Petter Solberg (Subaru) took an early lead over Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) but on the first stage of the afternoon loop the Norwegian hit problems. Sand blocked his car's radiator and the engine reverted to 'safe' mode. He cleaned the radiator at the end of the stage with drinking water but the problem arose again on the next two stages. He had to stop briefly during the penultimate test and dropped more than nine minutes in total to lie 11th. Gronholm moved into a clear lead despite clutch troubles on the final two stages. Team-mate Harri Rovanpera made the most of a low start position to hold second, despite a small gearbox problem this morning. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) made a slow start but modified his car's differential settings and then set two fastest times to lie third. Behind Martin is Carlos Sainz (Citroen). The Spaniard was third until he lost time on the final stage with no tread on his car's left rear tyre. Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) was untroubled en route to sixth. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) was unhappy with his suspension this morning but team-mate Kristian Sohlberg suffered worse. His car's sump guard broke on the second stage, costing more than 2min 30sec and a slipping clutch throughout the afternoon cost another 11 minutes. He is 16th.
The second leg covers similar twisty gravel tracks and is again based out of the service park in Lemesos. It follows the same format as today, with two identical loops of three speed tests. They are located further south, close to Mt Olympus, and further west in less mountainous areas towards the coastal resort of Paphos. After leaving Lemesos at 07.45, competitors return for the final overnight halt at 18.57 after 109.56km of competition.
Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera have ended leg one of the Cyprus Rally in first and second postions. Both Finns enjoyed a clean yet spectacular run through the hot and demanding stages, finishing the first day just 10 seconds apart.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I'm very happy to be leading -- this is something that I am always trying to do!" he said. "Of course, the problem with the clutch was a big handicap on the last stages, especially because one of the starts was facing uphill. But on the whole the car has been excellent throughout the day, and has given me a lot of confidence in these very rough conditions. But there's a long way to go and we can take nothing for granted. Tomorrow we must keep pushing."
Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen: "It's been an excellent day for me," he said. "The conditions were difficult, but I have nothing in particular to complain about. The car has felt very strong and we have been able to push at a good pace without taking any stupid risks. There are so many big rocks here that you can have a problem very quickly. That's why it's best not to think too much about what will happen next -- it could be anything!"
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, 3rd, and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti, 5th, remain very much in contention for a top result in Cyprus following an opening day packed with action.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: It's true, my rhythm was too slow through the first stage," admitted Seb at the lunchtime service halt. "We had recceed it driving a right-hand drive 4x4 car at 20 kph, which wasn't ideal. I was also probably over cautious-- But by making a small modification to the Xsara's diff mapping after SS1, I succeeded in getting rid of the slight understeer that was hampering me. The car cornered much better. Its improved handling gave me more confidence and I was able to push harder--"
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "Using the ordinary lever and clutch pedal lost me a little time. That said, I didn't lose any time when I hit the timing equipment at the end of SS3."
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park ended today's gruelling opening leg of the Cyprus Rally in fourth place in their Focus RS World Rally Car. The FIA World Rally Championship leaders mixed caution with speed over rock-strewn tracks high in the mountains of the Mediterranean island to end the day 21.0sec behind the leader and less than a second from third.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: "There were no lines for us to follow this morning so it was quite difficult," said Martin. "I started with the aim of keeping out of trouble and I didn't consider then how much time I could lose. Even though we dropped 40 seconds I thought it would have been worse. It's hard to regain lost time but we had only done three stages and the tests this afternoon used the same roads, so they were clean. We had a small differential problem this afternoon. But the second loop was much better for us than this morning, although the second pass through the long stage was incredibly rough. Overall it's been a good day."
Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: Ford BP team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot had no time to make an impact. The Belgians retired on the opening stage when the nuts sheared on the front left wheel of their Focus RS, 5km from the finish of the 38.32km test. "I felt a vibration from the wheel and it was difficult to turn the car to the right," said 22-year-old Duval. "Then the brake pedal started to go to the floor and after about 2km the wheel came off the car. We were driving in second gear and I didn't hit anything so I really don't know what happened."
A day of mixed fortunes for the Subaru team. Dominating the opening loop of three stages in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004, Petter Solberg demonstrated the car's impressive speed on some of the roughest conditions in the WRC by taking two stage wins. However, Petter's pace-setting performance was stopped on SS4 when a radiator problem cost him over nine minutes. He ended the day eleventh. Competing on rough gravel for the first time with the Subaru team, Mikko Hirvonen gained vital experience of both the event and Impreza WRC2004. He finished the day in overnight sixth place.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It was going really well. Everything was going according to plan and then we had a small problem that cost us nine minutes. It's very upsetting to lose so much time over such a small thing, but that's the way it is and I just have to accept it. It's so disappointing after such a good feeling, nice control in the car and no worries. But, for tomorrow and Sunday I just have to do the best I can and see what we can do."
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "Well, It's been another day of learning for me and more experience in the car. We had a trouble free run and I think I've learnt a lot. I'm certainly not happy with my pace at the moment, but going flat out isn't really the immediate objective. I was happiest with the last stage (SS6) and I'm hoping there will be more improvement tomorrow."
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi finished the opening leg of the Cyprus Rally in eighth position this afternoon. Team-mates Kristian Sohlberg/Kaj Lindstrom have however experienced problems during the leg and the Finnish pair have dropped to 16th in the second Lancer WRC04.
Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "This is the first time we have driven such long stages (SS 1/4 -- 38.32 km) and because I didn't know how well the tires would withstand the conditions, I was a bit careful in these stages", said Gilles. "The car was also too low and bottoming out so I was also taking care for this because I didn't want to break anything. At the mid-day service we changed the suspension settings, especially the springs, and it was a big improvement this afternoon".
Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindstrom: Sohlberg's charge was halted in the second stage when a broken sump guard forced him to drive slowly through this stage and the next to preserve the car and get back to service for vital repairs. As a consequence, the pair dropped from an early eighth to 11th. "The sump guard came loose in the first stage but we managed to fix it before the start of the second", commented Kristian at the mid-leg service. "Then during the stage it broke completely. Overall I was happy with our pace in the first stage, based on where we know the car development is at the moment". A slipping clutch on the slowest and most twisty roads in the championship saw him plummet down the leaderboard further to an overnight 16th. "About 15 kilometers into stage four the clutch started slipping badly", added Kristian. "We slowed right down and the objective was then to just get through the next 40 kilometers of stages. I don't really know what caused the problem at the moment, but in an event like this the whole transmission is on overload all the time. I'm pleased to still be here this evening though so we can fix the problems, get some more experience tomorrow and try a few new things".
Weather is expected to remain fine during the event with temperatures in the 20's (celcius). Windy conditions may be experienced Saturday and Sunday.