Loeb Chases Third Win in a Row

Sebastien Loeb's rivals cannot afford to let Citroen's world champion triumph again in Cyprus this weekend

Loeb Chases Third Win in a Row

The Frenchman won on the island last year, after Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was disqualified for technical reasons, and this time arrives having won the last two rallies and with a one-point lead over Subaru's Norwegian Petter Solberg.

Gravel is not Loeb's favourite surface and rivals know they have to make the most of their chances before the championship moves on to the asphalt rounds later in the year.

"In order to get the title, we have to try and deny Loeb as many points as possible on the gravel events because he might be even more difficult to beat on asphalt," said twice champion Gronholm.

The Finn, stripped of his win last year when stewards ruled that his car's water pumps did not conform to technical regulations, was quickest in Thursday's shakedown.

Solberg, who lost his lead to Loeb in the last rally in Sardinia after winning in Sweden and Mexico, said he would start cautiously in what promises to be a gruelling contest.

"Of course we're going to try to win but we know how difficult it is to do that these days," said the Norwegian, who won the event by more than four minutes in 2003.

"I'm going to start calm, see where the level is and then go for maximum attack on Saturday. I think the rally is going to be very rough this year, it depends on how much they've worked on the roads."

Loeb has 35 points to Solberg's 34 and Estonian Markko Martin's 28 for Peugeot. Gronholm has 26.

Rocky Roads

The rocky roads in the Troodos Mountains are known as car-breakers while the slow stages provide little air flow for drivers struggling with the heat.

Citroen have not won three rallies in succession before but Loeb, who started off the season with a win in Monte Carlo, sounded confident.

"It's been a good start to the season. Better even, to my eyes, than last year," he said.

"In 2004 our third win, which came in Cyprus, was awarded to me after the event. This year I scored my third win in Sardinia after a straight fight with my closest rival, just as I did in New Zealand."

The Frenchman will have the disadvantage of being 'sweeper', the first on the road as championship leader, when drivers leave Limassol for Friday's first leg.

"The stages are the same as 2004 and I hope they don't cut up too much," said Loeb. "Last year we had the impression that they were just as we had left them after two runs in 2003."

Ford hope to celebrate a milestone on Sunday afternoon with a 50th successive finish in the points, a record-breaking sequence that started in Monte Carlo at the start of the 2002 season.

Finland's Toni Gardemeister is fifth in the standings for Ford and has scored in all five rounds so far this year.

Drivers face 326.68 km of special stages in a total route of 1063.92 km. The rally ends in Limassol on Sunday.

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