The FIA World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean next week for the Cyprus Rally, round 12 of the 16-event series. The rally is based in the seaside tourist town of Limassol with stages run on rough gravel roads in the Troodos mountains in the centre of the island.

Taking place four months later than last year, from 22-24 September at the end of the Cypriot summer, the rally is nevertheless likely to retain its traditional hot, sunny weather, with temperatures expected to reach more than 30 degrees Celsius. The combination of searing temperatures, tight mountain roads and a rocky, rutted surface has earned the rally the reputation of being the roughest event on the calendar. Reliability is even more crucial this year as the same chassis, engine and gearbox must also be used in the next event in Turkey.

The rally’s twisty roads generate low average speeds; it’s expected that crews will negotiate the route at an average speed of just over 60kph, barely half the speed recorded on smooth gravel events like Rally Finland or Rally New Zealand. With less air being forced into the car, airflow to the engine and transmission is substantially reduced and teams run cooling settings at their maximum to keep temperatures at a suitable level. Driving conditions for crews too can become very uncomfortable as temperatures in the cockpit soar.

The event runs from a single service park in the Lemesos Palais des Sports located to the north of downtown Limassol. The rally will start on Thursday 21 September with a ceremonial start along the Limassol promenade, also the venue for a new Superspecial. The rally comprises 331.34 competitive kilometres and 23 stages, five more than 2005 after the addition of the Superspecial and a new combination of speed tests used in previous years. The podium finish is scheduled for 1500hrs at the Limassol promenade on Sunday afternoon.

The Subaru World Rally Team will enter one Impreza WRC2006 for Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and one WRC2006 for Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall).

Petter has competed in Cyprus five times previously. The Norwegian has tasted success on the event; in 2003 he took his first victory of the season en route to winning the drivers’ title that year.

The 2006 rally will be Chris Atkinson’s second competitive outing in Cyprus. Last year the Australian had a difficult start to the event, however set a string of top-ten fastest stage times on Legs two and three to finish the event tenth overall.

Driver Quotes
Petter Solberg:
“I like the Cyprus Rally a lot and it’s normally a rally we perform well on; we won in 2003 and also led the last two years’ events. In 2006 however we’ve got to be realistic. Of course I want to win – we all want to win, me, the team, Pirelli, everyone – but we’ve got to get the basics right before we can seriously challenge for victory. The team is working very hard and we’re getting closer to finding a solution to the problems we’ve experienced in recent rallies. This week they’ve been in Sardinia for a six-day test and everyone at the factory is going flat-out too. We’ve got to keep pushing on.”

Chris Atkinson: “Last year we didn’t have such a good event as we had problems on the first day, but it was good to get experience of the stages on the final two Legs. The rally is really hard work for drivers and co-drivers as the roads are very rough and the stages seem to last for ages as there are so many corners. To build up stamina for these longer runs, I step-up my fitness training to do longer runs and focus more on endurance training. I’d like to get a top five position this year.”

Team Quotes
Luis Moya, Subaru World Rally Team sporting director: “To achieve a good result in Cyprus it’s crucial to have good reliability and consistency as the rally is incredibly demanding on the cars, possibly the most demanding of the entire championship so far. Historically it’s claimed a number of retirements and, of course, the searing heat and dust can cause problems too. We hope we are well-prepared as a team; our drivers have trained especially for the temperatures and we’ve run a six-day test in Sardinia that should help us meet our performance targets in Cyprus as a team. We obviously hope to get a good result; both cars in the top six is a realistic prospect.”

Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director: “Cyprus marks the midway point of the second half of the season. In Germany, Finland and Japan we struggled to achieve a consistent level of car performance, but despite a gap of only two weeks between the finish of the last event and the start of Cyprus, the team has undertaken an extensive and extended test in Sardinia that will finish less than 36 hours before the start of the Cyprus recce. Our test objectives have been twofold; first, to develop a chassis set-up that gives Petter and Chris a more consistent car, and second, to finalise the most suitable specification for the unique conditions found on this event.

Competition at the head of the field is always tough in the WRC, but over the last five events of 2007 we are looking for a significant improvement on our recent results. The drivers, engineers, technicians and our tyre partner Pirelli have been working flat out to make sure we soon add to Subaru's 47 WRC event wins.”

Between the Rallies
Petter Solberg stopped in Tokyo en route back to Europe from Rally Japan for further STI PR activities. He then spent a few days with family back in Monaco as young son Oliver started his new school. Petter will also fly to Sardinia to take part in the development test.

Chris Atkinson returned to the UK for a couple of days before he travelled to Italy with Markko Martin to watch the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza. Although Chris enjoyed the race, he’s glad he’s out there competing on the rallies! After the race he flew directly to Sardinia for the six-day pre-event and development test.
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