Cyprus : Ford World Rally Team - Preview
Endurance and reliability in both man and machine will come to the fore when the BP-Ford World Rally Team heads to the holiday island of Cyprus for what many regard as the toughest round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
from enjoying the beaches and sunshine of the eastern Mediterranean, Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will fight scorching heat and boulder-strewn tracks on the Cyprus Rally (21 - 24 September) as they try to secure the squad's fifth win of this year's campaign.
Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car has earned an awesome reputation in arduous conditions, including two victories in Cyprus in six years. The new-generation Focus RS earned its credentials in gruelling conditions when Grönholm won June's Acropolis Rally of Greece. BP-Ford rated that event as the toughest for several years but there is every reason to believe that the Cypriot mountain roads, parched and baked after a long, hot summer with no rain, could be every bit as demanding.
The gravel roads high in the Troodos Mountains above the resort of Lemesos demand strength and reliability from the cars, which must withstand a heavy battering from rocks. The tracks are also incredibly twisty and speeds are lower than anywhere else in the 16-round championship. Last year's rally was won at an average of only 64.80kph, and at such speeds there is little airflow to cool hard-working engines and transmission.
With temperatures forecast to hover around the 30C mark during the rally, it is also a tough event for drivers and co-drivers. Temperatures are much higher inside the cars so stamina and fitness levels are important, as is a regular intake of fluids to combat dehydration.
Grönholm won in Cyprus in 2002 while Hirvonen finished fifth and sixth on his previous two appearances there. While continued development of the new Focus RS remains the primary aim for the rest of the season, BP-Ford has reduced the gap to the leaders in the manufacturers' standings to only 11 points and is keen to narrow that even further.
"It's a hard rally physically because of the heat," said 38-year-old Grönholm. "There's not a lot of air coming into the car because the speeds are slow and by the end of a stage it's hard to breathe. Then you have to be out of the car quickly to change the tyres around for the next stage so there's no opportunity to catch your breath. And then it's straight into the next stage. So fitness is important."
"The stages are okay but there is always the feeling that you need to drive faster. But if you start to attack there are so few straight sections that it's easy to go off the road. If the speed gets too high, then you can brake late and slide off or end up smashing a wheel on the stones. Patience is crucial and developing a good rhythm so that you flow through the endless corners is the key."
26 year-old Hirvonen will fly to Cyprus from the team's Spanish test today to allow himself several days to acclimatise and train in the heat.
"Cyprus is slower than other rallies and the roads are incredibly rough," he said. "It's different from other rounds and it isn't my favourite, but we need rallies like this in the championship. A world championship should have something of everything. To be successful the car must be strong and reliable and we proved in Greece that the Focus has those qualities. It will be hot and the speeds slow so it's important to be confident in the cooling package to ensure the car doesn't overheat."
"Because speeds are relatively slow, there is always the temptation to push too hard. When that happens the car slides wide into the slippery gravel and momentum and time is lost. It's important to be patient."
Press Release Ford World Rally Team