Al-Attiyah takes early ERC Cyprus Rally lead
Nasser Al-Attiyah has stormed into an early lead of the Cyprus Rally, winning all three Saturday morning stages to gain a 26s lead over his FIA European Rally Championship rivals.
Reigning Middle East champion Al-Attiyah built up the bulk of his lead on stage two, Lefkara, which is the longest of the rally at 23.23 kilometres. He gained 15.1s over Alexey Lukyanuk (Saintéloc Junior Team) on that stage, and the reigning ERC champion remains second overall.
“We were pushing like hell. If you see the rear tyre, it’s completely finished,” said Al-Attiyah after his stage two push aboard his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
“I did everything to do a good stage but it’s not easy to push all the way. This is my [best] chance, because it’s a 23-kilometre stage. We did a really good job and I am happy.”
Despite his advantage out front, the Qatari reported a scare nearing the finish of SS3. “For the last kilometre we lose the link of the gearbox and the pin fall down. We were lucky we find the pin in the sump guard and we fix it again. We were very lucky.”
Though Lukyanuk was unable to keep up with the five-time Cyprus Rally winner, his main goal of retaining the ERC title is on track, with new points leader Chris Ingram (Toksport WRT) in fourth and Łukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Technologies) in fifth.
Both are trailing last year’s Cyprus Rally winner Simos Galatariotis (Petrolina Racing Team) in third. The home favourite was metronomic in cementing his third place, setting third-fastest times in the first two stages, though Ingram clawed back 2.6s on the loop-ending Analiontas test to reduce his deficit to 16s.
Ingram’s “safe strategy” had finally paid dividends on stage three when he passed Habaj for fourth and established a 7.8s gap over the eSky Rally Team driver, though he is over a minute behind his closest championship rival Lukyanuk.
Mikko Hirvonen (MM-Motorsport) had run fourth early on before falling behind the duelling title rivals on the long Lefkara test. But he remains within striking distance, only 10.3s behind Habaj.
Tibor Érdi Jr. (Érdi Team Kft.) was running last on the road amongst the ERC1 entries due to a breakdown on Friday’s Qualifying Stage. That late running order appeared to work in his favour, running only 8.5s behind 15-time world rally winner Hirvonen in seventh place.
Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Baumschlager Rallye & Racing), Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Niki Mayr-Melnhof complete the top 10, despite Mayr-Melnhof’s car showing so many warning lights that he felt like he was “driving a Christmas tree” on stage two.
Norbert Herczig (MOL Racing Team) climbed from P33 to P12 over three stages, having started with a two-minute handicap due to a penalty for his team for infringing the rules when it was carrying out camera location checks pre-event.
Such was Herczig’s consistently quick pace, he would be fourth overall without his penalty.
Rakan Al-Rashed (Toksport WRT) is down in last place due to an unusual problem: his throttle pedal wouldn’t reset to the off position after being pushed, so an elastic string was put in place for coming off the throttle.
Al-Rashed lost nearly eight minutes on the opening stage when stopping to address the fault, then dropped another two minutes when his attempted fix on the road section between SS1 and SS2 was unsuccessful.
Andreas Psaltis (Psaltis Auto Parts) had been running eighth early on but retired on stage two with an engine failure.
Petros Panteli (Q8 Oils Rally Team) is leading the ERC2 production category, while ERC3 Junior champion* Efrén Llarena leads the ERC3 class on his Peugeot Rally Academy debut.
*Subject to confirmation of the results by the FIA