A third win in a row for Loeb, Citroen and Michelin, as Manfred Stohl makes it a 1-2 for Michelin tyres The Cyprus Rally, world class rallying's toughest round, has been won for the second year running by Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their ...
A third win in a row for Loeb, Citroen and Michelin, as Manfred Stohl makes it a 1-2 for Michelin tyres The Cyprus Rally, world class rallying's toughest round, has been won for the second year running by Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen Xsara WRC running on Michelin tyres. The Frenchman's third victory in a row -- his fourth of 2005 -- has enabled him to extend his lead in the Drivers' championship, while Citroen-Michelin continues to close on Peugeot in the Manufacturers' points table.
Driving a privately- entered Citroen-Michelin, Austria's Manfred Stohl survived a drama-packed weekend to make it a one-two for the French tyre firm whose policy is to do all in its power to ensure that privateers benefit from the very latest evolutions to its tyres.
This weekend took WRC regulars to the extreme conditions of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus for a cocktail of scorching sunshine, ground temperatures in excess of 40C and twisty, narrow, rutted, stone-littered stages through the Troodos Mountains. With dry river beds to cross and numerous portions more akin to trials driving, the Cyprus Rally has emerged as the championship's most punishing test for crews, cars and tyres alike since the disappearance of Kenya's Safari Rally from the world calendar in 2003.
Rising to this unique challenge, Michelin took its latest hard compound Michelin Z BTO tyre in a choice of two dimensions: the familiar 17/65x15 and a wider 19/65x15 version which Loeb and his Belgian team-mate Francois Duval both used on the afternoon of Leg 1 on Friday. This intrinsically tough event made an immediate mark by kicking off with the longest stage of the weekend, a 38 km classic featuring 15 km of badly cut-up mountain tracks over which the final outcome of the rally was to a large extent decided.
The first pass saw the elimination of the 2003 Cyprus Rally winner (with Peugeot-Michelin) Marcus Gronholm whose Peugeot was halted in its tracks by a broken timing belt just as the Finn was in the process of posting a very quick time. The same stage saw his team-mate Markko Martin (3rd, Peugeot) drop 1½ minutes with a puncture, while Gilles Panizzi (11th, Mitsubishi) lost 20 minutes with an engine problem.
Norway's Petter Solberg (Subaru) went on to record the fastest time in this awesome stage, 2.7 seconds quicker than Sebastien Loeb. However, second time through the same test (SS4), the turbo of his Subaru began to show signs of weakness before sidelining the Norwegian for good shortly afterwards. By the end of Leg 1, Sebastien Loeb -- who took command thanks to a stunning time in SS2 -- had pulled out a handsome cushion of more than two minutes over his closest chaser. Yet the defending World Champion didn't stop there.
Although he could have opted to control comfortably from in front, the Frenchman went on to set fastest times over all Leg 2's stages before posting a further three best times on Sunday morning to conclude the weekend with a lead of more than 4 minutes, one of the biggest winning margins ever seen in modern rallying.
"I caught myself wondering on a number of occasions how on earth the tyres were able to stand up to such stages. The new Michelin Z BTO is very strong and that's a good sign for the two rounds that come next. I also liked the wide version of the Michelin Z BTO. It is resistant to wear yet still very responsive," declared Sebastien Loeb at the finish.
Francois Duval, Loeb's team-mate in the works Citroen squad, had another troubled weekend in Cyprus. After losing 3 minutes on Friday with an electronic throttle problem, the Belgian fought his way back to 6th place on Saturday but then left the road. It wasn't a big impact but, as he attempted to re-join the stage, his car caught fire and burned completely. This year's Cyprus Rally also proved difficult for the two works Ford-Michelins.
Two of the countless rocks that littered the Cypriot stages saw Toni Gardemeister suffer two punctures that called for wheel changes. Even so, thanks to 5th and 6th places for the Finn and his team-mate Roman Kresta at the finish, the Ford-Michelin squad succeeded in coming away with Manufacturers' points for the fiftieth rally running since the Monte-Carlo Rally 2002.
"I'm very glad to be celebrating this record with Michelin whose tyres have played a big part in our run," said M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson.
