Rally Cyprus was always going to be a tough challenge, but today's first Leg proved especially frustrating for the Subaru team. Faced with sweltering temperatures and some of the worst road conditions seen on a WRC event since the Safari Rally of...
Rally Cyprus was always going to be a tough challenge, but today's first Leg proved especially frustrating for the Subaru team. Faced with sweltering temperatures and some of the worst road conditions seen on a WRC event since the Safari Rally of Kenya, Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson, together with the majority of the other WRC competitors, were hampered by a variety of technical problems. Solberg started well, with a fastest time in his Subaru Impreza WRC2005 on SS1, but his Leg one challenge came to an end with an electrical fault on the final stage. A damaged clutch on Atkinson's Impreza after stage two meant he too was sidelined from Leg one. After repairs in the Limassol service area tonight, both drivers are hoping to re-join the fearsome event tomorrow.
SS1 0938hrs Lagoudera - Spilia 1 (38.32km)
A daunting 38km stage though the Troodos Mountains marked the opening of the 2005 Cyprus Rally. The longest test of the event presented a combination of bumpy, dusty terrain, rock-strewn corners and scorching temperatures of more than 35 notoriously rough and there was a 2.5km tarmac section 18km from the finish. Petter Solberg got off to a good start by setting the fastest time, at an average speed of just 62.17kph. The relatively low speeds meant it took crews more than 35 minutes to complete the stage, making it potentially the longest of the entire Championship. Marcus Gronholm's Leg one came to an end 25km from the start when his Peugeot suffered a broken cam-belt. Markko Martin's Peugeot was also in the wars with a puncture and rear-end damage and he lost more than a minute to the leaders. Mitsubishi's Gilles Panizzi dropped 20 minutes with an engine related problem, then lost third gear and reached the following time-control one minute late, to collect a 10-second time penalty.
SS2 1046hrs Kourdali - Asinou 1 (15.00km)
Featuring a sequence of 90-degree bends and more of the same rough and rutted conditions, the stage from Kourdali is reckoned to be the slowest of the entire Championship. Stage winner Sebastien Loeb recorded 54.58kph; taking more than 16 minutes to complete the 15km test. Petter Solberg was second fastest, despite his engine switching automatically to 'safe-mode' to control its rising temperature, while Francois Duval was third and Chris Atkinson, who reported a clutch problem, eighth. With his Mitsubishi struggling in the intense heat, Gilles Panizzi's engine problems continued and he crossed the finish line one minute 59 seconds off the winning pace. Toni Gardemeister also suffered with an overheating engine. His Focus' turbo anti-lag system stopped working and he lost throttle response.
SS3 1124hrs Asinou - Agios Theodore 1 (7.57km)
The shortest stage of the event, the 7.57km stage from Asinou presented a more open route than SS1 and SS2, but still featured exceptionally rough and bumpy terrain. It was a bittersweet stage for the Citroen team as Loeb took the fastest time, but team-mate Francois Duval suffered a throttle problem in his Xsara before the start. Arriving seven minutes late to the time control, the Belgian collected 1 minute 10 seconds of penalty time and lost a further 1 minute 41 seconds through the test itself. By the finish he had fallen to 13th position overall. Chris Atkinson's clutch problem worsened on the road-section and he retired his Impreza from the Leg before the start of SS3. Pushing hard aboard his Subaru in scorching temperatures of more than 35 Subaru's Solberg was second fastest, while Toni Gardemeister was third and Manfred Stohl fourth. Armin Schwarz's Skoda suffered a broken alternator at the finish and he retired. After the stage was complete, the remaining crews returned to Limassol for a 30-minute service.
SS4 1437hrs Lagoudera - Spilia 2 (38.32km)
With 46 competitors having already passed through the long stage from Lagoudera, conditions were far more rutted for its repeat. In a temperature of 33 hard on tyres, while the slow average speeds of around 63kph meant cooling for the cars' engines and transmissions remained an issue for all competitors. Toni Gardemeister lost almost four minutes when he collected a puncture on his Ford and had to stop to change the tyre. Running behind him, Harri Rovanpera passed the Finn, but developed a transmission problem in his Lancer and lost almost three minutes, allowing Gardemeister to leapfrog back into his original road position. Solberg was fastest through the first two splits, but at the halfway point his car developed a turbo boost problem which cut engine power and cost him around 30 seconds.
SS5 1545hrs Kourdali - Asinou 2 (15.00km)
Petter Solberg's turbo problem persisted for the second repeated stage of the afternoon, and towards the end of the test he reported a slipping clutch too. The Norwegian lost a further minute and a half to drop to third position overall. Loeb set an average speed of 54.64kph to finish first, while Stohl was second fastest and Martin third. Ford's Roman Kresta lost two minutes when he collected two front punctures and fell to ninth position overall. Once the stage was complete, crews moved to the start of SS6.
SS6 1623hrs Asinou - Agios Theodore 2 (7.57km)
Petter Solberg's Leg one came to a premature end shortly after the start of SS6, when the engine in his Subaru cut out. Solberg tried in vain to re-start it but a suspected electrical problem meant it would go no further and he retired from the Leg. Kresta continued to lose time as he struggled with two front punctures on his Focus, while Rovanpera lost over 20 seconds with a continuing transmission problem in his Lancer. Loeb was fastest to secure the overnight lead, with Citroen privateer Manfred Stohl fourth fastest to maintain second and Henning Solberg sixth fastest for third.
David Lapworth, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "Not one of our better days. It's been frustrating for both drivers. We've had a number of totally unexpected technical problems and now both drivers will have to fight their way back up the field. There is some consolation for Petter that all of his rivals, except for Sebastien, have had problems of their own and it is still possible that Petter can salvage a reasonable points haul. Chris will continue to gain experience tomorrow and despite today's disappointment he can still achieve most of the development objectives he came here for. It's just a shame he's missed his chance of a good finish on this occasion."
Petter Solberg: "It's very disappointing. Today has been so difficult I can't really believe it. The conditions were terrible; it was an effort just to complete the stages, as they were so rough. We had worked hard to prepare for this rally, but we weren't expecting any of the problems that we have encountered today. It's a very unusual rally and a very unusual situation. We'll wait and see how the car is, but of course I hope to start again tomorrow. That's the plan and I really believe that after what we've seen today it's possible for me to finish on the podium. I've often said anything is possible and tonight I believe that more than ever."
Chris Atkinson: "We started this rally at a comfortable pace because we knew the roads would be rough and cut up quickly. Perhaps through the first stage we were almost too safe, but we quickly gathered the pace and my confidence increased. But before we could make any real impact the clutch started to slip and that was the end of our day. It's certainly a shame to finish another Leg like this, as personally I wanted to get the car all the way to the finish. But, looking at my development programme, the opportunity to get more experience is the far bigger priority and I have to be grateful that the rules allow me to do that."
News From Pirelli
Not one of our better days. It's been frustrating for both drivers. We've had a number of totally unexpected technical problems and now both drivers will have to fight their way back up the field. There is some consolation for Petter that all of his rivals, except for Sebastien, have had problems of their own and it is still possible that Petter can salvage a reasonable points haul. Chris will continue to gain experience tomorrow and despite today's disappointment he can still achieve most of the development objectives he came here for. It's just a shame he's missed his chance of a good finish on this occasion.