The Ford Martini team begins the toughest segment of the FIA World Rally Championship with confidence high after victory in Argentina earlier this month for Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and another podium placing for the ever-consistent Carlos...
The Ford Martini team begins the toughest segment of the FIA World Rally Championship with confidence high after victory in Argentina earlier this month for Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and another podium placing for the ever-consistent Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya.
The Cyprus Rally (1 - 3 June) is the first of three events, spanning the midpoint of the season, which are held in searing heat and over boulder-strewn gravel tracks where endurance of both man and machine are as important as outright speed. Cyprus, along with the Acropolis Rally in Greece and Kenya's Safari Rally, offer the toughest driving conditions of the season and these next three rallies will go some considerable way towards shaping the outcome of the championship.
Although this year's Cyprus Rally, sixth round of the series, has been brought forward from September, the Mediterranean island will be just as hot. The taxing mountain roads, featuring long uphill climbs and so many twists and turns that drivers rarely reach fourth gear, keep speeds low and engine temperatures high.
However, the Ford Martini team has little to fear from such extreme conditions. Sainz and McRae finished in 1-2 formation in Cyprus last year, reversing the outcome in Greece when McRae led home his team-mate.
Earlier this month the 32-year-old Scottish driver produced one of his most masterful performances to win in south America, his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car leading from the very first kilometre. In so doing he climbed to third in the drivers' series and McRae recognises the importance of following victory with more good results.
"Cyprus and Greece are important events for us," he said. "A win and a podium would be great but it's easier to say than to do. The competition nowadays is tough and more drivers than ever have a realistic chance of winning. It's not one of my favourite rallies because the stages are twisty and slow and it's hard to find a rhythm. That makes it difficult and it's also very hot in the car. There is little airflow and heat build-up in the cockpit is worse than in Greece or Kenya.
"Because the roads are so twisty we look for good response and traction from the Focus, especially traction. Getting away quickly from tight corners is crucial on this rally and we'll be looking to Pirelli's tyres to combat wheelspin in those situations," added McRae.
Sainz, second in the drivers' standings after scoring on every round so far, has recovered well from the back injury which troubled him so much in Argentina. "It's getting better every day and I hope that by the time the rally starts it will be 100 per cent," said the 39-year-old Madrid-based driver, who crushed the opposition last year to lead from the start in Cyprus and score one of the most dominant victories of his distinguished career.
Although the slow speeds in Cyprus mean the rough roads do not take such a severe toll as in Greece, Sainz recognises the need for a strong car. "The stages are rough but at average speeds of around 65kph, the damage to the car is not as bad as it could be. But you still need a strong car, which the Focus is, and with the suspension working well, the car is formidable in such conditions," he added.
François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup will drive the third Focus RS, the French pairing eager to improve on last year's third position. "I've just tested on the rough roads at Chateau de Lastours and the Focus feels fantastic," he said. "I first drove there 16 years ago and this was the best test I've done there. The car's driveability is incredible.
"This is the one rally where previous experience is not a factor. Last year was the first time it was a championship event and this year about 70 per cent of the route is new, so effectively it's still a new rally for everyone," added Delecour.
Challenge of the Cyprus Rally
The sun-kissed island may be ideal for holidaymakers sliding in and out of the swimming pool but the closest the drivers come to cooling off in the sizzling heat is when the hose pipe is turned on them during the brief respite of a service park! Shade temperatures top 30°C and the twisty roads and low speeds mean there is little in-car cooling during stages. In-car temperatures soar above 50°C and the Ford Martini team's medical personnel have a tough job keeping the drivers at their peak, fighting off dehydration and overheating.
Fitness expert Bernie Shrosbree adopts a simple method to keep them cool. "When the drivers arrive at service we strip them to the waist and hose them down," he said. "This cools down the body's temperature. The body fights to keep the temperature down and a cold shower helps this process as well as freshening up the drivers to keep them sharp.
Shrosbree ensures they drink around 12 litres of fluid a day, a mixture of water and sports drinks, an intake that is gradually built up over the three or four days before the start. "Fighting off dehydration is simple - lots of fluids. But if dehydration once sets in its hard to replenish the fluid level because there isn't the opportunity to take someone out of those temperatures for the required length of time."
The other vital area is general fitness. "Because the roads in Cyprus are rugged the area between the shoulders and the lower back takes a lot of punishment and needs to be in good condition. That, of course, is reliant on good preparation work," he added.
The rally follows a broadly similar format to last year with the Troodos mountains hosting the bulk of the first two days' action before the final leg moves further east to the hilly forested Machairas area. Drivers return to the coast for sea-front service parks at Paphos and Limassol. However, organisers have removed some of the slowest stages from the itinerary, meaning teams must practice from new around 70 per cent of the route. It is still expected to be the slowest championship round by a considerable margin. It is also the shortest world rally ever, drivers facing just 341.40km of competition. The opening leg is the longest, covering almost 138km, including three stages in excess of 30km.
CYPRUS RALLY 2001
ROUND 6 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 1 - 3 JUNE 2001
Friday 1 June: Leg 1 Limassol - Limassol Start Limassol 08.00 SS1 Platres - Saittas 11.48km 08.48 SS2 Foini - Koilinia 1 30.29km 09.23 SS3 Simou - Stavros 35.57km 11.31 SS4 Selladi Staktou - Panagia 19.29km 12.39 SS5 Prastio - Pachna 11.06km 15.32 SS6 Foini - Koilinia 2 30.29km 16.15 Finish Limassol 19.10 Total 137.98km
Saturday 2 June: Leg 2 Limassol - Limassol Start Limassol 08.00 SS7 Platres - Kato Amiantos 1 11.99km 09.18 SS8 Stavroulia - Orkontas 1 15.73km 09.56 SS9 Agios Theodoros - Assinou 1 9.61km 10.39 SS10 Asinou - Spilia 1 15.65km 11.07 SS11 Platres - Kato Amiantos 2 11.99km 14.22 SS12 Stavroulia - Orkontas 2 15.73km 15.00 SS13 Agios Theodoros - Asinou 2 9.61km 15.43 SS14 Assinou - Spilia 2 15.65km 16.11 Finish Limassol 18.39 Total 105.96km
Sunday 3 June: Leg 3 Limassol - Limassol Start Limassol 08.00 SS15 Vavatsinia - Mandra Kambiou 19.02km 09.38 SS16 Macheras - Agioi Vavatsinias 13.11km 10.26 SS17 Lageia - Kalavasos 9.53km 11.09 SS18 Mari - Monagrouli 7.07km 11.36 SS19 Vavatsinia - Mandra Kambiou 2 19.02km 14.16 SS20 Macheras - Agioi Vavatsinias 2 13.11km 15.04 SS21 Lageia - Kalavasos 2 9.53km 15.47 SS22 Mari - Monagrouli 2 7.07km 16.14 Finish Limassol 17.30 Total 97.46km
Rally Total 341.40km