This was the first taste of competing in Cyprus for Skoda-Michelin's Fabia WRC which also had a troubled weekend. Armin Schwarz (13th), who won on the island in 1996 with Toyota- Michelin, 'retired' twice (clutch, then accident) but was able to re-start each time thanks to the so-called SupeRally ruling. Meanwhile, his team-mate Janne Tuohino (9th) finished inside the top-ten to earn the Czech firm three extra points.
In addition to Loeb, the heroes of the 2005 Cyprus Rally were incontestably the two privateers Manfred Stohl (2nd, Citroen) and Henning Solberg (4th, Ford) both of whom were running on Michelin tyres.
Driving a 2004 Rally Australia-specification Citroen Xsara WRC, Stohl put in an excellent first day before warding off the challenge of works Peugeot driver Markko Martin on the Saturday and Sunday. The last privateer to succeed in finishing on the second step of the podium of a WRC qualifying round was Manfred's own father, Rudi!
Finally, Petter's brother Henning, who finished 5th in February's Swedish Rally, was also in outstanding form despite being knocked off the podium by Martin's 307 WRC with the chequered flag in sight.
THREE IN A ROW FOR MICHELIN
Victory for Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and Citroen in Cyprus gives Michelin tyres their third WRC win in a row over three very different types of terrain: the flowing, gravel-coated roads of New Zealand, the mountain tracks of Sardinia and now the extremely rough and twisty stages of Cyprus where Michelin also won in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
WITH THREE DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE MICHELIN Z BTO
Three different versions of the new Michelin Z BTO tyre -- which was launched in New Zealand -- have now won groups of stages: the hard compound Michelin Z BTO 9+ (New Zealand), the medium compound Michelin Z BTO 9 (Sardinia) and a new wide version (19/65x15) of the tyre which Loeb and Duval used on Friday afternoon in Cyprus.
PRIVATEERS UP FRONT
Bravo to the three privateers -- Mikko Hirvonen (Ford-Michelin) in Sardinia, plus Manfred Stohl (Citroen-Michelin) and Henning Solberg (Ford-Michelin) in Cyprus -- who have recently flown Michelin's colours high and proud by figuring on the provisional podium. In keeping with its desire to enable privately-entered crews to benefit from its latest evolutions, Michelin should be in a position to supply its privateer partners with the new Michelin Z BTO -- in all its versions -- for the next two events
VERY (TOO?) ROUGH
The first 15 km of SS1 (38.32 km) were particularly cut up. In this stage, Loeb's time this year (35m 56.8s) was a minute slower than that of Gronholm in 2004 with Peugeot-Michelin (34m 55.7s). It's also in SS1 that the outcome of the 2005 Cyprus Rally was to a large extent played out.
RECORD NUMBERS OF PUNCTURES
This rally of extremes produced a high number of punctures, the vast majority of which had no impact on the overall leaderboard, with the notable exception of Ford's Toni Gardemeister. Of the 11 punctures he picked up this weekend, two -- which were the result of very big knocks (Rovanpera ripped a wheel off on the same rock in SS12) -- proved particularly time consuming. Drivers suffered between 7 and 11 punctures over the full rally distance, four times more than on an ordinary gravel rally.
FOUR MORE FOR GREECE
Michelin, its rival tyre firm in the WRC and the FIA have agreed to make four additional gravel tyres available for their respective partners to cover the asphalt super special held in the Olympic Stadium in Athens (Acropolis Rally, June 23rd-26th). Michelin will not do any specific development for these tyres which will be awarded to crews at random by the FIA.
SUCCESS IN CYPRUS, AND THEN?...
Michelin was optimistic about its chances for New Zealand following simulation work and testing, although the outcome was less predictable in Sardinia and Cyprus. But careful post-event analysis and the French tyres' third successive win in a row this weekend indicates that the firm's engineers and technicians have worked in the right direction with the new Michelin Z BTO. But will this product be just as suited to the high speeds of Rally Finland and the heavy landings that go hand in hand with this event's celebrated jumps? That's a question which Michelin's rallying specialists are already working on.