Subaru driver Petter Solberg
leads the Cyprus Rally, round seven of the FIA World Rally Championship, after an astonishing day's action on the Limassol-based event.
The Norwegian started the day in third place, but immediately overhauled Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera on the opening stage of the day. Gronholm retired on the next test with transmission trouble, while Rovanpera kept the lead Subaru in his sights, holding second place as the cars arrived back on the coast this evening.
Solberg controlled the rally from the front, promising that he wasn't taking any risks and saving his attack for the final leg. Rovanpera was hobbled by an overheating Peugeot for the first loop of stages, but from then on his 206 WRC ran largely without fault. Citroen's Sebastien Loeb
was third after a trouble-free run in his Xsara WRC, with team-mates Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz backing the Frenchman up in fourth and fifth.
The rocky stages in the Troodos mountains proved too much for Markko Martin and Francois Duval, however. They both retired their Focus RS WRC03s on the opening stage. Today was also the final world championship action for the Octavia WRC - both cars retired on the middle loop of stages.
Solberg's Impreza WRC2003 ran without fault, while Tommi Makinen retired after SS10, having exceeded the time allowance while repairing a broken wheel in stage six.
Solberg's plan of a measured drive through the second leg paid off: he kept out of trouble and brought his car home at the head of the field. His team-mate Makinen's day was ruined when he broke a rear wheel on the Subaru on the second stage of the day. The wheel wouldn't come off, so he and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom removed the whole suspension to get it off. The suspension was then reassembled, dropping the crew 28 minutes in the process. With the suspension sorted, Makinen set fastest time on the next stage. Of the six stages Makinen completed today, he was fastest on four of them.
''The car has been fine today,'' said Solberg, ''I am making some minor changes to the differentials, but that's what I always do, if I wasn't doing that I wouldn't be doing the rally properly! I'm happy with the position, I'm happy that I have more to give tomorrow.''
Team boss David Lapworth added: ''What Tommi did was very impressive, given the heat and the limited number of tools he had to work with.''
At Peugeot meanwhile Gronholm retired with transmission problems on the second stage this morning, while Richard Burns joined him on the retirements' list after SS10. Rovanpera suffered overheating problems but continued through to the end of the leg.