The FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean next week for the Cyprus Rally, round 12 of the 16-event series. The rally is based in the seaside tourist town of Limassol with stages run on rough gravel roads in the Troodos...
The FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean next week for the Cyprus Rally, round 12 of the 16-event series. The rally is based in the seaside tourist town of Limassol with stages run on rough gravel roads in the Troodos mountains in the centre of the island.
Taking place four months later than last year, from 22-24 September at the end of the Cypriot summer, the rally is nevertheless likely to retain its traditional hot, sunny weather, with temperatures expected to reach more than 30 degrees Celsius. The combination of searing temperatures, tight mountain roads and a rocky, rutted surface has earned the rally the reputation of being the roughest event on the calendar. Reliability is even more crucial this year as the same chassis, engine and gearbox must also be used in the next event in Turkey.
The rally's twisty roads generate low average speeds; it's expected that crews will negotiate the route at an average speed of just over 60kph, barely half the speed recorded on smooth gravel events like Rally Finland or Rally New Zealand. With less air being forced into the car, airflow to the engine and transmission is substantially reduced and teams run cooling settings at their maximum to keep temperatures at a suitable level. Driving conditions for crews too can become very uncomfortable as temperatures in the cockpit soar.
The event runs from a single service park in the Lemesos Palais des Sports located to the north of downtown Limassol. The rally will start on Thursday 21 September with a ceremonial start along the Limassol promenade, also the venue for a new Superspecial. The rally comprises 331.34 competitive kilometres and 23 stages, five more than 2005 after the addition of the Superspecial and a new combination of speed tests used in previous years. The podium finish is scheduled for 1500hrs at the Limassol promenade on Sunday afternoon.
Kronos Total Citroen
Currently leading the Manufacturers' championship, the Kronos Citroen Total World Rally Team enters in Lemesos two 2006 Xsaras for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena - clear leaders in the Drivers' rankings - and for Dani Sordo/Marc Marti, third in that same classification. These two crews are nominated to score Manufacturers' points while, after a short break, Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio use the 2005 Xsara which they competed with in Germany and Finland.
Sebastien Loeb: "In Cyprus, you need a very strong car. Shock absorbing is important for the traction and also to cope with the vertical demand on the chassis. It should not understeer at all in the slow corners and also should have a very good level of cooling. These past three years, the Xsara has done pretty well on the isle. In 2003, our positions reflected our reliability and later we added the performance to it. The one-two finish last year with the Kronos Xsara of Manfred Stohl proved the ability of the Citroen on that terrain. We are going to try to benefit from it and fight for the win again."
Daniel Sordo: "First of all, we would need to find the right feeling, which dictates the 'natural' pace to choose. In Japan, I didn't manage to do that. That rally is really special. The recce were completed in difficult conditions and maybe it is for that reason. I wasn't satisfied with my pacenotes and I corrected a lot of them over the first passage unlike usually. The car was perfect but I couldn't find the confidence. In Cyprus, I hope I will be able to get the right feeling straight away. I will try to achieve a top six finish with a focus on the Manufacturers' points. My job is to score some precious points for the team. I succeeded in Germany but had a blank score in the next two rounds. I will be very unhappy not to bring any to the team in Cyprus."
The drivers of the OMV Peugeot Norway World Rally Teams return to the rally of their greatest triumphs so far. Last year Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Aut) finished in sensational second place at the "Cyprus Rally". Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Nor) reached fourth place. In spite of their self-confidence both Stohl and Solberg are realistic enough to know that the path to the podium will be a stony one. The Cyprus Rally counts as the toughest run to the FIA World Rally Championship, even if average speed measures only 65 km/h.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Our top result in Cyprus last year has us highly motivated. Still, one can't predict what will happen this year. The course has been somewhat alleviated as compared to last year. Therefore there are no overlong special stages anymore, especially at the beginning of the rally. But my professed goal is and remains a place on the podium."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I am not afraid to match with anyone. Last year the competition was perhaps even stronger. A decisive factor will be to go easy on the tyres, for if you have a flat here you won't stand a chance for a top place."
Endurance and reliability in both man and machine will come to the fore when the BP-Ford World Rally Team heads to the holiday island of Cyprus for what many regard as the toughest round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Far from enjoying the beaches and sunshine of the eastern Mediterranean, Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will fight scorching heat and boulder-strewn tracks on the Cyprus Rally (21 - 24 September) as they try to secure the squad's fifth win of this year's campaign.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "The stages are OK but there is always the feeling that you need to drive faster. But if you start to attack there are so few straight sections that it's easy to go off the road. If the speed gets too high, then you can brake late and slide off or end up smashing a wheel on the stones. Patience is crucial and developing a good rhythm so that you flow through the endless corners is the key."
