Estonian Martin leads world class entry in Cyprus Rally

2004 Cyprus Rally
FIA World Rally Championship, round 5 of 16

For immediate release
Thursday, May 13th, 2004


Defending champion Solberg confident; Finland's Rovanperä out for revenge

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Estonia's Markko Martin will be hoping to extend his single point lead in the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship, when he and British co-driver Michael Park lead a world class entry into the start of the Cyprus Rally in Limassol on Friday morning.

Thousands of spectators are expected to flock to the island to witness the action unfold on what is generally regarded as the slowest round of the 16-round series. Martin currently leads Frenchman Sebastien Loeb by a single point after four rounds, following his victory in the Rally of Mexico in March and second place on the opening round in Monte Carlo in January. Martin and Belgian team mate Francois Duval drive a pair of M-Sport-prepared Ford Focus RS WRC 04s.

Standing in their way over the 18 sinuous special stages over rocky gravel roads in the Troodos mountains, north of Limassol, will be last year's winner and defending FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg, the winner of the recent Rally New Zealand. The Norwegian lies fourth in the Drivers' Championship behind former FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronhölm and has an impressive record in Cyprus. Last year he clinched his second WRC victory on the island. Solberg teams up with Finland's Mikka Hirvonen in a pair of Prodrive-run Subaru Impreza WRC 2004s.

Finland's Harri Rovanperä was embroiled in a gripping tussle with Solberg over the final day of the Cyprus Rally last year and has tackled the last two rounds of this year's series in Mexico and New Zealand. He lines up with team mate Gronhölm as the second of Marlboro Peugeot Total's nominated drivers in Peugeot 307s.

The French Citroën-Total brought all three Xsaras to the finish of the Cyprus Rally last season at their first attempt, with Loeb leading the way in third overall. The Frenchman went on to finish runner-up in the 2003 World Drivers' Championship and won the opening two rallies of the new season in Monte Carlo and Sweden. He lies a mere point behind Martin in the rankings, while Spanish team mate Carlos Sainz will be hoping to improve on a single podium finish so far this year, which helped lift him to sixth in the current Drivers' Championship standings.

Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports returned to the WRC at the start of the season after withdrawing from the series at the end of 2002. Equipped with a new Mitsubishi Lancer WR04, the England-based team was concerned about the rocky nature of the stages prior to the start and its lack of suspension development over such terrain. Frenchman Gilles Panizzi showed a fine turn of speed on his last Cyprus outing in a privately-run Peugeot 206 WRC and will be looking to add to the four championship points he collected in Monte Carlo and Mexico. His nominated team mate is Finland's Kristian Sohlberg.

~We are delighted to welcome competitors, media and officials from every corner of the world to the island of Cyprus again,~ said George Pavilides, Chairman of the Cyprus Automobile Association, the official organisers of the Cyprus Rally. ~We entered the FIA World Rally Championship in 2000 and the event has gone from strength to strength over the last five years. This year we have moved back to a date in May and the slightly cooler temperatures should benefit all the drivers and team personnel. We have three new stages, a new service park and media centre and are confident that this will be another successful round of the championship.~

There are several privateers capable of setting top stage times. Norway's Henning Solberg is entered in a Bozian Racing Peugeot 206 WRC, Hyundai Motorsport Finland has entered Jussi Valimaki in an Accent WRC and Germany's Anthony Warmbold teams up with British youngster Gemma Price in a Ford Focus RS WRC 02.

A strong Cyprus contingent bolsters the lower reaches of the entry list. Multiple Cyprus National Champion Andreas Tsouloftas takes part in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, before heading straight to Jordan to take part in the recce for the forthcoming Jordan International Rally on Monday. He faces the likes of Chris Armeftis, Prodromou Prodromos, Timotheou Charalambous, Andreas Peratikos and Yiotis Hartoupalos in a fleet of Mitsubishi Lancers and Nikos Nikolaou in a Subaru Impreza STi.

After a ceremonial start on Thursday evening on the Promenade in Limassol, competitive action begins at 08.20 hrs on Friday morning with the first of six timed stages in leg one. A further six special stages take place on both Saturday and Sunday, with the event reaching a conclusion on the seafront in Limassol at 14.14 hrs on Sunday afternoon.

2004 Cyprus Rally - top 10 starters
7. Markko Martin (EE)/Michael Park (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 04
3. Sebastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën Xsara
5. Marcus Grönholm (FIN)/Timo Rautiainen (FIN) Peugeot 307
1. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2004
8. Francois Duval (B)/Stéphane Prevot (B) Ford Focus RS WRC 04
4. Carlos Sainz (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën Xsara
2. Mikki Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Subaru Impreza WRC 2004
11. Janne Tuohino (FIN)/Jukka Aho (FIN) Ford Focus WRC 02
6. Harri Rovanpera (FIN)/Risto Pietilainen (FIN) Peugeot 307
9. Gilles Panizzi (F)/Herve Panizzi (F) Mitsubishi Lancer WR04

2004 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers - positions after round 4 of 16:
1. Markko Martin (EE) 26 pts
2. Sebastien Loeb (F) 25 pts
3. Marcus Gronhölm (FIN) 24 pts
4. Petter Solberg (N) 23 pts
5. Francois Duval (B) 14 pts
6. Carlos Sainz (E) 13 pts, etc


For further media information:
2004 Cyprus International Rally Press Office, Media Centre, Limassol,
Tel: + 357 25873962, Fax: 25716593,
E-mail: pressoffice1@actionprgroup.com or ndppublicity@compuserve.com

Date issued: 13/05/2004

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