This was forecast to be a rally of high attrition and today lived up to that prediction. Four leading entries were sidelined and many more hit trouble. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) survived the carnage to build a lead of 2min 04.2sec. He lost time...
This was forecast to be a rally of high attrition and today lived up to that prediction. Four leading entries were sidelined and many more hit trouble. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) survived the carnage to build a lead of 2min 04.2sec. He lost time on the opening stage when his car stalled several times while using the handbrake at hairpin bends. He was then fastest on the remaining five tests. A surprise second was private entrant Manfred Stohl, who avoided problems all day. Markko Märtin (Peugeot) lost 90sec on the first stage with a puncture but recovered to fourth. François Duval (Citroen) completed the top six, losing third place when he dropped 90sec on the third stage and incurred a 70sec penalty with a throttle problem. Petter Solberg (Subaru) held second until turbo trouble cost 90sec on stage five and a problem with the electronics forced him out just a few metres after the start of the last test. Team-mate Chris Atkinson retired with a broken clutch on the liaison section after stage two. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) fared worse, stopping on the first stage with a broken cam belt in the engine and it is unlikely he will rejoin tomorrow under the SupeRally rules. Armin Schwarz (Skoda) retired on the liaison section to service after stage three when a broken alternator belt meant his car had no charge. Harri Rovanperä (Mitsubishi) survived gearshift problems this morning and transmission trouble this afternoon to hold seventh, while engine and transmission problems slowed team-mate Gilles Panizzi this morning and he is 22nd.
Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC came through the awesome opening leg of Rally Cyprus today unscathed to top a somewhat uncustomary leaderboard. The privately-entered Xsara of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor follows in 2nd place, while François Duval and Stéphane Prévot have fought their way back to 6th.
Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "We always knew Cyprus was going to be tough. But not this tough! The stages are just as we left them last year. Today's long test [SS1 and 4, Lagoudera/Spilia, more than 38 km] was the worst of all. Incredible! Even driving at a snail's pace it was an absolute bone-shaker. There's no gravel left. We're driving directly over rocks."
Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: I incurred a 70-second time penalty and then dropped close to 2 minutes in the stage itself. After that, a rear suspension joint came loose during the second loop of stages and I had to ease off. But given all that's happened today, there's still everything to play for!"
Rally Cyprus was always going to be a tough challenge, but today's first Leg proved especially frustrating for the Subaru team. Faced with sweltering temperatures and some of the worst road conditions seen on a WRC event since the Safari Rally of Kenya, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson, together with the majority of the other WRC competitors, were hampered by a variety of technical problems. Solberg started well, with a fastest time in his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 on SS1, but his Leg one challenge came to an end with an electrical fault on the final stage. A damaged clutch on Atkinson's Impreza after stage two meant he too was sidelined from Leg one. After repairs in the Limassol service area tonight, both drivers are hoping to re-join the fearsome event tomorrow.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's very disappointing. Today has been so difficult I can't really believe it. The conditions were terrible; it was an effort just to complete the stages, as they were so rough. We had worked hard to prepare for this rally, but we weren't expecting any of the problems that we have encountered today. It's a very unusual rally and a very unusual situation. We'll wait and see how the car is, but of course I hope to start again tomorrow. That's the plan and I really believe that after what we've seen today it's possible for me to finish on the podium. I've often said anything is possible and tonight I believe that more than ever."
Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: "We started this rally at a comfortable pace because we knew the roads would be rough and cut up quickly. Perhaps through the first stage we were almost too safe, but we quickly gathered the pace and my confidence increased. But before we could make any real impact the clutch started to slip and that was the end of our day. It's certainly a shame to finish another Leg like this, as personally I wanted to get the car all the way to the finish. But, looking at my development programme, the opportunity to get more experience is the far bigger priority and I have to be grateful that the rules allow me to do that."
Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars held four of the top 10 positions after a destructive opening leg of the Cyprus Rally today. Car breaking conditions on the Mediterranean island's twisty gravel tracks either sidelined or delayed one top driver after another. But the four Focus RS cars were models of reliability in the gruelling speed tests, and none suffered serious mechanical problems on roads regarded as the roughest faced by the FIA World Rally Championship contenders in recent years.Norway's Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud led the Focus RS challenge in third with fellow private entrants Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr in fifth. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen are eighth in their Castrol-branded Focus RS after a puncture deprived them of a potential second. Team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozný are 10th after also losing time with punctures.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "The overheating caused the anti-lag system to stop working. The engine went into 'safe' mode to control the temperature and took away throttle response. It wasn't a big problem. On the first test I had a difficulty with the brakes, which is quite funny now. The brake fluid bottle came loose and fell on the floor, jamming under the brake pedal. I couldn't press the pedal all the way down and I couldn't move the bottle either!"
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "It's been an incredible afternoon, very, very difficult. The time loss means we have a bad start position tomorrow but I'm still in the rally and that's the important thing. After the punctures this afternoon, my only aim was to get the car back to service. It was tough but we did it and now the team can replace the suspension so that the car is perfect again tomorrow." Peugeot
Peugeot Sport suffered a shock to the system on the very first stage of the Rally Cyprus: Marcus Gronholm's 307 WRC retired with a broken timing belt while the sister car of Markko Martin was delayed by a puncture half way through the longest stage of the rally. But very few crews escaped problems on an opening day of high temperatures and rough surfaces that pushed cars and tyres to the limit. Markko Martin ends the day within striking distance of the podium in fourth position, after climbing back up the leaderboard with a consistent and trouble-free drive.
Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "There was nothing I could do. The engine gradually lost power and the water temperature rose steadily for about six or seven kilometres before it died altogether. Before I saw from our screen that we were fastest on the split times, without pushing especially hard. The car and tyres work well in conditions which are quite awful: the first part of the stage reminded me of the Safari in Kenya! I'm obviously very disappointed - I would have liked to have scored some precious points here."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "Actually today has not been such a surprise to me. As soon as I saw the conditions of the stages in the recce I knew it would be like this. I lost time on the first stage but I thought that if I stayed out of trouble I would get it back. During the afternoon I had no problems at all so I was able to get back up to fourth. I can't say that I have really enjoyed today, as everything here is a bit of a lottery. But if I continue to steer clear of problems then everything is possible. It's that sort of rally."
After a day of carnage, and one that was based on surviving the conditions, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen hold 7th position in the Cyprus Rally. Lancer WRC05 team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi had a troubled morning, losing time with engine and transmission problems, and the pair has plummeted down the leaderboard.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietiläinen: ""It was a rear diff problem this afternoon, which gave the same feeling like a slipping clutch. The engine was also intermittently cutting out in the last two stages this afternoon, just when we were in third and fourth gears, so I had to complete both of these stages with just first and second. The conditions really are as bad as I have ever seen them here, but maybe it will be a little bit easier tomorrow."
Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: "This morning was difficult with the engine and transmission problems, but at least we are still here. This afternoon our first puncture in stage four was just after the start so it has been impossible to push this afternoon. We also need to do some work with the suspension; we have to understand more what is happening."
Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team driver Janne Tuohino holds ninth place this evening but Armin Schwarz did not escape the problems although it was the failure of the alternator belt on the Fabia WRC 05 on the road section after SS3 that ended his participation in today's leg. He should return tomorrow in 16th place under the SupeRally system as one of four factory drivers sidelined today.
Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: "Today has possibly been the most difficult day's rallying I have ever done! The important thing was that I escaped most of the problems that everyone else had so it's not been a bad day after all. Tomorrow's stages are better but my plan is still to try and stay out of trouble." Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "The car was working the same as in Sardinia and I had a good feeling with the way it was handling on these roads. Unfortunately the alternator belt came off on the road section after SS3 and without it the battery could not last very long. We tried to reach service but had to stop with about 20kms to go. We can continue tomorrow and, having seen the way things happen on this rally, who knows what the final result might be?"