I feel I drove well” said Chris Atkinson. “If we had the same times all weekend we’d have been with Petter as we matched him all weekend. But I’m happy with my performance and satisfied with my driving. We won’t make any real changes for Corsica.”

Tirabassi and Fabrice Gordon showed good pace during the weekend, the SWRT debutants impressively finishing tenth overall. After three days of encouraging pace and a close battle of their own, the pair moved into eleventh when Conrad Rautenbach crashed halfway through the first test of the morning. On stage 15, the morning’s finale and the shortest of the rally, Tirabassi and Gordon posted their second top-ten stage time of the rally before moving into tenth with Aava’s demise on the day’s penultimate stage. Switching for the universally favoured hard tyres for the warmer afternoon stages, the duo satisfied all their objectives from this inaugural event, building their confidence ahead of their home rally in Corsica next weekend.

“I am happy with this weekend as we have had good performance and also learnt a lot” said Brice Tirabassi. “I feel more comfortable with the car for Corsica, which is important, but as well as learning a lot this weekend we have also got a good result which I am pleased with. It has been a good weekend for me, and I hope we can continue to learn and get better next week.”

Citroen Sport Press Releases

Posted: October 18, 2008 3:07 PM


Posted: October 18, 2008 3:00 PM

Gallagher Faces The World Rally Championship For The Final Time

Posted: October 2, 2008 5:44 PM

Irish driver Shaun Gallagher starts the Junior World Rally Championship in Spain this weekend. This is the final race for the Irish paring of Shaun Gallagher and Paul Kiely who are currently placed second in the JWRC.

Gallagher said: "I had mechanical problems this morning, my car was only running at 90% and the loss in power was annoying to say the least. I was recently out doing course car in two rallies in Ireland and I am feeling confident and ready for a good battle here in Spain. This is my final chance to have a good finish to secure a high place in the overall championship."

Rally RACC Catalunya is based around the Spanish City Salou and takes in over 353 kilometres of competitive asphalt stages. It is the penultimate round of the Junior World Rally Championship 2008.

Tommy Mullen, Chief Executive Officer with World Rally Team Ireland added: "The Irish support here in Spain is massive. It is a real boost to both Shaun & Paul as they face into a very though and demanding rally. The temperature is 25 degrees and rising and this very taxing on the guys in the car. Shaun had some time in the car between Wexford and Cork and this will help this performance over the next three days."

Sun, sea, sand and speed as Stobart cruise to the Costas

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:12 PM

Next week will see yet another action-packed rallying event as the FIA World Rally Championship heads towards the Mediterranean coast and Spain’s Costa Daurada for the first of two back-to-back asphalt events – RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de Espa��o:p>

The event is paired with the Rally de France, kicking off one week later in Corsica, and the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team welcomes the return of last year’s superstars Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila who rejoin the team for both Tarmac tests. In Spain the pair will be reunited with former team-mates Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin as the two crews look to post some solid results and collect a strong haul of points for the Stobart squad.

After what has been an impressive show of speed this year with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, Latvala will be keen to post a points finish on the second proper asphalt event of the year after missing the opportunity in Germany by one position.

The 23-year-old showed phenomenal speed on the sealed surface with the team last year by claiming the first ever podium of his career on the newly featured Rally Ireland. Currently lying fifth in the Drivers’ Championship the young Finn will be looking to advance on this placing as crews roll onto the first stage next Friday morning.

With several weeks break since the previous WRC round in New Zealand, Wilson will be hungry to get the ball rolling once again in Spain. In preparation for the event, in addition to his habitual fitness regime, the young Brit has spent a day with renowned driver coach Rob Wilson fine-tuning his Tarmac skills. The 21-year-old will also contest the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally tomorrow in an 05-specification Ford Focus RS WRC where he will come up against a raft of rallying superstars including four former World Rally champions.

Rally Catalunya will again be based in the Catalan region from the tourist town of Salou with Rally HQ and Service Park based at the holiday theme park resort PortAventura. Last year the always unpredictable weather conditions washed out the ceremonial start which is once more planned for main street Salou next Thursday evening at 20:00.

