Cyprus Rally kicks off today
Limassol, May 11 -- Last year's Cyprus Rally winner and defending FIA World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb will be hoping to extend his slender one-point lead in the championship when he leads 60 international teams to the ceremonial start of the Cyprus Rally in Limassol today.
The Citroen driver currently has a single point advantage over the 2003 FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg in the Drivers' Championship, courtesy of a trio of outright victories this year in Monte Carlo, New Zealand and Sardinia.
Solberg won the other two rallies in Sweden and Mexico, as the Frenchman and the Norwegian have pulled clear of their closest rivals Markko Martin, Marcus Gronholm and Toni Gardemeister at this early point in the season.
Loeb starts as the slight favourite to win the 18-gravel stage event along the sinuous tracks of the Troodos mountains, north of Limassol, as he bids to add to Citroen's points tally in the battle with Peugeot, Subaru and Ford for the Manufacturers' title. His team carried out a four-day test in Greece after the last event in Sardinia.
The rocky roads in the Troodos Mountains are known as car-breakers while the slow stages provide little air flow for drivers struggling with the heat.
Citroen have not won three rallies in succession before but Loeb, who started off the season with a win in Monte Carlo, sounded confident.
"It's been a good start to the season. Better even, to my eyes, than last year," he said.
"In 2004 our third win, which came in Cyprus, was awarded to me after the event. This year I scored my third win in Sardinia after a straight fight with my closest rival, just as I did in New Zealand."
The Frenchman will have the disadvantage of being 'sweeper', the first on the road as championship leader, when drivers leave Limassol for Friday's first leg.
"The stages are the same as 2004 and I hope they don't cut up too much," said Loeb. "Last year we had the impression that they were just as we had left them after two runs in 2003."
Drivers face 326.68 km of special stages in a total route of 1063.92 km. The rally ends in Limassol on Sunday