WRC

Cyprus Rally: Round six preview

One week after the conclusion of Rally Italia Sardinia, the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean for round six of the 16-event series, the Cyprus Rally. Beginning on Thursday 12 May with a ceremonial start in the host...

One week after the conclusion of Rally Italia Sardinia, the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean for round six of the 16-event series, the Cyprus Rally. Beginning on Thursday 12 May with a ceremonial start in the host town of Limassol, the gruelling three-day event will be the first of a trio of hot, gravel rallies scheduled for May and June.

As the slowest, hottest and roughest event of the year, the Cyprus Rally is an endurance test for cars, tyres and drivers alike. Based largely on rock-strewn tracks high in the Troodos Mountains, the event's stages are among the narrowest and twistiest in the Championship. Rocky hairpin bends, thick dust and rutted roads combine to make driving conditions difficult, while scorching temperatures of more than 30C test drivers' stamina and physical fitness.

The twisty conditions mean cars are expected to record average speeds of just 66kph, barely half those recorded on smooth gravel events like Rally Finland. Low speeds mean reduced airflow to cool the engine and transmission, while suspension and tyres will take a hammering on the rocky roads.

The special stages are identical to 2004, with much of the competitive distance based in the Troodos Mountains, north of the rally base in Limassol. All the action is centred around a new service park at the Palais des Sports on the northern edge of the city. After a ceremonial start in Limassol at 20.30 on Thursday, each of the three legs comprises two identical loops of three stages. The opening leg is the longest, covering a compact route in the very north of the Troodos, close to the Turkish border. The middle day is based further south, close to Mt Olympus and west towards the resort of Paphos. The final leg is the shortest, covering tests north-east of Limassol in the hilly and forested Machairas area. Drivers face 326.68km in a route of 1063.92km.

Citroen

Hopping from one island to another, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Francois Duval/Stephane Prevot and their respective Xsara WRCs travel to the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite for Round 6 of the FIA World Rally Championship. A week before Rally Italia Sardinia, Citroën travelled to Greece for a four-day test aimed not only at preparing for Cyprus, but also for the Acropolis Rally and Turkey. With Sebastien Loeb and Francois Duval taking turns at the wheel, the programme focused on fine-tuning the car's basic rough rally set-up as well as testing the latest rubber from Michelin which enabled the drivers to finalise their respective quotas of 65 tyres. In 2003, Sebastien Loeb, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz demonstrated the Xsara WRC's remarkable reliability by finishing in close formation in 3rd, 4th and 5th positions. Last year saw the cars of Seb and Carlos combine reliability and performance and the French squad hopes that this will once again be the case this time round.

Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "In Cyprus, being first on the road isn't easy. It can even be a big handicap on Friday's opening loop. The stages are the same as 2004 and I hope they don't cut up too much. Last year we had the impression that they were just as we had left them after two runs in 2003! As I have said before, the fact that I will serve as 'road sweeper' on the Friday implies that I am leading the championship. For that reason, I would be happy to start every event first on the road--"

Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: "A podium would be nice! In Sardinia, I made a costly mistake when I turned in a little late on a crest and stupidly lost points. I have got to stay on the road and finish. Given how competitive our car is at the moment, I should be able to keep up with the top three. And with a little luck, I could finish on the podium--"

Subaru

Subaru will take two cars to Cyprus. The two crews of Petter Solberg / Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson / Glenn Macneall will be driving the latest evolution of the Subaru Impreza, the WRC2005. This will be the fourth time Petter Solberg has contested the event. As a driver who relishes technical and twisty gravel stages, Petter is hoping for a repeat of the form that helped him win the event by more than four minutes in 2003. In the second Subaru, Australian Chris Atkinson has not contested the event before. The Subaru rookie will be aiming to gain experience of the rally's difficult stages, while demonstrating a good pace in his Impreza.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "I'm going to go to Cyprus with a different approach; of course we're going to try to win, but we know how difficult it is to do that these days. I'm going to start calm, see where the level is and then go for maximum attack on Saturday. From what I've heard, I think the rally is going to be very rough this year, it depends on how much they've worked on the roads. It's always a hard rally, very rough and bumpy with lots of loose rocks, but it's a rally that I like. We completed a tyre test this week, there was some improvement, but we'll have to wait and see how it works on the rally. You never know properly before you are fighting against the other guys."

Chris Atkinson/Glen Macneall: "Italy was good preparation for Cyprus I think. In Cyprus, we're expecting slightly higher temperatures and slower conditions, which will mean less airflow and higher in-car temperatures. We hope to avoid a repeat of the small incidents we had in Sardinia but continue with the same speeds. It's going to be very rough and I've heard that the stages haven't been repaired from last year, so they're likely to become rutted straight away. With average speeds below 60kph on some stages, it's important to quickly get into a good driving rhythm and avoid losing a lot of time through the long stages. I've been watching video footage of last year's route to familiarise myself with the conditions and am looking to gain as much experience as possible."

