After the snow of Norway last time out, the World Rally Championship now heads to Cyprus for an event that will provide a new challenge for crews thanks to its mixed-surface conditions.

Cyprus returns to the calendar for the first time since 2006 and will be the first mixed-surface event in the WRC since 1996, with the opening leg being run on tarmac before two days of gravel running. To add a further twist to proceedings, the crews will be forced to use hard compound gravel tyres for all three days of competition.

The event will take place over just 14 stages, but that stages will run to a little more than 330km, including one test of more than 40km on the final day.

Special notes:

Rally Cyprus will take on a vastly different appearance in 2009 compared to its last running in the WRC in 2006. Indeed, only one stage remains from the schedule in place three years ago.

The event will continue to be based in the resort of Limassol, which will host the ceremonial start on Thursday evening, but the event will then head to the western edge of the Troodos mountains for the first leg on Friday before returning to the centre of the Troodos and the first gravel tests on Saturday.

Sunday's final leg will be run to the west of the mountains and contains only three stages, but they include two tests of more than 30km and may well provide a sting in the tail.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

In preparation for the mixed surface event, Pirelli has been busy testing with both Citroen and Ford to examine tyre wear and performance on the gravel rubber that will be used for Friday's asphalt stages.

Because of the mixed-surface nature, regulations for the event have also been modified to allow for four additional spare tyres per car for the opening day which will be available in the refuel area. The top seeded drivers will therefore receive 46 tyres for the event, while non-priority drivers will receive 29.

Runners in the Junior World Rally Championship will receive asphalt tyres for day one, but will not be able to exceed more than 24 tyres over the four days.

"Obviously this is a very demanding situation for our gravel tyres and surely the skills required from the drivers will be somewhat different," Pirelli rally manager Mario Isola. "There is surely less grip but everyone has been surprised by how well the tyres stood up in the tests. At the end of the day it is the same for everyone and the tests confirmed that there was no real safety issue involved. In some ways it could be viewed as a return to 'old-style' rallying where the equipment was less specialised and the skills of the driver were more dominant."

The other big news following Norway is that double WRC title winner Marcus Gronholm will make a return to competition in Portugal in a Subaru Impreza WRC2008 entered by Prodrive. At the moment, the entry is planned to be a one-off.

News from the Manufacturers' teams:

Citroen Total WRT:

[Sebastien Loeb, car #1 and Daniel Sordo, car #2]

Sebastien Loeb:

''It's a shame to have only done things by half. We will be competing on asphalt with ill-suited brakes, tyres and suspension. The balance of our C4 WRC is still very good with this set-up, but we are aware that we will need to look after our tyres to avoid punctures. It will probably be nice for the spectators to see the cars sliding, but I don't think it will be all that stimulating for the drivers. The fact that we are starting the weekend on asphalt won't encourage us to attack, either. What will be the point in being first overall on Friday evening. That will mean facing road sweeping duty on the next day's loose stages? That said, this is not a strategy we will be able to afford to adopt because we will be starting the weekend first on the road. Our objective will therefore be to build up as big a lead as possible on the opening day.''

Dani Sordo:

''It promises to be a tough rally. Despite the fact that asphalt is seen as our favourite type of surface, the regulations concerning the specification of the cars is likely to have a big influence. We have tested on asphalt with gravel tyres and our C4 WRC was as strong as ever. We worked on the suspension to adapt it to sealed surfaces, but it's notably the brakes and tyres which stand to suffer the most, especially if the weather is hot.''

BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT:

[Mikko Hirvonen, car #3 and Jari-Matti Latvala, car #4]

Mikko Hirvonen:

"It's going to be difficult but a lot depends on how hot it is. The temperatures during our test were about 10?C and the tyres worked well. The car moves around more on gravel rubber and it's necessary to turn into corners earlier and to brake sooner. It's difficult to predict what will happen because we've never had to do this but I'm ready for the challenge.

