WRC Solberg and Loeb set for duel in Cyprus Rally

2005 Cyprus Rally
FIA World Rally Championship, round 6 of 16

For immediate release
Wednesday, May 11th, 2005


Martin, Grönholm and Gardemeister aim to close gap on WRC leaders;
Qatar's Al-Attiyah and Oman's Al-Wahaibi among leading PWRC runners

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Last year's Cyprus Rally winner and defending FIA World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb will be hoping to extend his slender one-point lead in the championship when he leads 60 international teams to the ceremonial start of the Cyprus Rally in Limassol on Thursday evening.

The Citroën driver currently has a single point advantage over the 2003 FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg in the Drivers' Championship, courtesy of a trio of outright victories this year in Monte Carlo, New Zealand and Sardinia. Solberg won the other two rallies in Sweden and Mexico, as the Frenchman and the Norwegian have pulled clear of their closest rivals Markko Martin, Marcus Grönholm and Toni Gardemeister at this early point in the season.

Loeb starts as the slight favourite to win the 18-gravel stage event along the sinuous tracks of the Troodos mountains, north of Limassol, as he bids to add to Citroën's points tally in the battle with Peugeot, Subaru and Ford for the Manufacturers' title. His team carried out a four-day test in Greece after the last event in Sardinia.

~It has been a good start to the season,~ said Loeb. ~Perhaps, better than last year. In 2004 my third win came after the event in Cyprus. This year I won in Sardinia. When I feel that the combination of the Xsara, my tyres and myself are in a position to win, then I push.~

In what is developing into the closest WRC for many years, Peugeot's Martin and Gronhölm have given the French manufacturer an 11-point lead in the series after five rounds. Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanperä has shown a rich turn of form in recent Cyprus rallies and was runner-up two years ago in a Peugeot 206 WRC. The new Lancer showed promise in New Zealand last month and the Finn will be keen to change the Japanese company's run of poor fortune. Belgian Francois Duval and Frenchman Gilles Panizzi cannot be ruled out either.

This year's Cyprus Rally also counts as the third round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship and sees Japan's Toshi Arai hoping to extend his three-point lead over Spain's Xavier Pons in the points' standings. Both drivers have taken a victory apiece so far this season and already have a good lead over the likes of Italy's Angelo Medeghini and Fabio Frisiero and Japan's Fumio Nutahara.

The Cyprus Rally is the Middle East's round of the WRC and this year's event will see Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi pitched against Qatar's Middle East championship leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah for the second time this year. Both drivers missed the opening round in Sweden and the Qatari got the better of his Omani rival in New Zealand, slipping from second to fourth overall late on.

Al-Wahaibi and British co-driver David Senior will be hoping to redress the balance in the Troodos mountains, but Al-Attiyah is unbeaten in the Middle East since last September and set 18 fastest stage times during last weekend's WRC candidate rally in Jordan.

~Last weekend has given me great confidence for this rally,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~The stages around the Dead Sea were rocky and twisty and very similar to Cyprus. We have managed to get as close to the Cyprus Rally set-up for the car as we could.~

A strong Cyprus contingent bolsters the lower reaches of the entry list. Multiple Cyprus National Champion Andreas Tsouloftas - fresh from taking sixth place in Jordan last weekend - takes part in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6. Tsouloftas finished ninth overall in Cyprus last year and is joined by the likes of Andreas Peratikos, Chris Thomas, Kikis Koutsakos, Yiotis Hartoupalos and Demetris Papasavvas.

Teams carried out their detailed reconnaissance of the route on Tuesday and today (Wednesday) and will take part in a timed shakedown stage on Thursday. After a ceremonial start at 20.30 hrs on Thursday evening on the Promenade in Limassol, competitive action begins at 09.35 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 15.15 hrs on Sunday afternoon.

2005 Cyprus Rally - top 10 starters
1. Sebastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroën Xsara
5. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2004
8. Markko Martin (EE)/Michael Park (GB) Peugeot 307 WRC
7. Marcus Grönholm (FIN)/Timo Rautiainen (FIN) Peugeot 307 WRC
3. Toni Gardemeister (FIN)/Jakke Honkanen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 04
9. Harri Rovanpera (FIN)/Risto Pietilainen (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer WR05
10. Gilles Panizzi (F)/Herve Panizzi (F) Mitsubishi Lancer WR05
2. Francois Duval (B)/Stéphane Prevot (B) Citroen Xsara
4. Roman Kresta (CZ)/Jan Mozny (CZ) Ford Focus RS WRC 04
14. Henning Solberg (N)/Cazto Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS WRC 04

2005 FIA World Rally Championship
Drivers - positions after round 5 of 16:
1. Sebastien Loeb (F) 35 pts
2. Petter Solberg (N) 34 pts
3. Markko Martin (EE) 28 pts
4. Marcus Gronhölm (FIN) 26 pts
5. Toni Gardemeister (FIN) 24 pts
6. Harri Rovanperä (FIN) 11 pts

1. Peugeot 54 pts
2. Citroën 43 pts
3. Subaru 36 pts
4. Ford 33 pts
5. Mitsubishi 24 pts
6. Skoda 5 pts


For further media information:
2005 Cyprus International Rally Press Office, Media Centre, Limassol, Cyprus.
Tel: + 357 257 74194, Fax: + 357 257 74197
E-mail: koulla.c@actionprgroup.com

Date issued: 11/05/2005

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