Cyprus: Subaru leg one summary

Delivering another measured and calculated performance, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds overnight third place, 10.3 seconds behind overnight leader Marcus Gronholm. After being third overall earlier in the day and posting competitive times...

Delivering another measured and calculated performance, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds overnight third place, 10.3 seconds behind overnight leader Marcus Gronholm. After being third overall earlier in the day and posting competitive times at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC, Tommi Mäkinen lost nearly ten minutes after hitting a rock in the final stage. He had to complete the test without power steering and ended the day in nineteenth position.

Stage Reports

SS1 0848hrs Platres - Kato Amiantos 1 (11.60km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 9:27.1

With no scheduled service before the day's first test, competitors left parc ferme and headed directly for the rough Platres stage, 40km north of Limassol. As expected, the first run through the 11.60km route favoured those cars further down the order, and running first and third on the road, Peugeot duo, Richard Burns and Marcus Gronholm, suffered as they cleaned the stage of loose gravel. They finished eleventh and ninth fastest respectively. Running eleventh on the road, team-mate Harri Rovanpera was fastest to take the stage win, with Subaru driver Petter Solberg second quickest. An excellent performance from Skoda's Didier Auriol saw the Frenchman take third, while Ford's young driver Mikko Hirvonen, running 16th, was sixth. Carlos Sainz struggled with severe oversteer in his Citroen and finished thirteenth. Contesting the event for the first time, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb got off to a slow start and he finished in just nineteenth place.

SS2 0941hrs Lagoudera - Spilia 1 (38.32km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 35:18.4

The first pass through the longest test of the event, the rocky and rutted 38.32km Lagoudera stage, saw the first large gaps appear on the overall leaderboard as Rovanpera charged home to snatch his second consecutive stage win. This time it was Subaru driver Tommi Mäkinen's turn to finish second fastest, while asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi proved he was just as competitive on gravel by finishing third fastest in his Bozian Racing Peugeot 206WRC. At the finish he lay second overall. More problems for Richard Burns. Running first on the road, the Brit collected a front left puncture, dropped over 40 seconds and fell to tenth overall. Ford's Francois Duval also lost time when he was forced to change gear manually in his Focus 5km from the finish, while Toni Gardemeister's Skoda dropped over a minute due to low hydraulic pressure in the centre differential. After the finish cars returned to the Limassol service area for the first service of the day. Hyundai privateer Justin Dale later retired on the road section back to service due to an overheating engine.

SS3 1439hrs Platres - Kato Amiantos 2 (11.60km)
Fastest time: Rovanpera (Peugeot) 9:12.4

Once again, Rovanpera took the stage win, extending his overall lead to 16.2 seconds, with Gronholm clinching second and Panizzi third. With much of the loose gravel having been cleared on the earlier run through the short Platres test, average speeds were marginally higher on the second pass with winner Rovanpera recording 75.6kph. Less than four seconds separated the top six cars. Subaru driver Solberg was sixth fastest to round off the group and at the finish he held overall fourth, joint with his Subaru team-mate Makinen. Ex Ford team-mates Markko Martin and Colin McRae were fourth and fifth fastest respectively. Running on wet tyres, Skoda's Didier Auriol managed only the fifteenth fastest time, but with rain having fallen on SS4, he was expected to make up lost time on the day's final test.

SS4 1532hrs Lagoudera - Spilia 2 (38.32km)
Fastest time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 34:30.3

Marcus Gronholm ended Rovanpera's run of fastest stage times and finished 28.4 seconds ahead of his team-mate, who suffered with gearbox trouble, to clinch both the stage win and overnight lead. Loeb was second fastest, while Petter Solberg set another excellent time to finish third fastest, the same position that he held overall. In what was both a good and bad stage for the Subaru team, Mäkinen was slowed when a collision with a rock 6km in on a tight second-gear corner damaged his front right wheel and caused a puncture. The Finn stopped a further 4km on to change the wheel, but the impact had also damaged his power steering and he was forced to complete the remaining 30km of twisty terrain without it. He dropped more than nine and a half minutes, and out of the top ten. There were problems also for other leading WRC drivers. Markko Martin had to complete the test using his Ford's manual gear change system after suffering low hydraulic pressure from 8km in, while Richard Burns struggled with a gearbox problem and lost another 40 seconds.

