WRC Rd 6 - Cypress Rally: Loeb wins and sets up title

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May 15, 2005 Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb collected his third consecutive win in Cyprus, and his fourth of the 2005 season to take a significant points lead in the World Rally Championship. This weekend's success – the crew's fourteenth at WRC level – takes the defending champion 11 points clear at the top of the provisional Drivers' World Championship standings thanks to the failure of Subaru’s Petter Solberg, Loeb’s main rival for the title.

This sixth round of the championship was one of the toughest events seen in recent years. Incredibly rocky gravel tracks in the Troodos Mountains took a heavy toll and only 21 of the original 54 starters completed the gruelling three-day route which covered 326.68km of competition. Shade temperatures of 30°C and twisty roads, that ensured average speeds often failed to rise above 60kph, meant there was little airflow and conditions were tough for drivers and hard-working engines, transmissions and suspension.

The officially nominated Citroen Sport crew's win was compounded by the superb second place of the privately-entered, Team Kronos Racing-run Xsara of Manfred Stohl. It is the best result of the young Austrian's career and probably the best performance ever by an Austrian driver at world level.

Loeb was by far the best stage performer with 12 fastest times in the rally but, as he observed after the drama that befell many of the front-runners early on, he emerged from this rout as his own main rival! "I've got to stay as concentrated as possible to keep clear of the innumerable difficulties this minefield is throwing at us."

Later, amidst joyous scenes at the final service halt, the World Champion admitted, "This is the moment we've been waiting for for the past two days. Ever since the real battle ended in fact. It's a bit of a strange win and I feel a certain relief that it's over. The car was perfect and didn't give us any problems, and we didn't make any mistakes. This win may not have been all that exciting but, like all the others, it's worth ten valuable points!"

There was just as much cheering going on nearby under the Kronos Racing awning to celebrate the outstanding performance of its Austrian crew who secured the best finish for a privateer at world level in years. Ilka Minor's joy was a pleasure to behold: "It's a fantastic feeling. To finish 2nd in such a difficult rally… It's just incredible!" Manfred Stohl admitted that his feat was only just sinking in: "I'm not one to show my feelings, but I'm thrilled to bits inside! I am pleased that I succeeded in holding off Henning Solberg and then Markko Märtin. I also want to underline the excellent work put in by the Kronos team. This is a great result for all those who believed in me at the beginning of my career and who enabled me to make a living out of my passion…"

Citroen boss Guy Fréquelin was obviously very pleased too, but didn't conceal that his pleasure was dampened by yesterday's retirement of François Duval and co-driver Stéphane Prévot and by its consequences: "Stéphane has told me that he doesn't want to co-drive for François any more. I've got until 6 p.m. tomorrow to find a solution for the crew of our second car and register it with the FIA. That said, I must congratulate the team. It has come through the first – and perhaps toughest! – of the three rough rallies of the championship very well. The result confirms what we had hoped, that the set-up of the car and our new Michelin tyres would be a match for these conditions. As usual, Sébastien was in imperial form and that has been justly rewarded in the Drivers' standings. I can't hide though that I am very disappointed that what looked to be a promising weekend in terms of the Manufacturers' championship didn't come off. I would finally like to praise Manfred Stohl, Ilka Minor and everyone at Kronos Racing. Citroën Sport couldn't wish for better ambassadors for our privately run cars…"

Ford reaches Landmark Record

Ford created history in Cyprus by claiming its 50th consecutive points finish in the World Rally Championship. Three Focus RS World Rally Cars finished in the top six places of the season's toughest rally to ensure Ford reached its half century. Since the championship was officially launched in 1973, there have been 411 world rallies and no other manufacturer has composed a run of consecutive points scores that exceeds 36.

The record-breaking sequence, on surfaces as diverse as rough gravel, smooth asphalt and snow and ice, began at the Monte Carlo Rally in 2002. Fifth place for BP-Ford World Rally Team driver Toni Gardemeister and sixth for team-mate Roman Kresta on the car-breaking gravel tracks of the Mediterranean island sealed the achievement. Ford's delight was complete when private entrant Henning Solberg claimed fourth in another Focus RS.

