Originally-From: firstname.lastname@example.org Thursday, 31 May 2001 The FIA World Rally Championship switches to some of its most testing conditions for its sixth round, the Cyprus Rally, which starts from the coastal resort of Limassol...
Thursday, 31 May 2001
The FIA World Rally Championship switches to some of its most testing conditions for its sixth round, the Cyprus Rally, which starts from the coastal resort of Limassol tomorrow morning. The sport's top stars will have to cope with searing heat, dust and twisty, rocky tracks on the island event, which makes its second appearance in the WRC calendar after a successful introduction last season.
Mitsubishi's four-times world champion Tommi Mäkinen starts the event with a five-point lead over Ford driver Carlos Sainz in the drivers' championship standings but the Spaniard dominated in Cyprus last year and he'll be aiming to reduce the deficit. Both will need to keep a close eye, too, on both Colin McRae and Richard Burns, who scored a comfortable one-two on the last round in Argentina. Reigning FIA World Champion Marcus Grönholm has yet to rack up a serious points score in this year's series, but the Finn's hopes in Cyprus could be boosted by the introduction of a heavily-revised Peugeot 206 WRC.
After the super-fast gravel tests in Argentina earlier this month, the tests in Cyprus will seem painfully slow to the drivers. Although the roads selected this year are expected to be marginally faster than those used in 2000, the average speed isn't expected to rise much above 70kph.
MITSUBISHI (1st - 44 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi has high hopes that the heavily-revised rear suspension that was introduced on the Lancer Evolution at the start of this season will improve performance on the three rough events in the calendar - Cyprus, the Acropolis and the Safari. The team worked hard a recent test to ensure there will be no repeat of the transmission problems that blighted its efforts in Cyprus last year. Mitsubishi tested in Cyprus itself, but the benefits were reduced slightly by unusually cool conditions.
Sporting: Four-time world champion and current series leader Tommi Mäkinen will be supported by Belgian Freddy Loix in the second Lancer as usual. But Mitsubishi is also entering a third Lancer for Japanese driver Katsuhiko Taguchi. It will be the first time that the reigning Asia-Pacific Champion will have had a full 'works' car at his disposal.
Tommi Mäkinen said: “The test certainly felt very good. I think the car has made a big step forward since last year. But on a rally like this, it's very difficult to say how good we'll be until we see how the opposition has improved as well. But the season's gone well so far, and I'm optimistic.”
Freddy Loix said: “I've got a really good feeling about this event. I was able to set some fastest times here last year, and with my performances in the last few rallies I think I'm really getting some confidence. I didn't do so much testing for this one, but Tommi did a lot of good work and he's a pretty reasonable test driver! When I got in the car it instantly felt like a good set-up, so I'm not too worried about that.”
Katsuhiko Taguchi said: “I'm here to learn, not to get involved in a fight with the other Japanese driver (Subaru's Toshihiro Arai). He's got a lot more experience than me. But hopefully it won't take me too long to catch him up!”
FORD (2nd - 36 points)
Technical: Ford has made no substantial changes to the Focus RS WRC01 for this event, although the cars will be fitted with small fans in the cabins to keep the crews cool. Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz will each have a brand new car at their disposal.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Francois Delecour aiming for drivers' points only. Sainz rates himself at 90-95 percent fit after his back problems on the last round in Argentina.
Colin McRae said: “This rally and the Acropolis are very important to me. People keep asking me after Argentina if the championship's possible but to be honest, I want to see what happens here and in Greece and then look at the situation. I think the stages this year are a little rougher than last, so tyre wear is probably going to be a problem. If you look at the results here and in Greece last year then wins should be possible, of course, but I don't think the rest have been sleeping.”
Francois Delecour said: “Ford's got the podium line-up this year, because Carlos and Colin scored a one-two in 2000 and I was third. A win for the team is certainly possible but as for myself, I want more experience and then we'll see where we are.”
PEUGEOT (3rd - 20 points)
Technical: Peugeot introduces the first major evolution of the 206 WRC in Cyprus this weekend. Three brand new cars will be run for Marcus Grönholm, Didier Auriol and Harri Rovanperä. The main changes concern the engine: revised intercooler and turbo positions have resulted in improvements in torque, while engineers have also changed the bonnet layout in an attempt to cool the engine and the crew more efficiently. Other changes include revisions to the weight distribution. Grönholm and Rovanperä are expected to use five-speed gearboxes in their 206s this weekend, with Auriol sticking to the original six-speed unit.
Sporting: Reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm and 1994 title-holder Didier Auriol are joined by Harri Rovanperä on this event. The Finn, who won the Swedish Rally in February, is now tackling all of this year's gravel rallies for the team. Peugeot's asphalt specialist Gilles Panizzi will also contest Cyprus, albeit at the wheel of a 206 run by privateer team Grifone.
