Paphos ready for action; Local drivers looking to capitalise on coefficient 1.5 event.Â Final preparations for the Paphos International Rally are well underway â€“ and itâ€™s going to be an exhilarating event.
Round 4 of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC)
Round 4 of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), the Paphos International Rally will see championship leader Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi go head-to-head with second placed Nasser Al-Attiyah in a battle royale under the blazing Cyprus sun.
But the action wonâ€™t be limited to the battle for the MERC lead, as the rally will also play a vital role in this yearâ€™s Cyprus Championship.
Fighting for the Cyprus Championship
After three rounds, Michalis Posidias sits top of the local leaderboard with 61 points.Â Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X alongside co-driver Phanos Christophi, Posidias will be hoping to put the coefficient 1.5 status of the first Paphos International Rally to good use and drastically extend his lead.
â€œThis is a challenging and technical rally and I believe that everything will be decided on the second day,â€ said Posidias this week, â€œBoth myself and my co-driver are ready and our primary goal is to finish the event, preferably as the highest placed Cyprus crew.â€
Of course, the competition wonâ€™t make it easy for him. Marinos Patroclou, the winner of this yearâ€™s Adonis Rally, currently sits second in the Cyprus Championship and will also be keen to secure points and close the 18 point gap between him and Posidias.
Patroclou, who will field a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI alongside Marios Nicou, said: â€œThis is a very challenging rally and we will drive fast but carefully. We need the points and are looking to secure a good position overall.â€
Constantinos Tingirides - a familiar face for fans of the local rally scene – will be hoping to bring his considerable experience to bear in Paphos over the weekend, fielding an Evo IX with co-driver Panayiotis Shialos. Currently fourth overall, a good finish here this weekend could see Tingirides move up the leaderboard.
Speaking ahead of the event, Tingirides said: â€œWe’ve been ready for this rally for some time now. We are treating this event very seriously because we are sure it will prove very important for us in the Cyprus Championship. The foreign teams are definitely very challenging opponents, but what counts for us is top position among the Cypriot teams and the coefficient points.â€
Fighting for the Middle East Rally Championship
In terms of the Middle East Championship, just a single point separates the two championship leaders and Qatarâ€™s Al-Attiyah will be hoping that his impressive run of victories on Cyprus MERC events will give him the edge and allow him to take over the championship lead.
Al-Attiyah will be driving a Ford Fiesta S2000 alongside co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, but Al-Qassimi of the United Arab Emirates wonâ€™t make it easy for him.
Al Qassimi, who will also be fielding an S2000 Fiesta with co-driver Steve Lancaster, acknowledged Al-Attiyahâ€™s past successes in Cyprus events this week.Â He said, Â â€œNasser is definitely the favourite here in Cyprus, but in rallying you can never secure things until the very last kilometre of the last stage, so letâ€™s wait and see. My plan is to secure the highest possible championship points to maintain my lead for the MERC. The S2000 is a very reliable and strong car that is built for rallying, but I’m still new to the car, and I hope I can do well here.â€
Action has already started
Reconnaissance for this weekendâ€™s event got underway at 7am on Wednesday 29 June and will continue on Thursday 30 June, ahead of Friday eveningâ€™s Ceremonial Start in front of Paphosâ€™ impressive fort.
The centre of the Paphos International Rally will be the coastal resortâ€™s most popular tourist area next to the harbour and the townâ€™s impressive a archeological park.
The Service Park, which opened on Tuesday 28 June, is also located there and is already a hub of activity as teams and organisers make their final preparations.
Strong Middle East representation
An impressive line-up of the regionâ€™s top driving talent will take to the start ramp on Friday evening, including Rashid Al Ketbi of the United Arab Emirates, who currently sits third on the leaderboard in his Skoda Fabia S2000.
Speaking ahead of this weekendâ€™s competition, Al Ketbi said: â€œI have come here to improve my technical skills. I know this is a very technical rally. I am still looking to get maximum points here. I will be driving fast but very carefully. Obviously Nasser will be a challenge but I aim to come as close to him as possible. There are three drivers in the running for the title and I am sure we will put everything into thisâ€¦ I will make sure that the crowd is entertained with top driving!â€
No fewer than four crews have travelled from Kuwait for the rally, including Essam Al Nejadi and Mufeed Mubarak (who currently share fourth place in the championship), Al Nejadiâ€™s brother Mishaal Al Nejadi (who currently sits tenth), and Mshari Al-Thefiri (twelfth).
Lebanonâ€™s Michel Saleh (ninth) and Nicolas Amiouni will also compete, while the rest of the field will, with the exception of Ukraineâ€™s Volodymyr Pechenyk, be made up of an array of Cypriot talent.
Saturday and Sunday – action packed special stages
Saturday and Sunday will see crews cover a total of 732.94km, including 252.2km of Special Stages.
The Paphos International Rally will finish at 17:51 on Sunday 3 July, followed by a prize giving ceremony later that evening.
2011 will see Cyprus host two major international rallying events. The Cyprus Rally is one of the best known rallies on the international stage and the 2011 event will take place on 3-5 November. It will serve as the twelfth â€“ and final – round of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) calendar.
The Paphos International Rally is organised by the Cyprus Automobile Association (CAA).
Fancy a taster of what’s to come?
Enjoy this 3min 3sec video of the 2010 IRC FxPro Cyprus Rally.