WRC Loeb clinches 28th WRC win in Cyprus

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

For immediate release
Sunday, September 24th, 2006


BP-Ford edges nearer Kronos Citroën;
Japan’s Nutahara takes P-WRC victory

LIMASSOL (Cyprus): Frenchman Sébastien Loeb continued to rewrite the history books by securing a record-breaking 28th WRC victory of his short career in the Cyprus Rally, round 12 of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, today (Sunday).

Partnered by Daniel Elena, Loeb moved ahead of arch rival Marcus Grönholm, from Finland, on the 14th sinuous gravel special stage in the Troodos foothills and the Paphos valleys and eventually reached the finish with a comfortable winning margin of 21.2 seconds.

The victory – the Frenchman’s eighth of the season - virtually assures him a third WRC title in Turkey in a few weeks time and maintains the Kronos Total Citroën Team’s advantage over BP-Ford in the Manufacturers’ series, albeit to a reduced advantage of just seven points, with four events still to run.

“Another great win for me,” said Loeb. “It was another difficult challenge here in Cyprus and Marcus pushed me very hard for two days. Now we can hopefully go to Turkey and confirm the championship.”

Grönholm was forced to play the bridesmaid once again, but collected eight valuable championship points for the Ford team and Finnish team mate Mikko Hirvonen was third overall in a second Ford Focus to add six more to the Blue Oval’s points’ tally.

The Finn began the day 21.8 seconds behind the Frenchman, but Loeb extended his lead to 29.1 seconds after the punishing 25.24 km of the stage between Vavatsinia to Mandra Kambiou. Grönholm clawed two seconds back in the 18th stage and 1.5 seconds in SS19 to arrive at the mid-day service in Limassol 25.6 seconds behind Loeb.

Teams then tackled a sell-out Down Town Special in the winding back streets of Limassol for the first time. The footage was beamed live across Europe and Loeb was in a class of his own, posting the fastest time of 2m 53.9s, 3.5 seconds quicker than Toni Gardemeister’s Citroën Xsara. Grönholm noticeably eased his pace to conserve the runner-up spot, but Limassol special stage times did not count towards the overall results after the FIA insisted the special ran purely as entertainment value to spectators on safety grounds.

“It was a big ask to try and catch Séb today,” said Grönholm. “The team decided that it was more important that we confirmed second place and collected championship points. After the first stage this morning it was time to be sensible.”

Austria’s Manfred Stohl finished fourth overall in his OMV-backed Peugeot, well ahead of Finland’s Toni Gardemeister and sixth-placed Xavier Pons. A disgruntled Petter Solberg was eighth in the first of the factory Subarus, his brother Henning overhauling Petter on the final section of the last stage. Australia’s Chris Atkinson and young Matthew Wilson completed the top 10.

Spaniard Dani Sordo looked all set to claim a crucial Manufacturers’ point for the Kronos Citroën team until he ploughed into a low concrete wall on the Down Town Special stage in Limassol and retired. With SupeRally penalties he slipped behind Matthew Wilson and out of the points.

Japan’s Fumio Nutahara started the final leg of five special stages with a commanding 4m 14.7s lead over Finland’s Aki Teiskonen, with the 2004 FIA Middle East champion Khalid Al-Qassimi in third. The three held station over the final stages, with Nutahara moving ever closer to Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in the P-WRC points’ standings.

Al-Attiyah began the morning fifth of the P-WRC’s registered contenders in his bid to stay ahead of Nutahara and Japan’s Toshi Arai. Predictably, Arai and the Qatari were the morning’s pace setters, with Arai winning the three specials before the mid-day interval, although Al-Attiyah maintained his slender P-WRC lead.

Positions after SS22 (unofficial @ 16.00 hrs):
1. Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën Xsara) 4h 40m 50.4s
2. Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen (Ford Focus) 4h 41m 11.6s
3. Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Focus) 4h 46m 06.5s
4. Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor (Peugeot 307) 4h 47m 30.1s
5. Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen (Citroën Xsara) 4h 49m 30.8s
6. Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio (Citroën Xsara) 4h 50m 56.3s
7. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud (Peugeot 307) 4h 55m 30.4s
8. Petter Solberg/Philip Mills (Subaru Impreza) 4h 56m 11.9s
9. Chris Atkinson/Glenn MacNeall (Subaru Impreza) 4h 58m 05.4s
10. Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr (Ford Focus) 5h 06m 11.4s


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: 24/09/2006

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