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Halfway through the mid-season break of the FIA World Rally Championship 2006 is a good time for a chat with OMV driver Manfred Stohl, who tells about his views on motor sports in Austria, a “green series” in the World Championship, the joy of being a father and his holiday plans.

You are competing in a complete season in the royal class of the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time – and this time around there also is a summer break for the first time in this series. Are you already looking forward to go racing again?
Manfred Stohl: “Yes, very much so. The first half went by in a jiffy – even though I was happy that there would a break after Greece until August 7. But now I’m starting to miss the Peugeot WRC, something I didn’t realise right away. The car was in Vienna for the 50-year-celebrations of OMV on June 9 and we went testing to Finland for a day right afterwards. Perhaps it is the current heat in Austria but in any case I’m already hot again for the WRC and everything that goes with it.“

Should we imagine  Manfred Stohl pacing up and down his appartment all day long, time and again looking at his watch and counting the seconds to the tests for the „OMV ADAC Rallye“ on August 7?
Manfred Stohl: “No, not exactly. I used the time for my company Stohl-Racing. We build rally cars – mainly for group N – and supervise them in the World Championship, as well as in national championships.“

Is this kind of enterprise fun?
Manfred Stohl: “It is difficult but in the end the positive aspects prevail. It is an enormous motivation for my team and me, when we are creating successful projects together with our clients.“

Which kind of motivation projects are you currently working on?
Manfred Stohl: “One of these is, for Stohl-Racing, definitely the world premiere of the natural-gas-driven Mitsubishi in the Austrian Championship. OMV driver Beppo Harrach was able to win already his second assignment in the class for alternatively driven cars – that made me immensly proud! We are a small company with ten employees and put a lot of effort into the development of this project. Such projects are a challenge to our team and make our business so interesting.“

Can you imagine alternatively driven rally cars also competing in the World Championship?
Manfred Stohl: “Absolutely – the cars are extremely fast. I’m convinced that this is the direction one should go in. A “green series” from biodiesel to natural gas opens up new doors, also with the sponsors. Thus rally sports would lead the way where responsibility in motor sports is concerned.“ 

You are working in the Stohl-Racing company – tell us about an ordinary working day of WRC-driver Manfred Stohl during the summer break of the FIA World Rally Championship?
Manfred Stohl: “That depends. Office work, contracts, negotiations, inventory, logistics – or simply taking up the screwdriver and getting to work on cars.  I am especially interested in development work. During the last weeks I did chassis testing on gravel and tarmac. Together with Slovenian Champion and winner of the “Skoda Rally Maribor“, Andrej Jereb, we were able to achieve improvements in this sector. We employ these developments at all our projects, of course – be it the OMV CEE World Rally Team in the FIA P-WRC or national championships.“

You didn’t talk about press- and media-work so far. What is Manfred Stohl’s opinion on this?
Manfred Stohl: “Working with the media is part of an athlete’s life and I am actually enjoying it. During this season I realised how much interest in my person has increased. I get more coverage in TV, as well as national and international media. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all editors and journalists who take an interest in me and rally sports in general.“

On this topic – are there stories or events that you enjoyed especially?
Manfred Stohl: “When you meet editors, journalists or fans who have been around for a long time it is like meeting old friends. It is fun to have discussions and learn other people’s opinions on rally sports. Recently I’ve also done some sidestories – foto shootings with top models or a test for Austrian motor sports heroes for a monthly magazine. And when you read in a newspaper something like “Manfred Stohl delivers what George Clooney only promises“ – well, that goes straight to the notice board in my company, even though it may be hard to keep a straight face.“  

Have you visited any rally events during the last weeks?
Manfred Stohl: “Yes, on June 16 and 17 I was at an Austrian championship run in Styria. I met some friends, attended to our OMV natural gas project and, of course, celebrated the victory with the whole team. Next weekend I’ll travel to the Czech Republic for the Rally Bohemia. Stepan Vojtech will be competing for the first time in a Peugeot 307 WRC and I want to support him – my experience shouldn’t be a secret but rather help other drivers. I am also looking forward to talking shop with my old teammate from the OMV World Rally Team of the P-WRC 2004, Jani Paasonen, who will be competing in a Skoda Octavia WRC at this rally.“

You were elected motor sports athlete of the year in Austria in 2005 – do you believe you can defend the title this year?
Manfred Stohl: “During the first half we gave some pretty decent performances and I naturally want to keep that up. Ambition is one of the most important characteristics of any athlete, when you get too complacent you tend to lose. It would be really great to win the title once again. Still, I keep wondering why there is so little support and promotion where motor sports in Austria is concerned. I have already approached this topic during the ceremony in November 2005. 30 million Euro are being awarded each year, yet not one cent goes to motor sports. Despite promises to take care of this, I still can’t see any improvements.“

The FIA has announced several changes of regulation for 2007 – especially as far as the event calendar is concerned. What is your point on this?
Manfred Stohl: “I wouldn’t have thought that three new events would be introduced. It is always a pity when an organiser loses his WRC-status, since everyone gives their best. But then competition enriches the whole scene and the sport. I think that this decision of the FIA was very courageous and absolutely the right thing to do, in any case. Cost reduction is extremely important in our sport, that is why it was very good not to add events but to stick with 16 events for 2007.“       

A full schedule in spite of the summer break – is there still enough time for family and leisure time?
Manfred Stohl: “Much too little, I’m afraid. On Mai 28, 2006 my daughter Hanna was born. I obviously try to spend as much time as possible with my family, since as a father I don’t want to miss the experience of seeing my daughter grow up, of course.“

What about holidays?
Manfred Stohl: “I’ll spend some recreational days in Tyrol together with my partner Michaela and my daughter. Austria is a great country – I travel a lot and that is why I cherish my native country even more. I’m planning to go mountain biking, mountain climbing and spend time with my family before things get rolling again with our tests for the OMV ADAC Rallye in Germany on August 7.“
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