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News 2006


Sohlberg and Hanninen to contest the Production Car World Rally Championship

Finn Kristian Sohlberg (28) will contest the Production Car World Rally Championship in a Subaru Impreza WRX Spec C. Sohlberg´s car will  be run by the Japanese Syms Rally Team and his first rally will be Rally Sweden in February. The agreement includes six world championship rallies and the other events are Mexico, Argentina, Greece, New Zealand and Japan. During the season 2006 Sohlberg drove Team Red Devil Atolye Kazaz Subaru Impreza WRC2005 finishing Rally Italia Sardinia 6th place overall, his best ever WRC result and first ever WRC points. 

Juho Hanninen (25) will contest the PCWRC in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. During the season 2006 he won the Group N class in Sweden and in Italy and won also the Super 1600 category in Great Britain behind the wheel of the Citröen C2Hanninen´s car will  be prepared by the Finnish team RRE Sports (Rally Rent Europe) and his first rally will be also in Sweden. The othe events are Argentina, Greece, New Zealand, Japan and Great Britain

Rally Finland is not part of PCWRC and both drivers are hoping to drive there with the World Rally Car. 

Kronos Citröen to continue in the WRC

The Belgian-based team Kronos Racing has announced that they will continue to compete in the FIA World Rally Championship in 2007, fielding two Citroen Xsara WRC cars. The team will compete under the 'OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team' banner, will link up again with Manfred Stohl, who they worked with in 2005, while the second car, will be driven by Daniel Carlsson, although he is not due to do all of the events. The third driver on the remainder of the rounds was not confirmed. Kronos Racing has taken part in the FIA World Rally Championship with World Rally Cars since 2004 and took the first podium place with second-placed Manfred Stohl in Cyprus in 2005. This season they celebrated eight victories with Sebastien Loeb and the World Championship driver title. Kronos Racing took second place in the manufacturer ranking. Team Manager Marc van Dalen was elected “Team Principal of the Year“ at the “Professional Motorsport Expo in Köln“. 

WRC fourth-placed Manfred Stohl and co-driver Ilka Minor will once again compete in 16 WRC runs in 2007. The 34-year-old Austrian will once again take his seat in the Citroen Xsara WRC. His teammate in the OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team for at least six runs will be Daniel Carlsson. The 30-year-old Swede who as third-placed reached his first podium place at the Sweden Rally in 2006 will compete in Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Finland. Carlsson also celebrated his WRC debut in Sweden in 1999. So far he has taken part in 40 runs. 

Manfred Stohl said: “The fact alone that I will compete again in 16 runs next year seems like a dream. Even more exciting, it will be with the current World Champion team. I know Kronos Racing since I reached my first WRC podium places for them in 2005. The team works perfectly and has the advantage of being supported by Citroen-Sport. This should give us the opportunity to reach top positions next year, as well.“

Daniel Carlsson said: “It is an incredibly good feeling to be part of the OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team. I am sure that the Citroen Xsara WRC is the best rally car in the world and will be perfect also for me to support the campaign “World Rally against Drunk Driving“. I’ve known Manfred for a very long time and am looking forward to working with him. I think it will be the perfect mixture to be successful. I can hardly wait to be behind the steering wheel once again.“

Marc van Dalen said: " Following a fantastic season culminating in the WRC title by Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena it is a great joy for me to work with OMV and Manfred Stohl once again. We already had a very successful year together in 2005. I am convinced that all of us, Citroen, OMV, Kronos Racing, Manfred Stohl and Daniel Carlsson, will be good for several surprises. We are highly motivated."

Mitsubishi returns privately to the WRC

After taking a year out in 2006, Mitsubishi will return to the World Rally Championship in 2007 with a two car team. Privately funded Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports (MMSP Ltd) will compete in all the European rounds of the championship, for a total of 12 events out of 16. Finn Toni Gardemeister and 2005 Middle East Rally Champion Khalid Al Qassimi will be the two drivers of the team. The announcement comes just one year after Mitsubishi withdrew from the WRC while the company began a revitalisation programme. However, at the time of the withdrawal, the manufacturer was keen to point out that they were only 'suspending' their participation, and they expected to return in 2008. 

MMSP will start its season at the Monte Carlo Rally, using the 2005-spec Lancer WRC. This season, Mitsubishi supported privateers in a few WRC events. Jussi Valimaki had three top ten results at the wheel of the Lancer, including a fifth place in Rally d'Italia Sardegna. Gigi Galli retired at the Monte Carlo but finished fourth in Sweden driving the Lancer WRC. Daniel Carlsson retired in Finland but scored an impressive third place at the wheel of his Mitsubishi in Sweden.

Solberg to drive M-Sport Ford 

The 33-year-old Norwegian Henning Solberg, who is the older brother of 2003 world champion Petter Solberg, and co-driver Cato Menkerud will drive a Ford Focus RS WRC06 on all world championship events in 2007, as part of a Ford Manufacturers' Team (M2) entry. The car will appear in the orange colours of Team Expert, and will be part of a two-year agreement between Henning and the Norwegian based electronics retail company Expert. This year, Henning was part of the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team managed by Bozian Racing finishing the season eighth in the Drivers’ Standings. The deal marks the return of Solberg to the blue oval, after sharing Ford's second works car with Roman Kresta in 2005.

Henning Solberg said: “It’s just great for me to know that everything is sorted out for the next two years. This means that Cato and I can concentrate 100 percent on the driving. I’m very grateful to Expert. Together with other companies they have raised a budget for the next two years.”

M-Sport chief Malcolm Wilson said: “It is a pleasure to be working with Henning and Cato again in 2007, they have both had an additional years experience in 2006 and proved capable of finishing on the podium - as they capitalise on this in 2007 we are confident they will be challenging for a lot more podium finishes. It is also a pleasure to be working with Expert in 2007 - from the initial discussions we have had they seem to be focused on success for the programme and welcome the opportunity to work closely with them in the coming years.”

Red Bull Skoda to withdraw from the WRC

Skoda Auto has confirmed that it will continue to be involved in top level international rallying, but will focus its attentions on the Super 2000 category with a new car based on the next generation of Fabia. Skoda's decision to throw all of its resources behind a new Fabia-based Super 2000 rally project means that the Red Bull-backed WRC team will be forced to withdraw from competition ahead of the 2007 campaign. With no resources available to continue with the WRC project, Skoda has informed Team Baumschlager Rallye & Racing that it is free to look elsewhere to continue its involvement in the sport, something that Red Bull hopes will keep Andreas Aigner in the top flight. The Austrian drove for the team in ten events this year and showed improved performance with each. Red Bull has already confirmed that it will continue to support Aigner in future and is already trying to put together a package in time to secure a seat for 2007. Skoda, meanwhile, has revealed that it will continue to support Jan Kopecky, but details of a plan to give the Czech driver a privateer Fabia WRC remain subject to negotiation.

Suzuki recruiting staff

Suzuki has announced a major recruitment drive ahead of their step up to the 'senior' level in the FIA World Rally Championship with the new SX4 World Rally Car. Although Suzuki will not graduate from the FIA Junior World Rally Championship full-time until 2008, the Japanese manufacturer, which will base its World Rally team in France in the suburbs of Paris, plan to contest a selected number of events towards the end of 2007 with the SX4, subject to FIA approval. As such Suzuki is looking to recruit people to fill 15 different positions, having already recently appointed ex-Peugeot whiz, Michel Nandan as their technical director and Nino Frison, as their chief designer – both 'signings' confirmed at the end of last month.

