Cyprus Rally preview: Titles up for grabs on IRC finale

Cyprus Rally preview: Titles up for grabs on IRC finale

26.10.2012: Cyprus Rally, 2-4 November 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, round 13 of 13

Cyprus Rally, 2-4 November 2012
 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, round 13 of 13



OVERVIEW


The all-action Intercontinental Rally Challenge season six reaches its climax in Cyprus from 2-4 November with a star-studded line-up of crews tackling the Mediterranean island’s demanding mixed-surface stages.
 

With 70 per cent of the timed runs on gravel and 30 per cent on asphalt and some stages featuring a combination of both surfaces, driver skill is put to the ultimate test as competitors grapple with compromised levels of handling and grip through the Troodos mountains and surrounding countryside.
 

Based in Pafos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the south-west of the island, the Cyprus Rally first ran in 1970 and its list of illustrious winners includes Stig Blomqvist, Sébastien Loeb, Colin McRae, Ari Vatanen and Björn Wåldegard. Since its inclusion on the IRC calendar for the first time in 2010, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Andreas Mikkelsen have both enjoyed outright success.
 

They will be in action this year with Mikkelsen, the defending IRC champion, starting the event with an unassailable points advantage at the top of the standings in his ŠKODA UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000. The Norwegian, 23, is planning the ultimate victory parade during the two days of competition by chasing a third victory of 2012 alongside co-driver Ola Fløene to seal his second IRC title in style.
 

However, it’s not just the main IRC drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles that will be settled in Cyprus: the IRC Production Cup and IRC 2WD Cup crowns are both up for grabs with several drivers in contention in the two hotly-contested support categories.
 

This year’s Cyprus Rally begins with a ceremonial start on the evening of Friday 2 November followed by the 3.20-kilometre Super Special Stage through the streets of Pafos from 19:00hrs local time. Six stages take place on Saturday 3 November over a competitive distance of 100.32 kilometres, with a further six stages running on Sunday 4 November with 133.62 kilometres timed. The finish will take place in Pafos at 16:56hrs local time on Sunday.


As well as counting as the 13th and final round of the 2012 IRC season, the Cyprus Rally is also the penultimate event of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship schedule.
 


KEY FEATURES



Cyprus used to be synonymous for its punishing tight and twisty rock-strewn gravel tracks but the inclusion of asphalt and smooth loose-surface roads has increased average speeds and made it slightly less hard on car and crew. However, the event remains a tough test with high ambient and ground temperatures adding to the challenge.
 

Of the three repeated stages on the opening day, one takes place on gravel, one is on asphalt and one is on a combination of the two. Sunday’s route features two mixed-surface stages plus the event-closing all-gravel 30.41-kilometre Panayia test, which is the longest of the rally.
 

One of the exciting changes for this year is the inclusion of the 19.43-kilometre Prodromi-Neo Chorio stage, which will run twice on day one. Last year it was used for the Golden Stage Rally and is described by IRC Manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas as a “beautiful and spectacular stage”.
 

Double points will be on offer for all categories in Cyprus, which will only serve to increase the spectacle on offer.



FIVE FACTS

*The origins of the Cyprus Rally date back to what were a combination of road races and reliability trials.

*Andreas Mikkelsen became the fifth IRC champion by winning in 2011 following a five-way title battle.

*Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily and Sardinia – both IRC venues.

*Despite its easterly location, heavy snow is experienced in the Troodos Mountains in the winter months.

*Away from the stages drivers might enjoy a serving of Halloumi cheese, which originated in Cyprus.
 



THE BATTLE FOR VICTORY


It’s a case of (middle) east meets west with leading runners from the FIA Middle East Rally Championship going up against the Intercontinental Rally Challenge regulars on the Cyprus Rally.
 

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah is a seven-time Middle East champion and a huge fan of the Cypriot stages. A London 2012 Olympics bronze medallist in the men’s skeet shooting event, Al-Attiyah is armed with an M-Sport Ford Fiesta RRC and is a firm contender for victory with Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.
 

Andreas Mikkelsen won the Cyprus Rally last season to clinch the IRC title in a thrilling five-way shootout. A Mikkelsen victory would not only confirm the talented youngster as the first back-to-back IRC champion, it would also hand ŠKODA its 28th IRC event victory.
 

Sepp Wiegand has impressed throughout his maiden IRC season for ŠKODA Auto Deutschland and will complete his campaign in Cyprus looking to add to his experience of Super 2000 competition and claim his first podium after coming extremely close on the Sibiu Rally in Romania in July.
 

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi is no stranger to IRC competition having tackled selected events in the past for Kronos Racing. He now competes in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 under the Yazeed Racing banner, also the car of choice for Russian Vasily Gryazin.
 

Khalid Al-Suwaidi, from Qatar, will be at the wheel of a Fiesta RRC, as will multiple Lebanese champion Roger Feghali, who shone on the IRC’s first visit to Cyprus in 2010. Hungarian veteran László Vizin completes the Super 2000 runners eligible for IRC points in a Eurosol Racing Fabia.
 


IRC Production Cup


With Robert Consani switching to his Renault Clio R3 due to his Renault Mégane RS not being homologated for use on gravel events, the French title leader won’t be able to defend his 22-point advantage in Cyprus.


That will play into the hands of Dream Team Ukraine’s Vitaliy Pushkar and Subaru Impreza R4 STI runners Andreas Aigner (Austria) and Marco Tempestini (Romania). Outgoing champion Toshi Arai, from Japan, exciting Finn Jarkko Nikara, Lebanese youngster Nick Georgiou, Germany’s Armin Kremer, Hungarian Miklós Bujdos and Cypriot Charalambos Timotheou will also be in the fight for IRC Production Cup glory.
 


IRC 2WD Cup


While Robert Consani won’t be able to defend his IRC Production Cup lead, he will be firmly in the thick of the scrap for the IRC 2WD Cup in his Renault Clio R3. Consani, from France, holds an 11-point margin over Briton Harry Hunt, who clinched the IRC 2WD Cup title in Cyprus back in 2010. Elsewhere Zacharias Manoli heads the Honda challenge in his Civic, while Menya Krózser switches cars following a heavy crash on the Mabanol Sliven Rally last month.
 


Richard Rodgers,   photo IRC

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26.10.2012 / MaP

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