A demanding opening leg of Cyprus Rally, the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, challenged Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer but a determined performance by both put them in...
A demanding opening leg of Cyprus Rally, the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, challenged Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer but a determined performance by both put them in 10th and 14th positions overnight respectively.
Cyprus Rally is as hot and rough as expected and although temperatures in the Troodos mountains are cooler with clouds delivering rain for the second run of the duo of stages on leg one, the heat on the coast reached 35°C or higher. In-car conditions were stretching crews to the limit as the cockpit was compared to a sauna and today's stages were an example of what is to be expected over the next few days, with a constant run of tight corners, deep ruts and lots of football-sized rocks.
The opening stage of the day covered 11.60km of manageable gravel and all Hyundai crews ran trouble-free through it. The second of the duo of stages was the longest of the event with 38.32km demanding a lot more from both car and driver. Incredibly rough to start with, crews had ruts to contend with that were filled with large rocks simply waiting to cause damage and a tight, twisty low-gear section nearer the end of the stage upped the challenge for the cars' cooling systems. A straight tarmac section of a few hundred metres was arguably the only chance of any excursion into sixth gear throughout the stage.
The heat challenged Freddy Loix and co-driver Sven Smeets, and although it posed no problem for the crew themselves, the Accent's transmission and differentials were affected on the long Lagoudera-Spilia.
"Our differentials lasted longer in the afternoon, perhaps because the air was cooler after the rain. But it is very difficult when you lose the active nature of the diffs because there is no predictability to the handling," explained Loix. "One minute you have a nice rhythm and then suddenly the car is doing strange things and you know the temperature warning light is going to come on. To be honest today hasn't felt much like rally driving because you are going so slow. I hope tomorrow we can get cleaner runs, particularly on the second time through," he concluded.
German team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer were also hindered by differential overheating on both runs of the long test and a bolt that had worked its way loose on the first Lagoudera-Spilia came away on the road section following and the pair had to stop to strap it back into place in order to get back to service.
Armin commented on his day: "We had the same difficulty in the afternoon with the differentials overheating and the long stage was even rougher on the second time through. The rain had passed before we went into stage four but it had only lowered the temperature by one or maybe two degrees so it wasn't really any benefit. Lying 14th overall means we'll be second on the road tomorrow and judging by the difficulty that the others had today, maybe having a lie-in tomorrow would be a good idea! It's going to be tough."
On his first WRC event in an Accent, Playstation 2-sponsored Hyundai newcomer Justin Dale and co-driver Andrew Bargery were struck by bad luck as their car overheated on the 38km test when the fan failed. Justin explained what happened: "About 2km into SS2 the temperature warning light came on. We continued for about 18km but there was a lot of steam coming from under the bonnet so we had to stop and top up the water. It was really difficult as it was so hot all the water was spitting everywhere so we had to wait a while. To be honest I thought it was all over then but I tried to start the car up again and it started no problem so we continued for about another 10km when the engine went onto three cylinders. We got to the end of the stage but the engine finally gave up on the road section. It's a pity as my plan for this rally was to drive carefully and to not risk any damage to the car, as we need mileage more than anything. Let's hope we have a better run in Germany."
News from our rivals
The opening leg saw nine retirements and a host of problems. The rough stages are littered with rocks and team-mates Richard Burns and Marcus Gronholm complained of difficulty running among the leaders on the road. Francois Duval's Ford lost hydraulic pressure and as a result lost all gears except fourth on SS2 requiring the Belgian to switch to the manual gearchange system. The same problem plagued his team-mate Acropolis winner Markko Martin but on the second run of the long stage. Tommi Makinen (Subaru) stopped to change a damaged wheel on SS4 and the impact also damaged his power steering. In total the Finn dropped almost ten minutes. Richard Burns also finished the day without power steering after his Peugeot lost hydraulic pressure in the fourth test. Overheating fuel caused problems in the Skoda camp as both Toni Gardemeister and Didier Auriol were affected on the first run of the long test.
Harri Rovanpera led the rally throughout the day but team-mate Marcus Gronholm snatched the lead on the final stage after Rovanpera dropped time with a cautious drive due to slippery conditions. He now lies 6.8secs behind Gronholm with Petter Solberg in third.
After a relatively short opening leg, the second day is by far the longest of the event. Crews tackle 158 competitive kilometres over eight special stages high in the Troodos mountains, north of the Limassol rally HQ base. Crews return to overnight parc ferme at 19:35hrs.