How leg two unfolded: ERC lead battle goes down to the wire in Cyprus

How leg two unfolded: ERC lead battle goes down to the wire in Cyprus

18.06.2018: FIA European Rally Championship 2018: Round 4 of 8 Cyprus Rally: Leg two report, 17 June Wevers Sport-run Juuso Nordgren, the ŠKODA Motorsport-backed youngster from Finland, had gone into Leg Two with a 4.

FIA European Rally Championship 2018: Round 4 of 8
Cyprus Rally: Leg two report, 17 June



Wevers Sport-run Juuso Nordgren, the ŠKODA Motorsport-backed youngster from Finland, had gone into Leg Two with a 4.6s lead over Galatariotis, and despite a pledge to keep his driving clean and sensible, managed to extend his lead to 7.3 seconds after two stages.
 


From there Cyprus lost its second major victory contender after Alexey Lukyanuk’s retirement on Saturday afternoon. Nordgren rolled his ŠKODA Fabia R5 only one corner into the Lageia stage, losing a minute and dropping out of the podium places.
 


Nordgren’s mistake following a fine run gave Galatariotis his first taste of first place, but pressure was strong from behind. Bruno Magalhães was only 3.3s adrift, while Nasser Al-Attiyah was recovering rapidly from a double puncture late on Saturday.
 


Though Galatariotis had increased his margin over a cautious Magalhães to 12.7s by midday service, Al-Attiyah closed in further, 18.3.s in arrears. By now Nordgren had fallen out of contention altogether, retiring from a separate incident to his roll one stage later.
 


The lead battle quickly became a two-horse race, Magalhães backing off to secure ERC championship points and allowing his two rivals to take control out front. Al-Attiyah turned in a storming drive through PSALTIS AUTOPARTS Golden Stage 1, 17.0s quicker than Magalhães and 20.6s ahead of Galatariotis to vault both and steal first place away with one stage remaining.
 


Magalhães’ safety-first approach would be vindicated however, as one of the most exciting finishes in ERC history played out amongst those in full attack mode. As onlookers awaited Al-Attiyah’s arrival at the finish of the ENEOS Golden Stage 2, it was Magalhães who arrived first after he overtook the stricken Al-Attiyah late on in the final stage. The Qatari's hopes of a record-extending sixth win were over.
 


This would surely hand victory to Galatariotis, yet the Cyprus Rally was not finished creating more drama. A front-right puncture meant Galatariotis was half a minute off the pace, though he clung on to a first ERC victory by the smallest of margins. An 11.4s advantage had been slashed to 0.6s as Galatariotis crossed the final flying finish.
 


Al-Attiyah dropped to fourth place after trying his best to press ahead with a slow puncture to his front right tyre. Despite his best efforts, it risked causing extensive damage to his Ford Fiesta R5, so a spell on the side of the road to change it for a spare was required.
 


Behind Galatariotis and Magalhães was MOL Racing Team’s Nobert Herczig, picking up his second consecutive ERC podium finish. After SS2 on Saturday he had been down in ninth overall, but methodically climbed his way up the order. He lost only 10.2s to eventual winner Galatariotis across Sunday’s six stages, showing how quickly he had improved on his first ever Cyprus Rally appearance.
 


Behind Al-Attiyah, a large midfield scrap carried over from Saturday and continued well into Sunday, eventually headed by Orhan Avcioğlu. It was the Toksport WRT driver’s best ERC result to date, executing a measured drive on Sunday after a fence-demolishing trip through a field the day before.
 


Vojtĕch Štajf turned the tables on his old ERC2 rival Dávid Botka in their battle over what would become sixth position. Štajf started with a 14.5s deficit to Botka, whom he had been defeated by for the ERC2 title in 2015, but turned this into a 13.4s advantage by rally end.
 


A pivotal moment in their battle came away from the special stages in a road section leading up to SS8. Botka missed a turning and arrived two minutes late, incurring a 20-second penalty to hand Štajf a position he would not relinquish.
 


Behind Botka in seventh was Albert von Thurn und Taxis, who was elated to have survived Cyprus’ treacherous stages and record his first ERC points finish of 2018 with eighth place. Despite starting first on the road and road-sweeping for all those behind him, he kept a steady pace all day, starting 4.6s behind Štajf and finishing 4.7s behind Botka.
 


Petros Panteli not only scored his first ERC2 category win, but dovetailed his production success with ninth overall in the full ERC classification. Though his heavier Q8 Oils Rally Team Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X could not keep pace with the more-nimble R5 machines of his rivals, he held off his fellow compatriot Alexandros Tsouloftas by only 5.6s.
 


Tsouloftas had executed a stunning comeback drive on Sunday, going fastest across Sunday’s five stages to win Leg Two and take a maximum seven bonus points. He had retired late on Saturday from a potential podium position with a broken wishbone, but bounced back emphatically come Sunday.



 Tsouloftas topped up his P10 finish and day victory with a double win in the Cyprus Rally’s Golden Stage, taking home a cash prize as both the quickest overall driver and also the fastest Cypriot.
 


Michalis Posedias brought his production-spec Lancer to the finish P11, while ERC3 category winner Laurent Pellier completed the Cyprus Rally P12, a fantastic result given he was piloting a less powerful front-wheel-drive R2-specification PEUGEOT 208.
 



Richard Rodgers, photos FIA ERC DPPI

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18.06.2018 / MaP

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