FIA / World Motor sport Council decisions

2007 FIA World Rally Championship

19-21 January MC Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
09-11 February S Swedish Rally
16-18 February N Rally Norway
09-11 March MEX Rally Mexico
30 March-01 April P Rally de Portugal
04-06 May RA Rally Argentina
18-20 May I Rally Italia-Sardinia
01-03 June GR Acropolis Rally of Greece
03-05 August FIN Rally Finland
17-19 August D Rallye Deutschland
31 August-02 September NZ Rally New Zealand
05-07 October E Rallye de España
12-14October F Rallye de France - Tour de Corse
26-28 October J Rally Japan
16-18 November IRL Rally Ireland
30 November - 02 December GB Rally GB

2008 FIA World Rally Championship

25-27 January MC Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
08-10 February S Swedish Rally
07-09 March SA (Rally South Africa)*
28-30 March JOR Jordan Rally
11-13 April C (Cyprus Rally)*
25-27 April RA Rally Argentina
16-18 May I Rally Italia-Sardinia
30 May-01 June GR Acropolis Rally of Greece
13-15 June TR Rally of Turkey
27-29 June PL (Rally Poland)*
01-03 August FIN Rally Finland
15-17 August D Rallye Deutschland
29-31 August NZ Rally New Zealand
12-14 September AUS Rally Australia
03-05 October E Rallye de España
10-12 October F Rallye de France - Tour de Corse
24-26 October J Rally Japan
28-30 November GB Rally GB

* Rally South Africa, Cyprus Rally and Rally Poland will be subject to inspection in 2007. One of the three events will be included in the 2008 calendar. The World Motor Sport Council agreed that all future candidate events must first be part of an FIA Regional Championship.

2007 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship*

09-11 February S Swedish Rally
09-11 March MEX Rally Mexico
04-06 May RA Rally Argentina
01-03 June GR Acropolis Rally of Greece
31 August-02 September NZ Rally New Zealand
26-28 October J Rally Japan
16-18 November IRL Rally Ireland
30 November - 02 December GB Rally GB

*Entrants must select six events to qualify for the Championship.

2007 FIA Junior Rally Championship*

16-18 February N Rally Norway
30 March-01 April P Rally de Portugal
18-20 May I Rally Italia-Sardinia
03-05 August FIN Rally Finland
17-19 August D Rallye Deutschland
05-07 October E Rallye de España
12-14 October F Rallye de France - Tour de Corse

*Entrants must select six events to qualify for the Championship.

2007 Intercontinental Rally Challenge

9-11 March EAK Safari
24-26 May RUS Vyborg
22-24 June B Ypres
2-4 August POR Madeira
24-26 August CZE Barum
27-29 September I San Remo
12-14 October TR Turkey
25-27 October SUI Valais
23-25 November CN China*

Changed dates:
13-14 July RUS Vyborg
4-5 May TR Turkey

RED secures Toyota deal

The British based RED World Rally Team (Rally Engineering Development) has announced the creation of a new manufacturer partnership. RED and Toyota South Africa (Toyota SA) have reached an in-principal agreement, naming RED as agent for the Toyota Super 2000 rally car. The Toyota S2000 recently achieved full International homologation from the governing body of world motorsport, the FIA. Following homologation, Toyota SA sought a partner that could facilitate the marketing, sales, assembly and service of its product worldwide. Toyota SA has found that partner in the long-established and highly successful rally engineering business, RED. The first Toyota S2000 rally car will arrive in the UK next month. With the South African Championship being gravel, the first task for RED will be to develop the asphalt version of the car. RED, Toyota SA and Proflex UK will team up with hugely experienced Alister McRae to spearhead further development of the highly successful gravel car and to develop the all-important basis for the asphalt S2000.

RED team principal, Neil Gatt said: "As many people know, I have worked very hard in search of a manufacturer partnership where both parties have a serious desire to work together with compatible aims and expectations from the relationship, in order to deliver real value for all concerned, most importantly for our customers. This deal with Toyota SA is very exciting indeed. Super 2000 is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Manufacturer involvement and interest in the formula is bigger than the current Group N class could ever achieve. The Toyota S2000 rally car is significantly more affordable than World Rally Cars, substantially more durable than Production cars and more fun to drive and watch as a spectator. The beauty of the Toyota S2000, compared to other manufacturers, such as Peugeot or Fiat is that the car has been running for two seasons in South Africa. Toyota SA has done a fantastic job in developing the performance and reliability of the car. We want to make cars available to as many customers as possible who want to compete in a car that has proved it's performance and reliability over the last two years."

Super 2000 is now widely eligible for many regional and national championships in 2007, including the PWRC, APRC, MERC and the BRC. In addition to that the International Rally Challenge (IRC) 2007, created for Super 2000 cars, will feature classic asphalt rallies as well as gravel events. 

Colin McRae to replace Loeb in Turkey

Former world champion Colin McRae will replace Sebastien Loeb in the Kronos Citroen team for Rally of Turkey. Loeb, on the verge of a third WRC title, broke his arm in a cycling accident and misses the 13-15 October event. The 2006 World Championship leader now starts an intensive re-education in the aim to be back behind the wheel as soon as possible. McRae, the 1995 world champion, was Loeb's team-mate at Citroen in 2003 but lost his drive at the end of that year. The 38-year-old Scot's last WRC appearance came at the end of 2005 with Skoda, when he competed in two events. McRae will be partnered by long-time co-driver Nicky Grist. 

Autosport´s Q & A with Colin McRae

Atkinson to continue with Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team has announced that it has re-signed Australia's brightest rallying star, Chris Atkinson, to partner Petter Solberg in the 2007 World Rally Championship. The 26-year-old will contest all 16 rounds of the series with current co-driver Glenn Macneall. Atkinson joined the works Subaru team in 2005 and embarked on a programme to develop his natural talent. After an impressive debut on Rally Sweden, Atkinson has continued to make excellent progress, building experience of the Impreza WRC, the 16 rallies that make up the Championship and collecting stage wins and a podium finish along the way. The agreement continues Subaru's policy of seeking out young talented drivers and is part of a long-term partnership to develop Atkinson's potential into a future World Champion. It was also announced that the team will concentrate on running a two car team on each round of the championship and this means no third car entry. Team´s current asphalt specialist Stephane Sarrazin will not continue with the SWRT. 

Chris Atkinson commented: " It’s great news. I’m happy to continue the relationship. I feel like I’ve really started to fit in and make difference to the team, so it’s good to know that Subaru is putting so much faith in my ability. The team is heading in a good direction now and I feel I can help them progress. I’m looking forward to next season, the strategies are in place to improve the overall package and I hope we can look forward to getting some better results."

Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, commented, " We’re very pleased to have Chris with us again next year. Our team has a reputation for recognising potential and, as Chris’s performances in Australia and the most recent events have shown, he has become an increasingly confident and able driver. With the benefit of more event experience and the full backing of our team I believe he has a very bright future ahead of him. "

Loeb hit by injury

The Frenchman Sebastien Loeb suffered a broken right arm while mountain bike training in Switzerland and he is forced to miss at least the Rally of Turkey. Loeb clinched his 28th career victory in Cyprus last week and stands only six points away from a third consecutive world title. Loeb leads the drivers' standings with 112 points while his Finnish rival Marcus Gronholm is second on 77 points with four races to go. He only needed to finish in front of Gronholm, or in the top four if his rival wins, to seal another title.

Kronos team boss Marc van Dalen said: "He underwent surgery on Wednesday and will not be available to compete in Turkey. We can't really look beyond that at the moment. We feel bad for him because he's an exceptional individual. But he's an athlete and athletes recover faster than us."

Citroen confirmed official return to the WRC

Citroen have confirmed their return to the World Rally Championship as a manufacturer team in 2007. The new C4 WRC will spearhead its assault and will make the deebut in Monte Carlo 2007. In addition to a new car, the 2007 campaign will see a new crew competing alongside reigning World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. Without surprise Daniel Sordo and Marc Marti – Junior World Rally Champions in 2005 with the Citroën C2 Super 1600 – have been chosen to help the brand rise to this new challenge. 

Automobiles Citroën's Managing Director Claude Satinet said: "We will be making our official return to the WRC in just a few months' time now with the Citroën C4 which has been built and developed to permit the brand to re-conquer the Manufacturers' and Drivers' World Championship titles. 