"I found a good set-up for the gravel stages during the test. The stages in Cyprus are so twisty that there are sections where a driver thinks he's going too slowly. But to push too hard risks the car sliding wide and losing momentum. It's important to be patient and believe that other drivers are having just the same thoughts. It's said a lot, but this rally is unique in the championship.''

Jari-Matti Latvala:

"Mikko has a different driving style to me and in tight corners he brakes differently. He uses the handbrake to get round corners and I don't. Mikko also keeps the car much straighter than I do. I drive more aggressively but that's something I'm trying to change.

"Cyprus is the only rally in the WRC calendar on which I've not competed. It's three months since the last gravel event in Britain so my test was a good opportunity to get a feel for the surface again. It's a technical rally and asphalt driving with gravel tyres will be a new challenge, the kind of thing that makes this sport so fascinating. I learned on the test that I must still use my asphalt technique and keep the car straight with precise lines. Too much sideways driving will destroy the tyres,"

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally team:

[Matthew Wilson, car #5 and Henning Solberg, car #6]

Matthew Wilson:

"This rally will be something different for us and running on two different surfaces during one event is certainly a unique experience. The first day will be difficult, it's quite long and we will be running in very alien conditions; I think there will also be some driving for preferential road position for day two. I enjoyed this rally in 2006, the slow speeds make it totally different from most other rallies and it will be good to get onto the normal gravel stages on the second day. Fitness will also be important here, maybe not because of the usual high temperature but because of the long, slow stages."

Henning Solberg:

"I think this rally will be a big challenge but I really enjoy these stages in Cyprus and I'm up for the challenge. It is good to see the organisers doing something different to spice up the event and I think we will see some tactical driving on the first day. Road position will be important as there aren't many second passes over stages but for sure the long stages will provide a tough test. I'm confident though and will be aiming for a top-five, maybe even a podium if we can stay out of trouble and get a clean run."

Citroen Junior Team:

[Evgeny Novikov, car #7 and Conrad Rautenbach, car #8, and Sebastien Ogier, car #12]

Evgeny Novikov:

"I was very pleased with our gravel test. We soon found a good rhythm with the Citroen C4 WRC, and we're obviously delighted by the fantastic pportunity that we have to drive the most competitive car in the championship, run by the Citroen Junior Team. For what's still only our second rally in a WRC machine, we're not fixing any sort of objectives in terms of results. The key thing about this event is that we have the chance to drive on gravel in order to prepare for the rest of the championship. There's no need to focus too much on the opening day though as it's going to be a very long event.

Conrad Rautenbach:

"I've driven on asphalt before with a gravel set-up, but never further than a few hundred metres! In Cyprus though, we're going to have to drive for a whole day on tyres designed for gravel stages. It's going to be a very strange experience. We're not going to have anything like the same levels of grip that we are accustomed to and the cars will end up sliding a lot. I'm sure it will be good fun for all the spectators though! Our [pre-event] test went very well and I hope that we can soon find a good feeling when it comes to the actual rally."

Sebastien Ogier:

"This is a very specialised event, with a day on asphalt and the next two days on gravel. I was able to do one day's testing, in order to find out how to drive the Citroen C4 WRC on gravel stages that were a bit similar to the ones we will face on the final two days of the Cyprus Rally. But I'm worried that generally it won't be quite as exciting a rally as Norway. The roads in Cyprus are renowned for being slow and hard on the cars. It's never nice to feel your machinery suffering. As for the first day on asphalt, we will just have to take it as it comes. It's really not something we have a lot of information about. That will be a big question mark for me, even though I know that the Citroen Junior Team has carried out a lot of useful preparation for this event."

Munchi's Ford World Rally Team:

[Federico Villagra, car #9}

"I'm very excited to be back racing in the WRC. It feels like it has been a long time since my last event last season. It is great to be taking part in eight rounds of the WRC this season and I'm very happy to be back racing with Jorge. We have had a really good test and I am looking forward to the rally. Cyprus is going to be very interesting. The stages are very long and it is going to be a new experience driving on different surfaces in the same rally. I think it is also going to be very hard on the brakes and it will be tough mentally and physically."

