Cyprus Rally - 27-29 Sep 19

Posted: September 27, 2019 3:08 PM - 1076 Hits

Round 7 - 2019 European Rally Championship (ERC)
Counting Round - 2019 FIA Middle East Rally Championship

ERC event preview: Cyprus Rally

Posted: September 27, 2019 3:08 PM

Overview
One of the toughest events on the international motorsport calendar takes place at one of the most exciting times in the recent history of the FIA European Rally Championship next week.

With two 2019 rounds remaining and three drivers locked in the fight for the coveted title, the Cyprus Rally in Nicosia from 27-29 September marks a potentially decisive point of the all-action ERC season.

Chris Ingram (Toksport WRT) heads defending champion Alexey Lukyanuk (Saintéloc Junior Team) by one point with ?ukasz Habaj (Sports Racing Technologies) 10 points shy of Ingram, who is bidding to become the second ERC champion from Great Britain since Vic Elford triumphed in 1967.

While Habaj and Ingram will be Cyprus Rally rookies when they are flagged over the start ramp on Larnaca’s seafront next Friday evening (27 September), their lack of experience compared to rival Lukyanuk – who won the event in 2016 – is offset by a route revamp for this year.

By switching the event’s base from Larnaca in the south back to Nicosia towards the north, organisers have been able to include some of the semi-mountainous stages around the country’s capital with two stages not used since 2009 returning to the fold. But while some of the stages will be new to the bulk of the ERC crews, the intense heat, punishing, rock-strewn roads – some with asphalt sections – will continue to create a hugely tough test for car and crew.

Although the pulsating ERC title battle will grab the limelight in Cyprus, the entry list is full of intrigue, not least because of the inclusion of sporting all-rounder Nasser Al-Attiyah and former factory World Rally Championship driver Mikko Hirvonen. But while Al-Attiyah will be chasing a record-extending sixth Cyprus Rally win (he also won the country’s now-defunct Troodos Rally nine times), Hirvonen is competing with the sole intention of “having fun” in a Ford Fiesta R5 run by Markko Märtin’s MM-Motorsport team.

Simos Galatariotis became the first local driver since Nicos Thomas in 2008 to claim victory on the Cyprus Rally when he triumphed on last year’s event, albeit by a slender margin of 0.6s. His success put him on a list of winners that includes rallying heavyweights such as Stig Blomqvist, Marcus Grönholm, Sébastien Loeb, Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg, Ari Vatanen and Björn Waldegård. Several title-winning drivers will also be in action on the Cyprus Rally, while the ERC2 and ERC3 categories are well supported.

Twelve stages – including the mixed-surface Nicosia superspecial – over a competitive distance of 199.76 kilometres are in store as the start of the 48th Cyprus Rally – which counts for FIA ERC, FIA Middle East and Cypriot championship points – gets ever closer.

Cyprus Rally in 100 words
The Cyprus Rally has put car and crew to a significant test since 1970. And while the current format is a little less taxing than it once was, underestimating the challenging nature of this rallying heavyweight is a big mistake. Although fundamentally a gravel rally, some Tarmac sections feature, while punishing ambient and ground temperatures are a factor. Returning to Nicosia for 2019 has resulted in mountain stages around the capital being revived. The street stage through the United Nations-controlled Buffer Zone between Nicosia’s Greek Cypriot and Turkish inhabited areas continues remains on the combined ERC and Middle East rally.

What’s new for 2019?
Having run in June last season, this year’s Cyprus Rally takes place in September for the first time since 2015. Nicosia takes over from Larnaca as host of the service park, headquarters and media centre, which has resulted in semi-mountainous stages around the capital being included, some of which have been absent from the itinerary since 2009. However, Larnaca continues to host the start and finish ceremonies.

Changes to the ERC for 2019 include the renaming of the ERC Junior categories: ERC Junior Under 28 becomes ERC1 Junior, ERC Junior U27 becomes ERC3 Junior with continued support from Pirelli. R4-K and RGT cars are eligible for ERC2 points, the Abarth Rally Cup will be contested over six ERC rounds, while Rally Hungary joins the calendar for the first time as the deciding round in November.

