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Rally champions tackle 2006 final round


This weekend's final round in the 2006 World Rally Championship marks an end to the 16-event season- the Rally GB held at it's traditional Wales base.

The event is a little dulled with both WRC titles secure; Sebastien Loeb claiming the drivers title after the Australian event and Ford taking Manufacturer honours in New Zealand.

As for New Zealand, three-times World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are present in Wales solely to complete the reconnaissance. For the rally, the two Kronos Total Citroën's Xsara WRCs will be placed in the hands of Spanish team-mates Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/ Marc Martí.

Newly-crowned FIA World Rally champions BP-Ford aim to complete the most successful season in their history by ending a long winless streak. After securing the manufacturers' world title earlier this month for the first time since 1979, BP-Ford drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have their sights set on giving Ford a first British win since the same year.

The rally is set in the heart of winter - with the prospect of unpredictable wintry weather - the single most difficult challenge faced by drivers in the hilly speed tests in the south Wales forests.

Apart from a spectacular spectator-friendly indoor special stage in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, all 17 tests are held on tough privately-owned gravel tracks. Most roads are in regular use, either by military vehicles on the most northerly stages or by lorries transporting logs to timber yards. Accordingly large log piles are a common sight by the edge of the tracks, adding an additional hazard for drivers.

Narrow tree-lined section high in the Vale of Neath forests contrast with vast open sections, both on the military land and where forestry work has removed the trees. If the weather is wet and gloomy, fog tends to hang between the trees in the forests while throwing a white blanket across the exposed areas on higher land. The roads are fast and flowing and invite drivers to attack, but in the wet they can be treacherously slippery and become rutted during the second pass.

Rally Route

The rally is again based entirely in the forests of south Wales and although the start and finish are in Cardiff, the single service park is based on the edge of Swansea, 70km to the west. Each leg comprises two identical loops of tests in the morning and afternoon. Friday's opening leg is centred on the Vale of Neath forests and includes the classic Resolfen and Rheola tests. Saturday's competition is located further north, close to the Epynt military land, near Brecon. The day ends with a spectacular test inside Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and, like last year, the arena's sliding roof will be closed. The final leg takes competitors west to the Brechfa Forest complex for stages which have traditionally formed the opening day's action in recent years. Drivers tackle 17 stages covering 355.92km of competition in a route of 1206.67km.

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