Ford

Ford aims to create history on the Cyprus Rally (12 - 15 May) by extending its remarkable points scoring record in the FIA World Rally Championship to 50 consecutive events. Since the championship was officially launched in 1973, there have been 410 world rallies and no other manufacturer has composed a run of successive points scores that exceeds 35 events. The record-breaking sequence began on the Monte Carlo Rally in 2002. BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Mozny carried the run to 49 when both scored points in Italy earlier this month. All 49 points finishes have been scored by the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Gardemeister and Kresta are the two drivers with the task of taking Ford to its half century. The Cyprus Rally, round six of the championship, is the first of three consecutive hot weather, rough road events in the eastern Mediterranean. The Focus RS has built an awesome reputation on events where rocky gravel tracks and high temperatures require a crucial blend of strength, reliability and speed to be successful. It has won in Cyprus twice in the rally's five years in the championship.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "Cyprus is twisty, slow and rough and it's not one of my favourite events. It's important to drive straight and avoid breaking the car because there are many stones on the road that can inflict heavy damage. It's difficult to keep a smooth rhythm because the speeds are so low and there is always the temptation to push harder. The roads are quite flowing but if a driver pushes too hard then the car slides off line, it loses momentum and risks picking up punctures. "Cyprus is hard on tyres. The roads are abrasive and there is so much acceleration out of corners that there is always the danger of excessive wheelspin. It's necessary to look after the tyres to ensure they are still working to the maximum towards the end of a group of stages. It's also important for an engine to have good torque to make the most from the constant acceleration," added Gardemeister.

Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "I have in-car video footage from that year and some of the stages are exactly the same as this year. Before I go out there I will watch the video and get my mind focused on the type of roads that we will experience," he said. "The roads are rough and twisty and in places they are similar to the kind of stages we have just driven in Sardinia. It will be important to keep a smooth line because there are plenty of stones on the edge of the road. A good car for Cyprus needs good throttle response, good torque, good suspension and good tyres. The roads are hard on tyres but I think Michelin proved on the toughest stages in Sardinia that it has the rubber which will be good for Cyprus. It's a tough rally for drivers as well because the high temperatures mean it's hot in the car and the low speeds provide little air flow through the cockpit. "The Focus is also well-suited to this kind of rally. It's easy to drive on the slower sections and you don't need an aggressive style, so there is not the risk of pushing too hard and losing the line and time," he added.

Peugeot

Less than a fortnight after Sardinia, it will be the turn of another Mediterranean island -- Cyprus -- to host a round of the World Rally Championship. Peugeot, who won this event in 2002, will be out to consolidate its lead in the Manufacturers' points table, while the 307 WRC drivers Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin will be looking to hit the ground running. Marcus Gronholm has finished this event on one occasion when he won it outright in 2002. The two-times World Champion prefers high-speed rallies such as New Zealand and Finland, but he has shown that he understands the secret of being quick in Cyprus. After the frustration of being eliminated from the battle for top spot in Sardinia, he will be more determined than ever to return from this year's visit to the Troodos Mountains with a top result under his belt. Markko Martin is another driver who prefers fast, flowing corners to rough, twisty going. However, his 2nd place in Limassol in 2004 showed that he too has the ability to adapt to all types of terrain. The patience and consistency that have been his strong points since the beginning of the season promise once again to be valuable assets in the three events to come.

Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: Apologies, not available.

Markko Martin/Michael Park: Apologies, not available.

Mitsubishi

Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen will once again be leading the team assault on this rough and demanding event, while Gilles and Herve Panizzi return to competitive action for the first time since Rally Mexico in early March. "Gigi" Galli and Guido D'Amore will also be on the island with the team, gaining important knowledge by undertaking the recce. Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen have contested the event on four occasions and the pair has a good finishing record. They did not compete when the event first appeared in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar in 2000 and were forced out with broken suspension the following year, but in 2002 they narrowly missed out on a podium position, finishing fourth. In 2003 however, they mounted the podium in second, demonstrating their ability to conquer the conditions. Team-mates Gilles and Herve Panizzi have fared less well in Cyprus, three retirements from four outings underlining the grueling nature of this event. The French rallying brothers are however looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Cyprus has very twisty mountain roads and it's a very rough, bumpy and difficult rally", commented Harri. "For sure we can see that our current set-up for rough events is working well, having set some good times in Sardinia, and I am quite confident the small changes we will make for Cyprus will work well; we had a long test a few weeks ago and our work focused on this event. We know the car is strong and hopefully we can perform in the same way as Sardinia. It's not one of my favorite events; it's so hot, twisty and rough - a Mitsubishi Pajero is more suited to this event than a rally car!"

Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "For sure this is maybe not my best event for results, as we have had many punctures and engine problems in previous years", said Gilles "I cannot say it is one of my favorites, because it is really rough and hard on the car, tires and driver. But the team seems to be making good progress at the moment, especially after seeing the performance in Sardinia. Our last test was also good so I am happy about the job at the moment. Since the team got back from Italy I have spent a few days in Rugby, learning some things around the car and about how to change certain components; this work could prove very important ahead of an event like Cyprus where nearly everyone experiences problems".

Skoda

The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team travels a short distance to holiday island at the eastern end of the Mediterranean for the sixth round of the World Rally Championship. The Cyprus Rally (May 12-15) will see the Fabia WRC 05 driven by Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha and Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula. The recent Sardinia event showed that the Fabia WRC 05 is well suited to the kind of rough and rocky roads that it will face in Cyprus. The weather could play a significant part in the eventual result of the rally as, while Cyprus typically enjoys very hot and sunny conditions for the rally, few competitors will forget the treacherous roads they faced when the 2002 event was run amid heavy rainstorms. The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team missed last year's rally and so this will be the debut on the island for the Fabia WRC where its predecessor, the Octavia WRC, made its final appearance in 2003.

Janne Tuohino/Mikko Markkula: "Like Sardinia this is a technical event where you have to be a little bit smart and clever. If you try to go flat out you will have problems."

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "Cyprus is famous for its tight and twisty stages that are renowned for being tough on both car and driver. It's always a difficult rally but it is a lovely place to be if it's sunny although the weather in the mountains can sometimes be very different from what it is on the coast."

-rallyenewsletter-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team