Loeb takes his 50th win with Pirelli
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 on the World Rally Championship since 1996, with the first day held on asphalt and the remaining two days run on gravel. However, in order to save costs all the competitors ran on Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres throughout all three days of the event - so that they did not have to bring differently-sized wheels and brakes for the two surfaces.
Loeb took the lead from the very first stage of the event and held it all the way to the end of the rally, claiming his historic half-century of victories on Sunday and extending his lead of 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 title on Pirelli rubber, was an excellent third in a privately-entered Citroen Xsara WRC.
Although the first day of the Cyprus Rally was run on asphalt, the stages soon began to resemble a gravel rally as the leading cars pulled rocks and sharp stones onto the road whilst cutting the corners. Despite these very tricky conditions, none of the leading cars sustained any punctures: an impressive testimony to the strength of the Pirelli Scorpion tyres.
Adding to the challenge of an already extremely complex event was heavy rain that fell on Friday night. This reduced the Saturday morning stages to a muddy quagmire, to the extent that the Ford mechanics scraped off 95 kilograms of mud from Hirvonen's 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 tyres did a good job. Obviously it was not ideal to be driving asphalt stages on gravel tyres during Friday, but in the end there was more grip than I thought. I'm delighted to have got to the end of the rally safely, which has resulted in my 50th win."
Cyprus was also 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 tyres on the opening day, and the category was eventually won by Citroen driver Martin Prokop: emphasising the strength and reliability of both types of Pirelli rubber. 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 tyres, 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 emphasises the strength and quality of our products."