Markko Martin and Ford arrive in Cyprus on the crest of a wave, the Estonian driver having taken his first win in the FIA World Rally Championship on the Acropolis Rally 11 days ago. Martin's success was also a first for the Focus RS WRC03....
Markko Martin and Ford arrive in Cyprus on the crest of a wave, the Estonian driver having taken his first win in the FIA World Rally Championship on the Acropolis Rally 11 days ago. Martin's success was also a first for the Focus RS WRC03. Martin's win moved him up the drivers' championship order, but Peugeot man Richard Burns retained his position at the head of the standings. Burns' run in Greece was hampered by continued transmission problems aboard his 206 WRC. He overcame the lack of second gear to bring his car home in fourth place, however, extending his lead over the chasing pack to five points. Carlos Sainz leads the pursuit, having placed his Citroen Xsara WRC second on the Acropolis Rally. The Spaniard has a two-point advantage from Marcus Gronholm. The reigning FIA World Rally Champion suffered a rally to forget last time out, retiring at the end of the first leg with fuel pump problems.
French teams Peugeot and Citroen remain out front in the manufacturers' championship.
This week's Limassol-based seventh round of the championship is the third and final of the rough gravel road-type rallies in this year's calendar. The event is also a round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship
Marlboro Peugeot Total (1st -- 73 points)
Technical: The transmission problems which hit the 206s of Richard Burns and Harri Rovanpera on the last round will be sorted out by either returning to an old clutch set-up, or by mapping the electronics which control the clutch differently. Marcus Gronholm's fuel pump problem was caused by a glitch in the fuel tank's build process. All three 206 WRCs are expected to run with the air conditioning system tested in Greece.
Sporting: Gronholm won this event last year and, despite failing to win either of the rough rallies which have come previously this season, the Finn and his team are confident ahead of Cyprus. Burns and Rovanpera continue to search for their first win of the season, both will be hoping for a rally free from mechanical trouble. Rovanpera in particular showed well in Cyprus, closing the gap to just a handful of seconds when the gearbox on his car failed. Gilles Panizzi drives a works-specification, Bozian Racing-run 206 in addition to the three full factory cars.
Marcus Gronholm said: "Acropolis was a big disappointment. It was a strange problem, but that's behind us now. The stages in Cyprus are quite slow, they don't have so much rhythm, they can be quite hard work."
Richard Burns said: "This is quite a technical rally, there are so many slow speed corners, everything has to be right; things like the entry speed into the corners or running wide, costs a lot of time on this event."
Harri Rovanpera said: "I want to forget the last rally, it wasn't good for me. I was in a strong position when the problem came, just when I thought my luck was changing. I'm not thinking about luck right now, I just want to get on and have a good rally."
Citroen Total (2nd -- 62 points)
Technical: The team has worked on the cooling for the engine's ECU. It was an overheated ECU which is believed to have caused Colin McRae's problem on the Acropolis Rally. Sebastien Loeb's engine trouble on the opening stage was an individual component failure, which the team has now rectified. Citroen spent the intervening week between the rallies solving these problems rather than making any major new developments for this event.
Sporting: This is another new event for Loeb, and it's another event that the Frenchman's team-mates Carlos Sainz and McRae have won. Sainz was the first winner of it as a round of the FIA World Rally Championship, when it was drafted into the calendar to replace China in 2000. McRae won it one year later and came close to doing so again last season, missing out on the win when he rolled twice on the final day. Sainz demonstrated the Xsara's performance on twisty, rough gravel stages earlier this season, when he won the Rally of Turkey. Since then the Spaniard came within an ace of winning in Argentina and finished second in Greece.
Carlos Sainz said: "Cyprus is a slow rally, it's a little bit like a combination of Acropolis and Turkey. One of the big challenges on this event is the heat. Because average speeds are low, there's not a lot of air coming into the car which can make it extremely hot inside."
Colin McRae said: "Cyprus is a nice place and the rally is run well, but I have to say that I'm not a fan of these stages. They're too slow for me. People tend to think of the Acropolis as the roughest event in the calendar, which it is in the main, but these stages in Cyprus can be really bad once the soft surface starts to cut up."
Sebastien Loeb said: "As this is my first trip to Cyprus, winning the rally is going to be very tough. What is vital for me is to score points. I have retired from the last two rallies, which has dropped me back from the front of the field a little way. I'm over the disappointment of my first-stage retirement in Greece, now I want points from here."