Citroën Sport Director Guy Fréquelin said: "Dani is a young pilot full with talent, resulting from our formulas of promotion, like Sebastien, and it showed this year that it was on a very good level on asphalt. I do not have a concern as for his evolution on the ground"

Lindstrom to retire from the rallying

Team Red Devil Atolye Kazaz Subaru´s Kristian Sohlberg has named fellow Finn Risto Pietilainen as his new co-driver for the Rally Finland after his long time co-driver Kaj Lindström has announced his retirement from the rallying due to his health. His doctor has said that is it better for Lindstrom to stop the rallying completely, baecause the problems with his back and hip. Earlier Lindström has been Tapio Laukkanen´s and Tommi Makinen´s co-driver and he won with Makinen his one and only WRC event in Monte Carlo 2002. The experienced Pietilainen has most recently worked with the Red Bull Skoda WRC driver Harri Rovanpera.

Duval and Tirabassi out of Rally Finland

The First Motorsport Skoda team and Francois Duval has forced to withdraw from Rally Finland due to the financial reasons. Also the JWRC Citroen driver Brice Tirabassi wil not start the event due to his accident in Germany. He will be replaced by young Frenchman Fabien Fiandino,who competes in this year's French series with a C2. He will not drive C2 Super 1600, but instead the new Group A Citroen C2 R2.

Suzuki to start with the World Rally Car in 2008

The Suzuki World Rally Team has started testing its SX4 WRC in Japan, to prepare for their first ever season in the World Rally Championship´s highest level. Following the FIA's decision to retain the traditional calendar format, Suzuki has announced it is to delay its entry into the World Rally Championship until 2008 for their first full season with the new SX4 WRC. However, Suzuki is planning to enter their new car in a few rounds during the season 2007, to get ‘real life' data from WRC events. 

Suzuki World Rally Team Principal Nobuhiro Tajima said: “It is Suzuki's intention to enter several WRC events with the SX4 World Rally Car during the 2007 season, for the purpose of testing and development. However whether this can take place will be subject to discussions with the World Motorsport governing body, the FIA. The ongoing development and testing of the SX4 World Rally Car will be managed and coordinated at the Headquarters of Suzuki Sport Co. Ltd. in Japan, in collaboration with Suzuki Motor Corporation,”.

There are no changes for Suzuki's other rallying activities, at least until the end of this season. Suzuki Sport Europe (UK) will continue to function as the Junior World Rally Championship team base and is fully focussed on winning the 2006 J-WRC title. Suzuki Sport Europe (Hungary) will continue to be the centre for customer support activities and will endeavour to further expand upon its own future activities.

FIA World Motor Sport Council decisions

As a cost saving measure, a limit on the number of engines, with a single specification per year, will be introduced from 1 January 2007. The number of engines, with detailed regulations, will be proposed at the next World Council meeting. Applicable from 1 January 2007, the existing Super Rally rules will be replaced by a system of bonus points applied for each leg of a rally (1st = 3 points, 2nd = 2 points and 3rd = 1 point), to ensure the final classification applies only to competitors who complete the entire route. Detailed regulations will be proposed at the next World Council meeting.

From 1 January 2007, Priority 1 drivers can only test for the manufacturer for which they are designated and, as part of a long-term objective, the number of test days will be reduced by means of technical measures. Remote servicing, under restricted conditions, will be permitted from 1 January 2007. Detailed regulations will be proposed at the next World Council meeting.

Drivers of Super 2000 cars taking part in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship can score points for the Championship classification, as of 1 January 2007. Detailed regulations will be proposed at the next World Council meeting. From the beginning of the 2008 season, all World Rally Car entrants will use tyres from a single supplier. Run-flat ‘foam’ will not be permitted. Tenders will be invited from tyre companies. The introduction of Biofuel, at the earliest opportunity, is being studied by the FIA Technical Department. From 1 January 2007, it will be forbidden for competition cars running on less than four wheels to be driven on liaison sections. Detailed regulations will be proposed at the next World Council meeting.

The World Motor Sport Council approved the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship calendar, which will continue to run to the existing January-December format.

2007 FIA World Rally Championship

19-21 January Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo
09-11 February Swedish Rally
16-18 February Rally Norway
09-11 March Rally Mexico
30 March-01 April Rally de Portugal
04-06 May Rally Argentina
18-20 May Rally Italia-Sardinia
01-03 June Acropolis Rally of Greece
03-05 August Rally Finland
17-19 August Rallye Deutschland
31 August-02 September Rally New Zealand
05-07 October Rallye de France - Tour de Corse
12-14 October Rallye de España
26-28 October Rally Japan
16-18 November Rally Ireland
30 November-02 December Rally GB

The World Rally Championship Commission will decide whether to add further events to the 2007 calendar and will make a proposal at the next World Council meeting. The FIA Junior and Production Car World Rally Championship rounds will be proposed at the next World Council meeting.

Ekstrom to drive again Red Bull Skoda

Swede Mattias Ekstrom will drive the second Red Bull Skoda Fabia WRC05 in the Rallye Deutschland, the next World Rally Championship event from August 10th to 13th, 2006. Ekstrom, who is also backed by the energy drink giant in the German DTM touring car series, already had a very successful run for the team in Sweden. The 2004 DTM champion was among the world elite in an excellent fifth position on the final day before a mistake just short of the finish line ended his brilliant performance in the Fabia WRC. This second rally assignment of the tarmac specialist was made possible in particular by Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, who gave the winner of the last DTM race at Brands Hatch the necessary clearance between the DTM races at the Norisring (July 23rd) and the Nurburgring (August 20th). The Finnish gravel expert Harri Rovanpera will retake his place in the cockpit in Cyprus Rally and, following a test immediately after the WRC event in Germany, contest the remaining rallies for the team, together with Andreas Aigner.

Sordo to drive the second Kronos-Citroen

The reigning Junior World Rally Champion Dani Sordo is to drive the number two Kronos Total Citroen on the next two world championship rallies in Germany (11-13 August) and then Finland (18-20 August) in the place of Xavier Pons. It is presumed that Pons will enter these events in a 2005 version car as used earlier this year by Sordo. Sordo will need to adapt to the 2006 Xsara WRC, as drivers scoring points in the Manufacturer 1 championship must do so with 2006-spec cars. The main difference between the 2005 and 2006-spec cars is the differentials. 2006-spec cars must have passive front and rear differentials, whereas Sordo has been previously driving the 2005-spec Xsara with active diffs. 

Solberg continue with Subaru

Subaru World Rally Team have confirmed that Petter Solberg has re-signed with the team for the next three seasons, until at least 2009. The 31-year-old Norwegian and his 42-year-old Welsh co-driver Phil Mills joined Subaru during the 2000 World Rally Championship season. Since then, Solberg has claimed 13 WRC rally victories, 30 WRC podium finishes and the 2003 FIA Drivers’ Championship title.

Petter Solberg said: “Well, first of all the aim is to win - that’s the main thing. That’s what I want and the team wants too. Okay, it’s been a difficult situation recently and we haven’t won as much as we want, but I’ve seen the plan and the strategy and how things are going to work out. That’s why I’m feeling very positive about signing for Subaru again - I know that they have always been in the top of this sport and they will be back at the top and start to win rallies again very soon. It is a difficult situation at the moment but that’s how it is sometimes, there are ups and downs and when things are going badly it’s very easy to run away, but that’s not me. I want to stay and get back to the top again with the people I was on top with before.”

Subaru World Rally Team managing director Richard Taylor said: “We’re delighted that Petter will remain at Subaru, it is great news for the team. Over the past six seasons we’ve developed a very strong relationship with Petter and he has become a great ambassador for Subaru and the sport in general. We’ve had a difficult start to this WRC season and our recent performance has fallen below the standards we set ourselves, but Petter’s decision is the clearest endorsement of our ability to get things back on track. We are confident that we’ve got the right technical direction now. We have a good plan and are looking forward to making ourselves fully competitive again over the next few months and then developing a new car for the longer term. Petter believes, like we do, that we can give him the best opportunity of winning his second and hopefully his third World Championship titles in the near future.”

