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WRC Gronholm fends off Loeb in Cyprus

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

For immediate release
Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

FINLAND’S GRONHOLM FENDS
OFF LOEB’S FIERCE CHALLENGE

Ford turns up the heat on Kronos Citroën team
Nutahara takes P-WRC lead; Third for Hirvonen

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Finland’s Marcus Grönholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen maintained a slender lead of 8.5 seconds over arch French rivals Sébastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena, after 12 timed special stages of the Cyprus Rally, round 12 of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Grönholm began the morning with a slender 6.4 second lead over Loeb and the Finn increased his overall advantage to 9.3 seconds in the opening 9.49 km of treacherous gravel tracks between Kellaki and Foinikaria. Hirvonen and Stohl maintained third and fourth overall, as Ford maintained its advantage over Kronos Citroën into the second leg. Gronholm was again quicker in SS10 and headed into the longer 11th timed special with a 10.2s lead.

The leading pair were neck and neck through the stage and incredibly reached the finish with the Frenchman a mere 0.1s ahead of the Finn, thus reducing the deficit to 10.1 seconds. Loeb won the final stage of the loop as well, pipping the Finn by a further 1.6 seconds and he arrived in service in Limassol, 8.5 seconds behind the leader.

“Marcus is driving so well this morning,” admitted Loeb. “It will be very difficult to catch him, but we still have plenty of time and several options with our strategy.”

Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen was still on track to give the BP-Ford World Rally Team a vital six championship point boost by holding third overall, as the Blue Oval attempted to reduce the Kronos Citroën team’s 11 point lead in the FIA Manufacturers’ series by up to eight points.

Austria’s Manfred Stohl held fourth in his OMV-backed Peugeot, Australia’s Chris Atkinson was fifth and Finland’s Toni Gardemeister, Spain’s Xavi Pons, the Norwegian Solberg brothers Petter and Henning and the young Englishman Matthew Wilson completed the top 10.

Spaniard Dani Sordo rolled in SS10 and continued with minimal time loss, but Britain’s Ken Dobson and Brian Spademan were not so fortunate and were taken to hospital with minor injuries, after Dobson’s Mitsubishi left the road in the ninth stage and ended up down a steep drop. The crew were airlifted to Limassol to receive medical attention.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah edged away from Japan’s Fumio Nutahara began the second leg with a 25.7s advantage over the Japanese driver in the P-WRC category. Finland’s Aki Teiskonen was third and the UAE’s Khalid Al-Qassimi was a highly-creditable fifth.

Al-Attiyah had extended his lead to 28.9 seconds after the 10th special, but Nutahara hit back in the punishing 30.33km of the 11th special and was matching the Qatari second for second before Al-Attiyah left the road and lost the P-WRC lead. Teiskonen moved up to second, but Germany’s Aaron Burkart spun and landed in a ditch in SS11 and former FIA Middle East champion Al-Qassimi duly movedinto contention for third, once Al-Attiyah’s additional SupeRally penalties were imposed.

Both the official Skodas of Harri Rovanperä and Andreas Aigner failed to restart under the SupeRally ruling, following Friday’s electrical problems, and Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas was prevented from restarting after turbo-related issues sidelined his Mitsubishi.

Tomorrow (Sunday) there will be a further six special stages, five timed tests over gravel terrain and the all-new Down Town Special Stage through the winding streets of Limassol. The televised spectacular is due to start at 12.35 hrs, but spectators are advised to be in place by no later than 11.30 hrs. The podium finish will take place from 16.40 hrs.

Positions after SS12:
1. Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen (Ford Focus) 2h 36m 00.2s
2. Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën Xsara) 2h 36m 08.7s
3. Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Focus) 2h 38m 42.0s
4. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Peugeot 307) 2h 39m 202.s
5. Chris Atkinson/Glenn MacNeall (Subaru Impreza) 2h 40m 54.3s
6. Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen (Citroën Xsara) 2h 41m 48.3s
7. Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio (Citroën Xsara) 2h 42m 11.1s
8. Petter Solberg/Philip Mills (Subaru Impreza) 2h 46m 09.1s
9. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Peugeot 307) 2h 46m 51.9s
10. Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr (Ford Focus) 2h 47m 48.5s

Ends

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

www.cyprusrally.com.cy
www.wrc.com


Date issued: 23/09/2006

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