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Block calls on Latvala for Finland preparation

Ken Block says a test with factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala in Finland last Friday has helped him to overcome some of the challenges he will face when he makes his debut on the country's FIA World Rally Championship round this week.Ken Block

The Gymkhana star will contest the high-speed gravel round in his regular Monster World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC and has been in Finland since last week to prepare for his third world championship appearance of 2012.

“We did about 32 kilometres with Jari and it was quite an experience and amazing to see how unique these road are,” said Block. “The road we used was like a rollercoaster with so many turns over crests and jumps. It was great for me to see how Jari was setting up for the different situations throughout the road and it was very nice of the Ford World Rally Team to let me do that so thank you to those guys.”

Block completed his own test on Saturday ahead of the reconnaissance for Neste Oil Rally Finland getting underway on Monday. The American said it had been an invaluable exercise.

“I have a little more knowledge about car set-up and how to set my notes up because it’s quite unique how dramatic these roads are,” said Block. “It’s one thing to see them on camera but it’s a whole other thing to look at these lines when driving down the road.”

Block used part of his test to offer friend and professional snowboarder Iikka Backstrom a high-speed ride in his Fiesta. Like Block, Backstrom is a DC Shoes-backed athlete. In an interview afterwards Backstrom said it was “the most scariest experience of my life”.

 Chris Atkinson I'm Ready For Finland

Chris Atkinson says his participation in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship will make up for his lack of running in the global series when he contests Neste Oil Rally Finland this week.

Atkinson has only tackled two FIA World Rally Championship rounds since the end of 2008 but has been a regular in the regional competition for the last two seasons and currently leads the standings by 45 points following the recent Malaysian Rally.Chris Atkinson

The 32-year-old Australian returns to rallying’s top tier in Finland in a Qatar World Rally Team Citroen DS3 WRC in place of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is representing his country in the skate shooting section of the London Olympics.

“Although I have moved away from the WRC, I’m still actively involved in rally,” said Atkinson, a podium finisher on six occasions in the world championship. “I am very pleased to get this opportunity and really enthusiastic about competing again [in] Finland. I’ve already taken part in this rally five times and I finished on the podium last time I was here in 2008. I hope I can get on the pace with the DS3 quickly, which seems currently to be the best World Rally Car. The four works drivers seem very determined to fight it out for the win, but I hope I can mix it with the leaders.”

Al-Attiyah, meanwhile, will begin his bid for Olympic gold tomorrow (Monday) when he takes part in the qualifying round. The final is scheduled to take place the following afternoon.

Gronholm closes gap with victory

Marcus Gronholm gets airborne in Turkey
Gronholm led from start to finish for his fifth win of 2006
Finland's Marcus Gronholm won the Rally of Turkey to close the gap on championship leader Sebatien Loeb.

He now trails the Frenchman, currently out of action with a broken arm, by 25 points with three races left. Ford team-mate and compatriot Mikko Hirvonen took second with Norway's Henning Solberg in third in a Peugeot. Britain's Colin McRae, hired by Loeb's Kronos Citroen team to try and peg back Gronholm, retired on the final stage in his first WRC event of 2006. Between them, Gronholm and Loeb have won every rally this season with the Frenchman, who could also miss the next rally in Australia, taking eight so far. "It will be difficult, but it's possible," said the Finn of his championship chances. Gronholm's latest win also moved Ford ahead Citroen in the constructors' championship, and they now lead by eight points. The remaining events are Australia (27-29 October), followed by the Rally of New Zealand (17-19 November) and the Wales Rally GB (1-3 December).



Rally of Turkey result:

1. Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Ford 3:28:16.300
2. Mikko Hirvonen (Fin) Ford +02:23.400
3. Henning Solberg (Nor) Peugeot 03:06.000
4. Xavier Pons (Spa) Citroen 03:27.400
5. Kosti Katajamaki (Fin) Ford 03:28.500
6. Chris Atkinson (Aus) Subaru 03:36.500
7. Daniel Sordo (Spa) Citroen 04:24.800
8. Manfred Stohl (Aut) Peugeot 04:30.300
9. Francois Duval (Bel) Skoda 05:35.600
10. Andreas Aigner (Aut) Skoda 06:57.400

McRae steps in for injured Loeb

Colin McRae
McRae was Britain's first world rally champion
Colin McRae will make a world rally comeback in Turkey as replacement for injured champion Sebastien Loeb.