Subaru manufacturer principal Toshi Azuma said: “It is very important for Subaru to have another three seasons with Petter and we are very positive about our future prospects in the World Rally Championship. Petter developed his driving career with Subaru, in 2003 he became the WRC drivers’ champion with us and now we want to give him the opportunity to develop further. He has also been closely involved in Subaru’s road car development over the years. Because he understands what it takes to develop road cars, he performs his role perfectly. His enthusiasm and personality has a positive effect not only to the rally team but to Subaru supporters around the world.”

Hanninen to drive Mitsubishi WRC

The 2
4-year-old Finn Juho Hanninen will contest his home event - Rally Finland in a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 run by MMSP, which will be also responsible for Daniel Carlsson's and Jussi Valimaki´s Lancers during the same event. Hanninen, who previously won the Group N class in Sweden and in Sardinia, has never been behind the wheel of the World Rally Car earlier and he gets the first taste of the car in Rally Finland Shakedown. Finland has always been happy hunting ground for Mitsubishi in rallying. In 1989 the company won their first world rally in Europe on this event, from 1996 till 1999 they scored four straight victories with Tommi Makinen on this event. 

Juho Hanninen said: " This is a great opportunity and I am really waiting it. Surely the car is good, reliable and great to drive."

Mehta passed away

The five times Safari Rally winner and current FIA World Rally Championship commission president Shekhar Mehta passed away on Wednesday 12th at the age of 60-year old. He was born on June 2, 1945 at Kampala. Shekhar´s WRC career as a driver spanned over 30 years, during which time he competed in 47 WRC rallies. He made his impact driving primarily for Datsun/Nissan and Lancia. Throughout his life Shekhar Mehta made an enormous contribution to rallying, both as a successful competitor and as a highly respected member of the FIA. Rally Paradise would extend its sincere condolences to his family and friends. 

Shekhar Mehta´s WRC events

Valimaki to drive Mitsubishi WRC in Italy and Greece 

Reigning Asia-Pacific Rally Champion and Mitsubishi Driver of the Year 2005, Finn Jussi Valimaki is set to compete both Sardinia and Greece WRC rounds in a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 run by MMSP, the company, which took care of the official Mitsubishi World Rally Championship cars last year. During this year he has contested some events in the Finnish Rally Championship series in a Group A Mitsubishi, but has lived a pretty quiet life on season first quarter. 

Jussi Valimaki said: " This is an opportunity I've been expecting a lot and now it has opened. It is wonderful that I can show my expertice with Mitsubishi. I strongly believe that Lancer WRC05 is very competitive in the series. This was proven by third and fourth position in the Sweden 2006. And I also archieved Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for Mitsubishi in its' powerful marketing area, Asia. My last experience with WRC is from season 2004 and I can assure you that the Lancer WRC I tested made me bigger impression than any other rally car I've ever rallied. Before Sardinia we have opportunity to adequate testings so that me and my co-driver Jarkko Kalliolepo can utilize the magnificent features of Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05. Never before I have had this kind of opportunity to show my skills - and I've never been as ready as I'm now for forthcoming challenge. It is time to show what I'm made of”

Sohlberg changes his program with Atolye Kazaz Subaru

Finland’s Kristian Sohlberg made his first WRC appearance this year in Sweden driving a privately-entered, works-specification Subaru Impreza WRC2004 run by Turkish Atolye Kazaz team and supported by Red Devil energy drink. He was 7th place overall, when he was forced to retire from the event after the 2nd leg due to the engine problems. In Sweden the team was using Impreza S10 (WRC2004) model, but now they will get the newer S11 (WRC2005) model. It was planned that Sohlberg´s next event of the season will be Argentina, but now they will skip it to tackle the 7th round of the WRC, Rally Italia Sardinia. The time schedule with the upgraded car would have been too tight if they had enter also the Rally Argentina. Another change in the program is that Sohlberg will drive in New Zealand instead of Greece. According to his original program the other two remaining events are Finland and Turkey.

Kristian Sohlberg said: " I feel really excited about getting into Subaru S11 WRC and back racing after a small break. It’s been quite hard to follow the wrc rallies that we have not managed to participate, but in the mean time I have been training really hard to be in absolute top form in the rally. I feel really confident that the car will help us to get our best result so far. Although I have not competed in Sardinia before, its not a big problem because as far as I have understood nearly all of the stages all new to everyone. We are really going to try and have a good result, drive as in Sweden, fast and push quite hard but try to avoid stupid mistakes. If we manage to get a good rhythm anything is possible.”

Atolye Kazaz Team Director Ercan Kazaz said: " We are delighted to return to WRC scene with Kristian and Kaj who have a great ability despite their young age. The new Subaru Impreza WRC2005 should be very competitive in this year’s World Rally Championship. I believe as Team Red Devil Atolye Kazaz we will be able to show the potential of the car. "

Rovanpera to drive Red Bull Skoda

The Red Bull Skoda Team has announced that Finn Harri Rovanpera will join the team for the remaining seven rounds of the WRC, which the team plans to contest. He will take over Gilles Panizzi´s place with the immediate effect, already going into action in Corsica, where he will be celebrating his 40th birthday in style on Saturday, during the second leg of the event. In his last rally the previous year, Rovanpera finished second in Australia behind the wheel of the works Mitsubishi. His greatest success came with a win in Sweden 2001. Harri´s home event Rally Finland is not included in the original program of the Red Bull Skoda, but they are now negotiating to contest also in Finland. 

Harri Rovanpera said: " This surely has to be my best birthday present ever. I hope I will be fast not only on the gravel rallies, but also perform well for my new team on tarmac." 

Panizzi to stop with Red Bull Skoda

Just ahead of next month's Tour de Corse, Gilles Panizzi has announced that he no longer want to drive Skoda Fabia WRC. The 40-year-old French veteran was frustrated by his 10th-place finish in Rally Catalunya, and claimed the car was uncompetitive.
There is also a conflict with his brother and codriver Herve, who has announced his retirement from the rallying. The Panizzi brothers had worked together for over 10 years, taking in 71 WRC events. Gilles had no plans to retire from rallying. During his career Panizzi has won total of seven WRC events, all on the tarmac surface. 

Gilles Panizzi said: " I have decided not to compete in Corsica with the Red Bull Skoda team. I don't want to take unnecessary risks just to finish tenth. I have been passionate about my rallying for 20 years, of which I was paid for 15 of those. The World Rally Championship is in a trough, there are fewer factory teams and more and more drivers who pay for their seats.

Galli to drive Peugeot

Former Mitsubishi works driver Gianluigi Galli is set to switch to a privately-run Peugeot for the 2006 World Rally Championship. The Italian tackled the opening rounds of the series, the Monte Carlo and Sweden, in a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 run by Ralliart Italy and backed by Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli. Now the
same company has confirmed that it will be entering a Peugeot 307 WRCs for Galli in next month's Rallye de France - Tour de Corse. The car will be run by Bozian Racing, which currently looks after Manfred Stohl's and Henning Solberg´s similar cars in the World Rally Championship. According to Pirelli, there may be the potential for more supported events for Galli, who ran with the Italian rubber last year in the Mitsubishi works team.

Gianluigi Galli said: " Obviously I would like to thank Pirelli for the support it is offering myself
and Bernacchini to continue to compete at a top level. It will certainly not be easy to debut in such
a special rally as the “Corsica”, but I think I can do well and repay in the best way possible the
confidence the Milan tyre manufacturer has in us. The quality of the cars prepared by Bozian goes
without saying, a reason for which I will do everything I can to perform at the level of the Pirelli
P Zero-Peugeot 307 CC level

Duval to compete all European events

The First Motorsport Skoda team will receive increased support from Skoda Auto in the Czech Republic similar to that given to the brand’s two other teams contesting the WRC this season. Skoda Auto will provide a package of spares and technical support for the remainder of Francois Duval’s programme that comprises the remainder of the Europe-based WRC events.