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Cyprus is slower than other rallies and the roads are incredibly rough. It's different from other rounds and it isn't my favourite, but we need rallies like this in the championship. A world championship should have something of everything. To be successful the car must be strong and reliable and we proved in Greece that the Focus has those qualities. It will be hot and the speeds slow so it's important to be confident in the cooling package to ensure the car doesn't overheat.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
19 year old Brit Matthew Wilson can't wait to get back behind the wheel after an unfortunate end to his rally proper in Japan. It was proved that manners don't always pay off, as he pulled over to let fellow competitor Chris Atkinson past, but got his Ford Focus stuck in a ditch. He went on to score some points under the SupeRally rule. Matthew can look forward to picking up on some pretty impressive stage times set by himself and co-driver Michael Orr. But his return to the WRC RS 06 spec car will have to wait until Australia - next week he and all of the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally team are back in the 05' car. Team mate Luis Perez Companc not only has the support of his family in Cyprus, but also some competition too. His brother Jorge Perez Companc is co-driving in the third Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally car, sitting alongside the current South American champion Juan Pablo Raies. It will be the duo's first rally in Europe.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's my first time in Cyprus but from what everyone says, it will be a tough rally. Obviously the slow speeds on the stages means that less air is flowing in the cock-pit and the temperatures are already pretty high. Also we are going back to the 05' car, which is still bloody good, but the 06' was something really special."
Luis Perez Companc: "Cyprus is a very rough rally and it's going to be tough in the older car as that is more nervous than the new one. I have driven in Cyprus before and in 2002 I was leading Group N before going off on the Sunday. I also did it in 2004 in a WRC car, but retired then too. As an event I like it very much. Some parts of it are like Argentina so that is good for me and I like gravel rallies. My brother is co-driving with Juan Pablo Raies and I think they will find it a very tough for their first time."
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter one Impreza WRC2006 for Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and one WRC2006 for Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Petter has competed in Cyprus five times previously. The Norwegian has tasted success on the event; in 2003 he took his first victory of the season en route to winning the drivers' title that year. The 2006 rally will be Chris Atkinson's second competitive outing in Cyprus. Last year the Australian had a difficult start to the event, however set a string of top-ten fastest stage times on Legs two and three to finish the event tenth overall.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I like the Cyprus Rally a lot and it's normally a rally we perform well on; we won in 2003 and also led the last two years' events. In 2006 however we've got to be realistic. Of course I want to win - we all want to win, me, the team, Pirelli, everyone - but we've got to get the basics right before we can seriously challenge for victory. The team is working very hard and we're getting closer to finding a solution to the problems we've experienced in recent rallies. This week they've been in Sardinia for a six-day test and everyone at the factory is going flat-out too. We've got to keep pushing on."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Last year we didn't have such a good event as we had problems on the first day, but it was good to get experience of the stages on the final two Legs. The rally is really hard work for drivers and co-drivers as the roads are very rough and the stages seem to last for ages as there are so many corners. To build up stamina for these longer runs, I step-up my fitness training to do longer runs and focus more on endurance training. I'd like to get a top five position this year."
Red Bull Skoda
The team has prepared very sedulously for this twelfth WRC event on the island of Cyprus. That's why the two representatives Raimund Baumschlager and Armin Schwarz can feel confident: "If we don't run into serious trouble, it may well be possible to repeat our gratifying result from Germany. Still Cyprus remains a mere lottery. The road conditions are very, very bad, we addressed these conditions while testing in Austria. We hope that Harri has enough confidence now which is necessary to choose the right pace for getting a points finish. If Andreas runs at the same pace as the year before in a Group N car, then for him a positive outcome is possible as well."
Harri Rovanpera: "It'll be very difficult in Cyprus. I hope that we'll have no technical issues and not too many tyre failures because of the rough roads. The handling of the Fabia has improved substantially compared to my last gravel rally in Greece, the team has worked hard for that"
Andreas Aigner: "I'll try not to attack immediately. It's important to choose a constant pace on the island for the entire rally. With this formula it should be possible to pull through somehow in spite of the ferocious roads. I know most of the route, just two or three stages will be new to me."