The event made its mark on the world championship in 1991 and since then has evolved to become one of the fastest asphalt events in the championship. Despite its speed, it is the twisty and technical sections which have been known to catch out even the best crews as big cuts on the corners spray gravel and dirt across the hard surface. Pirelli’s PZero control tyre should cope well with the conditions though after proving its worth in WRC Germany.

Another feature to this event along with its seaside location are the huge spectator numbers that flock to see the world’s best handle their state-of-the-art WRC machinery. In addition to the rally the Stobart duo will make a public appearance at a special charity auction for the WRC-affiliated Richard Burns Foundation on Thursday evening in Salou.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Jari-Matti Latvala said:
“This week I have done five hours of asphalt training with one of Finland’s top touring car drivers on a race track and there are quite a few things I have learnt, especially with my braking, which I know I can use on the next two Tarmac rallies. I did the same training 12 months ago only this time I feel like I have taken a lot more from it. This WRC season started on Tarmac and on a new tyre and my confidence was not perfect and in Germany I felt the pressure after my accident in Finland but now I actually feel quite relaxed. I have also been doing some drive days for Ford in a Fiesta and a Focus ST over the past few days and OK they are not rally cars but I was able to practice what I learnt from the touring car which is more time and practice for me. I’m looking forward to Spain and Corsica because I like these rallies and now I will have had more time with the Pirelli PZero tyre so I will be more familiar with its actions.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“It will be nice to go back to a consistent Tarmac event in Spain and hopefully things will stay dry for us. I prefer the nature of these stages to Germany as the roads are consistent over all three days whereas Germany there was a lot of variation. Being with Rob [Wilson] yesterday should be good preparation for the event. We are back scoring points for the Stobart team and I am sporting my lucky number 7 so looking forward to starting the event next week. The weather again will play a big part and if it is consistent and we can get off to a positive start during the shakedown I think a points finish is certainly on the cards.”

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“The Stobart squad has been strengthened by Jari-Matti’s return and I think this will give the team a really good chance to get some points and build on their great results from this season. Both he and Matthew have been preparing hard for the two Tarmac events and I know they are both focused on performing well over the next two weeks. If we have consistent conditions here in Spain then it will be to the team’s advantage and it will give the drivers more confidence to push from the start and I hope the energy from our young squad will really shine through into solid finishes on Sunday.”

Strengthened Ford squad prepares hard for Spanish encounter

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:11 PM

After a five-week break from competition, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team returns to action in Spain next week for the first of two Mediterranean asphalt events on consecutive weekends that could go a long way towards deciding the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship titles. The team has prepared meticulously for Rally de España (2 - 5 October) and the subsequent Rallye de France in Corsica with back-to-back tests in both locations as the campaign enters its decisive phase.

The reigning manufacturers' world champion has also strengthened its driver line-up for the final sealed surface events of the season. Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, lying second in the drivers' standings, will be joined by acknowledged asphalt experts François Duval and Patrick Pivato in the record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car. They will replace Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, who will rejoin the squad for the final two rallies of the year in Japan and Britain.

This 12th round of the 15-rally championship returns for a fourth time to Salou, on the Costa Daurada coast, south-west of Barcelona. The sweeping roads of the Tarragona region are fast and flowing and can be compared to a race circuit in their characteristics. The asphalt is smooth but often abrasive, and can quickly become slippery as drivers cut across the open corners to shave tenths of a second from their special stage times and drag stones and dirt onto the surface.

The roads will become especially slippery for the second pass of stages in the afternoon after the whole entry has already tackled the morning speed tests. It places huge importance on the work of drivers' safety crews, who pass through the stages ahead of competitors. They note sections of road where conditions have changed and relay the information to co-drivers who modify their pace notes accordingly before starting the tests.

Hirvonen claimed his first WRC podium in Spain in 2005 in a privately-entered Focus RS WRC, a result that 'started things moving in my career'. "The rally seems to be faster and faster each year. The stages are smooth and the organisers seem to improve the roads every time we come. It's like driving on a race track and it's crucial to find the correct braking point and the right line through bends. We're second in both the manufacturers' and drivers' points so I need to try to beat Sébastien Loeb. That's going to be very difficult and there's no room for mistakes, everything has to be perfect," he said.

