WRC Gronholm and Ford draw first blood in Cyprus Rally

Cyprus Rally 2006
FIA World Rally Championship, round 12 of 16

For immediate release
Friday, September 22nd, 2006


Nutahara and Al-Attiyah locked in P-WRC battle
Disastrous opening day for Skoda factory team;

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Finland’s Marcus Grönholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen held a 17.9s lead over French arch rivals Sébastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena after four timed special stages of the Cyprus Rally, round 12 of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Grönholm, bidding to prevent the flying Frenchman from clinching an unprecedented 28th WRC win and a third championship title, drew first blood by pipping the defending champion by 2.2s in the opening 8.09km special stage between Xyliatos and Kapouras. Toni Gardemeister mastered the slippery gravel conditions to take third and Mikko Hirvonen and Chris Atkinson completed the top five.

Grönholm extended his lead to 6.2 seconds through the second stage between Kapouras and Asinou, as Petter Solberg set the third fastest time, but the Norwegian was awarded a 10s penalty for a jump start. Solberg set the fastest time in the third stage to leap up to seventh overall at the mid-day break, but Grönholm managed to edge ahead of Loeb to take a confidence-boosting advantage into the final loop of stages on Friday afternoon. “The fourth stage was the nastiest for the first car on the road,” said Loeb, bidding to clinch his eighth WRC victory of the season. “But I am pleased with my position so far.”

Grönholm’s team mate Mikko Hirvonen held third overall, with Gardemeister in fourth and last year’s runner-up Manfred Stohl holding fifth place in his OMV-backed Peugeot. Australian Chris Atkinson, Solberg, Spaniard Dani Sordo, Norway’s Henning Solberg and young Englishman Matthew Wilson completed the top 10.

Finland’s Harri Rovanperä and Austrian team mate Andreas Aigner endured a miserable start to their event. Both factory Skodas spluttered through the opening stage with serious engine problems and the crews were forced to withdraw at the end of the special. A team spokesman suggested that water had found its way into the engine’s electronics and a damage assessment was planned before the team considered whether to restart under the SupeRally ruling on Saturday.

Japan’s Fumio Nutahara and Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah were locked in a furious tussle for the lead in the P-WRC category. The Japanese Mitsubishi driver edged into a 1.7 second lead after the third timed special, but the recently-crowned FIA Middle East champion reduced that advantage to a mere 0.5 seconds after the fourth stage.

“We are having a fantastic battle with Fumio this morning,” said the Qatari. “The stages are slippery and it is a case of knowing where you can push safely without making mistakes. There is a long way to go, but I am happy to keep the pressure on Fumio at this stage. I need to beat him, because I will miss the next rally in Australia.”

Defending champion Toshi Arai left the road in the opening stage and was forced out of contention. Behind Nutahara and Al-Attiyah, Germany’s Nicolai Burkhart, Finland’s Aki Teiskonen and the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi were the closest challengers.

Tomorrow (Saturday) there will be a further eight timed sections and the official podium finish will take place in Limassol on Sunday afternoon from 16.40 hrs.

Positions after SS4:
1. Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen (Ford Focus) 53m 24.7s
2. Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën Xsara) 53m 42.6s
3. Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Focus) 54m 09.2s
4. Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen (Citroën Xsara) 54m 14.2s
5. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Peugeot 307) 54m 21.3s
6. Chris Atkinson/Glenn MacNeall (Subaru Impreza) 54m 31.2s
7. Petter Solberg/Philip Mills (Subaru Impreza) 54m 31.4s
8. Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Citroën Xsara) 54m 39.0s
9. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Peugeot 307) 54m 44.0s
10. Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr (Ford Focus) 55m 15.9s


For further media information:
Cyprus Rally Media Centre, Tel: + 357 25 774179 and Fax: + 357 25 774190 and E-mail (pressoffice@actionprgroup.com).


Date issued: 22/09/2006

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