Three weeks after Subaru claimed it's 40th WRC victory by winning Rally New Zealand, the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship moves to the Mediterranean for round five of the 16-event series, the Cyprus Rally. Beginning on Thursday 13 May with a ...
Three weeks after Subaru claimed it's 40th WRC victory by winning Rally New Zealand, the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship moves to the Mediterranean for round five of the 16-event series, the Cyprus Rally. Beginning on Thursday 13 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.
Being run as a WRC event for the fifth time, the Cyprus Rally was originally introduced to the calendar in 2000 as a replacement for the 555 Rally of China. Presenting drivers with a series of twisty, rock-strewn stages similar to those used in nearby Greece, the event has become renowned as one of the toughest in the Championship. Scorching temperatures, thick dust and rutted roads combine to make driving conditions difficult and both car and driver will face an arduous challenge.
Based largely on rocky tracks high in the Troodos Mountains, the event's stages are among the narrowest and twistiest in the Championship. In these conditions cars are expected to record average speeds of just 67kph, barely half those recorded on smooth gravel rallies, such as Rally Finland. The low speeds mean less airflow for the car's cooling systems, and with May temperatures in Cyprus likely to be around 30C, it's usually one of the toughest events for mechanical components and tyres.
This year's event sees the rally service park move 2km west of Limassol Port, while Rally HQ will be based at the Four Seasons Hotel. Following the ceremonial start on Thursday evening, the rally will begin in earnest on Friday when crews travel 63km to the start of the longest test of the event, the 38.32kms stage from Lagoudera. Each of the three Legs comprises six stages (a group of three repeated), making a total of 326.68 competitive kilometres. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp in Limassol at 1414hrs on Sunday.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Cyprus, which will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen).
Last year, Petter won the event by a margin of 4 minutes 14 seconds. Fresh from his sixth WRC victory in New Zealand, the reigning World Champion will be aiming to achieve a similar podium result on this year's rally. Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen has contested the Cyprus event once before. Finishing sixth in 2003, this was the event that saw the young Finn score his first WRC Driver points. This year he will be aiming to secure more Championship points, while gaining experience of the hot, gravel event in an Impreza WRC2004.
"It's a shame I missed some days testing in the run up to this rally due to a small muscle strain injury that I picked up in New Zealand. But, the most important thing was to be fit for Cyprus and so the team took the decision for me to rest, which was the best plan. The set-up during testing felt good, but there were more things we could have done if I'd been able to continue. But, that's just how it is sometimes. I'm looking forward to the next three events. I've always done well in Cyprus and that keeps the pressure up to do well again this year, which is a good thing."
"Although I learned a lot during Rally New Zealand, it was quite a difficult event for me. I struggled to find a driving rhythm I was happy with on the first day but, after that, things got better. I spent two days trying to learn as much as I could about the car and adapted my driving style so it was less aggressive, which seemed to pay off. Comparing my tyre wear in Mexico to that in New Zealand, it was much less on the second event. I'm learning new things all the time and also managed to collect more points for the team in New Zealand. Cyprus, of course, will be very different to New Zealand. I think my driving style suits faster events, but there are three rough, twisty rallies coming up and that's an area I need to improve on, so it will be good for me. The Subaru is very strong on this type of surface too, which is a positive. It will be important for me and Jarmo to take good pace notes in Cyprus. All the corners are slow and look the same, so you need to ensure you mark some differences in the notes so you recognise them all."
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
"As a hot, rough and extremely twisty rally, Cyprus is arguably the one of the toughest events of the year for the cars, drivers and tyres. Low average speeds mean a lack of cooling airflow for cars and a difficult factor can be the build up of heat, both in the engine and inside the cockpit. The twisty nature of the roads also means that there's no let up for the driver. There are no straights to relax on and the driver is constantly braking, accelerating and turning. This also puts a massive stress on the tyres, and so tyre wear is likely to be a critical factor. Fortunately for us, Pirelli has an excellent record on this event and has won it three times in the last four years.
"This will be the first rough and twisty gravel rally for the new Subaru Impreza 2004 WRC, but we have the ideal benchmark in last year's model, the WRC2003. Last year our performance was very strong and from what we've seen in testing, the 2004 car looks even better. But, just as we've focused on improving our car for fast events, other teams are bound to have considered their past performances in Cyprus and also sought to improve.
"Regarding the drivers, there's no question that Petter will be looking to repeat his dominant performance of 2003, but we're realistic and know not to expect the same winning margin that we saw last year. This year it's likely to be a much harder fight and the current Championship standings plus the result in New Zealand promise a close contest in Cyprus. The rally will be a great opportunity for Mikko. He's completed the event once before and knows he's starting with the right equipment. Although we're still realistic in terms of our expectations for Mikko, especially considering his age and experience, we're looking to see him put in an impressive performance."
Between the Rallies
It's been an action packed few weeks for Mikko Hirvonen. After New Zealand, the young Finn flew directly to Japan with Subaru World Rally Team Manager, Paul Howarth and Sporting Director, Luis Moya. Mikko had a busy couple of days, including a visit to Subaru's main offices in Tokyo, numerous TV and magazine interviews and a press conference to promote Rally Japan. It was his first visit to the country and he described Tokyo as 'completely amazing'. The young Finn enjoyed the local cuisine and said his favourite moment was eating in a restaurant on the 53rd floor of a skyscraper while enjoying an incredible nighttime view across the city.
Following his trip to Japan, Mikko returned to Jyvaskyla for a couple of days off before flying out for a day of driving at the team's rough gravel test in Andorra. This week Mikko and co-driver Jarmo have spent three days in the rally team workshops at the Subaru World Rally Team Headquarters in Banbury. The pair have been learning more about the different mechanical sections of their car and, most importantly, how to fix them if something gets damaged on a rally. The pair will arrive in Cyprus today (Friday) to allow them time to acclimatise to the conditions.
Following New Zealand, Petter and co-driver Phil Mills attended a gravel test in Andorra. As Petter was still suffering some discomfort from a muscular strain that had been caused while driving with no power steering in New Zealand, on the second day of the test the team decided that driving duties should be handed over to Mikko. Following the advice of the test team doctor, Petter returned home to Monte Carlo to rest for three to four days as a precautionary measure to ensure he was fully recovered for the Cyprus Rally.
Since then, the reigning world champion has been spending time with his wife, Pernilla and son Oliver. When we caught up with Petter he was enjoying a lunch in town with some friends and family, before taking Oliver down to the marina. Petter and Phil will arrive in Cyprus today to allow them time to acclimatise to the conditions.