Frenchman Loeb aims for 50th WRC win in new-look FX Pro Cyprus Rally

Frenchman Loeb aims for 50th WRC win in new-look FX Pro Cyprus Rally

12.03.2009: ēFord and CitroŽn crews dominate entry for mixed-surface rallyēQatarís Al-Attiyah starts as favourite to win PWRC category FX PRO CYPRUS RALLY, March 13th-15th 2009

•    Ford and Citroën crews dominate entry for mixed-surface rally
•    Qatar’s Al-Attiyah starts as favourite to win PWRC category


FX PRO CYPRUS RALLY, March 13th-15th 2009
FIA World Rally Championship, round three


Frenchman Sébastien Loeb will be aiming to enter the history books by becoming the first individual to win 50 rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), when he lines up alongside 34 other drivers at the start of the FX Pro Cyprus Rally on Friday morning.

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus returns to host a round of the series for the first time since 2006 and Loeb’s re-branded Citroën Racing team will be hoping to extend their 10-point lead in the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship on the revised, mixed surface special stage event.

New FIA regulations mean that event officials are now permitted to use both gravel and asphalt stage surfaces and the FX Pro Cyprus Rally starts on Friday with six new asphalt tests, which teams will be forced to tackle on Pirelli’s control gravel tyres.

“This is a new development in terms of event format and was a great opportunity for us to bring back some of the old traditions of rallying,” insists clerk of the course Christos Kyriakides. “The decision to use a control gravel tyre was made by the manufacturers themselves.”

Loeb, partnered by co-driver Daniel Elena, has a maximum 20 points after taking outright wins on the opening two rounds of the WRC in Ireland and Norway, but the notoriously twisty and technical Cyprus stages will be a different proposition, even though the Frenchman took three successive wins here between 2004 and 2006. His Citroën team mate Dani Sordo only competed in Cyprus in 2006 and needs a podium finish to maintain his title push.

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team offers the major competition in the form of Finnish drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen. The team carried out around 1,250km of testing during a recent six-day session in southern Sardinia and Hirvonen – who has tackled the event on three previous occasions – will be hoping to improve on the third overall he achieved in 2006, as he bids to reduce Loeb’s six-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship.

Latvala has never tackled a rally in Cyprus, although the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi drives a third Ford Focus RS WRC and has visited the island on several occasions to tackle rounds of the FIA Middle East series.

Britain’s Matthew Wilson and Norway’s Henning Solberg represent the Stobart VK M-Sport World Rally Team and Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, Frenchman Sébastien Ogier and Russia’s Evgeny Novikov drive a trio of Citroën Junior Team C4s.

Former Subaru factory driver Petter Solberg returns to the island in a privately-run Citroën Xsara in his bid to win a round of the WRC for the first time since 2005, while Argentinean driver Federico Villagra is entered in the single Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Focus RS.

The event is also a round of both the JWRC and PWRC championships for the first time. Germany’s Aaron Burkhart heads the three-strong Junior contingent in his Suzuki Swift S1600, although competition is likely to be fierce in the Production category.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is a multiple winner of rounds of the FIA Middle East rally series in Cyprus and that experience should give him an edge over the likes of local talent Nicos Thomas, Japan’s Toshi Arai, Portugal’s Armindo Araújo and Sweden’s Patrik Sandell.

Thomas won the Pirelli ‘Star Driver’ award for the Middle East region last year and has just returned from a training session in Italy. He and Belgian co-driver Stéphane Prevot will take part in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, where they are joined by Cypriot Charalambous Timotheou, the winner of the 2007 Cyprus Rally when it ran as a counting round for the FIA Middle East series.

After Thursday evening’s ceremonial start in Limassol, the event gets underway with six asphalt stages on Friday, starting with the first of two runs through the Panagia stage from 09.23hrs. The sixth Gerakies test starts at 15.57hrs and brings the asphalt competition to a close.

Saturday’s and Sunday’s eight special stages take place on Cyprus’s traditional gravel surfaces and twisty mountain trails, with the final Anadiou Dam test starting at noon on Sunday.

2009 FX Pro Cyprus Rally – leading starters

1. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (F)        Citroën C4
2. Dani Sordo (E)/Marc Marti (E)            Citroën C4
3. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN)    Ford Focus RS WRC 08
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)/Miikka Anttila (FIN)    Ford Focus RS WRC 08
5. Matthew Wilson (GB)/Scott Martin (GB)    Ford Focus RS WRC 08
6. Henning Solberg (N)/Cato Menkerud (N)    Ford Focus RS WRC 08
7. Evgeny Novikov (RUS)/Dale Moscatt (AUS)    Citroën C4 WRC
8. Conrad Rautenbach (ZW)/Daniel Barritt (GB)   Citroën C4 WRC
9. Federico Villagra (RA)/Jorge Perez-Companc (AR) Ford Focus RS WRC 08
11. Petter Solberg (N)/Philip Mills (GB)        Citroën Xsara

2009 Drivers’ Championship – positions after round 2

1. Sébastien Loeb (F)        20 pts
2. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)        14 pts
3. Dani Sordo (E)            12 pts
4. Henning Solberg (N)        10 pts
5. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN)        6 pts
6. Chris Atkinson (AUS)        4 pts, etc

2009 Manufacturers’ Championship – positions after round 2

1. Citroën Racing World Rally Team        32 pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team        22 pts
3. Stobart VK M-Sport World Rally Team    16 pts
4. Citroën Junior Rally Team            8 pts


www.cyprusrally.com.cy



- Neil Perkins -  photo Willy Weyens

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12.03.2009 / MaP

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