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The special feature of this year’s Cyprus Rally, the third round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, is that it is a mixed-surface event, with one day of asphalt competition and two days on loose stages. Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti will be looking to continue Citroën Total World Rally Team’s winning sequence in their Citroën C4 WRCs which will feature a new livery.

The island of Cyprus is situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and featured on the World Rally Championship seven times between 2000 and 2006 when its twisty, rocky stages earned it a reputation for being the slowest of the series. To mark its return to the WRC fold, the event has resuscitated the principle of a mixed asphalt/gravel format which was last used by the Rallye Sanremo in 1996. This year’s visit to Cyprus will kick off with a day on asphalt followed by two legs on gravel.

Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, who won this event three times (in 2004, 2005 and 2006) from four starts, will clearly be targeting further success this time round. If they succeed, it will take the five-time World Champions’ score to 50 world class wins.

The Franco-Monegasque pair knows only too well, however, that victory can by no means be taken for granted.

"So much has changed in the space of three years that you’ve really got to treat this as a new rally," believes Daniel Elena. "We obviously used to drive on the island’s asphalt roads to get out to the stages and we thought at the time that this island could put on a great asphalt rally! The organisers have ensured us that this year’s gravel stages won’t be as twisty or as slow as they were in the past. And we need to take the weather into account, too. It could well rain in Cyprus, even in March."

After initially being favourable to the idea of a mixed-surface rally, Sébastien Loeb is dubitative about the event’s format and the requirement to contest the first day on Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres:

"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 has only contested the Cyprus Rally on one previous occasion (2006), which is two times less than his co-driver Marc Marti who started this event twice alongside Carlos Sainz. As was the case in Ireland and Norway, the Spanish pair will be out to score as many Manufacturers’ points as possible.

"It promises to be a tough rally," warns Dani. "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."

Citroën Sport has been renamed Citroën Racing and the cars will accordingly sport new livery from now on. On February 5, the make revealed its new brand identity which builds on the dynamism generated by the success of the new models it has launched over the past 10 years. As far as the Citroën Total World Rally Team is concerned, the most apparent change concerns the livery of the C4 WRC which incorporates a higher proportion of white. The new colour scheme was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show.

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