First Motorsport team principal Willy Collignon said: “This is good news for the team as it means we can work with the technical aspects of the Skoda Fabia WRC 05 to make sure that it is as competitive as possible for Francois to drive this season.” 

Bengue to drive BSA-Peugeot

Skoda works driver Alexandre Bengue is set to switch to a privately-run Peugeot for the 2006 World Rally Championship. The Frenchman, who is something of an asphalt specialist, has concluded a deal with BSA - the team he worked with in 2003, when he took the French Rally Championship in a Peugeot 206 WRC. He will take part in four WRC events this season, beginning in Catalunya at the end of this month. He will also take part in the Rallye de France, while the Rallye Deutschland also looks more than certain, in light of his preference for tarmac events. Bengue, who will again team up with Caroline Escudero, his usual co-driver, took part in all-four WRC tarmac events in 2005 - his best result a sixth place finish in France. 

Teiskonen to contest again the Production Car World Rally Championship

Just like during the season 2005, the 24-year-old Finn Aki Teiskonen will contest the Production Car World Rally Championship in a Subaru Impreza WRX Spec C. Teiskonen from Laukaa, the home place also for four-time World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen, won the PCWRC class in Great Britain last year and finished sixth in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship series. The car will  be run by the Japanese Syms Rally Team and his first rally will be Rally Argentina in April. The agreement includes six world championship rallies and the other events selected for Aki and his brother and co-driver Miika, are the remaininig PCWRC events: Greece, Japan, Cyprus, Australia and New Zealand. Rally Finland is not part of PCWRC and they are hoping to drive there with the World Rally Car or with their Group N Subaru. 

Teiskonen said: “It could have been a whole different season without the unlucky start, but this challenge there is no place for excuses. Now it's a new season and I have a new chance to show what I can do. I believe I have good chances to win the championship in a familiar team and on mostly familiar roads. I now have much more experience of the tough Mediterranean roads and Japan” .

Suzuki to join World Rally Car category 

Suzuki Motor Corporation has announced at the Geneva International Motor Show that it will enter the World Rally Championship (WRC) from August, 2007 onwards. Suzuki will use its all new Sports X-over vehicle SX4 as the basis for its WRC challenge. Suzuki’s WRC entry is one of the most important marketing and sales initiatives for the Corporation’s Automobile Division in recent years. Suzuki’s decision to participate in the WRC – which, alongside F1, is one of the world’s top motor sport championships – follows on from its very successful involvement with its teams in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC). The highlight of this JWRC programme was first place for the Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 in 2004 – in only the third year of participation – in the JWRC Drivers’ Championship. 

The WRC version will now be the focus of further detailed development and testing to increase its competitive potential to the maximum in order that it can prove to be a worthy WRC challenger from August, 2007 onwards. Exact technical details of the new Suzuki SX4 WRC will be announced progressively prior to its first competitive appearances. Currently development of its power unit and power train is well advanced and the prototype car is equipped with a new 2.0 litre turbo charged J20 engine. This engine already provides torque of 65kg.m at 3,000rpm and 320bhp at 4,000-5,000 rpm. The new all-wheel drive system developed for the WRC car by Suzuki includes mechanical differentials front and rear and an electronic differential located in the centre. Power is transmitted via a 5-speed sequential gearbox.

Gardemeister to drive more events with Astra-Peugeot

Toni Gardemeister will drive at least three more events with a privately-run Peugeot. The Finn tackled the opening round of the series, the Rallye Monte Carlo, in a Peugeot 307 WRC run by Italian outfit Astra Racing and placed third. Now he will compete in Catalunya, Corsica and Greece and also some other rounds are possible. 

Carlsson to drive Mitsubishi WRC in Sweden 

Swede Daniel Carlsson, scoring 6th place and 3 championship points in the Swedish Rally 2005, is set to compete in the 2006 edition of Swedish Rally and the WRC candidate event Rally Norway in a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05. There is still a few pieces left to put together, including a class change from A6 to A8 (WRC). The power to permit a change of class is beyond the organizers and the only one who can authorize his change of class are the FIA. Such permission is not automatically granted. 

Last year Carlsson drove a couple of events in a Peugeot´s works team and the team´s decision to withdraw from the World Rally Championship at the end of 2005 closed the door for Carlsson to continue there. This arrangement comes after weeks of nervous anxiety for Carlsson, who was looking for the competitive World Rally Car for his home event in the beginning of the season. He was forced to enter to the event in a Super 1600 class car (Suzuki Swift Super 1600 prepared by Suzuki Sport Europe) and after that MMSP, the company, which runs the official Mitsubishi World Rally Championship cars, contacted him. The team had hoped to enter two Lancer WRC05s on this event, for Gianluigi Galli and Harri Rovanpera, but Rovanpera was not able to funding his driving.  

Tuohino to drive in Sweden, Rovanpera withdrew

Finn Janne Tuohino, formerly a Skoda´s works driver, will compete on the Swedish Rally in place of fellow Finn Harri Rovanpera, as he was not able to funding his driving. The 30-year-old Finn will contest the event in a Citroen Xsara WRC run by French team PH Sport, which will be also responsible for Daniel Sordo's, Kris Meeke´s and Julien Pressac´s Junior World Championship Citroen C2 Super 1600s during this year. Tuohino will be partnered by Rovanpera´s regular co-driver Risto Pietilainen, who has previously worked with Janne during a one-off drive in the 1996 Rally Finland. It was also the first ever WRC event for Tuohino. 

In 2005 Tuohino contested seven WRC events behind the wheel of the works Fabia WRC and the season was a nigthware for Tuohino. His best result of the season was ninth place in Cyprus. But in 2004 he impressed in limited outings in both a privateer and works Ford Focus WRC, finishing fourth in Sweden and in the points in Finland, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.

Kopecky to drive Kopecky-Skoda

The newly created “Czech Rally Team Škoda-Kopecký” should take part in ten events of the 2006 World Rally Championship concentrating on the European continent. For the time being the only crew of the team will be Jan Kopecký - Filip Schovánek. This crew with a Škoda Octavia WRC car in the colours of the Škoda Matador team took the Championship of the Czech Republic in 2003. In 2004 they repeated the success with Škoda Fabia WRC. During the season 2005 the team preferred the challenge of regaining the Czech title to the gradual gathering of experience in the races abroad. They were the third crew of the factory Skoda team taking part in Germany, France and Spain, where they gained the first and very valuable point for the World Championship drivers classification.

Jan Kopecky said: “Naturally I am excited that this season I can compete with a car Škoda Fabia WRC in races that are a part of the World Rally Championship serial. My big dream came true this way and I will try to gain as much experience and knowledge as possible for my possible future starts. Filip and I will do our best to achieve competitive times at the races where we have already competed. We would like to reach a placing that would ensure us enough points for the drivers classification, but the competition will be really very tough this year. We are looking forward to Rally Monte Carlo, because it is a legendary and challenging competition, typical for its changable conditions. We did a very good job during the preparation for this race and I think we are prepared really very well.”

The Czech Rally Team Škoda-Kopecký manager Josef Kopecky said: “ Of course, at first I would like to express thanks to all our partners - owing to their help we can accomplish such a demanding program. First of all these are the companies Škoda Auto and Matador, who took the largest share in the creation of the new team. We are glad we have a possibility to participate in ten world races with our own team. Before Rally Monte Carlo there was very little time for the preparation and the preparatory season was very demanding for all the team members. I am glad that a past master Pavel Turek, who is well known from his career at the Formula 1 team, will be a considerable help to us. We will open the season with one crew, but the technical and logistical potential is prepared for the start of the second crew.”

Mitsubishi confirm privateer support

The team that ran Mitsubishi's works World Rally Championship effort have confirmed they will continue to support privateer entries in the WRC following the carmaker's withdrawal as a works team in December. In co-operation with the Italian based Mitsubishi Ralliart Italy Team, Gigi Galli and his new co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini are registered to drive a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 as a private entry in Monte Carlo and Sweden. MMSP Ltd, based in Rugby, is providing the fully prepared car and the technical support. The operations will be held in cooperation with Ralliart Italy under the guidance of Ralliart Team Director, Mario Stagni. The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 that Gigi Galli will drive in the Monte Carlo and Swedish rallies is based on the homologation allowing privateers to compete under FIA regulations for 2006 and is a similar technical specification to the WRC05 car that he drove last season.

