WRC Loeb takes solid lead after day one in Cyprus

FxPro CYPRUS RALLY, March 13th-15th 2009
FIA World Rally Championship, round three

For immediate release
Friday, March 13th, 2009


·Ford and Citroën teams dominate new-look Cyprus Rally; Sordo in second
·Portugal's Araújo leads PWRC category; Czech Prokop ahead in JWRC section

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Citroën Racing's Sébastien Loeb cruised into a 41.8 second lead over Spanish team mate Dani Sordo after six fascinating asphalt special stages of the FxPro Cyprus Rally, round three of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, held on the Mediterranean island on Friday.

The Frenchman slid his way to the fastest time on five of the six stages and now heads into Saturday's first gravel specials of the revised mixed-surface event in pole position to claim a record-breaking 50th WRC win. All the top seeded-drivers had been forced to tackle the day's asphalt stages on control gravel tyres that will come into their own over the next two days when the event uses traditional loose surface stages in the Troodos mountains. Cyprus has been the first mixed surface WRC round since Sanremo in 1996.

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team duo of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala hold third and fourth overall and Norwegian Petter Solberg rounds off the top five in his privately-entered Citroën Xsara. Frenchman Sébastien Ogier, Russia's Evgeny Novikov, Britain's Matthew Wilson, Zimbabwe's Conrad Rautenbach and Argentinean driver Federico Villagra  complete the top 10.

The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi complained of brake problems on his way to 11th overall at the end of the day. He had been running in 10th place before slipping behind Villagra on the sixth stage.

Henning Solberg's Ford Focus was involved in an accident with a non-rally vehicle on the road section to the start of the first stage. There were no injuries, but the team were unable to repair the damaged car and the Norwegian was forced to aim for restarting under SupeRally on Saturday morning.

Patches of ice on sheltered corners were prevalent at the start of the opening Panagia asphalt test, which was tackled on Pirelli gravel tyres and held in cool, bright conditions. Loeb was the class of the field and edged into a 13.5-second lead over Sordo, with Hirvonen and Latvala in close attendance. "The grip level is changing all the time," admitted Hirvonen. "The roads are dry, but the surface is dusty and slippery."

Loeb, the defending FIA World Champion, beat Sordo by a further 3.7-seconds in the Mylikouri special and extended his lead to 22.5 seconds on the third test before the return to service in Limassol. "I worked very hard to get those times," said Loeb. "It was tricky to set good stage times on those tyres."

Cloud cover and the threat of rain greeted crews to the re-run of the morning's three stages, but it failed to prevent Loeb from increasing his lead to 36.8 seconds through SS4 and up to 44 seconds in the penultimate stage of the day. It began to rain heavily as the back-markers tackled the remaining stages, but Loeb managed to complete the final stage with a good lead, although Sordo beat the Frenchman by 2.2 seconds.

Portugal's Armindo Araújo edged into an 11.5-second PWRC advantage after the opening special, with Sweden's Patrik Sandell and Italy's Simone Capedelli his nearest rivals. Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah held fourth.

The Portuguese extended his lead to 29.9 seconds after SS3, as several of the leading teams complained of brake problems on the steep descents. Spain's Eder Valdez-Lopez retired with clutch woes and Italy's Gianluca Linari had an oil leak.

Sandell closed the gap on his Portuguese rival to 25.4 seconds in Panagia, but the Portuguese driver had been the star of the day in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and was 27.5 seconds in front after the second Mylikouri stage.

Germany's Aaron Burkhart was forced to change a puncture on the opening tarmac stage and lost four minutes, but the Suzuki driver may well have set a top five fastest time without his delay. Benefiting from slick tyres, his JWRC rivals Martin Prokop and Michal Kosciuszko were seventh and 10th fastest overall.

The leading Juniors were seventh and eighth overall through SS2, with Prokop setting the fourth fastest time on his slick tyres, but they slipped back during the course of the day as punctures and shredding tyres cost them time. Prokop headed Sandell through the closing asphalt stages.

Tomorrow (Saturday) teams will tackle five long and demanding gravel stages, including the 28km of Pano Panagia and the daunting 30.94km of Xyliatos and 26.25km of Kourdali. Action gets underway from the service park in Limassol at 7am, with the opening stage firing into life at 08.40hrs. Cars are scheduled to return to Limassol for the final service of the day from 6.15pm.

2009 FxPro Cyprus Rally - positions after SS6 (unofficial @ 16.45hrs):
1. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën C4    1h 37m 46.3s
2. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën C4     1h 38m 28.1s
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 08  1h 38m 46.5s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 08  1h 38m 54.6s
5. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Citroën Xsara    1h 40m 13.4s
6. Sébastien Ogier (F)/Julien Ingrassia (F) Citroën C4    1h 40m 49.6s
7. Evgeny Novikov (RUS)/Dale Moscatt (AUS) Citroën C4 WRC   1h 41m 02.3s
8. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 08  1h 42m 12.2s
9. Conrad Rautenbach (ZW)/Daniel Barritt (GB) Citroën C4 WRC   1h 42m 21.6s
10. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge Perez-Companc (AR) Ford Focus RS WRC 08 1h 42m 48.3s


For further media information:
2009 FxPro Cyprus Rally media office, Tel: + 357 25314775, E-mail: pressoffice@actionprgroup.com





Date issued: 13/03/2009

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