The Škoda Octavia WRC is scheduled to have its final outing on the Cyprus Rally, after five years, 48 World Championship rallies, and 111 entries of intense competition. The venerable Octavia is expected to be replaced by the Fabia WRC on the next round of the World Championship in Germany, marking the end of an era.

In the meantime, Škoda Motorsport is determined that the Octavia WRC should take the final curtain in style. The Cyprus Rally, round seven of the World Championship, should play to the car’s many strengths. The Mediterranean event is characterised by rough roads, tight corners, and intense heat. So far, Škoda Motorsport have scored World Championship points on every event of the year, and the team is aiming to maintain this 100% success rate in Cyprus.

Didier Auriol, World Champion in 1994, said: "Cyprus is definitely a tricky event. It’s not very fast, but it’s quite technical with all the corners. This means that you really have to approach the rally in the right way, with a good set up. The roads are rough so you need a strong car. I don’t have much experience of Cyprus as I’ve only done it once before, but if we find a good feeling then anything is possible. We will have to see."

The road surfaces in Cyprus are quite similar to those in Greece, so the experience gained on the Acropolis Rally will stand Škoda Motorsport in good stead. Large boulders litter the route, and deep ruts can form when stages are run for the second time. Temperatures are normally very high, but sudden storms can strike the mountain roads where the rally is run, making conditions unpredictable. There are more hairpin bends in Cyprus than on any other rally, which gives it the lowest average speed of the entire World Championship. Last year, no fewer than six drivers managed to roll their cars, making consistency and reliability the key to success.

Toni Gardemeister, who has also only competed in Cyprus once before, said: "Personally I find this event quite difficult. It’s hard to build up a rhythm as the stages don’t flow very well. It’s just corner after corner which means that you have to be very precise. You need good pace notes, excellent concentration and a car that is robust enough to cope with all the rocks. If we drive sensibly, then I think we could be in a good position to score some points."

The rally is based in Limassol, one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. The new town is dominated by modern hotels with their own private beaches, but the old town reflects a more traditional way of life where old women dressed in black still shelter in the shady courtyards of tavernas. The rally route takes competitors high up into the unspoilt Troodos mountains, where the horse and cart is still a common means of transport.

Škoda Motorsport team principal Pavel Janeba commented: "We are coming to the Cyprus Rally with our cars in the same specification as the Acropolis, because all our resources are fully concentrated on the new Fabia WRC now. Of course it is always our aim to score points, but I think Cyprus could be an even tougher rally for us than the Acropolis, as there are so many slow corners. Still, I know that everyone in the team will be trying their hardest, and at the end of the rally we will all say a big ‘thank you’ to the Octavia for the good times we have spent together!"

The Cyprus Rally gets underway on Friday 20 June in Limassol. Competitors then tackle 18 stages consisting of 341.05 competitive kilometres over the next three days. The finish takes place back in Limassol on Sunday 22 June.

Published : 21/06/03 Author : Melanie Carter

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