"This is the first time here with Pirelli's new asphalt tyres so I will try to be very precise with my pace notes during the recce. I need to make sure that if I note a corner that can be cut, there is nothing on the verge that can break the tyre. Last year organisers placed barrels and bales on the inside of some corners to prevent drivers taking so many big cuts," added 27-year-old Hirvonen, who has finished each of his five starts in Spain.

Duval's best finish in Spain came in 2005, when he held off Hirvonen to take second. The 27-year-old Belgian has seven previous starts to his name. "This isn't my favourite asphalt rally because the roads are fast and wide. I prefer stages that are narrow and tight. But that doesn’t alter my plan which is to try to take a podium. The 2008-specification Focus RS WRC is a big improvement over the 2007 version which I drove on asphalt earlier in the season, and if I can match the pace of Dani Sordo then I should be around the top three," he said.

"I would prefer dry conditions because I don't have any real experience of the 2008 car with Pirelli tyres in the wet. I was hoping for some rain in Spain during the test. The first couple of hours on the opening day were, damp which helped, but I still haven't driven the car in heavy rain," he added.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third official Focus RS WRC, having finished 14th on their Spanish debut last year. "I’m going to devise completely new pace notes because I'm now a year in to my WRC career and I feel I can push a little harder on asphalt. My new notes will be more accurate and allow me to go for more pace," said 36-year-old Al Qassimi.

"This will be my sixth asphalt event in just over a year but I'm still learning. Before I was just happy to be driving and competing, now I'm trying to get more pace out of the car. I'll focus on setting-up the car and then review my first day performance. If I feel I'm heading in the right direction, then I'll start lifting my pace," added Al Qassimi.

Team News
* As part of the sport's new regulations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi will have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The PZero asphalt tyre will be available in both hard and soft compound but there will be no other option for specific dry or wet weather rubber. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of heavy rain and each car can carry two spares.

* Seven other Focus RS cars will start. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated by the Stobart VK M-Sport squad while Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc and Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud will drive for the Munchi's Ford team. Other privately-entered cars will be driven by Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene, Peter Van Merksteijn / Erwin Berkhof and Peter Van Merksteijn Jr / Eddy Chevaillier. Six Fiesta ST cars are also entered for what is the penultimate round of the Fiesta SportingTrophy International.

* The team has completed two asphalt tests in the last week in preparation for the two asphalt events in Spain and Corsica. A three-day test in Corsica ended on Monday, each driver spending one-and-a-half days behind the wheel to concentrate on tyre work and car set-up. Duval, who tested first, covered more than 300km. This was followed by another three-day test which ends in Spain today. Duval again took the wheel first, with Hirvonen taking over for the final day-and-a-half.

Fiestas swarm on Spain for penultimate attack

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:06 PM

The penultimate round of the Pirelli-supported Fiesta SportingTrophy International (FSTi) series sets off next week as registered crews head to Spain for Rally RACC Catalunya – Rally de España. This fifth of six FSTi rounds is set to be an epic attack on asphalt with three crews battling for championship honours.

Following the recent announcement that Airwaves® has become the Official Chewing Gum Sponsor of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), the brand (who also count Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team’s Matthew Wilson amongst their ‘Airwaves® Pro’ line-up), have increased their involvement in the WRC by supporting FSTi in Rally de España by presenting the Airwaves Award to the winner, who will receive a year’s supply of chewing gum.

As the only FSTi crew with a 100 percent finishing record, Burcu Çetinkaya (27) from Turkey and co-driver Çiçek Güney (26) head the pack with a one-point lead in the championship. The pair will be aiming for their second win this year as competition begins to heat up with two rounds remaining. Çetinkaya has been working hard to further her asphalt abilities by contesting the latest round of the FST Belgium series and also testing her Ford Fiesta ST with Junior World Rally Championship star Kris Meeke.

Nipping at the heels of the championship leaders is fellow Castrol Ford Team Türkiye member Emre Yurdakul (25) and his co-driver Can Erkal (24). The pair have been in scintillating form of late with two consecutive FSTi victories in Finland and Germany to accompany their second place finish on Round 2 in Turkey. It will be no easy feat for the youngster contesting this event for the first time in his career but a victory would see him catapult into the series lead heading into the final round in Wales.

Third placed championship runner Koray Muratoðlu (30) will be joined by new co-driver Caglar Suren with regular co-driver Levent Özokutucu continuing his positive recovery from a back injury he sustained in Germany last month. Muratoðlu too will contest the event for the first time but will not be holding back as he also has a chance of winning the 2008 FSTi series crown.

