Petter Solberg guided his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 to victory on the Cyprus Rally, which finished in Limassol this afternoon. The final loop of six stages once again took crews north of the rally's base and into the Troodos mountains. Solberg ...
Petter Solberg guided his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 to victory on the Cyprus Rally, which finished in Limassol this afternoon.
The final loop of six stages once again took crews north of the rally's base and into the Troodos mountains. Solberg started the day with a 25.3-second lead over Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera. By lunchtime service, that gap had mushroomed to 47.6 seconds with Solberg fastest on two of the three stages. The fight was effectively over from then. Solberg throttled back over the rerun tests - where Rovanpera suffered a broken driveshaft -to win his second round of the FIA World Rally Championship by more than four minutes. Rovanpera's problem almost dropped him back into the grasp of third-placed Sebastien Loeb. After the 18th and final stage of the event, the Citroen driver was just 2.8 seconds behind. Loeb led a Xsara WRC trio, with Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz claiming fourth and fifth respectively. Ford's Mikko Hirvonen rounded out the top six in his 2002-specification Ford Focus RS WRC.
Toshi Arai took his third straight win in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, beating fellow Subaru Impreza driver Martin Rowe by 3m43s.
Technical: Petter Solberg's car ran without any problems through today. Tommi Makinen retired yesterday after SS10, out of time after stopping for 28 minutes to fix his car in the sixth stage.
Sporting: Solberg was delighted to take his second win in the FIA World Rally Championship (his first came on Rally Great Britain last November). He had taken time out of Rovanpera on the first loop of three stages this morning, building his lead to almost 50 seconds. From then on he was happy to stroke the Impreza WRC 2003 home through the rally's last three stages to claim the team's first win of the season.
Petter Solberg said: "This is brilliant! It's a fantastic result for everybody involved. Everything has gone to plan for the last two days. We had this plan for Greece, it didn't work there, but it did work here. I drove pretty carefully through those final three stages, listening for any noises on the car. It was perfect, like it has been all weekend. Everybody has been working so hard for this result, I would like to thank everybody involved in this victory."
David Lapworth said: "We've worked very hard for 12 months now and have focused on being strong on this type of event. Here we've been able to combine the reliability and speed of the car and Petter and Phil's performance has been one of the coolest that I can remember. We've brought the car forward now and have more things planned for the second half of the season. We feel very well prepared."
Technical: Harri Rovanpera's car broke a front-left driveshaft in SS16. Marcus Gronholm retired with transmission trouble on SS6, while Richard Burns' car overheated and stopped on the road section following the tenth stage.
Sporting: Rovanpera decided against risking his second place in an all-out effort to beat Solberg. The Finn drove sensibly to get the car to the finish, his best result of the year to date - and collecting eight points for the Peugeot team at the same time.
Harri Rovanpera said: "I wanted to get second place, so there was no big attack today. This has been a very hard rally and we've had some problems going right up until the finish. When the driveshaft broke with two stages still to go, I thought we weren't going to make the finish, but we are here. I feel unlucky and lucky at the same time. We had two wheel-drive for the last couple of stages and we were dropping a lot of time. It was hard work to the finish, but it's good to get second."
Jean-Pierre Nicolas said: "The problems we had with the transmission this weekend were not the same as the trouble we had in Greece. Here it was linked to the temperature; this is the hottest rally we have ever done and heated up the lubricants in the engine and transmission and caused the problems for Richard (Burns) and Harri. We still do not know what the problem was with Marcus Gronholm's car, but we are looking into it."
Technical: Sebastien Loeb suffered an electrical fault on SS15. The other two Citroen Xsara WRCs made it to the finish without any problems.
Sporting: Loeb's electrical glitch cost him approximately 15 seconds, but he remained ahead of team-mates Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. Loeb had also clipped a rock on the stage previously, knocking the steering on his Xsara slightly out of line.
With 27 seconds separating McRae from Loeb and 1m14s separating the Scot from fifth-placed Sainz, none of the Citroen drivers had any reason to drive flat out. They arrived at the finish in that order, picking up more points for the French firm.
Sebastien Loeb said: "I was lucky to get into service after the morning stages, the car kept cutting out through the last stage of that loop. I don't know what the problem was, maybe it was heat-related, but it just wouldn't pull. I had to keep stopping and resetting everything. After that scare, and hitting the rock on the stage before, I just wanted to make the finish. We weren't going to risk anything through the final loop."
Colin McRae said: "There was nothing to push for this morning, we just driving sensibly. We were testing some various transmission settings on the car, which are good for the car's gravel set-up. It's been good for me to get another full event in and get more time in the car on this sort of surface."
Carlos Sainz said: "There was no reason for us to fight today, we just wanted the finish. We've got some good points from this rally, now we have to look ahead to the next round."
Technical: Mikko Hirvonen's Focus RS WRC02 suffered a throttle problem on the final stage, while the two 2003 cars of Markko Martin and Francois Duval retired on the first stage yesterday with dust-related engine problems.
Sporting: Hirvonen's progress through the final day's six stages was undramatic. The Finn enjoyed the wider stages more than most on this event. He was very happy to make it to the finish in the points to maintain Ford's record which now extends to 21 rallies in the points.
Mikko Hirvonen said: "This morning was good, we were very sideways in lots of places, we had a good time on the stages. There were quite a lot of rocks on road, which had come down between the recce and the rally, but our gravel note crew did a good job for us and we had all of the information in our pace notes. The fly-by-wire throttle broke on the last stage, which meant it was sticking a little bit, but nothing too bad - it doesn't really matter now, we've made the finish."
Christian Loriaux said: "The problem with the dust was that it was fine enough to get through the filters on the car and get into the engine, but then it was thick enough to cause a problem between the pistons and the cylinders."
Technical: Armin Schwarz's overheating problems continued into the final day, but there were no new problems on the German's Accent WRC. His team-mates Freddy Loix and Justin Dale retired earlier in the rally, with Dale the first to go when his engine overheated terminally on the second stages. Loix lasted until the first test on leg two, when the engine on his car suffered dust-related engine failure.
Sporting: Schwarz's priority today was points. For the first time since the Monte Carlo Rally in January, he made it to the end of a round of the FIA World Rally Championship in a points-scoring position.
Armin Schwarz said: "I am very happy to be here, for me and for the team. This has been a very difficult rally. The conditions make it hard enough, but then not having the car running right has made it harder for us. We have driven the last two days at about the same speed we do on the recce, but it's worth it to get here."
Toshi Arai won this round of the FIA Production Car World Rally championship, leading from the first leg to the finish in his Subaru Impreza. The Japanese driver's trouble-free run continued through today, allowing him to open a three-minute gap on second-placed driver Martin Rowe. Rowe was backed up by his team-mate Stig Blomqvist, the former world champion taking third.
Top non-works crew were Alistair Ginley and Rory Kennedy in their Ford Focus RS WRC01. They finished eighth overall, despite driving the final loop of stages with broken power steering and in torrential rain.