Solberg and Subaru win in Cyprus

FIA World Rally Championship, round 7

For immediate release
Sunday, June 22nd, 2003


Rovenpera hangs on to second; Cyprus stages take their toll; Arai wins Production class

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Norway's Petter Solberg clinched his second FIA World Rally Championship victory, when he and British co-driver Philip Mills won the gruelling Cyprus Rally, the seventh round of the series, which finished in Limassol today (Sunday).

Solberg moved into the lead for the first time at the start of the second day and the battle for the outright lead developed into a scintillating two-way tussle with Finland's Harri Rovanpera in the sole-surviving Peugeot 206 WRC.

Both drivers noticeably eased their pace over the remaining six special stages on Sunday. Solberg hung on to win by 4m 14s, as Rovanpera was stunned by a late driveshaft breakage in the 16th stage and limped through a late rain shower in the final stage to take second place by a mere 2.8 seconds.

Solberg, the winner of last year's Rally of Great Britain, beat his Finnish rival by 3.8 seconds in the first stage of the morning from Vavatsinia to Mandra and extended his lead to 29.1 seconds before the pair held station over the final five tests.

~I had a strategy for this race,~ admitted Solberg. ~There is no point pushing too early, because the nature of the stages mean that is not possible. This is a rally of attrition. This morning I was prepared to push hard, but I think Harri and Peugeot had too much at stake to take risks. It is a fantastic feeling to win here. It was a great rally.~

Citroen faired better than any other manufacturer. Frenchman Sebastian Loeb followed up his Monte Carlo success in January with third overall and team mates Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz were fourth and fifth in their Xsaras.

The French marque duly edged to within eight points of PSA stablemates Peugeot in the Manufacturers' Championship and Sainz is now a point behind Peugeot's Richard Burns in the World Drivers' Championship.

~Over the three days the only really significant problem we had was Colin's suspension problem on Saturday,~ said Citroen's Sporting Manager Francois Chatriot. ~I didn't realise what a good mechanic he was to repair it so well in such a short time.~

Finland's Mikko Hirvonen rounded off the top six in a Ford Focus RS WRC 02, while Japan's Toshihiro Arai extended his lead in the FIA Production category, by fending off the challenge from the 1998 British Champion Martin Rowe and veteran Swede Stig Blomqvist.

English privateer Alistair Ginley excelled in his 2002-specificiation Ford Focus to take a career-best eighth overall with Ulster co-driver Rory Kennedy.

The majority of the 34 retirements from 51 starters occured on Saturday morning, as intense heat, punishing terrain and the unique twisty nature of the special stages in the Troodos mountains decimated the entry.

Ford's challenge was shattered by the choking dust of the fifth stage, when both Francois Duval and Markko Martin suffered from terminal engine oil pressure problems. Skoda's Toni Gardemeister wrecked the underside of his engine on a tree stump and team mate Didier Auriol was sidelined with electrical maladies.

The factory Peugeot team was reduced to one car when Gilles Panizzi and Richard Burns suffered engine problems and defending World Champion Marcus Gronholm broke a propshaft and destroyed the clutch soon after.

Former World Champion Tommi Makinen broke a wheel and went over his time limit on Saturday and ex-British Super 1600 champion Justin Dale suffered the ignominy of being one of the first major retirements with an overheating Hyundai engine.

Unofficial final positions after SS18 (top 6 only):
1. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2003 5h 09m 12.6s
2. Harri Rovanpera (SF)/Ritso Pietilainen (SF) Peugeot 206 WRC 5h 13m 26.6s
3. Sebastian Loeb (F) Daniel Elena (MC) Citroen Xsara WRC 5h 13m 29.4s
4. Colin McRae (GB)/Derek Ringer (GB) Citroen Xsara WRC 5h 13m 57.9s
5. Carlos Sainz (E)/Marc Marti (E) CitroŽn Xsara WRC 5h 14m 54.8s
6. Mikko Hirvonen (SF)/Jarmo Lehtinen (SF) Ford Focus RS WRC 02 5h 18m 11.3s

FIA World Rally Championship, after round 7 of 14 (unofficial)
Drivers' Championship
1. Richard Burns (GB) 37
2. Carlos Sainz (E) 36
3. Marcus Gronholm (SF) 30
4. Petter Solberg (N) 29
5. Sebastian Loeb (F), Colin McRae (GB) and Markko Martin (EST) 23, etc

Manufacturers' Championship:
1. Peugeot 81
2. Citroen 73
3. Subaru 47
4. Ford 43
5. Skoda 20
6. Hyundai 6


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: 22/06/2003

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