Kronos Citroen driver Loeb, on the verge of a third straight WRC title, broke his arm in a cycling accident and misses the 13-15 October event.

According to French newspaper L'Equipe, Loeb says he is unsure when he will be able to return to action.

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 of Wales.

The pair parted company in 2002 after several successful seasons together, with McRae saying their relationship had become "strained".

A statement from Kronos said: "(Team boss) Marc van Dalen and (Citroen Sport director) Guy Frequelin have searched for the best solution to help the team defend its lead in both the drivers' and manufacturers' championships.

"Colin McRae has been chosen to help the team, and he is highly motivated to do his maximum to serve Sebastien and Kronos Citroen's interests."

Frenchman Loeb, who has a 35-point advantage over Finland's Marcus Gronholm with four races left this season, has backed McRae's appointment.

"Of all the drivers who were available, Colin is the one who has the best record, the greatest experience and who's also probably the fastest," said Loeb said.

"Another important trump card is that he knows the car well."

Loeb damaged his arm after falling off his mountain bike during training but still hopes to claim the championship title.

"As long as I won't be there, it will be easier for Marcus to win rallies," said Loeb.

"That said, if he has the slightest problem, he could be out of it without me having to get involved.

"How soon I will return will depend on how it all develops and for the moment, it's impossible to say.

"When you drive in rallies all year, you don't imagine that you can put your career at risk by riding a bike, but that's part of my physical preparation."

Title-chasing Loeb hit by injury
Sebastien Loeb
Loeb's title charge has been halted
Sebastien Loeb's hopes of clinching a third successive World Rally crown in Turkey next month have been dashed after he suffered a broken right arm.

The Frenchman, 32, was hurt while mountain bike training in Switzerland and will miss the Rally of Turkey.

Kronos Citroen driver Loeb leads the standings after 12 of 16 events by 35 points from Finland's Marcus Gronholm.

He only needed to finish in front of Gronholm, or in the top four if his rival wins, to seal another title.

"It is a really tough blow," Loeb said on his website. "I was going down a dirt track in a forest and my front wheel got stuck.

"I went over the handlebars and landed on my shoulder."

Kronos team boss Marc van Dalen refused to put a time frame on Loeb's recovery.

"He underwent surgery on Wednesday and will not be available to compete in Turkey. We can't really look beyond that at the moment," he said.

"We feel bad for him because he's an exceptional individual. But he's an athlete and athletes recover faster than us."

After the Rally of Turkey (13-15 October), the next WRC round takes place in Australia from 27-29 October.

Loeb secures Cyprus win hat-trick

Sebastien Loeb clinched his third successive Rally of Cyprus victory on Sunday to stretch his lead in the World Rally championship to 35 points.

The Citroen driver's eighth win of the season was secured when he came home 21 seconds clear of Marcus Gronholm.

Loeb now only needs to finish in front of Gronholm next time out in Turkey, or in the first four if the Finn wins, to clinch his third straight world title.

Gronholm finished in third place, 26 seconds behind Loeb.

Going into the third day, Loeb had a 21.8 second lead over Gronholm, which he extended when he won Sunday's opening stage.

But the Ford driver proved he was not going down without a fight, winning the rest of the day's stages.

"It's my third win in a row in Cyprus," said Loeb after his eighth win of the season. "It doesn't get much better."

"I gave everything I could from start to finish.

"Marcus pushed me very hard for two days. Now we can hopefully go to Turkey and confirm the championship."

A disappointed Gronholm shrugged off his own setback, saying: "We are fighting to win rallies and manufacturers' (points). We are a bit down now, but wait, wait," he said.

"It was a big ask to try and catch Seb. The team decided that it was more important that we confirmed second place and collected championship points. After the first stage this morning it was time to be sensible."

Gronholm's team mate Mikko Hirvonen was third overall and said he would pay particular attention to the set-up of his Ford Focus in Turkey next month.

"I made a big mistake with the car set-up," Hirvonen said.

