Peugeot out to comfort its lead in the championship Round seven of the fourteen-round 2003 World Rally Championship, the forthcoming Cyprus Rally concludes the recent sequence of rough gravel contests before the season moves into its second half...
Peugeot out to comfort its lead in the championship
Round seven of the fourteen-round 2003 World Rally Championship, the forthcoming Cyprus Rally concludes the recent sequence of rough gravel contests before the season moves into its second half which has much more of a sprint flavour to it. After its win on the eastern Mediterranean island last year, Peugeot will be looking not only for another top performance this time round but also to consolidate its lead in the Manufacturers' and Drivers' championships which are both proving to be closely fought affairs. Marcus Grönholm, winner in Cyprus in 2002, Richard Burns, current leader in the Drivers' standings, and Harri Rovanperä are the three men listed to drive the officially nominated cars in Limassol, while a Bozian Racing-run 206 WRC has been entered for Gilles Panizzi who finished the recent Acropolis Rally in an excellent 7th position overall.
The 2003 World Championship calendar features three rounds in a row known for being especially tough on the mechanicals: Argentina, Greece and Cyprus. May's visit to South America harvested a maiden win for the 206 WRC in Villa Carlos Paz, but the French car was unable to repeat that success on the recent Acropolis Rally. That said, 4th and 6th overall respectively for Richard Burns and Harri Rovanperä allowed Peugeot Sport to come away from Greece with valuable extra points that have kept the team on top of the Manufacturers' classification.
Indeed, finishing consistently in the points looks like it could be more important than ever this year and Peugeot's record since the start of the 2003 campaign is globally very positive. For although all the events to date have been very fiercely contested, the 206 WRC has collected no fewer than three wins from six outings (Sweden, New Zealand, Argentina), the laurels in the other rounds having been shared between Citroën (2 wins) and Ford (1).
In the Drivers' championship, Richard Burns finished in the points yet again in Greece and stands out as the only driver to have scored in every round so far this year. This consistency keeps him on top of the provisional classification ahead of Carlos Sainz and his teammate Marcus Grönholm. The Finn fell from 2nd to 3rd spot following his early retirement in Greece, but the visit to Cyprus represents a first class opportunity for him to move back up the order.
Long considered one of the flagship rounds of the European Championship, the Cyprus Rally was included in the WRC calendar for the first time in 2000. Although not dissimilar to those used in nearby Greece, the island's mountain roads are significantly slower and the average speed of the 2002 winner was a mere 67.5kph, compared with 83.9kph for the Acropolis Rally...
The stages are very twisty and demanding on the mechanicals, especially since temperatures are unsurprisingly hot at this time of year. Peugeot's Cyprus record boasts three podium finishes, including a 3rd place for François Delecour on the team's first outing in 2000, followed by a memorable one-two for Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns in 2002.
Prior to his win last year, Marcus Grönholm's two previous visits to Cyprus ended in retirement, while Richard Burns' personal record includes a 4th place in 2000 and 2nd overall in 2002 when he finished on the heels of his teammate after an exciting tussle with Tommi Mäkinen. Harri Rovanperä compounded Peugeot's splendid 2002 performance by taking the flag in 4th position.
This time round, all three drivers will be out for revenge after the various technical troubles that put them out of contention for top honours in Greece.