Talking points
*Chris Ingram’s Cyprus Rally participation was made possible after his mother, Jo, launched a crowd-funding campaign. The Briton is one of four drivers representing the Toksport WRT outfit, which also features Rakan Al-Rashed from Saudi Arabia, Chilean Emilio Fernández and Turkey’s Orhan Avcioglu.
*Defending European champion Alexey Lukyanuk has experienced a love/hate relationship with the Cyprus Rally. After winning in 2016, the Russian crashed his Ford Fiesta R5 in 2018, on what was his 100thrally. He returns this year in a Citroën C3 R5.
*Although the Cyprus Rally is unchartered territory for ERC title contender ?ukasz Habaj, the Pole has contested the Acropolis Rally in Greece in the past, which, like Cyprus is an event characterised by high ambient temperatures and rugged terrain.
*Nasser Al-Attiyah, a word title-winning rally driver, former Dakar victor and Olympic Games medallist, will be out for revenge in Cyprus: he was leading starting the final stage of last year’s event only for a puncture to drop him to fourth place. That left local hero Simos Galatariotis to take a maiden home win.
*Al-Attiyah’s fellow Qatari, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, has claimed two podiums in the Middle East championship this season, his first rallying campaign since 2016.
*Ex-GT racer and 2018 Austrian rally champion Niki Mayr-Melnhof is using his Cyprus Rally debut as a prelude to a full ERC campaign in 2020. Meanwhile, Albert von Thurn und Taxis, another ex-GT driver, finished fifth on his first Cyprus Rally in 2017.
*Brazilian Paulo Nobre contested Turkey’s world championship counter earlier this month to warm up for the Cyprus Rally, which he’ll contest in his familiar Palmeirinha Rally-run Fabia.
*Tibor Érdi Jr, the double ERC2 champion from Hungary, made his only start in Cyprus back in 2015 but ended up at the bottom of a ravine after going off the road. He returns this year aiming for his first European championship points since switching to a top-of-the-range ŠKODA Fabia R5.
*Compatriot Norbert Herczig, a winner of his national title four times, finished third in Cyprus last season. The MOL Racing Team ace is back this year in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
*Mikko Hirvonen, a factory driver for Citroën and Ford in the World Rally Championship, has two Cyprus Rally podiums to his name. The Finn is making a shock, but purely for fun, ERC appearance on an event he has likened to the Dakar Rally, which he’s tackled on three occasions.
*Czech Tomáš Kurka and Cypriots Andreas Psaltis and Panayiotis Yiangou, who competes in a Hyundai i20 R5, complete the ERC1 class contingent.
*Argentina’s Juan Carlos Alonso will continue his bid for ERC2 title glory in Cyprus where his opposition will include Kuwait driver Mshari Althefiri, Russian Dmitry Feofanov, plus Cypriot trio Antonis Chilimindris, Louis Papageorgiou and Petros Panteli, the ERC2 class winner in 2018.
*The Peugeot Rally Academy has recruited ERC3 Junior ace Efrén Llarena for what will be the Spaniard’s Cyprus Rally debut.
*Ex-downhill mountain bike champion Erik Cais is set to take the fight to Llarena in his ACCR Czech Rally Team-entered Ford Fiesta R2T for what will also be his first Cyprus start.
*Florian Bernardi, another ERC3 contender and Cyprus rookie, will be in action in his familiar Renault Clio R3T as he continues to build his limited loose-surface experience.
*Christos Mannouris and Konstantinos Televantos will fly the Cypriot flag in ERC3, while Orhan Avcioglu is making his third ERC3 start following his European championship comeback in the summer.

Driver views

Juan Carlos Alonso (Argentina), ERC2
“We are going to Cyprus to win the ERC2 championship. The last race in Zlín was really good for us, a real odyssey. Now we are trying to chase the championship.”

