Ingram takes control of ERC title race as Al-Attiyah wins in Cyprus
Chris Ingram has taken a vital podium finish in the race for the FIA European Rally Championship title on the Cyprus Rally, while Nasser Al-Attiyah took a record sixth Cyprus win.
A trio of stage wins on Sunday morning ensured Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel had a comfortable gap for the final loop of the rally in their Autotek Motorsport Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Alexey Lukyanuk (Saintéloc Junior Team) had been all set for second position, electing to take a steadier approach rather than try to chase after Al-Attiyah. But disaster struck on stage 10, when a technical failure little more than a kilometre from the finish of Kapouras ended his challenge.
That promoted last year’s event winner Simos Galatariotis (Petrolina Racing Team) to a popular second place, the reigning Cypriot champion well behind Al-Attiyah but clear of Chris Ingram (Toksport WRT).
Ingram’s third place was a vital result in light of Lukyanuk’s retirement, giving him an 18-point title advantage over Łukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Technologies).
Habaj had been battling Ingram for fourth position early on in leg two, reducing the gap down to 6.2s after stage eight. But a spin on stage nine cost Habaj half a minute, and his rally got worse from there.
An electrical fault left Habaj unable to use more than 30 per cent throttle on his ŠKODA Fabia R5 during the afternoon loop, costing him nearly two minutes across three stages. To add salt to the wound, his intercom began to fail on Kourdali, the middle stage of the final loop.
Those factors combined dropped him behind Mikko Hirvonen (MM-Motorsport) into fifth place, though he managed to keep the charging Niki Mayr-Melnhof at bay.
Hirvonen’s one-off ERC appearance was about “having fun” and the 15-time World Rally Championship event winner got stuck into Cyprus Rally’s twisty roads, completing an incident-free rally in fourth place, a minor brake issue on Saturday his only cause for concern.
Behind Habaj, Mayr-Melnhof finally had a chance to show off his true pace, finishing leg two as the third-fastest driver ahead of both Ingram and Hirvonen. The Austrian had begun Sunday down in P11 after an array of technical woes had slowed his Ford Fiesta R5 on Saturday, but he bounced back emphatically and picked his way up to sixth, finishing only 19.6s behind Habaj.
Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Baumschlager Rallye & Racing) scored his best result of the ERC season with seventh place, ending a run of three retirements in a row by turning in an extremely consistent performance, setting top 10 times on all but the opening stage of the rally.
Emilio Fernàndez (Toksport WRT) clinched eighth place on his Cyprus Rally debut, with Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Norbert Herczig (MOL Racing Team) completing the top 10. Al-Kuwari had started the day eighth and at the head of a multi-car midfield battle but quickly fell back to P11, recovering to ninth thanks to problems for others.
One of those drivers was Herczig, who had been going toe-to-toe with Mayr-Melnhof as both rocketed up the leaderboard. But a landing impact broke Herczig’s front driveshaft on stage eight, costing him several minutes and dropping him to the back of the multi-car fight.
Paulo Nobre (Palmeirinha Rally) finished a solid P11 ahead of Tibor Érdi Jr (Érdi Team Kft.). The ŠKODA Fabia R5 pair had begun leg two fighting tooth and nail, at one point separated by just 0.1s, but the battle went decisively in Nobre’s favour when Érdi was delayed by an off into a stream, which resulted in his car’s radiator filling with mud and quickly overheating.
Rakan Al-Rashed (Toksport WRT) joined Lukyanuk on the retirements list but was out even earlier, only making it eight kilometres into the first stage of leg two before a power steering fire ended his rally.