MMSP’s Managing Director and Head of Mitsubishi Motor Motorsports, Isao Torii, said: “Our aim is to keep the Mitsubishi brand alive in several rounds of the Rally World Championship. On the first two events of the season we are able to achieve this with the support of Ralliart Italy. Our team, MMSP Ltd., is well equipped with highly experienced personnel, the technical and engineering backup and mechanical expertise as well as strong management, so we are able to offer packages or private team initiatives for the appropriate fees.”

Gauloises to sponsor Kronos Citroen

Tobacco sponsorship is to stay in the World Rally Championship with the news that the French tobacco brand Gauloises will become a primary sponsor of Kronos Total Citroen World Raly Team. Gauloises branding had appeared on the Yamaha bikes of Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards in 2005, however following the Yamaha/Gauloises split, the French brand has now switched to the WRC and Gauloises branding will therefore appear on the Xsara WRC's of Sebastien Loeb and Xavier Pons.

Statement said: "After two seasons crowned by two world championship titles in MotoGP, Gauloises will participate in the FIA 2006 World Rally Championship besides the Kronos team and his two drivers, Sebastien Loeb, the reigning world champion, and his team-mate Xavi Pons. Delighted to be able to take up this new challenge for the conquest of a new world title, the French brand of the Altadis group will be present on the two Citroen Xsara of the Kronos team from the Rallye Monte Carlo, first round of the FIA 2006 WRC championship, which will be held from January 20-22."

Martin plans to end rally career

Estonian Markko Martin has admitted he will not drive in the World Rally Championship in the immediate future. The former Peugeot driver has not competed since his co-pilot Michael Park was killed in an accident during the Wales Rally GB in September. Martin has now set up his own junior squad in Estonia and is training two young drivers for the national rally championship. He entered the WRC with a small Toyota team in 1998 before he was snapped up by Subaru. Martin notched up five wins during his career and finished third in the drivers' standings in 2004.

The 30-year-old Martin said: "I will probably not enter the World Championship carousel any more. Never say never, but I don't see myself doing it in the near future. My career ended on a very bad note. I feel terribly sorry for what happened but I know full well the chances were 50:50 that the same fate could have befallen me. I have always thought people should grow up at around the age of 30."

Mölder to drive Atolye Kazaz Fiesta

The 18-year-old 18 Estonian Jaan Mölder is getting ready to make his Junior World Rally Championship debut with a Atolye Kazaz run Ford Fiesta Super 1600. Turkish team had lots of successful Super 1600 results in 2003 and 2004, running motorsport organizations for Citroen Sport Turkey. Jaan Mölder has selected Katrin Becker to be his codriver for the JWRC events, as she has already gained Super 1600 experience alongside Niki Schelle for the last 2 years. Atolye Kazaz Team of Turkey and Jaan Mölder will have the full support of M-Sport for the JWRC events. The pair will contest six rallies throughout the season, starting with Swedish Rally in February, followed by Argentina, Italy, Finland, Turkey and Great Britain.

Jaan Mölder said: “ I am happy about this interesting proposal which reached us quite in a last minute. It was attractive and made us to change our nearly closed decision. Driving a M-Sport supported new Fiesta S1600 in experienced Atolye Kazaz Team gives me possibility to fulfill my points-scoring target in results during my first year in JWRC. It was good impression to drive the car first time in M-Sport and I Iook forward to the tests with our new team in South-Estonia very soon.”

Jaan started rallying in 2002 with a Lada Samara, continuing with a Honda Civic. For the 2004 and 2005, he made a big step forward, gaining experience in a Group N, doing 22 rallies in Estonia and Latvia. He made his WRC debut with a Group N Mitsubishi Evo 6 in 2005 Swedish Rally. Jaan did participate in Acropolis Rally of Greece and Rally GB, finishing 9th in Group N. Jaan Mölder has won Estonian Rally Championship Group N in 2005. He also finished Latvian Rally Championship Group N category in third place

Gronholm commented his Ford contract

The double World Rally Champion  Marcus Gronholm has said his first public opinions about the coming season and the Ford contract.  

Marcus Gronholm said: "Both [co-driver] Timo [Rautiainen] and myself are excited about our two-year contract with Ford. We are expecting a lot and so is the team. The first tests in December in Sweden and France showed us that these expectations are well reasoned. The all-new Focus is not only fast, but incredibly reliable after such a short development. A change always gives you an extra injection of energy, and this is our first move after working for seven years for Peugeot. It was a bit sad to leave the team where we have had everything in our career, and we have a loads of nostalgic memories from the past years. Now, however, we face the pleasant challenge of learning the way our new team is working and to get to know all the people involved. It makes me feel confident when I know that it is not only me who is hungry for wins but the whole team has commited themselves to achieve success. Ford has won the Championship 1979 and Vatanen with a Ford 1981. Its about time... I am very pleased with the new calendar for this year even though it makes our lives quite busy in spring and fall but gives us a long break during the summer. This allows me to spend a proper summer with my family for the first time."

Sohlberg to drive Atolye Kazaz Subaru

The 27-year-old Finn Kristian Sohlberg will tackle at least six rounds of the World Championship in a privately-entered, works-specification Subaru Impreza WRC2004 run by Turkish Atolye Kazaz team and supported by Red Devil energy drink. Sohlberg´s first rally will be Sweden in February and he will drive also five other European events: Catalunya, Italy, Greece, Finland and Turkey. Sohlberg will be once again co-driven by Kaj Lindstrom. In Sweden the team is using it´s current Impreza S10 (WRC2004) model, but they will get the newer S11 (WRC2005) model later in the season. During the season 2005 Sohlberg drove two WRC events in Greece and Finland behind the wheel of the Atolye Kazaz Impreza WRC. He contested also the Finnish Rally Championship series in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC2 and took third place in the series. In 2006 he will drive only in the WRC events.    

Kristian Sohlberg said: " I have to say this has been the best Christmas present for me. I’m feeling great, and can't wait to get in the car again. Our target will be to show not only our speed, but also the speed of Subaru WRCs as well as their reliability and get good results. I’m confident that with the help of Team Atolye Kazaz, we can do a very good job and hopefully get many points. It will be very nice to work again together with Kaj. He is the best codriver I know. His experience will help in many ways. I think it’s also very important that we are good friends in private life. "

Atolye Kazaz Team Director Ercan Kazaz said: " We are developing our WRC programme and everything goes according to the plan. As the Team Red Devil Atolye Kazaz, we believe we will be up for the challange. Our priority is continuity, we are positive to make a step forward this season. For the coming years, we want to have a Turkish driver in the game, this is not a dream for us. "

Panizzi and Ekstrom to share second Red Bull Skoda

Mitsubishi´s former works driver Gilles Panizzi and former DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom will drive the second Red Bull Skoda Fabia WRC05 in the opening two rounds of the 2006 World Rally Championship in Monte Carlo and Sweden. The pair will join Austrian Andreas Aigner for the two events. Panizzi is experienced tarmac expert and it is possible that he drives also the other tarmac events later in the season. Ekstrom, who is also backed by the energy drink giant in the German DTM touring car series, will compete the second round of the series, in his native Sweden. He made his debut in a World Rally Car with a third, Red Bull-backed Skoda in 2005. Other outings have yet to be confirmed, but could be limited by his involvement in the DTM touring car series.

Team boss Raimund Baumschlager said: " Signing Panizzi and Ekstrom means that we have two internationally experienced drivers in our team. We now expect good results in the World Championship and a continuous push for honours in the Manufacturer 2 category for Skoda. Andreas Aigner should also profit from the experience of both drivers and learn much."