Orhan Avcioglu (Turkey), ERC3, Toksport WRT
“Cyprus is really, really hard on the car and really, really hard on the body because of the heat so you need to manage both. You need to keep electrolytes coming into the body, look after the car and try to see where you are at the end of the first day and push on the second day if you can. It’s a delicate balance.”

?ukasz Habaj (Poland), ERC1, Sports Racing Technologies
“Every rally is exciting but this one will be special because it will be my first time and of course it is very important for our fight for the title. The season is at its highest moment. There is no room for any mistakes or calculations anymore. I know it is a very hot island this time of the year and that organisers have brought back some stages driven when the Cyprus Rally used to be a world championship event, so I expect them to be extremely rough and tough for us and for our car. We are extremely focused and motivated and keep working hard to be as effective as possible. The second part of the season was not as good as first so far but I hope Cyprus will bring back the fortune. In the past it was quite lucky rally for polish drivers.”

Mikko Hirvonen (Finland), ERC1, MM-Motorsport
“I have fond memories of the Cyprus Rally from the world championship, having finished twice on the podium. But the podium will be the last thing on my mind when I return later this month because this is about having fun on a challenging rally. I always enjoyed visiting Cyprus and there’s a bit of a ‘Dakar’ feel to some of the stages. Having contested the Dakar three times, I like this kind of challenge, which is more about driving with a bit strategy rather than going flat out. I’ve known Markko Märtin for a long time and Cyprus is a great place to go to this time of year. It’s a well-organised and demanding event.”

Chris Ingram (Great Britain), ERC1, Toksport WRT
“Losing the ERC1 Junior title [on Barum Czech Rally Zlín] has made me a stronger driver. Before then it had been a rubbish year because I’ve been in a bad place mentally and not driving like me. But I’ve proved to myself that by relaxing as much as possible we have got the pace, definitely so now we need to find a way to fight for the overall title. That’s one of my life ambitions. I need to stay positive and stay focused.”

Efrén Llarena (Spain), ERC3, Peugeot Rally Academy
“Firstly, I am really grateful to the Peugeot Rally Academy for this fantastic opportunity to represent it on the Cyprus Rally and to build my experience on what I know will be a very demanding event. I am also really pleased for Sara [Fernández, my co-driver]. I have achieved my objective for this season, but Sara has worked so hard and deserves to be recognised for her outstanding ability as a co-driver. I will do all I can to repay Peugeot Rally Academy for the faith it has shown in us and to help Sara win the ERC3 Co-Drivers’ title with a good result in Cyprus.”

Alexey Lukyanuk (Russia), ERC1, Saintéloc Junior Team
“It’s a very good but a very tough rally at the same time. A lot of unexpected things can happen like stones [on the line] but normally we enjoy and we go fast there.”

Ekaterina Stratieva (Bulgaria), ERC3, Saintéloc Junior Team
“I feel so excited and happy. The Cyprus Rally will be a big challenge because it’s an unknown race for me and I don’t have so much experience on gravel. I always wanted to participate on this rally but without my partners from Petrol it would have stayed in my dreams. I will have the honour to start with a Peugeot 208 R2, but this time from Saintéloc Racing. I always secretly dreamed and hoped to have a really great team like this to stand behind me. I will trust fully their competence and experience to help me with set-up suggestions for the car on the gravel roads. This will be my co-driver Georgi Avramov’s first gravel rally.”

Head to head: Cais v Llarena
Erik Cais (Czech Republic) and Efrén Llarena (Spain) were among the frontrunners in this season’s Pirelli-supported FIA ERC3 Junior Championship with the support of their respective ASNs. After impressing in ERC3 Junior, both will continue their bids for ERC3 title glory on the Cyprus Rally, which they’ll both be contesting for the first time.

Form guide: Nasser Al-Attiyah
With a record five Cyprus Rally wins (plus nine on the now defunct Troodos Rally, previously a Middle East championship qualifier), Nasser Al-Attiyah is traditionally the driver to beat on the Cyprus Rally, which he’ll contest this year in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.

