One week after the conclusion of Rally Italia Sardinia, the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean for round six of the 16-event series, the Cyprus Rally. Beginning on Thursday 12 May with a ceremonial start in the host...
One week after the conclusion of Rally Italia Sardinia, the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean for round six of the 16-event series, the Cyprus Rally. Beginning on Thursday 12 May with a ceremonial start in the host town of Limassol, the gruelling three-day event will be the first of a trio of hot, gravel rallies scheduled for May and June.
As the slowest, hottest and roughest event of the year, the Cyprus Rally is an endurance test for cars, tyres and drivers alike. Based largely on rock-strewn tracks high in the Troodos Mountains, the event's stages are among the narrowest and twistiest in the Championship. Rocky hairpin bends, thick dust and rutted roads combine to make driving conditions difficult, while scorching temperatures of more than 30°C test drivers' stamina and physical fitness.
The twisty conditions mean cars are expected to record average speeds of just 66kph, barely half those recorded on smooth gravel events like Rally Finland. Low speeds mean reduced airflow to cool the engine and transmission, while suspension and tyres will take a hammering on the rocky roads.
This year the event will run from a single service park located to the north of Limassol. The rally will begin on Friday when crews travel 55km to the start of the longest test of the event, the 38.32kms stage from Lagoudera. The rally route is unchanged from 2004 and each of the three Legs comprises six stages (a group of three repeated) and a total competitive distance of 326.68 kilometres. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp in Limassol at 1517hrs on Sunday 15 May.
Subaru will take two cars to Cyprus. The two crews of Petter Solberg / Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson / Glenn Macneall will be driving the latest evolution of the Subaru Impreza, the WRC2005.
This will be the fourth time Petter Solberg has contested the event. As a driver who relishes technical and twisty gravel stages, Petter is hoping for a repeat of the form that helped him win the event by more than four minutes in 2003. In the second Subaru, Australian Chris Atkinson has not contested the event before. The Subaru rookie will be aiming to gain experience of the rally's difficult stages, while demonstrating a good pace in his Impreza.
"I'm going to go to Cyprus with a different approach; of course we're going to try to win, but we know how difficult it is to do that these days. I'm going to start calm, see where the level is and then go for maximum attack on Saturday. From what I've heard, I think the rally is going to be very rough this year, it depends on how much they've worked on the roads. It's always a hard rally, very rough and bumpy with lots of loose rocks, but it's a rally that I like. We completed a tyre test this week, there was some improvement, but we'll have to wait and see how it works on the rally. You never know properly before you are fighting against the other guys."
"Italy was good preparation for Cyprus I think. In Cyprus, we're expecting slightly higher temperatures and slower conditions, which will mean less airflow and higher in-car temperatures. We hope to avoid a repeat of the small incidents we had in Sardinia but continue with the same speeds. It's going to be very rough and I've heard that the stages haven't been repaired from last year, so they're likely to become rutted straight away. With average speeds below 60kph on some stages, it's important to quickly get into a good driving rhythm and avoid losing a lot of time through the long stages. I've been watching video footage of last year's route to familiarise myself with the conditions and am looking to gain as much experience as possible."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth:
"The outstanding things about Cyprus are the low average speeds and the twisty stages. It's by far the slowest rally of the year and is hard on the tyres, drivers, engines and transmission. Everything runs hotter as there's very little airflow and it can quite hot inside the cars. The stages take longer in Cyprus due to the low average speeds, a 30km stage takes more than 30 minutes and the overall temperatures build up during that time. There are some things we can do to keep the drivers cool. Fans in the car keep the air moving, there's a white roof, reflective windows and insulation between the engine compartment and the cockpit.
Cyprus will be the first really hot rough gravel rally with the new car. We're always a little nervous ahead of the extreme rallies, as there are so many things that can happen. But we've got good benchmark data from previous cars, especially the Impreza WRC2004 that's not radically different in concept, and we used similar test roads and sign-off criteria for this model. We're therefore pretty confident that the basics are right. But you never know whether the event itself will throw up something new and there are some things that are difficult to simulate in testing. For instance, we can't close off 30km of road so we close off 5km and drive up and down the same road. That's different from what's going to happen on the event. Apart from anything else, 5km of terrain doesn't include all the combinations of rocks you might come across in the rally. You just hope that you can cope with them.
Looking to the tyres, Cyprus is traditionally a good event for Pirelli. It has a very strong record on the hot, rough rallies, but with every rally both tyre companies are revealing new developments. Pirelli's rival has obviously been working hard to address this weakness and it's obvious from the results in New Zealand and Sardinia they've made improvements. The opposition has looked strong recently and it's going to be interesting to see if Pirelli's new evolutions put them back ahead in Cyprus.
Cyprus, Greece and Turkey are all events where we expect Petter to be very strong. Traditionally he's done very well and the conditions suit his driving style, but they're also very tough and run very close together. If we look at the Championship position, we obviously need to keep calm, stay in control and maximise the points-haul over the next three rallies, not focus too much on winning any event in particular. What we want to do is to score more points than Sebastien or Marcus and, of course, that may require winning all three. This will be Chris' first experience of a classic hot event and so his main goal is to finish the rally and build his speed slowly and progressively. We want him to learn as much as possible about how hard he can push the tyres, the cars and himself in the extreme conditions."
Between the Rallies
With just over a week between the conclusion of one event and the start of the next, Petter and Chris have not had much time to relax. After attending a one-day Pirelli tyre test in Tuscany, Petter spent a few days in Monaco with his family. When we caught up with him, he was on his way to a birthday party with his wife Pernilla. He will attend another one-day tyre test on Saturday before arriving in Cyprus on Sunday.
Chris returned to the Subaru World Rally Team headquarters in Banbury, UK on Monday 2 May. He's spent the week working with his engineers and with teams in different workshop departments to learn about how each component on his car is built. Chris is travelling out to Cyprus today along with his co-driver Glenn, Phil Mills and members of the management team to take part in an acclimatisation camp. For more information about this, read the feature at www.swrt.com.