SÃ©bastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC came through the awesome opening leg of Rally Cyprus today unscathed to top a somewhat uncustomary leaderboard. The privately-entered Xsara of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor follows in 2nd place,...
Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC came through the awesome opening leg of Rally Cyprus today unscathed to top a somewhat uncustomary leaderboard. The privately-entered Xsara of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor follows in 2nd place, while François Duval and Stéphane Prévot have fought their way back to 6th.
"We always knew Cyprus was going to be tough. But not this tough!" That basically sums up the comments heard from the drivers and co-drivers as Leg 1's action unfolded. And the conditions are effectively tougher than usual, for two reasons: "The stages are just as we left them last year," explains Sébastien Loeb. "Today's long test [SS1 and 4, Lagoudera/Spilia, more than 38 km] was the worst of all. Incredible! Even driving at a snail's pace it was an absolute bone-shaker. There's no gravel left. We're driving directly over rocks…" The situation was further aggravated by the hotter than usual weather. Even at altitude, air temperature was 30°C, while ground temperatures exceeded 40°C. Covered – at best – at an average speed of 60 kph, the twisty stages made efficient cooling of the mechanicals, electronics and crew particularly difficult. "This is more like rally-raiding!" remarked Guy Fréquelin.
Given the hostile environment, the main objective was to keep clear of mistakes, and the three Xsara drivers did just that! The second obligation was to have a little luck on one's side, and Seb didn't have any complaints on that front: "I stalled twice in SS1 when I pulled on the hand-brake and that problem was quickly cured. Then, second time through the mine field, I punctured. Or rather I finished with two tyres on the ATS mousse which fulfilled its role perfectly. I pushed as hard as I could whenever it was possible but took things very cautiously over the cut up portions. As soon as I heard that Petter was in trouble, I switched to a slower pace. But the problem with our cars is that you can't slow down too much. That's not what they are designed for…"
François Duval was comparatively down on luck meanwhile. Just as he was about to pull up to the control before the short SS3, the young Belgian realised that his engine wasn't responding to the throttle pedal. "The time it took to fit a spare pin to limit engine revs to 3,000 rpm caused us to check in late. I incurred a 70-second time penalty and then dropped close to 2 minutes in the stage itself. After that, a rear suspension joint came loose during the second loop of stages and I had to ease off. But given all that's happened today, there's still everything to play for!"
Manfred Stohl could be thinking he was living a dream this evening after profiting from the faultless reliability of his car and a mistake-free run: "I had a minor problem with the gearshift paddle but the car's set-up was perfect and I made a good choice of tyres for this afternoon's loop. I couldn't really ask for better than 2nd place!" Guy Fréquelin was obviously very pleased with the Austrian crew's run: "It underlines the performance, quality of preparation and reliability of our customer cars, a good pointer for anyone who's thinking of hiring or buying one…"