After an impressive second place finish on his home event last month, Joachim Müller-Wende from Germany will contest the event with a new co-driver, Brit Roger Burkill. Müller-Wende will be looking to advance up the championship standings in which he currently lies fifth. Once again on his preferred surface, the German will be pushing for another podium finish, this time on Spanish Tarmac.

Richard Moore of Scotland will contest the event again alongside a member of the MSA British Rally Academy in co-driver Andrew Roughead (21). Roughead was chosen for the seat by M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson who was asked by the training scheme organisers to select an Academy member to offer invaluable WRC experience to one of Britain’s rising young stars. Moore currently lies seventh in the championship with a mathematical chance of finishing third at the end of the season.

Russian Denis Grodetskiy and navigator Safoniy Lotko will make their asphalt debut in the Fiesta ST next week after missing ADAC Rally Deutschland due to personal commitments. Grodetskiy, with limited experience on the sealed surface, will be hoping for his first FSTi finish after posting some impressive times over the first three rounds this year.

Rally Spain will cover 353.62 kilometres of competitive distance over 18 high-speed Tarmac stages as competition kicks off with a ceremonial start in Salou at 20.00 on Thursday night. The event is again based in the Catalonian region of Spain with HQ and Service Park held in the seaside town of Salou. Roads are typically fast flowing but can become extremely slippery, especially for crews running down the order, as big cuts begin to establish, throwing dirt and loose gravel onto the surface. These big cuts will be something all FSTi crews will need to be cautious of as they caused several punctures for competitors last year.

Burcu Çetinkaya (27) from Turkey
“I will be pushing hard on this rally because I really want to win. Our times have improved a lot since the beginning of the year, but realistically we are still slightly behind our team-mates in stage times, so we will try to concentrate harder and get closer and pass them. I was pretty weak on asphalt in the beginning, but we have been working hard on it. I did the Omloop Rally in Belgium in the Fiesta last week and a two-day test session with Kris Meeke, so I hope to take the most out of what I was trying to learn and try to push more in Spain compared to Germany.

“The only thing I know of the Catalan roads is what I have seen on video; I haven’t experience anything similar to the Spanish roads because the asphalt in Turkey is very loose with no grip and Belgium has typically tight roads full of T-junctions. The Fiesta will be very good, but I think we will need to be careful with the tyres as there are a lot of cuts in Spain that can cause punctures. My goal for this event is to finish in front of Emre [Yurdakul] and hold my lead in the championship.”

Solberg and Atkinson joined by Tirabassi for round 12 of the WRC

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:05 PM

On the first weekend of October the Subaru World Rally Team will travel to Spain with three works entries as the World Rally Championship returns to tarmac. RallyRACC Catalunya Costa Daurada is the penultimate tarmac event of the year and the first half of a back-to-back asphalt double-header on which SWRT will be running a trio of Impreza WRC2008s for the first time.

Rally Catalunya is often said to be the closest the WRC gets to a circuit race, owing to its smooth and flowing asphalt surface. Most of the rally route has been resurfaced over the years making the roads clean and grippy, in contrast to the dirty asphalt of the last sealed surface event in Germany in mid-August.

“There are lots of long, long corners in Spain on very smooth tarmac so grip is good and speeds are generally quite high” said Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director. “This means the lateral loads on the cars and tyres are also very high. The rally is all about rhythm, and very early on it will be obvious if anyone hasn’t got settled.

“We are in the Tarragona region so we don’t go up into the hills where the rally used to be, which means that pretty much all the route is fast to medium-fast. We have a mixture of hard and soft compound Pirelli tyres, which will have to be strategically used to account for the sudden rain showers that can change everything. With our focus on gravel development, we haven’t been able to do a pre-event test here so there’ll be a bit to learn.”

This sentiment is shared by the team’s technical director, David Lapworth, who is eagerly anticipating the significant step forward in development that two asphalt events in two weeks will undoubtedly facilitate.

“These two tarmac rallies in two weeks will boost us massively, as we learned a great deal just from Rally Germany” he commented. “We’ll be using a combination of Markko’s base setup from his early tests and improvements we have been able to make after Germany to take another step forward on tarmac.