Rally of Cyprus final result:

1. S Loeb (Fr) Citroen Xsara 4hr 40min 50.4sec
2. M Gronholm (Fin) Ford Focus @ 21.2 secs
3. M Hirvonen (Fin) Ford Focus @ 5:16.1
4. M Stohl (Aut) Peugeot 307 @ 6:39.7
5. T Gardemeister (Fin) Citroen Xsara @ 8:40.4
6. X Pons (Sp) Citroen Xsara @ 10:05.9
7. H Solberg (Nor) Peugeot 307 @ 14:40.0
8. P Solberg (Nor) Subaru Impreza @ 15:21.5
9. C Atkinson (Aus) Subaru Impreza @ 17:15.0
10. M Wilson (GB) Ford Focus @ 25:21.0

Overall driver standings:

1. S Loeb (Fr) 112 pts
2. M Gronholm (Fin) 77
3. D Sordo (Sp) 41
4. M Hirvonen (Fin) 39
5. M Stohl (Aut) 33
6. P Solberg (Nor) 23
7. T Gardemeister (Fin) 20
8. H Solberg (Nor) 18
9. G Galli (It) 15
10. C Atkinson (Aus) 14

Overall constructor standings:

1. Kronos Citroen 142
2. Ford 135
3. Subaru 79
4. OMV-Peugeot 59
5. Stobart-VK Ford WRT 30
6. RedBull-Skoda 22


Corsica repeat for rampant Loeb

Sebastien Loeb
Loeb was in fine form on the Mediterranean island's asphalt
Sebastien Loeb, driving a Kronos Citroen, claimed his second successive victory in the Rally of Corsica.

The French world champion led the event from start to finish and crossed the line 29 seconds ahead of Ford driver Marcus Gronholm of Finland in second.

Rising Spanish star Dani Sordo put in another solid performance in his first WRC season for third place.

Loeb's triumph extends his lead in this year's World Rally Championship to 11 points after wins in Spain and Mexico.

Finland's Mikko Hirvonen, in his Ford, finished fourth 10.5 seconds behind Sordo while Frenchman Alex Bengue, driving a BSA-Peugeot, took fifth place.

Petter Solberg's hopes of cutting Loeb's lead in the championship standings ended on Friday when the Norwegian's Subaru went off the track during the first stage.

Loeb said: "I did not win all the stages like last year and it was not easy. I really had to fight to beat Marcus."

"I'm happy to have taken so many points in these Tarmac rallies which are most suited to the Xsara. Remember Marcus is very strong on dirt.

"I got into a good rhythm, my car handled the tight turns really well and the gap began to open up naturally.

"He (Gronholm) was less comfortable from then on and he must have said to himself it was better to take eight points than lose 10. You can understand that."

Gronholm was disappointed not to win but happy enough with another good showing on a surface not as suitable to his car as dirt.

"I couldn't do much more," said Gronholm. "I knew on Friday when Sebastien had already gone 19 seconds clear that I'd find it hard to pull him back."

Rally of Corsica final standings:

1. Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen 3:43:05.400
2. Marcus Groenholm (Fin) Ford +00:29.000
3. Daniel Sordo (Spa) Citroen 01:48.700
4. Mikko Hirvonen (Fin) Ford 01:59.200
5. Alex Bengue (Fra) Peugeot 02:47.700
6. Xavier Pons (Spa) Citroen 03:10.200
7. Manfred Stohl (Aut) Peugeot 05:01.300
8. Stephane Sarrazin (Fra) Subaru 05:21.900
9. Gianluigi Galli (Ita) Peugeot 05:42.500
10. Jan Kopecky (Cze) Skoda 06:11.400


Loeb holds on for Mexico success

World champion Sebastien Loeb
Loeb kept his nerve to emerge victorious in Mexico
World champion Sebastien Loeb of France claimed his first victory of the season with a win in the Rally of Mexico.

The Citroen Xsara driver took the lead on the second day from Norway's Petter Solberg and won Sunday's three stages to claim success.

Solberg finished second, 48.9 seconds behind Loeb, with Austrian Manfred Stohl third, nearly five minutes back.

The win sent Loeb to the top of the standings after three rounds with 26 points, five ahead of Marcus Gronholm.

The Finn, who had won the first two rallies of the season, crashed out on day one but was allowed to rejoin the race with a 20-minute penalty, five for each stage he missed, and he fought back to claim a point for eighth.

Loeb's new team Kronos also took over at the top of the constructors championship with 34 points, three ahead of Gronholm's Ford.

"This is a great win because it's the first for the Kronos team," said Loeb, who was WRC champion in 2004 and 2005.

