Victory for Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot-Michelin) in the Cyprus Rally, the first of a trio of hot, rough events that continues in June with the Acropolis (Greece) and Turkey, has promoted the 2000 and 2002 World Champion to top spot in the chase for this year's title. Illustrating just how competitive this year's series is proving, the Finn was the fourth driver to claim a WRC win after five rounds this season, while Peugeot-Michelin becomes the fourth different make to taste success. In the Manufacturers' standings. Ford leads Citroen by two points following the podium finishes of Sebastien Loeb (2nd, Citroen-Michelin) and Markko Martin (3rd, Ford-Michelin). With a score of four wins from five so far in 2004, Michelin runners fill the top three places in both championships.
Launched at the beginning of the season, Peugeot-Michelin's latest WRC challenger, the 307 WRC, chose the Cyprus Rally notoriously the toughest rally of the year for drivers, cars and tyres alike to claim the first win of its career.
Marcus Gronholm took command half-way through the first day, the most difficult as far as stage conditions went, before clearly finding the ideal pace to keep his opponents at bay without compromising reliability over the rocky, twisty, narrow stages to triumph by the handsome margin of 54 seconds. In contrast to the exceptionally high retirement rate recorded on the Mediterranean island in 2003, none of this season's front-runners suffered serious mechanical problems, with the notable exception of Subaru's Petter Solberg (6th). Indeed, the Norwegian handed the lead to Gr nholm when an overheating problem saw him fall way down the leaderboard on Leg 1. Both Sebastien Loeb (2nd) and Markko Martin (3rd) came through the rally relatively unscathed however to clinch a place on the podium alongside their Finnish rival. The latter moves past the Citroen-Michelin and Ford-Michelin pair however to take the lead in the Drivers' championship, the three drivers covered by just three points with practically a third of the 2004 series completed. The extra points for Citroen-Michelin secured by Carlos Sainz (4th) have allowed the French make to close within just two points of Ford-Michelin in the Manufacturers' classification. The Spaniard finished one place clear of Harri Rovanpera(Peugeot-Michelin) who figured as high as 2nd overall at one moment before dropping out of contention after suffering gearbox problems for much of the second half of the rally.
Victory for Michelin in the toughest round of the WRC's 2004 'East Mediterranean Tour'
Marcus Gronholm's success for Peugeot in Cyprus gave Michelin its fourth win from five events in 2004 (Monte Carlo, Sweden, Mexico, Cyprus). It was also the French firm's third win on the Mediterranean island since the rally's promotion to WRC status in 2000: Carlos Sainz/Ford-Michelin (2000), Marcus Gronholm/Peugeot-Michelin (2002), Marcus Gronholm/Peugeot-Michelin (2004).
There is little doubt that of the three hot and rough events that will be visited by WRC competitors in the space of just six weeks this year (Cyprus, Greece, Turkey), the Cyprus Rally is the most aggressive on tyres. The cocktail of heat, rocky stages and wheelspin induced by the acceleration out of the incessant low-gear corners puts tyres to the test like no other gravel rally.
Aime Chatard says
"The difficulty of the Cyprus Rally is not a legend. It's an event where, more than anywhere else, the drivers would love to have either a wheelspin-ometer or a wear-ometer on the dashboard to help them optimise tyre management over stages where it is going out and getting those final tenths of a second that make all the difference which puts the biggest strain on tyres. Wear is an exponential phenomenon and not linear," pointed out Michelin Competition's Rallies Manager Aime Chatard after the rally. "We also saw again this weekend how important it is to harmonise the environment in which the tyres are asked to do their job, notably on the particularly demanding first loop of Day 1."