Gronholm pulls clear in Cyprus Rally

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

For immediate release
Friday, May 14th, 2004


Belgian Duval shattered by first stage retirement; Defending champion Solberg delayed in fourth stage

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Former FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronhölm edged ahead of his nearest rivals after four timed special stages of the Cyprus Rally on Friday. He had trailed Norway's defending World Champion Petter Solberg by 4.9 seconds at the end of the first loop of three stages, but moved into the lead on the fourth test when Solberg was delayed with cooling-related problems.

Subaru driver Solberg had beaten his nearest Peugeot 307 rival by a little over one second in the opening 38 kms section between Lagoudera and Spilia, as he, Gronholm and Finland's Harri Rovanperä edged clear of the chasing pack over rocky and twisty gravel stages in the Troodos Mountains, north of Limassol. But Gronholm headed into the final two stages of day one 30.7 seconds ahead of second-placed Rovanperä, courtesy of his fastest time in SS4.

~We had three flat tyres in the first stage and still managed to set the fastest time,~ said Solberg's co-driver Phil Mills. ~Then we changed one tyre and had to drive the next pair with no air in two tyres.~

Gronhölm, the winner of the 2002 Cyprus Rally, made a tactical start: ~There had been some regrading work since we carried out the recce, but there was a lot of loose gravel on the roads. It was crucial to keep out of the ruts. We nearly spun on two occasions on the first loop.~

Current World Championship leader Markko Martin held fifth position in the sole-surviving factory Ford Focus RS WRC 04 on this fifth round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship. ~It was a big disadvantage for us to be running first on the road and acting as a stage sweeper,~ said the Estonian, winner of the recent Mexico Rally.

Citroën's Sebastien Loeb finished third overall on his first visit to the island in 2003 and was well-placed in fifth in the second Xsara, behind third-placed Spanish team mate and former World Champion Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard was forced to drive the boulder-strewn opening stage with a manual gearchange, after the paddle gearshift failed.

Belgians Francois Duval and Stéphane Prévot suffered the ignominy of being the first factory retirement, when their Ford Focus shed a wheel five kilometres from the end of the opening special stage - Prevot won this event alongside Monaco's Jean-Pierre Richelmi in 1999. ~I didn't hit anything,~ said a dejected Duval. ~The wheel studs must have sheared.~

There was disappointment too for Finland's Jussi Valimaki, who flew in a spare Hyundai transmission component from Europe overnight, only to see it fail on the way to the opening stage. Greek driver Ioannis Papadimitriou retired with first stage steering problems.

Andreas Tsouloftas was the leading local entry after the first three special stages in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6. He held 15th posiition in the overall standings, 58.4 seconds ahead of fellow Cypriot Andreas Peratikos. Tsouloftas heads to Amman on Sunday evening to begin the recce for next week's Jordan International Rally, round four of this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship.

In front of a large crowd, cars were flagged away from the Ceremonial start in Limassol on Thursday evening by Marinos Sizopoullos, a local Member of Parliament. At Friday's main service stop in Limassol teams, officials, mechanics and spectators were treated to a fly-past by the Red Arrows aerobatics' team, which is performing a display over the nearby Akrotiri military base.

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 - positions after SS4 (unofficial - top 8 only):
1. Marcus Grönholm (FIN)/Timo Rautiainen (FIN) Peugeot 307 1h 33m 53.6s
2. Harri Rovanpera (FIN)/Risto Pietilainen (FIN) Peugeot 307 1h 34m 24.3s
3. Carlos Sainz (E)/Marc Marti (E) Citroën Xsara 1h 34m 24.9s
4. Markko Martin (EE)/Michael Park (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 1h 34m 35.6s
5. Sebastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën Xsara 1h 34m 44.3s
6. Mikki Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Subaru Impreza WRC 2004 1h 36m 15.2s
7. Janne Tuohino (FIN)/Jukka Aho (FIN) Ford Focus WRC 02 1h 37m 20.4s
8. Petter Solberg (N)/Phil Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2004 1h 38m 00.3s


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

Date issued: 14/05/2004

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