After a promising day of competition, in which the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen held sixth position, the Lancer WRC05 duo were ultimately forced to retire in the final stage with suspension damage. They nevertheless hold seventh in the overall classification after amassing penalties for not completing the stage. Team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi hold 15th after losing significant time yesterday.
"Again, the crews have done a good job, it's obviously just a shame about Harri", said Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. "On the positive side, his problem happened in the last stage so we only incur an additional five minutes and drop one position as far as the Manufacturers' Championship points are concerned. Gilles continues to push and being first car on the road is never easy, but he has survived the leg. Tomorrow is another day and no one can predict a result; everything can still happen".
The second leg of the Cyprus Rally generally proved easier on cars and crews, but nevertheless saw the demise of four leading contenders, three of whom were lying in the top six. While the leg again took in two loops of three stages, covering 109.56 competitive kilometers, the roads were less aggressive than yesterday and retirements were more based around accidents than technical problems.
Until their retirement from the leg, Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen had enjoyed a near trouble-free day, the Finns fourth fastest through two of this morning's three stages. However, they were overhauled by a charging Toni Gardemeister in stage eight and had been fighting hard to regain their position this afternoon.
Third fastest and then fourth through the longest stage of the leg (SS11) aided their assault and, while they have set a hot pace, they were unable to overhaul Gardemeister but moved two positions up the leaderboard following the retirement of François Duval and Antony Warmbold. However, in the final stage, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew were forced to retire with suspension damage, doubling frustrating as Gardemeister lost 90 seconds with a puncture.
"It was the same right corner where Gardemeister got his puncture", said Harri. "After he hit a rock, it dislodged more and we hit one that then came into the wheel housing and lodged into the damper, which obviously then got blocked. The suspension arm broke and although we tried to continue it was better to stop, not cause any more damage and be able to re-start tomorrow".
Team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi have escaped the day unscathed but, after losing time yesterday, the French Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew are struggling to make inroads into the leaderboard. They hold 15th overnight, after notional times were also awarded in SS11, due to Duval's accident, and SS12 for spectator reasons.
"The car is still not to my liking and I am having to fight with it too much", said Gilles this evening. "The second loop of stages this afternoon was maybe 50 per cent better than yesterday; some of which was as rough as Kenya! But, we are still here, starting tomorrow and that is a good thing".
Adding to the drivers' comments, Technical Director Mario Fornaris said: "The good thing is to have two cars starting tomorrow, but there is a big sporting frustration that each time we get close to the top position, something happens".
The final leg of the Cyprus Rally is the shortest of the event and although it takes in another six stages, just 95.34 competitive kilometers lay in wait.
News from our rivals
Sébastien Loeb has once again romped through the leg without problems and the Frenchman looks set to rack up his fourth victory of the season. He holds more than three minutes in hand to second and third placed Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg respectively. Behind the leading trio Markko Märtin maintains fourth and is driving the sole remaining Peugeot, following Marcus Grönholm's retirement early this morning with on-going engine problems. Ford's Toni Gardemeister lost precious time in the final stage of the leg with a puncture and holds a distant fifth. Petter Solberg was retired by Subaru early this morning, the team concerned about the condition of his engine after problems in leg one, and Armin Schwarz was forced out when the sump guard hit a rock and catapulted the car off the stage. François Duval retired in spectacular fashion, the Belgian going off the road and hitting a tree, before the car caught fire and the stage had to be abandoned. Both he and co-driver Stéphane Prevot were however unhurt.