WRC World Champion Loeb takes early lead in Cyprus Rally

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

For immediate release
Friday, May 13th, 2005


Second place for Subaru's Solberg; Disastrous day for Peugeot's GrŲnholm;
Qatar's Al-Attiyah trails early PWRC leader Higgins; Oman's Al-Wahaibi in seventh

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): CitroŽn's defending FIA World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and French co-driver Daniel Elena led the Cyprus Rally by 41.1 seconds after four times special stages in the Troodos mountains, north of Limassol, today (Friday).

The CitroŽn driver moved into the outright lead in the second Kourdali stage and stayed ahead of the Norwegian Subaru driver Petter Solberg after a second run through the Lagourda test on Friday afternoon. Solberg complained of engine overheating and a slipping clutch on the first loop of three stages, but the 2003 Cyprus Rally winner maintained second position. ~I have made a good start,~ said Loeb. ~No punctures, no problems. I just need to make sure that we keep going like this.~

The revelation of the opening stages was Austria's Manfred Stohl in his OMV-backed CitroŽn Xsara. He held fourth position with Austrian co-driver Ilka Minor after three stages and moved up to third position in SS4. Ford drivers Henning Solberg and Roman Kresta were well-placed just outside the top five at the start of the fourth stage, but Solberg moved up to fourth overall after the fourth stage.

Through the punishing opening Lagoudera stage, Loeb had acted as the road sweeper and completed the 38.32 kms in 37m 01s, but he was beaten by Subaru's Solberg, as the stage proved to be Peugeot's undoing. Former FIA World Champion Marcus GrŲnholm was quickest at the 23 kms point, but succumbed to a timing belt failure and Estonian team mate Markko Martin suffered from an exploding tyre and a second puncture and lost over 90 seconds.

Mitsubishi suffered the ignominy of first stage engine-related problems for Frenchman Gilles Panizzi, who dropped 20 minutes to Solberg alone on the first stage. He was down in 43rd position after three stages. But there was better news from Finland's Harri Rovanpera, who held 10th position after four stages. ~It was not an easy start,~ said the Finn. ~We had gear selection problems and bad tyre wear. We changed the gearbox as a precaution after three stages.~

Skoda lost Armin Schwarz when the Fabia shed its alternator belt on the road section to service after three stages and team mate Janne Tuohino was down in 11th position, behind a struggling Martin who recovered to fifth position after the fourth stage.

Finland's Toni Gardemeister held third place in the leading Ford Focus RS after three stages, but hit trouble in the second Lagoudera stage, lost three and a half minutes changing a puncture and slipped out of the top 10. ~On each stage this morning the engine overheated,~ said the 30-year-old Finn. ~This caused the anti-lag system to stop working and the engine went into a safe mode, which meant we had less power.~

Former British Rally Champion Mark Higgins was in flying form in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship and held a 59-second advantage over Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the 2003 FIA Middle East Rally Champion, after three special stages. ~I slowed down because the stages were so tricky,~ said the Qatari. ~I was expecting to be overtaken, but ended up doing rather better than I thought. Everyone was in the same position.~

Japan's championship leader Toshi Arai punctured and hit transmission problems in the second stage and this moved Argentina's Marcos Ligato into third place, ahead of Frenchman Brice Tirabassi. Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi held seventh place in his Subaru Impreza WRX STi, despite serious shock absorber problems, but Malaysia's Karamjit Singh, Italy's Fabio Frisiero and Chile's Luis Mujica Rosselot were forced out with mechanical problems.

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 - positions after SS4 (unofficial):
1. Sebastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) CitroŽn Xsara 1h 37m 09.4s
2. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2004 1h 37m 50.5s
3. Manfred Stohl (A)/Ilka Minor (A) Citroen Xsara WRC 2004 1h 38m 50.9s
4. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 1h 39m 20.8s
5. Markko Martin (EE)/Michael Park (GB) Peugeot 307 WRC 1h 39m 57.7s
6. Roman Kresta (CZ)/Jan Mozny (CZ) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 1h 40m 03.0s
7. Anthony Warmbold (D)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 1h 40m 07.3s
8. Daniel Carlsson (S)/Mattias Andersson (S) Peugeot 206 WRC 1h 40m 19.9s
9. Francois Duval (B)/Stťphane Prevot (B) Citroen Xsara 1h 40m 59.6s
10. Harri Rovanpera (FIN)/Risto Pietilainen (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer WR05 1h 41m 10.0s


For further media information:
2005 Cyprus International Rally Press Office, Media Centre, Limassol, Cyprus.
Tel: + 357 25 872211, Fax: + 357 257 74197
E-mail: koulla.c@actionprgroup.com

Date issued: 13/05/2005

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