Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena did not wait long to extend the record for career victories that they broke in Japan.
Their win in Cyprus - their eighth of the year and their third consecutive triumph on the 'Island of Aphrodite' - brings the benchmark up to 28 wins, all of them achieved at the wheel of the Citroen Xsara WRC. Seb's lead of the drivers' championship is now up to 35 points, with four rallies and 40 possible points still up for grabs.
Seb and Daniel won yet another tough duel with Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen after three hard days. Their battle, just as hotly-contested as the one that characterised Rally Japan, ran along a similar timescale. The Finn held the advantage on Friday morning, during which Seb swept the road clean by virtue of his road position. Then the Frenchman fought back on the cleaner roads of the afternoon. A neck-and-neck battle characterised Saturday morning, before Seb took control on Saturday afternoon. Then... "I remembered Japan," said Seb. "On Sunday morning there I conceded a little bit of time first thing, which was just the invitation Marcus wanted. So I went flat-out on the first stage this morning. A few split times later, it seemed to me that Marcus was no longer pushing to the limit. I was able to calculate my speed based on his, and the end of the rally was a lot calmer."
"While it was nearly the same scenario as Japan," added the Citroen driver, "the conditions and the pace was very different : more like what you find in Greece. Citroen gathered a lot of data from the Acropolis and worked very hard in testing : my Xsara was entirely competitive here compared to its rival. I hope it will continue to be so over the next four rallies, so that we can win the drivers title and bring the Kronos Total Citroen team the maximum number of points in a very open and exciting manufacturers' championship..."
Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen's second was followed by team-mate Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen.
Behind Hirvonen, Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) took fourth ahead of Toni Gardemeister (Citroen), who survived a spin this morning. Henning Solberg (Peugeot) completed the top six, climbing two places when firstly brother Petter (Subaru) dropped 90 seconds on the final stage after hitting a rock and damaging a wheel. Then Xevi Pons (Citroen) slipped to seventh when his car stopped with transmission troubles just 2km from the service park on the final liaison section. Dani Sordo (Citroen) lost the final manufacturers' point after crashing in the Lemesos street stage, despite it being run non-competitively. Matthew Wilson (Ford) inherited the final point in 10th.
Rally of Cyprus Final positions
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 4hr 40min 50.4sec
2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 41min 11.6sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 46min 06.5sec
4. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 4hr 47min 30.1sec
5. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Citroen Xsara 4hr 49min 30.8sec
6. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 4hr 55min 30.4sec
7. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 4hr 55min 56.3sec
8. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 56min 11.9sec
9. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 4hr 58min 05.4sec
10 M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS 5hr 06min 11.4sec