"This is a quite remarkable feat," said BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson. "No other manufacturer has come close to this record. It's a tribute to the nine drivers who have contributed to this run and the whole M-Sport team, which has worked so hard over the past seasons. But most of all, it's a success for the Ford Focus which has displayed its speed and strength throughout the 50 rallies. Now our sights are firmly set on extending the record even further."

Gardemeister started Sunday’s final leg in fifth place. With no pressure from behind the Finns took no risks but still posted two fastest times from the six speed tests to maintain their position. "The times might not suggest it, but I drove quite slowly today," said 30-year-old Gardemeister. "It's hard to find a good rhythm when the pace is not 100 per cent and you're driving at a speed so that you don't make a mistake. We weren't on full attack but couldn't drop our speed too much. But generally we've had a good pace and it's a pity we lost time with two punctures earlier in the event.

"It's fantastic for Ford to set this points record and this was the toughest rally possible on which to do it. It's been hard on drivers and cars. It was incredibly hot and rough but I had confidence in the Focus. It felt strong and it's been nice to drive here," he added.

Kresta was also in no mood to take risks. He retained sixth place throughout the final day to match his career-best result, set on the previous round in Sardinia just two weeks ago. "This is the hardest rally I've ever driven, apart from the Safari Rally in Kenya which is unlike any other event," said the 29-year-old Czech driver. "It's been tough for co-drivers and drivers. It was hot in the car and the stages were long and difficult. I'm pleased that I was well prepared and fit. I'm not sure how I would have coped if I wasn't fit. We scored good points and this is a great achievement for everyone in Ford."

Solberg started the day in third but came under pressure from Markko Märtin. When a faulty motor on their car's fly-by-wire throttle system caused the engine to stop twice in the third special stage, the 15 seconds lost looked like proving decisive. Although Solberg retaliated during the final loop of tests, he could not catch Märtin. However, fourth is a career-best result.

"I tried so hard to regain the time," said Solberg. "We took a gamble with our tyres this afternoon to try to catch Markko but it didn't work out. But I'm not disappointed with fourth, I'm really happy. My previous best result was fifth. Now I've finished fourth, so next it will be a podium! It's been such a hard weekend. I feel much fitter now after spending three days driving in this heat!"

A Podium For Märtin, And Peugeot still leads manufacturers

By finishing third in the Cyprus Rally, Markko Martin has brought Peugeot eight points for the manufacturers championship and added six points to his own personal tally. This has allowed the Estonian to climb to second place in the drivers championship, a position he holds jointly with Subaru's Petter Solberg.

After two days that proved to be extremely challenging for man and machine, most crews concentrated on reaching the finish during the final leg of Rally Cyprus. Markko Martin however decided to attack in order to take the final podium place from Ford Focus driver Henning Solberg. The Peugeot 307 WRC started its charge on the first loop of three stages this morning, with Martin taking his third podium place of the year following those gained in Sweden and Mexico. His fast but consistent drive allowed him to climb to second in the drivers championship.

Markko Martin, Peugeot, third place: "I knew that if I wanted to be on the podium I had to push hard today. It was quite difficult, because I did not want to take any risks with the manufacturer points I already had in the bag for Peugeot. Luckily we were able to do it, after what has been a very difficult rally for us. We lost a lot of time on the first day, but I knew that if we stayed out of trouble we would be able to get a good result. The car has been perfect, and with every rally I feel a bit more comfortable with it."

Peugeot Team Boss, Jean-Pierre Nicolas: "This has been an extremely tough rally where the key objective was to bring the cars home, in view of the exceptionally rough surfaces. Markko is still looking for the ideal set-up on his car, but despite that he has driven a remarkably consistent rally and earned us eight more manufacturer points. This means that Peugeot now leads Citroen by nine points, Ford by 18 points and Subaru by 24 points. We are keen to find out the specific cause of the problem that led to the timing belt on Marcus Gronholm's car breaking, and next week we will also be testing to try out different set-ups that might suit Markko Martin."