Marcus Grönholm said: “The car certainly feels better, but we have to remember it's a small difference. The torque is a little stronger, but in terms of handling there's not a massive difference. I don't know how it'll work here - we'll have to see how the others go. I really need a win out of the next three rallies to get my season going. I hope my luck changes now.”
SUBARU (4th - 16 points)
Technical: Subaru's main revision is external - the team has lightened the colour of the roof of its Impreza, in at attempt to more effectively reflect the burning heat in Cyprus.
Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated to score manufacturers' points for Subaru in Argentina, with Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai nominated for drivers' points only.
Richard Burns said: “I feel quite confident for this one. I did a day's testing in Spain and a day here as well and we've found no major problems. Last year Carlos sort of romped away with things, but we made a few mistakes and had a few problems too. If you took those out of the equation then we were able to match his pace, so we just have to make sure we don't' get anything wrong this time. A lot will depend on tyre choice.”
Team Director David Lapworth said: “The biggest challenge here is the combination of low speeds, high temperatures and rough roads. Last year tyre wear wasn't quite the problem we thought it could be, but the stages this time are a little bit rougher so I think it'll be fairly severe. Drivers will have to think of their tyres, that's for sure.”
HYUNDAI (5th - 8 points)
Technical: Hyundai sends three Accent WRC2s to Cyprus, with Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson being joined by Piero Liatti. The cars have been revised slightly to cope with the hot weather - larger fans have been fitted in the engine bay, and the Accents' exhausts carry extra cladding as the team aims to reduce the amount of heat entering the cabin. The exhausts have also been strengthened to prevent a repeat of the fires that cost both McRae and Eriksson so much time in Argentina.
Sporting: Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson have been joined by the team's asphalt specialist Piero Liatti on this event, as the Italian enjoys a rare outing on gravel.
Alister McRae said: “The car feels fine but I expect the event to be tough. I think we're better prepared for rough conditions than we were on rallies like the Acropolis last year but a lot can still happen once the rally starts. The stages are incredibly twisty and in the heat it'll be hard work - even the recconnaissance was one of the hardest we've done.”
SKODA (6th - 6 points)
Technical: The Skoda Octavia WRCs of Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry feature no major revisions in Cyprus. Skoda has decided to re-evaluate future engine and homologation revisions. The team was able to find a pleasing suspension set-up during nine days of testing in Greece earlier this month, however.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz (who won Cyprus on his way to the European Championship title in 1996) and Bruno Thiry will drive the team's two Octavia WRCs as usual. Although this year marks Thiry's first attempt at the event, his navigator Stephane Prevot won the rally in 1999 alongside Jean-Pierre Richelmi. Schwarz has been confirmed as an entry on the forthcoming Rally Deutschland.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: “The stages here are faster in places than last year but some of them are rougher. We've had a fair amount of bad luck recently and I really just want to get to the finish here. I think achieving that will give us a good chance of some points because I expect many of the cars to hit trouble.”
Bruno Thiry said: “I think I'm probably going to find this rally a bit slow but at least it's different. It's also going to be very tough mechanically, which should suit us. Tyre wear could be another concern, because it's going to be really hot and the roads are quite abrasive. “
CITROEN (0 points)
Citroen's Xsara WRC is not present in Cyprus, as the French team continues to prepare for the car's second World Championship outing on the Acropolis Rally in June.
The Cyprus Rally is the third round of this year's FIA Teams Cup for Privateers. Accordingly, all of the leading contenders including Toyota Castrol Team Denmark (Henrik Lundgaard) and Toyota Castrol Team Finland (Pasi Hagstrom) will be present. Janusz Kulig will not, however - the Polish driver has elected to withdraw from the Teams Cup and concentrate on his domestic campaign. The Teams Cup World Rally Car crews will face stiff opposition from a strong private entry - there will be no fewer than five non-works Peugeot 206 WRCs, driven by Gilles Panizzi, Simon Jean-Joseph, Ioannis Papadimitriou, Kris Princen and Neil Wearden.
The hot conditions and abrasive roads make Cyprus a difficult challenge for the World Championship's two tyre manufacturers, Michelin and Pirelli. Michelin is offering its clients the ZB tyre for rocky stages, the Z for hard ground and the ZA in case conditions turn damp or the road surfaces are soft or loose. Pirelli's teams will have the option of either the K (smooth conditions) or the XR, which will be used on rocky roads or loose gravel. Both manufacturers have fitted their tyres with their respective anti-deflation mousse systems to minimise the risk of punctures.