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Gronholm leads in Cyprus after leg one

20 June 2003


Reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm moved into the lead of the Cyprus Rally on the final stage of the opening leg. The Peugeot driver had struggled to keep up with the pace-setters on the first loop of stages north of the rally's base in Limassol. Running third on the road, he was forced to sweep the surface clean of the small stones, which improved the condition for those behind him.

His fellow 206 WRC driver Harri Rovanpera held the initial advantage, only to slip back on the final test when he was hit by gearbox problems. On the second run at the 38-kilometre Lagoudera-Spilia stage, Gronholm pulled 28.4 seconds out of his countryman to move to the top of the table.

Behind the two Finns, Petter Solberg leads the chase in his Subaru. He is 3.5 seconds off Rovanpera and just 10.3 off the lead of the rally after today's four stages. Gilles Panizzi had run as high as second earlier in the day, but dropped down the order to fourth, ahead of fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb of Citroen.

The 206 WRC of Gronholm ran without mechanical fault today, while Richard Burns and Rovanpera's cars suffered transmission problems on the fourth and final stage of the day.

Rovanpera hit the front of the rally with fastest time on the opening stage, but felt he pushed too hard through the first half of the second test, causing his front tyres to loose some of their grip. Burns and Gronholm were running first and third on the road, and both struggled as they swept the loose gravel off the surface. Burns' car lost hydraulic pressure, which takes away the steering-mounted paddle shift, but more importantly stops the differentials from working. Burns ended the day eighth. Gronholm moved into the lead of the rally, with Rovanpera second after his car jammed itself in one gear for most of the long final stage.

''This is nothing new,'' said Burns, ''we knew what it was going to be like and we've lost about the amount of time we expected to. The anti-lag system was losing some of its efficiency towards the end of the long stage, but that was caused just through the heat. The hydraulic problem came with about ten kilometres left, which isn't a lot, but it's enough to cause trouble.''

Rovanpera noted: ''I wasn't able to push as hard as I would have liked this morning; it was down to the tyres a little bit, but also because of the nature of the stages. The roads are quite narrow in places, which means you can't really push hard and work the car. The gearbox problem was really frustrating, but okay we are still second which isn't so bad.''

Gronholm continued: ''Through the first part of the long stage, everything was good this morning. The split times showed that we were quickest for the first ten kilometres, but then the loose stones were terrible; we just couldn't push.''

At Subaru Solberg's Impreza WRC2003 ran without problems, while Tommi Makinen's car was hit with turbo anti-lag and power steering problems in the second loop of stages.

Solberg was happier on the wider roads through this opening leg, feeling they suited his car better. The Norwegian driver said he still had some speed in reserve. Makinen was delighted with the changes he made to the timing on the differentials of his Impreza between the Acropolis Rally and this one. The four-times world champion's day started out well, he was third overall until steering problems slowed him on the last stage of the day.

Solberg said: ''In the narrow sections of the stages I was playing with the differential settings, the car's handling is good, but still not perfect on those roads. Third is good for me, but there is still more to come.''

''I was thinking for a long time about what was wrong with the car in Greece, then it came to me that we should try these changes to the differential,'' noted Makinen, ''The car felt better at shakedown yesterday, and has been very good today. I'm much happier with the way it's running, except for the ALS trouble in the last two stages. We clipped a rock about eight kilometres into the last stage which broke the steering - it felt like the longest stage of my life.''

All three Citroen drivers felt there was something amiss with the handling of their Xsara WRCs through the opening leg. Alterations were made to the mapping of the differentials at the service park between the two loops of stages.

Loeb led the Citroen attack, but admitted he had been too cautious in SS1. He stepped his pace up through the remaining three stages and ended the leg in fifth place. Colin McRae said his car was understeering into corners and then oversteering on the exit. The Scot was also concerned at how rutted the roads had become this morning. Carlos Sainz was 15th after the first loop of stages, but managed to pull some time back through the afternoon.

Sainz said: ''The car feels a little bit wild when I get on the throttle. There's something not right with the differential settings, we'll work on it - but it was very important to get some time back so we could get a better position on the road for tomorrow.''

McRae added: ''On a rally like this you really need a neutral car, ours isn't right now. We made some changes which helped a little, but there's some more work to do. The ruts have been terrible, the only way to get through the stages is just to stick in them. If you come out of the ruts then the car's sliding and you're losing time. It's not a great way to drive a rally.''

Loeb continued: ''When the grip is good, the car's working well, but when we get to the loose gravel then it's sliding too much. On the first stage this morning, I wanted to be careful to make sure I got through it, but I was too careful, I lost too much time. The changes I made to the car really helped this afternoon. After the first stage this morning I didn't think it was possible to be in this position.''

Francois Duval's Ford Focus RS WRC03 suffered hydraulic problems five kilometres from the end of the second stage, meaning he had to switch to the manual gearshift system. The sister car of Markko Martin suffered the same problem on the fourth stage. The 2002 version of Mikko Hirvonen ran without fault.

Martin admitted he was finding it hard to find the right rhythm through the early part of the day, but dropped more time with the hydraulic problem on the second run at the longest stage. Duval came out of the first stage happy, but towards the end of the second test the car was jammed in third gear. He stopped and switched to the manual shift. Hirvonen enjoyed a clean run through the opening leg.

Martin said: ''In one section - where I lost quite a bit of time to Marcus - I was sliding wide and you just can't do that on an event like this. Every time you slide, you're losing time. We had to use the handbrake a lot to get the car turned in to the corners. This afternoon we had the hydraulic glitch, this is the way our luck works, the longest stage of the rally - we have to have a problem!''

