Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) struggled in the loose gravel this morning but the Frenchman won the final three stages to close the gap on Gronholm. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) held fourth despite overheating problems while Chris Atkinson (Subaru) is fifth,...
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) struggled in the loose gravel this morning but the Frenchman won the final three stages to close the gap on Gronholm. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) held fourth despite overheating problems while Chris Atkinson (Subaru) is fifth, in spite of more serious overheating that put his car into 'safe' mode on all four morning tests. Xevi Pons (Citroen) completed the top six despite losing a minute after spinning on stage 3 and another 45sec after hitting a rock on the last test. Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) held third but gear selection problems this morning and a puncture and more transmission troubles this afternoon cost more than two minutes. He is seventh. Petter Solberg (Subaru) is 11th after similar overheating problems to Atkinson were followed by a broken gearbox that left him with just second gear for the final two tests. Dani Sordo (Citroen) retired from sixth with a broken engine on the penultimate test while Henning Solberg (Peugeot) stopped on the final test when in fifth. Matthew Wilson (Ford) was sixth until a faulty battery halted him at the finish of the final test. Team-mates Harri Rovanpera and Andreas Aigner (Skoda) both retired on the liaison section after the first stage with overheating troubles in their cars' electronics system. They will not restart tomorrow.
Kronos Total Citroen
For the fourth time this season, after Sweden, Finland and Japan, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena end leg one of a rally chasing Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen. Just as before, the Citroen duo will start tomorrow with the firm aim of making life extremely difficult for their favourite rivals. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio did not have as straightforward a run as their team mates, but still ended the day in an excellent sixth place. This position was previously occupied by Dani Sordo and Marc Marti, until an engine problem forced them to stop in 'Asinou Nikitari' (SS7).
Sebastien Loeb: " We're in a somewhat familiar situation. We sweep the road clean, lose time, and then try to get it back. Sometimes, like today, it works and that gives us a good battle to look forward to for the rest of the rally. This event is not as exciting as the two rallies that came before it, but it is certainly extremely demanding. You have to put in a big effort in sauna-like conditions, while maintaining maximum concentration to try and keep a clean driving style. This means that on the long stages, your physical fitness can definitely play a part. Risk-taking does not really work here - it's more to do with understanding the roads and choosing the correct speed for the right rhythm. "
Daniel Sordo: The reigning Junior World Champion drove a careful opening loop of stages as he felt his way into conditions that were entirely new to him. He had just started to pick up his pace (setting a fourth-fastest time on SS5) when he felt a power loss on SS7. Dani decided to stop 22 kilometres into the 25 kilometre stage, in order not to risk damaging his engine beyond repair. The decision whether or not to re-enter the Spanish crew under the Superally regulations tomorrow will only be taken after the Kronos technicians have examined the engine thoroughly.
The OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team had mixed feelings at the end of the first day of the "Cyprus Rally 2006". Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor moved up from fifth to fourth overall place in the afternoon and are only 25 seconds behind a place on the podium. OMV Teammate Henning Solberg, on the other hand, had bad luck. The Norwegian was blinded by the sun on the last special stage and slipped off the road. But he will once again take up the fight for one or more WRC-points on Saturday thanks to SupeRally.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "One can see that we are getting closer to the top, even though it is almost impossible for a privateer to match with the top works teams. On he other hand, we've left many works teams in our wake. That is a great success for the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Team and Bozian Racing, as well."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "This has never happened to me before. But I couldn't do anything at the spur of the moment - I became a passenger. Now all we can do is to take full risk on Saturday. Perhaps then one or more WRC-points are still possible. After all, one has seen today how many victims this rally has already claimed."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen lead the Cyprus Rally tonight after the heat and rock-strewn roads of the Mediterranean island battered many of their rivals into submission. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car showed no weaknesses in the gruelling conditions and the Finns ended the opening leg with a 6.4sec advantage. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are third in another Focus RS after a troublefree performance.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "To be leading tonight was my target but the gap is obviously not big enough to relax. I will still need to push hard tomorrow to try to build on my advantage. There was a lot of loose gravel on the stages this morning and while it was better to run second on the road than first, there was little difference. There wasn't much of a clean line from Seb's car, just in the areas where he accelerated. The roads seem looser than in previous years after regrading.
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "It was a good but difficult day. It was rough, hot and tough and mentally it's hard when you don't enjoy the stages. It's frustrating because the stages are quite slow and I've struggled a bit because I'm either driving too fast or too slow. They were slippery, which surprised me, and I almost had a big spin in the first stage this morning after braking too late and I can't afford that. It was only then I realised how slippery it was and that I needed to be neater."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally driver Matthew Wilson crossed the finish line of the final special stage filled with elation but it quickly turned to devastation when he realised he had suffered an electrical problem and would be unable to get back to base. The problem, which also ended the rally proper of the 3rd Stobart VK M-Sport car, meant he had to be pushed to try and restart his 04' WRC Focus but sadly to no avail. It followed a tremendous day for the 19 year old who was in his highest WRC position in 6th. He still finished today 10th overall with the SupeRally penalty.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I knew as soon as I saw the lights flashing and there was nothing happening that it was pretty serious. It's just so disappointing. It would have been great to be 6th overall tonight. But I'm happy with how I drove. I was consistent and we didn't spin or get out of shape on the stages. At least I know we'll have a good car for tomorrow and I'll keep pushing."
Luis Perez Companc: "It was a lot of fun out there but I am relieved to get back. On Stage 5 I had a spin which cost me 20 seconds, which was disappointing. Throughout the day I was trying to take it steady and stay out of trouble. I was looking out for the big rocks and trying to drive around them. That's the plan for tomorrow too."
Chris Atkinson leads the Subaru World Rally Team challenge after the first Leg of competition in Cyprus. The Australian set a consistent pace throughout the day to finish the Leg in fifth overall. Team-mate Petter Solberg had a strong start to the day, setting one fastest stage time, however he lost time in the afternoon when gear selection problems lost him more than seven minutes. The Norwegian will restart Leg two in 11th position.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: 'We did not have such a good day. I'm not sure quite what happened, however on the third stage this afternoon we had a gearbox problem and had to push on through the last two stages with just the one gear. It was very difficult and will make it very tough to get any result from this rally.'
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: 'We're doing ok. The second pass through the stages was pretty rough with lots of big rocks pulled out. We managed to avoid most of them and got through with no problems, although the times weren't what we expected, but that's how it is right now. I think at this stage fifth is the best we could hope for and tomorrow we'll keep going and keep trying.'
Red Bull Skoda
After both Fabia WRCs had retired on the road section between special stages 1 and 2, the cars were hauled to the Limassol service park in the afternoon where the entire team tried feverishly to locate the source of trouble. The alloted time amounted to 2:45 hours. The commitment of the crew's mechanics and engineers paid off as it became clear that serious overheating due to high temperatures and the slow pace in the stage had caused retirement for both cars. At the shakedown the day before, in similar conditions, everything had worked immaculately. The two team managers Raimund Baumschlager and Armin Schwarz had to make a tough decision: "Despite locating the source of error for both cars we have to forego the possibility of SupeRally. It has become imperative to complete further tests in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem. Since we have to run the same engines in just three weeks' time in Turkey, there's no room for experiments, so sadly we need to abandon the Cyprus event prematurely. Our whole concentration will now apply to the WRC rally in Turkey."