Ford Motor Company (3rd -- 39 points)
Technical: Between the rallies, Ford has worked on the cooling of the differentials for the Focus RS WRC 03s, but otherwise the cars -- including the 2002 version of Mikko Hirvonen -- remain in the same specification to that for the last round in Greece.
Sporting: Martin controlled the Acropolis Rally from the front, leading from the second stage for the remainder of the event to score his maiden win at this level. His only major problem came on the fifth stage -- the longest of the event -- when the bonnet pins failed and the bonnet on his Focus flew up and covered the windscreen. Despite the searing heat and lack of visibility, Martin was only six seconds off the fastest time. Duval suffered on the fifth stage as well. The Belgian, who led the Acropolis after SS1, was in second place when he slid off the road and into a ditch. Cyprus Rally 2002 was the first time Duval ever led a round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Markko Martin said: "The win in Greece is history. I have to focus on getting things right on this rally. The car showed it was reliable on the last round. Patience is what's important on this rally. Everything feels quite slow because of the nature of the stages, it's easy to push harder, over-drive the car and end up sliding wide."
Francois Duval said: "I was supposed to test after the rally but, because my neck was still hurting, the team decided it would be better for me to go home and get some attention. Road position is vital on this rally and it should be quite good for us this year (Duval starts leg one ninth on the road)."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "The 2002 car which I'm driving has a great reputation for these rough-type of rallies. I think we can make it to the finish, get some experience and some good points."
555 Subaru World Rally Team (4th -- 37 points)
Technical: The Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s of Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen will start round seven in the same specification in which they finished the last round. The driveshaft problem, which cost Solberg a minute and his chance to challenge for the lead on the second leg, was caused by a faulty assembly by the part supplier.
Sporting: Subaru bagged ten points in Greece, courtesy of Solberg's third place and Makinen's fifth. Solberg just missed out on second place in a final-day scrap with Carlos Sainz. The Norwegian was much happier with the set-up on his car, while his Finnish team-mate struggled to adapt the Subaru to the Greek roads.
Petter Solberg said: "These rough events are good for the team, good for the car. I'm feeling pretty confident for this event, especially after setting the times we did on the last round."
Tommi Makinen said: "I like the way this rally works, twisty stages and short road sections, it keeps the whole thing really interesting. Greece wasn't the best rally for us, but we know what the problem was, I'm confident things will go well here."
Skoda Motorsport (5th -- 20 points)
Technical: There have been no new developments on the Octavia WRC for this event.
Sporting: This will be the final official outing for the Octavia WRC. The car's replacement -- the Fabia WRC will make its debut in the FIA World Rally Championship on the following round in Germany. Skoda has entered the Octavia 111 times on 48 rallies since its arrival on the scene in Monte Carlo, 1999.
Didier Auriol said: "I've only done this event once before, so I don't have so much experience. It's a tricky and technical rally though, you need a strong car to deal with the rough roads and you need the right set-up."
Toni Gardemeister said: "This rally is corner after corner after corner, there's no rhythm, but all of the time you have to be so precise. If we drive sensibly this weekend, I think we can score some good points."
Hyundai World Rally Team (6th -- 3 points)
Technical: Following the leg one retirements of Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz, Hyundai elected to remain in Greece and test the Accent prior to its arrival in Cyprus. Save for suspension settings, the cars will run in largely the same specification which they were in for Acropolis.
Sporting: After five rallies without scoring a point, Hyundai needs to pick up something from Cyprus. The Accents usually go well on this style of rallies. Former Mitsubishi works driver Justin Dale joins the team as a third nomination for this first time. Schwarz won this event as a FIA European Rally Championship round in 1996.
Armin Schwarz said: "The key to this event is to stay out of trouble. You need to drive as fast as you can without breaking the car."
Freddy Loix said: "There's no reason why we shouldn't go well here. It would be nicer if the roads were a little bit more flowing, but the important thing for us is to avoid damaging the car and get some points."
Justin Dale said: "I did the South Swedish Rally to get used to car last month, but already that seems a long time ago. I've done gravel notes on this event before, so I know what to expect. I just can't wait to get started now."
Toshi Arai leads the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship crews away in his Subaru Impreza. Proton's Karamjit Singh is second in his Pert, while Stig Blomqvist and Martin Rowe both have latest specification Imprezas for this event.