Loeb takes 50th win with Pirelli
Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb has once more cemented his place in the record books by claiming a historic 50th career victory this weekend when he won the Rally Cyprus while running Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires. He is now 20 victories clear of the previous record-holder, Marcus Gronholm (30 wins), and 24 victories ahead of the third-placed driver in the all-time rankings, Carlos Sainz (26 wins).
Cyprus marked the first mixed-surface event for the World Rally Championship since 1996. The first day of racing was held on asphalt; the remaining two days were run on gravel. In a move designed to save all competitors money – vehicles were fitted with Pirelli Scorpion gravel rally tires instead of the normal mix of gravel and asphalt tires, eliminating the need for teams to bring differently-sized wheels and brakes to race on the different road surfaces – a new strategy for WRC teams.
Loeb took the lead during the first stage of the event and held it all the way to the end of the rally, claiming his historic 50th victory on Sunday and extending his lead in the drivers’ championship. Citroen has also increased its advantage in the manufacturers’ standings. Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen was second, while former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg, who won his 2003 WRC title on Pirelli rubber, placed third at Cyprus in a privately-entered Citroen Xsara WRC.
Although the first day of the Cyprus Rally was run on asphalt, the stages began to resemble a gravel rally as the leading cars pulled rocks and sharp stones onto the road after cutting through the courses corners. Despite these very tricky conditions, none of the leading cars sustained any punctures: an impressive testimony to the strength of the Pirelli Scorpion tires.
Adding to the challenge of an already extremely complex event was the heavy rain that fell Friday night. Friday’s rain reduced Saturday’s morning stages to a muddy quagmire, ultimately requiring Hirvonen’s Ford mechanics scrape 95 kilograms of mud from his car at midday service.
“The conditions were really slippy; it was hard to keep the car on the road on Saturday,” reported Loeb, the reigning world champion with Pirelli. “Under the very difficult circumstances, the tires did a good job. Obviously it was not ideal to be driving asphalt stages on gravel tires during Friday, but in the end there was more grip than I thought. I’m delighted to have got(ten) to the end of the rally safely, which has resulted in my 50th win.”
The Cyprus event also included a round of the Junior World Rally Championship and Production Car World Rally Championship – which are also supplied by Pirelli. The Junior cars were allowed to run asphalt tires on the opening day, and the category was eventually won by Citroen driver Martin Prokop: emphasizing the strength and reliability of both types of Pirelli tires. Skoda’s Patrik Sandell claimed the Production Car World Rally Championship category.
Pirelli’s Rally Manager Mario Isola concluded: “This event was one of the most technically complex that we faced all year, and the uncertainty was increased by the rain that fell during the week, turning the stages into a skating rink. Despite the inevitable compromise that we faced on Friday and the tricky conditions on the remaining two days, we are very pleased with the performance of our tires, which have allowed Loeb to claim this landmark victory. In particular, I’m delighted that our rubber has overcome the challenge of what are definitely some of the sharpest rocks we will face all year. None of the leading runners encountered any punctures, which emphasizes the strength and quality of our products.”