"I'm really happy. For Kronos, it's a big moment. This is a difficult rally and I lost a lot of time on the first day.

"It was also important to put an end to Gronholm's run of victories."

Daniel Sordo, a protege of former world champion Carlos Sainz, scored an impressive fourth place in his Citroen, while Henning Solberg was fifth in a Peugeot.

Irishman Gareth MacHale put in his best performance in a world championship rally to claim points for sixth place in his Ford, one ahead of Subaru's Chris Atkinson.

Rally of Mexico result

1 Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroën Xsara 3hr 47min 08.8sec
Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru Impreza at 48.9
3 Manfred Stohl (Aut) Peugeot 307 4:39.1
4 Daniel Sordo (Sp) Citroën Xsara 5:27.7
5 Henning Solberg (Nor) Peugeot 307 12:35.4
6 Gareth McHale (Irl) Ford Focus RS 16:02.3
7 Chris Atkinson (Aus) Subaru Impreza 20:39.5
8 Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Ford Focus RS 21:44.2
9 Toshi Arai (Jpn) Subaru Impreza 22:34.6
10 Ricardo Trivino (Mex) Peugeot 206 22:47.7

Drivers standings (after three rounds)

1 Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen 26pts
Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Ford 21
3 Manfred Stohl (Aut) Peugeot 11
4 Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru 8
5=Toni Gardemeister (Fin) Peugeot 6
5=Dani Sordo (Spa) Citroen 6
5=Daniel Carlsson (Swe) Mitsubishi 6
8=Henning Solberg (Nor) Peugeot 5
8=Chris Atkinson (Aus) Subaru 5
8=Gian-Luigi Galli (Ita) Mitsubishi 5

Manufacturers standings

1 Ford 39pts
2 Citroen 34
3 Peugeot 21
4 Subaru 20
5 Skoda 3




Formula 1


Rivals neck and neck in practice

Chinese Grand Prix, Sunday, 1 October 0700 BST


Michael Schumacher
Schumacher was less than a tenth faster than Alonso
World title rivals Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher were evenly matched in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Schumacher was the second fastest race driver behind Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa in Friday practice; Renault's Alonso was just 0.098 seconds behind.

World champion Alonso, who has not won since June, is two points clear of Schumacher with three races left.

Three test drivers led the times on Friday's second session, with Williams' Alexander Wurz fastest of all.

Schumacher has not scored a point in his two previous appearances in Shanghai.

And Ferrari's hopes were dealt a blow when Massa needed an engine change, for which the penalty is a demotion of 10 places on the grid.


Fernando Alonso
I am very confident, as always
Fernando Alonso
Alonso, winner in China last year, has a new and more powerful engine after a failure while he was heading for third place in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza three weeks ago.

"I am very confident, as always," the Spaniard said. "I think that for the last three races we should be very competitive.

"The car is really at maximum performance now, with no problems. We should be very quick. Now it is up to us and Ferrari to decide who is quickest."

Alonso sat out the first session and set his fastest time early in the second.

He went out again towards the end but was not close to the pace of the Ferraris and spun his car just before the end of the session as light rain started to fall.

"We had to adjust our programme a little bit because of the rain in the afternoon session," the Spaniard said, "but we have a good baseline to work from with the car.

"It felt comfortable to drive straight away, so while we need to fine-tune things overnight, I am quite happy at the moment.

"This is a track I always enjoy, especially with the good memories from the championship win last year, and even with the V8 engines and the other changes since 2005, it still felt very good to drive today.

"I think we need to be a bit cautious analysing the times, because the conditions on Friday are quite different to what we expect for the race."




Second practice times at Chinese Grand Prix (* denotes test driver ineligible to race):

1 Alexander Wurz* (Aut) Williams-Cosworth one minute 35.539 seconds
2. Sebastian Vettel* (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:35.579
3. Anthony Davidson* (GB) Honda 1:35.714
4. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 1:36.599
5. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari1:36.641
6. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:36.739
7. Franck Montagny* (Fra) Super Aguri-Honda 1:37.278
8. Michael Ammermuller* (Ger) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:37.678
9. Tiago Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota 1:37.698
10. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:37.718
11. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1:37.861
12. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.022
13. Mark Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 1:38.045
14. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:38.062
15. Alexandre Premat (Fra) Midland-Toyota 1:38.098
16. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 1:38.276
17. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:38.888
18. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:38.959
19. Scott Speed (USA) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1:39.080
20. Neel Jani (Swi) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1:39.118
21. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.179
22. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:39.217
23. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 1:39.522
24. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1:39.570
25. Sakon Yamamoto (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 1:39.636
26. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:40.155
27. Robert Doornbos (Ned) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:40.214
28. Christijan Albers (Ned) Midland-Toyota 1:40.319
29. Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 1:41.315

