Solberg wins Cyprus survival game Petter Solberg's determination and undeniable speed paid dividends this weekend in Cyprus when the Norwegian became the fifth driver to win a round of 2003 World Rally Championship. The scorching ...
Solberg wins Cyprus survival game
Petter Solberg's determination and undeniable speed paid dividends this weekend in Cyprus when the Norwegian became the fifth driver to win a round of 2003 World Rally Championship. The scorching heat that marked this year's visit to the Mediterranean island produced an exceptionally long list of retirements amongst the favourites, but the Subaru driver was one of the few drivers to enjoy a trouble-free run. Peugeot-Michelin's Harri Rovanperä (2nd) kept the pressure on for the majority of the event but a last-day transmission problem for the Finn meant that Solberg's winning margin exceeded four minutes at the flag. Citroën-Michelin celebrated its first visit to Cyprus by getting all its cars to the finish, the trio of Xsara WRCs headed by Frenchman Sébastien Loeb (3rd) ahead of Colin McRae (4th) and Carlos Sainz (5th).
Despite its reputation as the toughest event in world class rallying following the disappearance of the Kenyan Safari Rally, this year's Cyprus Rally kicked off at a blistering pace. Remarkably though, there wasn't a single retirement amongst the factory teams on the opening day. And, with three Peugeot-Michelins inside the top four on Friday evening, the event looked as though it was about to develop into yet another fiercely fought affair.
Saturday morning changed all that however. On the day's opening test, SS5, Ford lost both its two star drivers - Acropolis winner Markko Märtin and François Duval - with identical engine problems. Then, on the very next stage, the runs of Peugeot-Michelin's Marcus Grönholm (transmission) and Gilles Panizzi (engine) were brought to an untimely halt, while Freddy Loix was another works driver to stop with engine problems.
The combination of blistering heat (up to 38°C) and the island's slow, twisty stages, which deprived the mechanical components of essential cooling air, was clearly testing the cars to their limit. Suddenly, the drivers became aware that this event was probably going to be more about survival than outright speed after all !
It was a revelation that came too late for some however. During the afternoon, the Skoda-Michelins of Toni Gardemeister (accident) and Didier Auriol (electrics) joined the retirements list, Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) threw in the towel after losing too much time with a smashed wheel and the current World Championship leader Richard Burns was eliminated by the after- effects of an overheating engine.
All this drama left just two drivers clear in front: Solberg and Rovanperä, the two Scandinavians split by 4.9 seconds when the dust began to settle after the day's cascade of incidents. Unfortunately, the anticipated battle failed to materialise when the Subaru driver succeeded in pulling out an appreciable chunk of time on Saturday's final stage which allowed him to finish Leg 2 with a cushion of just over 25s.
The morning of the short final day saw Rovanperä attempt to apply some pressure on the young Norwegian star, but it was clear that the latter was not about to crack. And with no threat from behind, the Finn chose to settle for 2nd place and eight welcome World Championship points, for himself and Peugeot-Michelin.
But even then it wasn't all over. In the first of the last group of stages, Rovanperä found himself with three-wheel drive only when his front-left drive-shaft failed. Happily, the gap separating him from the third-placed car was more than three minutes, just about sufficient for him to limp through the remaining tests to hold on to the silver medal by. 2.8s!
Ironically, the only team to have the pleasure of seeing all its cars reach the finish was Citroën-Michelin, despite this being the French outfit's first ever visit to Cyprus. Led by Frenchman Sébastien Loeb (3rd), who was himself making his debut appearance on the island, the three Xsara WRCs finished in close formation thanks to Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz who profited from the car's astonishing reliability to collect 4th and 5th positions respectively.
This weekend's result hasn't produced any changes at the top of the provisional World Championship classifications, although Sainz is now just a single point behind the Drivers' series leader, Richard Burns, while Citroën-Michelin has closed to within eight points in the Manufacturers' standings.
Performance in the extreme.
Turning on the heat. It's been a scorching Cyprus Rally for everybody, and that includes the tyres as much as the cars and the crews. Taking the challenge a notch higher than in Greece two weeks ago, ground temperatures peaked at over 50°C during the weekend! A record for the 2003 World Rally Championship.
Performance gain confirmed. Even in these extreme conditions, however, Michelin's latest evolution GW and Z patterns continued where they left off on the Acropolis Rally. Not only did they not suffer in the heat, but they also confirmed the 1/10th of a second gain per kilometre noted in pre-event testing and in Greece, at least during the early part of this weekend's competition (Michelin runners 1st, 2nd and 4th at the end of Day 1) before simply making it to the finish became the priority rather than battling for position and outright speed on Saturday and Sunday.
Not only did they not suffer in the heat, but they also confirmed the 1/10th of a second gain per kilometre noted in pre-event testing and in Greece, at least during the early part of this weekend's competition (Michelin runners 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the end of Day 1) before simply making it to the finish became the priority rather than battling for position and outright speed on Saturday and Sunday.
Out of contention. The cascade of incidents and retirements put Michelin out of contention for a third win in Cyprus after its previous successes on the island in 2000 (Sainz, Ford) and 2002 (Grönholm, Peugeot).
An extremely positive start. The Cyprus Rally brings the first half of the 2003 championship to an end. From the seven rallies run to date, Michelin has won a total of six, with three different partners (Citroën, Peugeot, Ford), four different drivers (Loeb, Grönholm, Sainz, Märtin) and over terrains as varied as wintry asphalt (Monte Carlo), ice/snow (Sweden), smooth gravel (New Zealand) and rough gravel (Turkey, Argentina, Greece). Michelin's total number of WRC wins since the creation of the championship in 1973 stands at 198.
Next round: Germany (July 25th-27th 2003)