“We are very happy with testing so far, and the conditions in which Markko did all the early tarmac testing are far more similar to the roads in Spain than those in Germany so it should suit us better. We have had limited testing here though as a result of our focus on gravel development to date, so at the same time we must be realistic about how far through our refinement process we are with the new car.”

It has been one month since the last rally in New Zealand at the end of August, and Solberg and Atkinson have been making best use of that time.

“I’ve been preparing myself to the maximum since New Zealand, and I hope we can build on what we had in Germany” said Petter Solberg. “I really had good fun driving there, so I definitely hope we can have even more fun in Spain. It won’t be easy, but it’s a rally I like and the route is fun to drive anyway.

“Spain is a very different rally to Germany with very different roads, a lot cleaner and more flowing, but if you can drive, you can drive, so it’s not that big a change. We’re always driving flat out anyway, so you don’t do much different inside the car. It’ll be an important rally though as it’ll go a long way to deciding the result in Corsica the week after.”

Chris Atkinson echoed the Norwegian’s comments: “Spain is a very different event to Germany, where we were last on tarmac. The roads are wide, smooth and high-grip, and you can carry a lot of corner speed because of this. It’s about the highest lateral load we get all season, and whilst it doesn’t really affect us because we train for it, you notice it for sure inside the car. Because it’s smooth it gets very slippery when it rains as the water doesn’t run away, but when you get a series of corners right, it’s a great feeling.”

Alongside the works entries of Solberg and Atkinson, SWRT will run a third factory car for both this rally and the next round in Corsica. Impreza WRC2008 number 15 will be driven by Frenchman Brice Tirabassi, and the 2003 JWRC Champion is keen to get behind the wheel of a works Subaru for the first time.

“I am very happy to be taking part in these two events with a team of this level” commented Brice Tirabassi. “I don’t have much experience of driving a WRC car, but I know both events quite well so I am looking forward to getting going. I like Spain, so I hope this means I can focus more easily on learning the team and the car. My objective in Spain is to understand the car better and find the limit, and carry all this into Corsica the week after.”

The rally itself is based in Europe’s largest theme park, PortAventura, in the holiday destination of Salou, which lies 110 kilometres south-west of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast.

Rally Catalunya is scheduled in the region’s spring season, and whilst generally pleasant and popular with holidaymakers and rally fans alike, the weather can be notoriously changeable. Temperatures are expected to rest between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius, but rain can soon form as clouds crest the surrounding mountains of the Tarragona region and the inclement weather builds. On the smooth roads, sudden storms can easily flood the surrounding drainage systems and make grip levels very treacherous.

The organisers have made several changes to the stages since last year, with the inclusion of two brand new speed tests on Saturday. A total of 18 stages, including the renowned El Montmeil and La Serra d’Almos sections from previous years, take crews through 353.62 kilometres of competition after a ceremonial start on Thursday night that, typical of the destination, is just metres from the ocean.

The Subaru World Rally Team has entered three Impreza WRC2008s for RallyRACC Catalunya. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive number five, and team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot number six. Number 15, the third Impreza WRC2008, will be piloted by Frenchmen Brice Tirabassi and his co-driver Fabrice Gordon.

Between the rallies
The championship took a four week break between Rally New Zealand at the end of August and Spain at the start of October. During that time, Solberg has been training hard, including lots of karting with his family, but he has also been getting restless. “I don’t like waiting” he says, “I just want to drive”.

Atkinson travelled to Australia after Rally New Zealand for a few days of PR activities and to spend time with his family, before returning to Monaco and training hard for a busy month of October. Tirabassi has also been preparing for his first works World Rally Championship drive with SWRT.

Irish Entries

Posted: September 18, 2008 5:15 PM

14 Michael Orr Co-Driving for Khalid Al Qassimi (Ford Focus WRC)

David Moynihan is down to co-drive with Gareth Jones @ No 23, but David is unlightly to go

Irish Crews
21 Eamon Boland/MJ Morrissey (Subaru Impreza WRC)
46 Shaun Gallagher/Paul Kiely (Citroen C2 S1600)

Tim McNulty is listed at no 25, but is not expected to go.

Entry List and Details

Posted: January 28, 2008 10:43 PM

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