Wilson to drive full season

Briton Matthew Wilson will compete in the FIA World Rally Championship full-time in 2006, following confirmation that he will contest all 16-events with Ford's 'Manufacturer 2' team - the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team. The 18-year-old Wilson Jr, who is the son of Ford´s works team M-Sport boss, Malcolm Wilson, took part in the British Rally Championship in 2005 and contested also some Finnish Championship events. He won this year's Trackrod Rally, despite a season hampered by injuries from a major accident on the opening event of the year - the Rally of Wales. He has also finished in the top 15 on the previous two Wales Rally GBs. Although another season or two in the national level would probably have been preferable for him, following the decision to ban World Rally Cars from the British series that is no longer an option.

Ford's second-string team is being run by works outfit M-Sport in conjunction with backers Vodka Kick and Stobart Motorsport, which ran Wilson in a Focus WRC in the British series this year. Belgian champion Peter Tsjoen has been lined-up to drive the team's second car in the Monte Carlo season-opener, with the Finns Kosti Katajamaki, Jari-Matti Latvala and Argentinian Luis-Perez Companc all set to drive the second car throughout the course of the season.

Malcolm Wilson said: "Matthew will drive in all 16 WRC events in 2006. I have always wanted to get him into the WRC as quickly as possible. It will be a big jump - and in the first year it will be about learning and gaining experience. It will not be any different to any of the other drivers we have run before though, whether it was Francois Duval, Markko Martin or Petter Solberg. They all took five years to get to the required level."

Sarrazin and Giraudet to split

Subaru´s Stephane Sarrazin has selected Belgian Stephane Prevot as his new co-driver for the season 2006. Prevot, 36, partnered his fellow Belgian François Duval on six rounds of the 2005 World Rally Championship and will make his competitive debut alongside Sarrazin on January's Monte Carlo rally, the first event of the 2006 series. The pair will contest four asphalt rallies throughout the season and will play a significant role in the team's 2006 Pirelli tyre test programme. 

Stephane Sarrazin said: " Stéphane Prevot has a lot of WRC experience to offer and I'm very pleased to have him alongside me. I am also very grateful to Denis Giraudet for his help and support throughout 2005. He is an excellent and very professional co-driver but with a new season ahead I felt the time was right for me to try something different."

Loeb tested Citroen´s new C4 WRC for the first time

The World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena took the wheel of the WRC (World Rally Car) version of the C4 coupé which will enter the FIA World Rally Championship in 2007. For the first real tarmac test of the C4 WRC, Citroën Sport wished to benefit from good and stable weather conditions. For that reason, the team chose a road in South of France, going from the 'Col de Gratteloup' to 'Roquebrune' in the Var region. The weather was fantastic for the first two days when Philippe Bugalski, Citroën Sport's test driver, covered over three hundred kilometres without a single problem. The weather conditions worsened the third morning, but Sébastien Loeb could drive a short while on dry roads. The rest of the test was completed on very slippery roads as it started to rain heavily.

Sébastien Loeb gave his impression: "After a few kilometres, I felt confident despite the tricky road conditions. The car is well-born and easy to drive. It's a Citroën and its has been designed according to the WRCs regulations which means there are similar points with my usual car, such as the engine noise for example. Regarding the handling, I would say the suspension works well as far as vertical travel is concerned, which makes the car comfortable and efficient. The general balance is really different from what I know. C4 seems to be at ease in the slow sections. Generally speaking I think we have an excellent basis to start working… and that I enjoyed very much this first time !"

Chief engineer Xavier Mestelan-Pinon said: "Seb has discovered a car of a different size with wide tracks as allowed by the regulations, new ergonomics inside the car, and a driving position further of the windscreen. For the technical team, the first kilometres of a driver behind the wheel of a new car will bring a huge quantity of information. Furthermore we experienced changeable road conditions, and so we've found what we were looking for…"

M-Sport launches Ford Fiesta SportingTrophy International

M-Sport, the team behind Ford's FIA World Rally Championship programme, is to launch a one-make championship in 2006 for the all-new Ford Fiesta ST150 Gp.N that first appeared at Rally Finland 2005. The series for the 2000cc Group N3 cars will be based around six classic rounds of the WRC. It will be administered by International Sportsworld Communicators and will run under the same organisational format as the current Junior and Production World Rally Championships. The series will start in Spain before two more asphalt rallies in Corsica and Germany and three classic European gravel rallies in Sardinia, Finland and GB.

M-Sport director Malcolm Wilson said: “We are looking to create a format that will encourage and support good national drivers to take the crucial step of competing at world level in order to be able to build their experience without the traditional costs associated with this. We envisage a small team with limited resources being able to use the support structures that De Jong and M-Sport will have in place to be able to make that difficult step forward at a price that will be comparable with competing in many home championships. This should be the link from proving speed at national level to being able to compete head-to-head with the established names in the WRC. The Fiesta ST will prove itself to be a reliable and fun car to drive and we would like to see drivers progressing from these cars all the way to the pinnacle of the WRC within the playing field of the WRC events themselves. We are pushing to make this the easiest first step into the WRC, but we also want to give the winner the chance to progress forward. Our aim is to provide help to climb the next step of the ladder.”

Kresta signs test contract with Ford

Czech driver Roman Kresta, who drove a Focus RS WRC04 for BP-Ford World Rally Team during 2005 and finished eighth in the FIA World Rally Championship, will stay with Ford next season as their official test driver. Twenty-nine-year-old Kresta will play an important part in the development of the all-new Focus RS World Rally Car which the BP-Ford team will campaign in the 2006 championship. The team has a huge test programme next year and Kresta will share the driving with Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen, the team's official drivers in the 2006 championship. The new Focus RS WRC06, which is based on the Ford Focus ST road car, enjoyed a successful debut on the Rally Australia when Kresta scored the first world championship points for the car. In addition to his testing duties, Kresta will take part in the MSA British Rally Championship in 2006 driving one of the Stobart VK team´s Ford Fiesta Super 1600. His entry in the BRC demonstrates Ford's commitment to the new-look British Rally Championship while giving the team valuable feedback on Ford's latest rallying project.

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "Roman proved his abilities as an excellent test driver throughout 2005. His technical knowledge is good and I was impressed with his feedback on the new car during Rally Australia. We have a big test schedule next year and Roman will play an important role in the continued development of the new Focus RS WRC, while also easing the workload on Marcus and Mikko."

Gardemeister to drive Astra-Peugeot

Former Ford works driver
Toni Gardemeister is set to switch to a privately-run Peugeot for the 2006 World Rally Championship. He had been tipped to continue with Ford for 2006, but the team's decision to sign fellow Finn Mikko Hirvonen left him facing a search for a competitive car to continue his career. The Finn will tackle the opening round of the series, the Rallye Monte Carlo, in a Peugeot 307 WRC run by Italian outfit Astra. It is not yet known, if It is possible to drive also some other WRC events. If not, he has already promised to drive some Finnish national Group F events with his own BMW M3.

Gardemeister´s outing with the Astra is like returning to own family. His real rallying career abroad began with Astra Team at the Motor Show of Bologna in 1996 driving the glorious Lancia Delta Integrale that has been the first car to give the Finnish driver his first overall win at the Rally of Tronto in 1997. He drove a SEAT Sport Ibiza Kit Car run by Astra on WRC events in the '90s and took the victory in F2 category at the Rallye Monte Carlo in 1999. His return to Astra represents at the same time the return of Astra at the highest level of the World Rally Championship after the Lancia Delta years. Garmeister has also competed with Peugeot earlier. In 2001 he contested the Monte Carlo and Swedish Rallies in a privateer Peugeot 206 WRC after his spell as a SEAT factory driver came to an end. He finished in the top five in both rallies leading the Monte Carlo after the SS 1.

Astra Team Manager Luca Pregliasco said: "I have some great memories from the times when we started working with Toni, and now we find ourselves working together again for this great Monte Carlo.”