Leading first free practice times (* denotes test driver):

1. Wurz* one minute 35.574 seconds
2. Davidson* 1:35.591
3. Button 1:37.291
4. M Schumacher 1:37.712
5. Jani* 1:37.734
6. Premat* 1:37.787
7. Vettel* 1:37.913
8. Kubica 1:38.062
9. Ammermuller* 1:38.460
10. Montagny* 1:38.464
11. Liuzzi 1:39.000
12. Barrichello 1:39.217
13. Speed 1:39.428
14. Albers 1:39.494
15. Sato 1:39.887
16. Monteiro 1:39.947
17. Yamamoto 1:41.415
18. Raikkonen 1:45.890
19. Heidfeld no time
20. Trulli no time
21. R Schumacher no time
22. Coulthard no time
23. Doornbos no time
24. Alonso no time 25. Fisichella no time
26. De la Rosa no time
27. Massa no time
28. Webber no time
29. Rosberg no time

Singapore prepares bid to host F1

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone
Ecclestone is happy to talk about a Singpore Grand Prix
Singapore has started making plans to host a Grand Prix after new rules allowed the Formula One calendar to expand to a possible 20 races in 2008.

The south-east Asian island is already examining four proposals to stage races which would be held on a street course.

"The four bids are very, very good," Singapore Trade and Industry minister Lim Hng Kiang told the Today newspaper.

Spanish city Valencia, Greece, Russia and South Africa have also declared their interest in hosting a race.

Mexico had also made plans to return to the F1 calendar while an Indian Grand Prix and a second race in the United States had been suggested.

The FIA introduced new regulations in Paris last month which gave the green light to a maximum of 20 races per season from 2008.

This season there are 18 races on the calendar after the Belgian Grand Prix was withdrawn to give organisers more time to make improvements to the Spa circuit.

Valencia eager to host F1 races

Fernando Alonso testing for Renault in Valencia earlier this year
Valencia is used extensively for F1 winter testing
Organisers of the stand-alone GP2 races at Valencia's Circuit de la Comunitat are hoping they will help pave the way for Formula One races at the track.

The F1 feeder series event was seen by 52,000 spectators at a venue which is soon to undergo major renovation.

Regional sports secretary David Serra said: "It was a risk but it was worth the trouble. This type of event is absolutely profitable for Valencia.

"GP2's drivers are knocking on Formula One's door and we are also."

Valencia is already a favourite testing venue for Formula One teams.

The Spanish Grand Prix is currently staged at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona.

Interest in the sport has surged in Spain thanks to the success of current F1 world champion Fernando Alonso.

BMW Sauber play down F1 chances

The new BMW-Sauber F1 car
The BMW- Sauber is powered by a P86 V8 engine
BMW have warned against unrealistic expectations as they prepare for their Formula One debut in Bahrain next week.

BMW bought out the under-performing Sauber team last year and pin their hopes on drivers Nick Heidfeld and 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

But team boss Mario Theissen insisted: "We are not expecting miracles.

"What our achievements will look like we just don't know. We are aiming to make the most of our possibilities and advance step-by-step."

Theissen did admit that the F1.06 car was expected to be significantly better than last year's Sauber.

"We can say that things are looking good at this stage of development," he said. "After an intensive winter testing programme, our drivers have given the car the thumbs-up.

"The engineers are also convinced that a major leap has been made compared to the previous year."

The season-opener in Bahrain on 12 March will be German Heidfeld's first race since the Turkish Grand Prix last August.

He missed the last five races of 2005 due to a testing accident and a subsequent injury while out cycling.

Heidfeld also warned that BMW will probably be outside of the championship-chasing pack.

"My guess is that Renault and Honda will be in the lead to start with, possibly followed by McLaren and Ferrari and then a group of closely bunched teams," he said.

"We will probably be in with that group."

But he added: "I still feel pretty confident. I am desperately looking forward to my first race after a long gap and I can't wait to see what the competition is like."