French driver wins Cyprus Rally 2005
Limassol, May 16 (CNA) -- Citroen's Sebastien Loeb extended his overall lead in the FIA World Rally Championship, after cruising to an emphatic victory in the Cyprus Rally, round six of the 16-event series, in Limassol, yesterday.
Rocky stages and dry, dusty conditions caused a high rate of attrition among the leading cars and both former World Champions Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg were sidelined with engine problems on day one.
This paved the way for Loeb to pull away from the field and he eventually cruised to the finish 4m 09.5s ahead of second-placed Austrian Manfred Stohl, who took a career-best second overall in his OMV-backed Citroen Xsara.
''Everything worked perfectly for us today,'' said Loeb. ''It was strange being out in front with a good lead and no real pressure and it has put me in a strong position now in the championship.''
Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena extended their overnight lead to 3m 38s through the 13th stage, as Stohl maintained second position and Martin closed the gap on third-placed Solberg to a mere 7.4 seconds. The Estonian was on a charge and moved to within 1.9 seconds of the Norwegian through the 14th stage, as Loeb set yet another fastest time.
Solberg was demoted to fourth through the 15th stage when he stalled the Ford after an engine fly-by-wire problem and lost 15 seconds, but he redressed the balance in the Vavatsinia stage by beating Martin by 8.6 seconds to close within 5.1 seconds of the podium.
An inspired Martin put the outcome beyond doubt in the penultimate Machiaras stage when he beat Solberg by 16.9 seconds and with only 9.49 kms of Kellaki to run, the Estonian had done enough to snatch third position. ''I lost my place when the engine stalled several times,'' said Solberg. ''It was really bad luck.''
Finland's Toni Gardemeister was an untroubled fifth in the factory Ford Focus RS, well ahead of Czech team mate Roman Kresta. The Finn also set his first two outright fastest stage times in the WRC on the 11th and 16th stages. ''The times might not suggest it, but I was driving quite slowly,'' said Toni. ''It's hard to find a good rhythm when the pace is not 100%.''
Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera benefitted from the Super Rally regulations to restart this morning in seventh place, after suspension problems and sump damage on Saturday. ''We were cruising today,'' said the Finn. ''We had the steering wheel work loose in SS13 and then a rear left puncture, but nothing serious today.''
Sweden's Daniel Carlsson (Peugeot 206) took eighth overall, Finnish Skoda driver Janne Tuohino finished in ninth in his Fabia and the revitalised Australian Subaru driver Chris Atkinson completed the top 10.
For the second successive year Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas was the leading local driver. Last year he finished ninth overall and he would have been an impressive 11th overall this year had reinstated Super Rally drivers not pushed him down to 15th place.
Germany's Anthony Warmbold succumbed to oil pressure problems late on Saturday evening and started the final leg in 10th position. Unfortunately the Ford's oil pressure slumped again on the road section to the 13th stage and he was forced to retire. Britain's Natalie Barratt retired two stages from the end when she left the road and spent several anxious minutes with two wheels teetering over the edge of a precipice.
Frenchman Brice Tirabassi held a 2m 17s advantage over Argentina's Sebastien Beltran in the FIA Production Car World Championship category at the start of the final day and extended his advantage to 3m 10s after the 15th stage. He eventually held on to take victory and his first PWRC points of the season.
Argentinean Marcos Ligato held third place, despite shock absorber problems, and fellow countryman Gabriel Pozzo was fourth. Japan's Toshi Arai maintains the overall championship lead, but Malaysia's Karamjit Singh rolled out of the rally in the 14th stage.
Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi came under pressure from Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah for fifth place early on Sunday. The Omani's cause was not helped when he broke an anti-roll bar, bent a steering arm and suffered power steering problems in unlucky SS13. Al-Attiyah eventually finished fifth, but the luckless Al-Wahaibi retired three stages from the end with a broken steering rack.
2005 Cyprus Rally - positions after SS18:
1. Sebastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F) Citroen Xsara 5h 02m 29.4s
2. Manfred Stohl (A)/Ilka Minor (A) Citroen Xsara WRC 2004 5h 06m 38.9s
3. Markko Martin (EE)/Michael Park (GB) Peugeot 307 WRC 5h 07m 11.3s
4. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 5h 07m 45.1s
5. Toni Gardemeister (FIN)/Jakke Honkanen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 5h 10m 06.7s
6. Roman Kresta (CZ)/Jan Mozny (CZ) Ford Focus RS WRC 04 5h 12m 46.8s
7. Harri Rovanpera (FIN)/Risto Pietilainen (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer WR05
5h 14m 48.1s 8. Daniel Carlsson (S)/Mattias Andersson (S) Peugeot 206 WRC 5h 18m 32.6s
9. Janne Tuohino (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Skoda Fabia WRC 5h 19m 15.7s
10. Chris Atkinson (AUS)/Glenn MacNeall (AUS) Subaru Impreza WRC 2005 5h 29m 30.9s