Stohl and Solberg to drive Bozian prepared Peugeots 

Peugeot´s works team withdrew from the WRC at the end of 2005, but the marque will still be represented in the FIA World Rally Championship 2006. One of Peugeot´s selected partners for the future WRC co-operation is French company Bozian Racing, which is to run a pair of OMV backed Peugeot 307 WRCs. After the highly successful 2005 season the Austrian oil and gas company OMV is to broaden its activities. For the first time they will compete for manufacturer points during a complete season. The 'OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team' will compete in twelve runs in the M2-ranking with two top drivers. Manfred Stohl, who drove an OMV backed Citroen Xsara to ninth in the championship standings and took two places on the podium in 2005, will be joined by Henning Solberg, who has proven his class once again in 2005 with fourth place in Cyprus and fifth place in Sweden. The premiere of the team will take place at the first WRC run in Monte Carlo. 

Manfred Stohl said: "To me this project is a confirmation of our performance and a big challenge at the same time. I'm sure that we have a perfect package that should enable us to compete for top places once again. Thirteen runs are a great basis that should give us a secure background right from the beginning."

Henning Solberg said: "Our decision for the Peugeot 307 WRC means that we get a car of the highest technical level. I'm convinced that it will enable us to compete with the best. Due to the M2 regulation we won't have to change anything at the car. I'm really looking forward to working with the new team."

Bozian Racing Manager Jacky Bozian said: "This is a great project for us. We want to win the ranking of the M2 class with these pilots and our team. That is no illusion but a realistic goal." 

Mitsubishi to withdraw also from the WRC

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) has announced that it has decided to suspend participation in the FIA World Rally Championship series from 2006. With the Mitsubishi Motors Revitalization Plan as a basis, MMC has made a solid start toward revitalizing its business operations. However, to strengthen and build upon this base, MMC realizes that it must focus management resources on the continued promotion of the revitalization plan. Mitsubishi Motors hopes to return to the WRC Championship series from 2008, after the completion of the revitalization plan, which covers fiscal 2005 to 2007. Only one week ago, Mitsubishi was testing in Catalunya with Lasse Lampi, Harri Rovanpera and Gigi Galli. Now the team was on the way to Sweden to do there first winter test for the season and they get the bad news. Developtment at the factory has been cancelled whit the immidiate affect. This decision however does not extend to MMC's efforts in the Dakar Rally (commonly known as Paris-Dakar). Mitsubishi Motors will continue to compete in this event and the company will also continue to support Group N activities, which are themselves already being revitalized by the introduction of the Lancer Evo IX.

Starting with an overall championship in the Safari Rally in 1974, the Mitsubishi WRC Team has accomplished a spectacular 34 wins in the WRC series. The team won the drivers' title 4 consecutive years from 1996 to 1999, and won the prestigious manufacturers' title in 1998.

Škoda to withdraw from the WRC, but support two private teams in 2006

VAG Group and Škoda Auto
has decided that the marque will no longer take part officially in the WRC beyond 2005. Even so the
Škoda brand will still be represented in the FIA World Rally Championship 2006. The marque has selected two partners for the future WRC co-operation, one based in the Czech Republic and the other in Austria. The team from the Czech Republic will be based around Czech Champion Jan Kopecký. It will be a single-car private team and Jan will contest 10 European rounds of the 2006 championship using the current Fabia WRC05 model. The Red Bull Škoda Team will run two Škoda Fabia WRCs on 10 events under the new ‘Manufacturer 2’ category that allows private and officially supported teams to contest a reduced number of events instead of the full 16-round WRC programme. The Red Bull Škoda Team will be run by Austrian Raimund Baumschlager and his Baumschlager Rally & Racing (BRR) Team. Already confirmed as one of the drivers for the Red Bull Škoda Team is 21-year old Austrian Andreas Aigner, who has been gaining WRC experience in recent seasons as part of the Red Bull Junior Team. A second driver with international experience will be confirmed shortly. Francois Duval and Colin McRae has been tipped to drive the other car. Škoda Motorsport will provide both teams with the same level of extensive support including the supply of Fabia WRCs and a package of parts for the programme. Technical support will also be available throughout the season and additional engineers will be provided on events. The support will also extend to national activities of Škoda Auto importers in various European markets. Skoda's support of these programmes is designed to maintain a presence in the WRC and leaves the door open to a full-time return to the WRC in the future.

Skoda´s Chairman of Board of Directors Detlef Wittig said: “We have given our future participation in the World Rally Championship a lot of serious thought and we believe that this is the most cost-effective way in which to maintain the Škoda brand’s presence in the series. I am confident that both partners will be excellent ambassadors for Škoda Auto in the coming season.”

Skoda´s Director of Research and Development Harald Ludanek said: “The technical improvements of the Fabia WRC05 were visible towards the end of the past season but the overall performance of the technique, team and the crews was not enough to be successful against the competitors. Also the discussion about the FIA regulations in the future is the reason that we decided to create a partnership with young and talented drivers like Jan Kopecký and Andreas Aigner through their respective private teams. Škoda Auto will continue to observe the development of the championship and its regulations and will decide at some point in the future whether or not we will one day return as a factory team.”

Galli and d´Amore to split

Mitsubishi´s Gianluigi Galli has named fellow Italian Giovanni Bernacchini as his new co-driver for the season 2006 after an eight-year working relationship with Guido d´Amore. The experienced Bernacchini, son of former codriver Arnaldo Bernacchini, has most recently worked with the JWRC Fiat driver Mirco Baldacci and has also previously worked with Galli during a one-off drive in the 2001 Rallye Monte Carlo. Guido d´Amore will concentrate on the Italian Rally Championship next year, but his new driver is still unknown.  

Gigi Galli said: " This really isn't a part company. Guido is for me like a brother, and eventhough once in a while we had some misunderstandings, it was never a big deal. I've already competed with Bernacchini in Monte Carlo years ago, so we do know each other and we're ready to give our best in the first event of the season ". Guido d´Amore confirms and explains: " For me this was a very hard and stressed season with many races and many hours of testing. I really didn't had time to take care of our Family Company but especially to enjoy my first hobby ( flying ) the way I wanted. Nothing will change between Gigi and I, we will still be great friends, and I wish him all the great results he deserves."

Sarrazin to continue with Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team have announced that Stephane Sarrazin will remain part of the team's driver line-up for the 2006 championship. The 30-year-old Frenchman will contest four asphalt rallies starting with the Monte Carlo Rally in January. In addition to his competitive duties, Stéphane will play a significant role in the team's 2006 Pirelli tyre test programme. 

Stéphane Sarrazin commented: "I am very happy to stay with the team. It demonstrates their confidence in me. I proved that I can be as quick as the best drivers on asphalt and now I'm looking forward to converting the year's experience into strong results. Combining a rallying and testing programme is very good as I will be able to continue my development, however it will also be to the benefit of the team. We will work together to enhance the performance of the car and the tyres."

Subaru World Rally Team Technical Director David Lapworth said: "Stéphane is a very talented, professional driver and he has brought the skills he learnt in his career as a racing driver to rallying and proved he can compete amongst the very best in the field. His abilities both in competitive and testing environments will bolster the team's resources and he will play a major role in the development of the car and Pirelli tyre package. We have three very different drivers, but their skills and characters all compliment each other extremely well and I feel our line-up is second to none. Everything looks very promising for the 2006 season."

Katajamäki drives five WRC events in 2006 

The 28-year-old Finn Kosti Katajamaki will contest five rounds of the WRC 2006 season behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS WRC04 run by the M-Sport customer program. The campaign kicks off in Sweden and he will drive also four other European events: Italy, Greece, Finland and Turkey. Besides that he will contest some Finnish Rally Championship events, but not the whole series. Katajamaki, backed by two-time World Champion Marcus Gronholm, has already completed four years of the Junior World Rally Championship. First two years with the VW and the last two seasons behind the wheel of a Suzuki Ignis Super 1600. In 2004 he placed fourth in the JWRC series and this year he was fifth. In 2005 he drove also the Finnish Rally Championship series in a Peugeot 206 WRC and was able to reach one of his goals winning the Championship and taking the FRC title.