Skoda upbeat about progress

Skoda has been busy conducting two separate testing programmes in preparation for the opening two WRC events of 2005 in Monte Carlo and Sweden. Armin Schwarz and Alex Bengue were on duty in the south of France, while Janne Tuohino and reigning DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom carried out snow testing in northern Finland

Skoda upbeat about progress

Schwarz reckoned it was a productive test. "The weather was quite mixed, which made it a good test for the Monte Carlo Rally," he said. "Of course with the new compact route we will again lose even more classic stages and that will reduce the risk of snow, but the test went well and if the conditions are right we can get a good result.

The experienced Schwarz will be partnered in the Monte by French rising star Alex Bengue, who used the test to familiarise himself with the Fabia.

"I did Monte in 2001 with a Peugeot 106 so this will be very different!" he said. "The Fabia WRC felt nice to drive but my driving style is less aggressive than Armin's so I will need to work a bit on a slightly different set-up. I'm not going to make any predictions about the possible result until I've had more time in the car."

Meanwhile the team's new recruit Tuohino and Audi DTM star Ekstrom tried out the Fabia on snow in northern Finland. The pair will join Schwarz for a three-car entry in Sweden.

"I was very happy with how quickly I adapted to the car," said Tuohino. "We drove maybe 320 kilometers and it felt very good in the snow. I feel really confident about getting into it for Sweden. More testing would be nice but if that doesn't happen then it won't be a big problem because I think we can already get a good result."

Ekstrom was similarly pleased with his progress but admitted that he won't know where he stands in relation to the WRC regulars until he embarks on the first stages in Sweden.

"I just concentrated on driving the car and getting the feel for how it behaved," he said. "I made a few contacts with the snow banks but overall I felt I was getting quicker with every run. This wasn't the first time I've driven the Fabia WRC but it was my first proper test in the car so I wasn't driving 100 per cent - maybe 99 per cent!

"I am hoping to have another test before the rally and then I will be happier. I've got no idea about how well I will do in competition so for now I'm just hoping for a clean run and we will see what happens."

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