Once again Qatarâ€™s Nasser Al-Attiyah has showed winning form as international rallying returned to Cyprus today with the inaugural Paphos International Rally – round 4 of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).
Day 1 video action (2min 20sec)
Al-AttiyahÂ makes fast start
With just a single point separating Championship leader Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi of the United Arab Emirates and Al-Attiyah, this was always going to be a thrilling event and Al-Attiyah, looking for his ninth Cyprus MERC win, was quick to make good on his promise to make a fast start to the eventâ€¦ going on to take five of the dayâ€™s six special stages.
Driving a Ford Fiesta S2000 alongside co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, Al-Attiyah stormed through the eventâ€™s opening asphalt special stage at Monashilakas a full 2m 8.6s ahead of Al Qassimi, who is also fielding a Fiesta S2000 with his British co-driver Steve Lancaster.
Tingirides starts strongly
In an impressive display of local talent, Cypriot driver Constantinos Tingirides blasted through the stage second fastest, looking to build on the eventâ€™s coefficient 1.5 status in the local championship to boost his current fourth place position on the leaderboard.
His championship ambitions were helped by Marinos Patroclou (who entered the event second in the local championship) exiting the event in the stage.
SS1 takes its toll
Patroclou wasnâ€™t the only early casualty. Essam Al Nejadi â€“ one of four Kuwaiti crews competing the event â€“ also exited in SS1 with a brake problem.
Rashid Al Ketbi of the UAE, who currently sits third on the leaderboard in his Skoda Fabia S2000, could only manage ninth fastest through SS1.
Tingirides fstest on SS2
Tingirides took the 18.41km second stage at Foinokli 0.9 seconds faster than second fastest Al-Attiyah.
Cypriot Panayiotos Yiangou finished third in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.
SS2 claimed current Cyprus championship leader Michalis Posidias and Ukraineâ€™s Volodymyr Pechenyk, who both intend to restart tomorrow morning under SupeRally.
Al-Attiyah bounced back for SS3, taking the 16.64km stage just 0.1 seconds ahead of Tingirides. Al Qassimiâ€™s eleventh place was only enough to give him twelfth position overall going into lunchtime service.
Acknowledging that everything was â€œgoing to planâ€, Al-Attiyah continued to show winning form in the afternoonâ€™s repeat loop of stages, taking SS4 (Monashilakas) almost a minute faster than Cypriot Doros Loucaides, and going on to take SS5 (Foinokli) 38.5 seconds ahead of Galatariotis.
Al Qassimi picked up the pace in the stage to finish sixth fastest, but Tingirides slowed to twelfth.
Al-Attiyah leads at the end of day 1
Al-Attiyah rounded off a perfect day by taking the sixth and final stage of the day – a repeat of the morningâ€™s Argaka stage â€“ with a 23s lead over Simos Galatariotis. His outstanding drive gives Al-Attiyah an impressive overall overnight lead over Galatariotis of 4m 18.6s.
Tingiridesâ€™ promising run was brought to an end when he stopped early in SS6. He reportedly plans to SupeRally tomorrow.
Other drivers planning to SupeRally tomorrow include Lebanonâ€™s Nicolas Amiouni and Kuwaiti brothers Essam and Meshal Al Nejadi, who all suffered problems on Day 1.
About the Paphos International Rally 2011
The Paphos International Rally succeeds the acclaimed Troodos Rally and kicked off last night with a lively Ceremonial Start at the heart of Paphosâ€™ tourist area.
The rally proper got underway this morning from the Service Park, which sits next to the coastal resortâ€™s popular harbour.
Cyprus rallies are always good natured events and this year is no different, with smiles all roundâ€¦ though many observed that the rising temperatures would add another level to the challenge.
Crews will cover a further 346.88km tomorrow, including 132.26km of Special Stages. Parc Ferme out is at 09:10.
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 between the 3rd and 5th November. It will serve as the twelfth â€“ and final – round of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) calendar.