Production Car WRC:

Round 2 of 8 - Sandell chases two from two.

After his victory in Norway on the debut for the new Skoda Fabia S2000, Patrik Sandell will look to extend his lead in the PWRC as the series heads to Cyprus.

A total of 15 crews are due to take the start, but Sandell's closest challengers from Norway - Eyvind Brynildsen and Martin Prokop - aren't amongst them. Cyprus isn't on Brynildsen's list of events for the new season while Prokop will return to the JWRC after his Norwegian outing.

As a result, Sandell's main rivals are set to be former PWRC champions Toshi Arai and Nasser Al Attiyah in their Subaru Imprezas, while two of the Pirelli Star Drivers, Martin Semerad and Nicos Thomas, will also be in action in their Mistubishi Lancer Evo XIs. Thomas won the event when it was a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship back in 2007.

Aside from Sandell, Bernard Sousa is also set to contest the event in S2000 machinery with his Abarth Grande Punto.

Junior WRC:

Round 2 of 8 - A depleted field

Only three crews are due to take part in the second round of the Junior World Rally Championship in what will be the second round of the season.

Following his win on the season opener in Ireland, Aaron Burkart will look to strengthen his position at the top of the standings at the wheel of his Suzuki Swift, although his main rival from Ireland, Martin Prokop, has also elected to travel to Cyprus.

The third entry will be for Czech driver Michal Kosciuszko who will make his first appearance of the JWRC season. Kosciuszko took his maiden win in the series last year in Sardinia and will now look to add to that tally on his seasonal bow.

With only the three cars entered, Cyprus will give Burkart, Prokop and Kosciuszko the chance to score big as opposed to their rivals.

Other significant entries:

35 crews due to start.

Only 35 crews are due to start Rally Cyprus, which is renowned as one of the tougher events on the calendar.

Aside from those who will be eligible for manufacturer points, Sebastien Ogier is in the Citroen Junior Team's 'third' car while Khalid Al Qassami will enjoy another outing with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi squad.

Cyprus will also mark the second outing for Petter Solberg with his privately entered Citroen Xsara, with the Norwegian looking to improve on the sixth place he secured on home soil last time out.

"Citroen has given me a new engine and together with new dampers from Reiger, and more time for preparations, I really think it will be possible to fight in Cyprus," he said. "We have been analysing and preparing in the weeks after Rally Norway and I am confident that we are much more prepared this time. And, there has been time for fitness-training."

Andreas Mikkelsen is also due to contest the event in a Group N Subaru WRC STi, while an interesting addition to the line-up is a LADA 2112 S1600 entered for Cypriot driver Aristofanis Avraam.

Route:

Much has changed since the WRC's last visit to Cyprus in 2006. Most of the competitive distance is new and while the holiday resort of Limassol remains the base, there is a new service park alongside the seafront in the town's Germasogeia area.

After Thursday evening's start ceremony at Limassol's Palais des Sports, Friday's asphalt leg is based on the western edge of the Troodos mountains, north of Paphos, and is the longest of the rally. The bulk of Saturday's action is located in the centre of the Troodos before Sunday's final leg returns to the west. Although it contains only three stages, Sunday will be a true sting in the tail with one test of more than 40km and another of more than 30km - the only stage remaining from the 2006 itinerary.

Only one gravel stage will be used more than once and drivers tackle 14 stages covering 332.07km in a route of 1198.00km.

Last year:

Rally Cyprus wasn't part of the WRC last year, and indeed hasn't featured on the schedule since 2006.

Then run in September as opposed to the March date this time around, the event saw Sebastien Loeb secure his third Cyprus win at the wheel of his Kronos Racing entered Citroen Xsara, while Ford pair Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen completed the podium.

Manfred Stohl, Toni Gardemeister, Henning Solberg, Xavier Pons and Petter Solberg also picked up points while a number of drivers - including Chris Atkinson and Dani Sordo - ran into problems.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...