Gronholm takes early lead in Cyprus

FIA World Rally Championship, round 7

For immediate release
Friday, June 20th, 2003


Arai ahead in the Production class: Britain's Dale retires

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Finland's Marcus Gronholm led the Cyprus Rally, the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, after four special stages held in intense heat and dusty conditions through the Troodos mountains today (Friday).

The defending World Champion moved 6.8 seconds ahead of team mate Harri Rovanpera on the final stage of the day in his Marlboro Peugeot Total 206 WRC. Partnered by Risto Pietilainen and driving the third of the Peugeots, Rovanpera was fastest on the opening three special stages, as stifling heat and punishing rocky ground, with cars often unearthing rocks the size of footballs, caused a catalogue of problems for the 51 starters.

Punctures, transmission overheating problems and rising water temperatures were commonplace, as Subaru's Petter Solberg moved ahead of French Peugeot privateer Gilles Panizzi into third place on the final stage. Citroen's Sebastian Loeb, the winner of the Monte Carlo Rally, held fifth place.

Rovanpera was quickest through the opening 11.6 kms stage between Platres and Kato Amiantos, the Peugeot driver beating last year's Rally GB winner Petter Solberg by 5.8 seconds. Former World Champion Richard Burns started first on the road and was acting as a sweep for the cars behind. The Englishman finished the day in eighth position.

~I have been losing about one second per kilometre,~ confessed the 2001 World Champion and current championship leader. ~Our cars are fitted with air conditioning, but the system automatically switches off when the engine gets too hot. On a rally like Cyprus the air conditioning is probably only working 20% of the time.~

Rovanpera extended his lead to 14 seconds through the sinuous 38 kms second section between Lagoudera and Spilia, by setting his second fastest time, as Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi, at the wheel of a Bozian Racing Peugeot 206 WRC, moved up to second place early on before slipping back to fourth. Both Tommi Makinen (broken steering arm) and Didier Auriol lost time on the final stage.

Veteran Swede Stig Blomqvist was one of several FIA Production Car drivers to suffer in the sweltering conditions. On three occasions in the second stage he shouted across to his co-driver: ~Just how much further have we left to go!~ Japan's Toshihiro Arai and Kiwi navigator Tony Sircombe led the section after three stages in a Subaru Impreza WRX.

The most notable of the day's retirements was leading British driver Justin Dale, nominated to score Manufacturers' points for Hyundai for the first time in an Accent WRC 03. He was forced to stop in SS2 to top up depleted water levels, but the subsequent overheating caused serious engine damage and he retired.

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the longest day of the Cyprus Rally and offers eight special stages, including two runs through a 30 kms test between Foini and Koilinia. The event draws to a close on the Promenade in Limassol on Sunday afternoon after a further four competitive sections.

Leading positions after SS4 (top 9 only):
1. Marcus GrŲnholm (SF)/Timo Rautianen (SF) Peugeot 206 WRC 1h 28m 49.8s
2. Harri Rovanpera (SF)/Ritso Pietilainen (SF) Peugeot 206 WRC 1h 28m 56.6s
3. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2003 1h 29m 00.1s
4. Gilles Panizzi (F)/Herve Panizzi (F) Peugeot 206 WRC 1h 29m 03.7s
5. Sebastian Loeb (F) (Daniel Elena (MC) Citroen Xsara WRC 1h 29m 30.2s
6. Colin McRae (GB)/Derek Ringer (GB) CitroŽn Xsara WRC 1h 29m 45.5s
7. Markko Martin (EST)/Michael Park (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 03 1h 30m 12.1s
8. Richard Burns (GB)/Robert Reid (GB) Peugeot 206 WRC 1h 30m 21.0s
9. Carlos Sainz (E)/Marc Marti (E) CitroŽn Xsara WRC 1h 30m 23.0s


For further information contact the Cyprus Rally press centre in Limassol on Tel: + 357 25 66 2964, Fax: + 357 25 66 2967 or E-mail: pressoffice@actionprgroup.com

Images from the 2003 Cyprus Rally can be downloaded free of charge from www.reporter-images.com

Date issued: 20/06/2003

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