After a day of carnage, and one that was based on surviving the conditions, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri RovanperÃ¤ and Risto PietilÃ¤inen hold 7th position in the Cyprus Rally. Lancer WRC05 team-mates Gilles and HervÃ© ...
After a day of carnage, and one that was based on surviving the conditions, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen hold 7th position in the Cyprus Rally. Lancer WRC05 team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi had a troubled morning, losing time with engine and transmission problems, and the pair has plummeted down the leaderboard.
"This is a very tough rally and I really appreciate the efforts of our drivers and all the team; they really have tried their best in very difficult conditions", said Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. "Only one or two cars have escaped problems so it really is a survival game and the key is never to give up. Hopefully Harri or Gilles can show us a good run, complete the rally and maybe get a result".
The event kicked off last night, holidaymakers and rally fans flocking to the seafront in Limassol for the ceremonial start. It was not until this morning however that the real action began and it immediately took its toll on a number of crews. Two loops of three identical stages lay in wait and with conditions being compared to Kenya’s legendary Safari Rally, and temperatures in the Troodos Mountains topping 40 degrees, it was a grueling day of competition for the 54 starters.
Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen were however on the pace from the outset, the Finns fifth in the opening stage, the longest and toughest of the rally at 38.32 kilometers. Despite experiencing gear selection problems, the pair maintained the pace until the mid-leg service in Limassol, where they arrived in fifth position. However, this afternoon the Finns suffered transmission problems in the repeated long stage (SS4) and dropped down the leaderboard into seventh position overnight.
"It was a rear diff problem this afternoon, which gave the same feeling like a slipping clutch", said Harri. "The engine was also intermittently cutting out in the last two stages this afternoon, just when we were in third and fourth gears, so I had to complete both of these stages with just first and second. The conditions really are as bad as I have ever seen them here, but maybe it will be a little bit easier tomorrow".
Team-mates Gilles and Hervé Panizzi had a difficult morning, their Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 suffering from engine-related problems in the opening stage. They were forced to stop for more than 20 minutes and then also lost third gear towards the end of the stage. As a result, they plummeted down the leaderboard. This afternoon, three punctures - one on the front and two at the rear - also slowed the French pair and they overnight in 21st position.
"This morning was difficult with the engine and transmission problems, but at least we are still here", said Gilles. "This afternoon our first puncture in stage four was just after the start so it has been impossible to push this afternoon. We also need to do some work with the suspension; we have to understand more what is happening".
Adding to the drivers’ comments, Technical Director Mario Fornaris said: "I would say this has been the toughest leg in this year’s Championship and the target is to survive. We’ve had several problems but all could be fixed to allow us to get both cars to the end of the leg - only three of the manufacturers can say that".
The second leg of the Cyprus Rally, round six of the FIA World Rally Championship, looks set to be as tough. While slightly shorter, another two loops of three stages and 109.56 competitive kilometres lay in wait for those who survived one of the greatest days of carnage in world rallying.
News from our rivals
Sébastien Loeb is one of the few drivers to have survived the day intact, the Frenchman having a trouble-free day and romping ahead by more than two minutes. In a surprise turn of fortune, Manfred Stohl - driving a semi-works Citroën Xsara WRC - holds second while Henning Solberg, in an M-Sport run Focus, holds third. The predicted rate of attrition, in what is likely to be the toughest round of the series, certainly held true, as no fewer than four of the manufacturers’ entrants retired from the leg and hardly anyone escaped problems. Marcus Grönholm was the first victim, the Finn forced out with a broken cam belt, shortly followed by Christopher Atkinson with clutch problems and then his Subaru team-mate Petter Solberg with electronic related issues. Škoda’s Armin Schwarz was the final retirement of the leg, the German losing the alternator belt. François Duval lost time with throttle troubles and Roman Kresta arrived at the final service on three wheels, ultimately the result of two punctures.