Harri Rovanpera, Mitsubishi, seventh: "Finally we are at the finish! We weren’t cruising today, but the gaps in front and behind were big enough that there was no sense in pushing hard and risking the car. These were some of the worst roads I have seen in years, maybe only matched by the Acropolis many years ago. We have a test coming up next week where we can focus on issues from this event and hopefully make some more improvements to help us in Turkey and Greece. Overall I’m pleased; I think without problems we could have been fighting with Manfred (Stohl) and had a very good result".

Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports: "After three long and very demanding days, our crews did a good job and brought both cars to the finish", said. "To score manufacturer points with both cars on such a severe event was very important and I really appreciate the effort made by the drivers, co-drivers, engineers and mechanics. It was a pity to have some problems, but we have learned a lot which will prove very important for the next two events, in particular. Turkey will be less rough but the temperatures will be higher, but the knowledge we have gained here will help us make good preparations".

Gilles Panizzi, Mitsubishi, 11th: "It was a difficult weekend and it’s nice to finish and get a point for Mitsubishi. It has been the worst event of the season, in terms of the roughness of the roads, and for various reasons it was simply a matter of getting through the stages".

Mitsubishi Technical Director Mario Fornaris: "Looking back to before the start, we said we wanted one car in the top five and both in the points; we have achieved this as far as manufacturer points are concerned. There is a little bit of frustration because we could have been better, but I must say it’s been hard work for the entire team on such a difficult, rough and demanding rally".

David Lapworth, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Clearly it's disappointing to lose ground to Sebastien Loeb in the Championship, especially on an event where we had the potential to be very strong. From Petter's point of view, the only consolation is that we still have confidence in our potential in these conditions and there's no reason why we can't redress the balance in Turkey and Greece. For Chris this event was another important part of his learning process. He's done very well and gained a lot of invaluable experience. The work he's done here will give him a lot of confidence for the forthcoming rough events.”

Chris Atkinson, Subaru 10th place: “The event didn't get off to the best start for us, but in fact, once the competitive pressure lifted, we had a great opportunity to experiment with the car and learn more about the conditions. We ran at a consistent and safe pace and I think we've made some useful steps ahead of Greece and Turkey. We've still got some more work to do of course, especially in the slow corners, but I'm pleased with what we've achieved here this weekend.”

The Next Round

Round seven of the 16-event FIA World Rally Championship starts in three weeks when teams return to the Mediterranean for the Rally of Turkey. Starting on Thursday 2 June with a Super Special, the event will start in earnest on Friday 3 June at 0730hrs.

Temperatures in Turkey are expected to be as hot as those in Cyprus, but as the average speeds of the rally are higher there will be more airflow through the cars. Turkey is another famed car-breaker and components have to be at their strongest to survive the three-day pounding from rocky roads and choking dust. Service will once again be based in the coastal resort of Kemer, while the event's 18 stages will run in the Anatolian mountains. The event will conclude on Sunday 5 June.

Final positions- Rally of Cypress

1. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 5hr 02min 29.4sec 2. M Stohl/I Minor Citroen Xsara 5hr 06min 38.9sec 3. M Märtin/M Park Peugeot 307 5hr 07min 11.3sec 4. H Solberg/C Menkerud Ford Focus RS 5hr 07min 45.1sec 5. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen Ford Focus RS 5hr 10min 06.7sec 6. R Kresta/J Mozny Ford Focus RS 5hr 12min 46.8sec 7. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen Mitsubishi Lancer 5hr 14min 48.1sec 8. D Carlsson/M Andersson Peugeot 206 5hr 18min 32.6sec 9. J Tuohino/M Markkula Skoda Fabia 5hr 19min 15.7sec 10 C Atkinson/G MacNeall Subaru Impreza 5hr 29min 30.9sec

FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 6 of 16)

1. S Loeb 45pts, 2. P Solberg 34pts, 3. M Märtin 34pts, 4. T Gardemeister 28pts, 5. M Grönholm 26pts, 6. H Rovanperä 13pts

FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 6 of 16)

1. Peugeot 62pts, 2. Citroen 53pts, 3. Ford 44pts, 4. Subaru 38pts, 5. Mitsubishi 29pts, 6. Skoda 8pts

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