Team Quotes

David Lapworth , 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "Petter's had a great day. He's done exactly what he said he would and is in a great position for a big battle. Tomorrow's going to be a long hard day with everything to play for, and Petter's determined to make life difficult for Marcus. After such a great start, it's bitterly disappointing for Tommi. He did a great job on the first run through the stages and was perfectly poised and confident, but unfortunately one rock cost him a lot of time."

Petter Solberg: "It feels good. I like being in this position and I'm confident for the next two days. The tyres and the car have worked very well in the conditions and the torque from the engine is very good indeed. I'm having fun in the car and I think I can beat Marcus on this event. I'm not going to give up. "

Tommi Mäkinen: "I'm very disappointed. On that last stage (SS4), there were lots of rocks. I went into a second gear corner, hit a rock on the inside, collected a puncture and lost power steering. We stopped 4km further on and changed the wheel, but with no power steering for the rest of the stage, it was tough. We pulled over to let Toni Gardemeister past. It's the longest stage I've ever had to do with no power steering and it was very tricky and rough out there. It's bad luck, everything had been feeling very good."

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "The stages in the Cyprus Rally were littered with small rocks and loose gravel. As a result, in the first few stages of today, both Tommi and Petter selected to cut their Pirelli PZero WR3 racing gravel tyres in order to gain more grip on the loose surface. We have been happy with the durability of the tyres and look forward to a similar performance tomorrow."

Technical Talk - Gearing up for Cyprus

The highly trained 555 SWRT technicians can change the Subaru Impreza WRC2003's gearbox on event in just 14 minutes. We caught up with Paul Roberts, Prodrive's transmission supervisor, to get the low-down on the £60,000 transmission system...

* Each transmission system is made by hand at the 555 SWRT base in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The gearbox has 400 individual parts and takes one technician 80 man-hours to build. The team will build two gearboxes per car for every round of the WRC

* The gears are made of top quality hardened steel and go through an 8-10 week manufacturing process. Each gear begins life as a lump of steel roughly the same shape of the finished part. The steel is then turned and the teeth are cut on a fully automated £250,000 gear-cutting machine. Finally, the parts are heat treated, ground to exact dimensions and oiled. Each gear is designed to have a life of 1000 competitive kilometres. During the 2002 season 600 individual gears were made for 555 SWRT

* The finished gearbox is six-speed, semi-automatic and uses 'fly-by-wire' technology for gear shifting. A paddle on the steering wheel facilitates gearshift - pull forward to move up a gear and push backward to move down. On an average rally there are around 3500 gearshifts - that's in the region of 175 changes per stage!

* FIA regulations permit one spare gearbox per car. This, and the one fitted in the car, is sealed by event scrutineers before the rally starts to prevent any internal repair work being carried out. Teams are permitted to swap the gearboxes as many times as they like during service points

* Gear ratios have restrictions. They are homologated for each season, therefore cannot be tailored for specific events. It is possible though to change the transfer gear ratio - this raises or lowers the overall gearing. In Cyprus, due to the tight and twisty stages, the team uses low gearing

Tomorrow's Leg

Leg two, the longest of the event, starts tomorrow from Limassol parc ferme. The first car will leave at 0600hrs and crews will then travel 55km north to the Troodos Mountains for the first three stages of the day. Competitors will then contest a short test near Limassol before moving west for the Leg's final four stages (two repeated), to complete a total of 158.35 competitive kilometres. The first stage is due to start at 0743hrs.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team