Duval commented: ''This is the same problem that we had in New Zealand with the hydraulics. Before we had the problem everything was okay It's very important for me to finish today, but the problem with the gearbox could have cost us the chance of a good position on the road.''

Hirvonen added: ''This is all about experience for me. I'm not pushing too hard, just keeping out of trouble and in the middle of the road.''

At Hyundai meanwhile Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix both suffered engine and differential overheating problems on the opening leg. The off-side front wheel came loose on the German's car following the second stage, he and co-driver Manfred Hiemer stopped to strap it into place. Justin Dale retired on the road section into service following the second stage with terminal overheating problems.

The opening leg of Cyprus Rally 2003 was a tough one for the Hyundai team. All three cars suffered the same problem, overheating in the baking temperatures which accompany this event. Loix and Schwarz made it through, but Dale was forced to stop in the first run at the Lagoudera-Spilia stage to top up the water levels on his car. Unfortunately for the Englishman there was too much damage to the engine on his car and he retired.

Schwarz said: ''We drove at recce speed this morning. The differentials overheated on the first stage, which left us with no front brakes. Then the engine overheated on the next one. A bolt had come loose on the steering or something, I felt the front wheel moving about, so we had to stop to sort that out. Not a good start.''

Loix added: ''We haven't had a good morning, the problem with the overheating cost us a lot of time. Knowing we had that problem, though, the time wasn't too bad. It's quite frustrating when the engine overheats, though: it goes on to a safe map which doesn't give as much power. These stages are slow anyway, but when the engine's not pulling it's even worse. On the second run through it was a little better, because the temperature was lower, we lost the engine power after about 20km rather than ten.''

Dale continued: ''After about two kilometres of SS2 the temperature warning light came on, but we carried on for about 18km. By then there was a lot of steam coming from under the bonnet, so we stopped to top up the water. Doing that was really difficult, it was so hot around the engine, the water was spitting everywhere. I thought it was all over then, but with some more water in I fired the car up and we carried on for another ten kilometers. We got to the end of the stage, but the engine was on three cylinders, then on the road section it finally gave up. This is a huge disappointment for all concerned.''

Both Skoda Octavia WRCs suffered heat-related fuel vapourisation on the long second and fourth stages, while the centre differential on Gardemeister's car also gave trouble on SS2.

Didier Auriol was happy with his start to the event, but felt the team would have benefited from a pre-event test for the rough Cypriot roads. Auriol hurt his right wrist two kilometres from the end of the second stage, but apart from that enjoyed a relatively trouble-free run through leg one. Gardemeister stopped after the stage to look at the fuel problem, but was unable to find anything wrong with the car.

Auriol said: ''I'm happy enough with the set-up, but it could be better. I'm not going to start making changes to the car now the rally has started. Doing that can be counter productive, you can take the settings the wrong way and drop more time. I hurt my wrist when I hit a rock near the end of the stage, I had to drive the last kilometre with only one hand.''

Gardemeister commented: ''The car wasn't running right, it was so hot. The fuel wasn't coming through. After the stage the car cooled down a bit, we fired it up and it ran okay, but the problem was back for SS4.''

Of the other entries Toshi Arai leads the FIA Production Car Championship, despite struggling with a power steering fault on his Subaru Impreza this morning. He has a minute advantage over fellow Impreza driver Stig Blomqvist.

Of the non-works entries, Gilles Panizzi leads the charge. Once again the Frenchman is showing well on a gravel event, driving a Bozian Racing-run, works specification Peugeot 206 WRC. He holds fourth overall.



Rally statistics - Leg 1:

Starters: 51 crews (22 Group A and 29 Group N) started this morning.

Top retirements: Dale (GB)

Today - Friday 20 June: Leg 1 started from Limassol at 08h00 and covered 329.62km, including 99.84km on four stages. The first car arrived back in Limassol at 18h07.

Tomorrow - Saturday 21 June: Leg 2 starts from Limassol at 06h00 and covers 549.61km, including 158.35km on eight stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Limassol at 19h35.

Weather forecast: Will remain hot and sunny.



Stage by stage summary - Leg 3:

SS1 Platres-Kato Amiantos 1 (11.60kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 9m 27.1
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 32.9
3. Auriol (F) Skoda 9m 33.9

SS2 Lagoudera-Spilia 1 (38.32kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 35m 18.4
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 35m 21.0
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 35m 24.5

Leaders after SS2:
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 44m 45.5
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 44m 00.0
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 45m 00.1

SS3 Platres-Kato Amiantos 2 (11.60kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 11m 28.2
2. Martin (EE) Ford 11m 31.0
3. Duval (F) Ford 11m 31.6

Leaders after SS3:
1. Martin (EE) Ford 43m 07.8
2. Duval (F) Ford 43m 10.9
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 43m 25.5

SS4 Lagoudera-Spilia 2 (38.32kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 34m 30.3
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 34m 31.8
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 34m 38.3

Leaders after SS4 / Leg 1:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 28m 49.8
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +8.8
3. Solberg (N) Subaru +10.3
4. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +13.9
5. Loeb (F) Citroen +40.4
6. McRae (GB) Citroen +55.7
7. Martin (EE) Ford +1m 22.3
8. Burns (GB) Peugeot +1m 31.2
9. Sainz (E) Citroen +1m 33.2
10. Loix (B) Hyundai +2m 05.0




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