Event preview: ERC aces facing ultimate test on Cyprus Rally
For more than four decades, the Cyprus Rally has put car and crew to a significant test. And while the current format is a little less taxing than it once was, underestimating the demanding nature of this rallying heavyweight would be a big mistake.
Although it’s fundamentally a gravel rally, a handful of sections take place on asphalt, which will further increase the challenge when the event gets underway from its new base in Larnaca from 15-17 June.
Add to the mix the searing ambient and ground temperatures, and it quickly becomes clear why the Cyprus Rally is ranked as an ultimate test of driver and car.
Chosen by the FIA, motorsport’s global governing body, for having the best volunteer organising team in the world following the 2017 edition, Cyprus Rally bosses have built on that recognition with a new base, overhauled route and impressive 65-car entry, with 50 contesting the ERC-counting international event.
Among the drivers in action is Nasser Al-Attiyah, the most celebrated driver in Cyprus Rally history with a record five wins – plus eight on the country’s Troodos Rally for good measure. The Qatari’s last victory came in 2017 when he revealed just why he’s so prolific on the Cypriot stages.
“There is no secret but I work very hard and we have the experience,” said the Autotek Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5 driver. “The rally is a mix between slow stage, medium stage and fast stage and we need to manage the speed on the different stage. The hot weather is no problem because we do a lot of race like the Dakar Rally where we stay 12 hours inside the car in hot temperatures. But we know this race is really hard and very hot. It’s my favourite rally and we try to do our best.”
Following his crucial EKO Acropolis Rally victory last time out, Bruno Magalhães will head to Cyprus rejuvenated and firmly back in the title fight in his ARC Sport ŠKODA Fabia R5. Without a 2018 win prior to his Greek triumph, SEAJETS-backed Magalhães is now 14 points behind Alexey Lukyanuk, who suffered his first retirement of 2018 in Greece when he broke his Ford Fiesta R5’s suspension on a rock.
Lukyanuk has vowed to “look positively and focus” to ensure the Acropolis was just a temporary blip for the otherwise excellent Russian, while Portugal’s Magalhães is just relieved to be heading to Cyprus after only learning he’d have the budget to take part shortly after celebrating his win in Greece.
Add Norbert Herczig and fellow Acropolis podium finisher Hubert Ptaszek, local aces Simos Galatariotis and Alexandros Tsouloftas, ŠKODA-backed Juuso Nordgren and a host of other ERC regulars such as Orhan Avcioǧlu, Dávid Botka, Paulo Nobre and Albert von Thurn und Taxis, and this year’s Cyprus Rally is set to produce the usual blend of intense competition, drama and excitement.
To mark the Cyprus Rally’s return to the ERC roster in 2014 for the first time since 1999, a ground-breaking street stage through the United Nations-controlled Buffer Zone between Nicosia’s Greek Cypriot and Turkish inhabited areas was organised and generated considerable interest, including within the UN. However, while the stage remains on the 2018 itinerary, what have been described by the event organisers as “technical issues” means the stage won’t venture into Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus this year.
With 13 stages over a timed distance of 204.92 kilometres, the Cypus Rally begins with Free Practice and Qualifying on 15 June followed by two days of action north and west of Larnaca.
ERC2: Panteli seeks home reward
With Tibor Érdi Jr and Sergei Remennik using next month’s Rally di Roma Capitale for their next scoring opportunity, Juan Carlos Alonso and Zelindo Melegari will be aiming to take advantage of their absence by adding to their season totals. And after crashing out of the podium battle in Greece, Argentine Alonso will be eager to do just that. Petros Panteli will also be searching for a strong finish to make up for his Acropolis disappointment when a mechanical failure on the final stage ruled out a seemingly certain third place. Cypriot youngster Panikos Polykarpou – second overall among the ERC runners in Cyprus last year – Michalis Posedias and Andreas Psaltis will also be in the hunt for production category points.
ERC3: Saintéloc youngsters in the battle for class success
Saintéloc Junior Team drivers Catie Munnings and Laurent Pellier will form part of an exciting ERC3 line-up on the Cyprus Rally, with Pellier stepping back from the ERC Junior Under 28 Championship to showcase the pace and strength of the PEUGEOT 208 on what is a traditionally demanding rally. Russia’s Artur Muradian was quick but out of luck in Greece, while Canary Islander Emma Falcón won stages and plaudits on the Acropolis for not giving up despite worsening brake problems. And her determination was rewarded with top ERC Ladies’ Trophy points. Hungarian Norbert Bereczki makes his ERC3 debut, while Cypriots Christos Mannouris and Constantinos Televantos complete the ERC3 contingent in their two-wheel-drive machines.
And in other news…
*The Cyprus Rally represents another new event for four-time Hungarian champion Norbert Herczig, who bagged his first ERC podium in Greece in his MOL Racing Team ŠKODA.
*After co-driving his young compatriot Hubert Ptaszek to a fine third place on the EKO Acropolis Rally, Pole Maciej Szczepaniak has joined forces with three-time ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz for this week’s world championship Rally Italia Sardegna. However, he will be back with Ptaszek in Cyprus.
*Promising Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas showed plenty of speed in Greece only for a driveshaft failure to force his exit nearing the end of leg two. Fellow Cypriot Simos Galatariotis, a multiple champion in the country, also impressed in fifth place having upgraded to a ŠKODA Fabia R5 since his last Cyprus Rally appearance in 2017 in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
*Toksport’s Orhan Avcioǧlu, from Turkey, and Motorsport Italia-run Brazilian Paulo Nobre start in Cyprus on the back of scoring their first ERC points in Greece.
*ŠKODA-supported Finn Juuso Nordgren, 21, will continue his experience-building mission on the Cyprus Rally following a stage-winning ERC debut in Greece.
*After linking up with Frank Christian for the EKO Acropolis Rally, the ever-improving Albert von Thurn und Taxis – a former GT racer – is reunited with Belgian co-driver Bjorn Degandt for Cyprus, which means a switch back to English-language pacenotes after German instructions were used in Greece.
*Reigning ERC Junior Under 27 champion Chris Ingram appears on the Cyprus Rally entry list in a Toksport ŠKODA, but a call on his participation depends on his recovery from illness.
*Vojtéch Štajf, who battled Dávid Botka for the ERC2 title in 2015, is a guest entrant for the ACCR Czech Team. The popular Czech is contesting a programme of national and Middle East events in 2018 but has registered for ERC points in Cyprus where he will drive a ŠKODA Fabia R5 for his own team, Racing 21.
*Cypriot drivers Panayiotis Yiangou and Antonis Chilimintris complete the ERC1 runners in a Hyundai i20 R5 and Citroën DS3 R5 respectively.
Watch and listen
Highlights from both legs will be shown on Eurosport and available on Eurosport Player. ERC Radio will broadcast live from stage finishes and selected service park visits.