How to follow?
On TV and online: Live coverage of selected stages on Facebook. Daily highlights on Eurosport, Eurosport Player. Videos on YouTube. ERC All Access on Eurosport on 1 October. Event highlights broadcast around the world.
Videos, news update and live timing: Available at FIAERC.com
ERC Radio: Live from the end of all stages and selected service park visits. Available at FIAERC.com or download the official ERC App
Social media: Follow the ERC on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
Daily news feed: Available on request by emailing media@fiaerc.com

Hirvonen up for Cyprus ERC fun in the sun
A four-time runner-up in the world championship, Mikko Hirvonen will contest the ERC-counting Cyprus Rally in a Ford Fiesta R5 run by Markko Märtin’s MM-Motorsport team. His fellow Finn Jarno Ottman will co-drive.
“I have fond memories of the Cyprus Rally from the world championship, having finished twice on the podium,” said the 39-year-old. “But the podium will be the last thing on my mind when I return later this month because this is about having fun on a challenging rally. I always enjoyed visiting Cyprus and there’s a bit of a ‘Dakar’ feel to some of the stages. Having contested the Dakar three times, I like this kind of challenge, which is more about driving with a bit strategy rather than going flat out. I’ve known Markko Märtin for a long time and Cyprus is a great place to go to this time of year. It’s a well-organised and demanding event.” Hirvonen, who made five ERC appearances prior to his step up to world level, prepared for the Cyprus Rally with an outing on the all-gravel Lõuna-Eesti Ralli earlier this month. “Although I’m not going to be paying too much attention to my stage times in Cyprus, I said to Markko I’d prefer to have some knowledge of the Fiesta and his team before Cyprus. Doing the event in Estonia was good practice and it was actually quite useful because we had a small technical problem that could easily have occurred in Cyprus had we not found it in Estonia.”

Excited and happy Stratieva continues ERC comeback adventure in Cyprus
Ekaterina Stratieva will continue her FIA European Rally Championship return on the Cyprus Rally. The 2015 ERC Ladies’ Trophy winner finished second in class on her Barum Czech Rally Zlín comeback last month. Although she harboured ambitions of tackling more events, she admits the prospect of competing on the Cyprus Rally, which takes place from 27-29 September, was just a dream until main partner Petrol stepped forward.
“I feel so excited and happy,” said the Bulgarian. “The Cyprus Rally will be a big challenge because it’s an unknown race for me and I don’t have so much experience on gravel. I always wanted to participate on this rally but without my partners from Petrol it would have stayed in my dreams. Like in Zlín I will have the honour to start with a Peugeot 208 R2, but this time from Saintéloc Racing. I always secretly dreamed and hoped to have a really great team like this to stand behind me. I will trust fully their competence and experience to help me with set-up suggestions for the car on the gravel roads.” Stratieva has not competed on gravel since 2014 when she took part on the ERC counters in Azores, Greece and Latvia. Her co-driver, Georgi Avramov, meanwhile, has never rallied on a loose-surface event before.

Five facts:
1: The Cyprus Rally’s origins date back to 1970 when Victor Zachariades won in a Fiat 125. Although he didn't take part, 1967 ERC champion Vic Elford formed part of the route-planning team.
2: While Nasser Al-Attiyah is the rally’s most successful driver with five victories, other winners include Stig Blomqvist, Marcus Grönholm, Sébastien Loeb, Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg, Ari Vatanen, Björn Waldegård and current European championship leader Alexey Lukyanuk, who took top honours in 2016.
3: There have been 10 ‘home’ winners of the Cyprus Rally since the first edition in 1970. Prior to Simos Galatariotis and Antonios Ioannou winning in 2018 by 0.6s in a dramatic final-stage decider, Nicos Thomas and Spiros Georgiou were the last Cypriot pair to triumph back in 2008.
4: The Cyprus Rally has formed part of the ERC calendar in its various formats since 1978. From 2014 it’s been ever-present on the European roster when the event was based in Nicosia after a spell in Pafos.
5: Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily and Sardinia. There are 380 rural villages in the republic, while Mount Olympus in the Troodos Range peaks at 1951 metres.

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