International rallying returned to Cyprus this evening with the Ceremonial Start of the PaphosÂ International Rally 2011.
Round 4 of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), this all-new event succeeds the acclaimed Troodos Rally and is set to provide a hugely exciting weekendâ€™s motorsport under the Cyprus sun.
With two days of reconnaissance now under their belts, the crews took to the start ramp this evening to applause from the many rally fans who turned out to get their first glimpse of weekendâ€™s star drivers.
Here’s a 7minÂ 27secÂ videoÂ of the Paphos International Rally 2011Â ceremonial start.
Just a single point separates Middle East Championship leader Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi of the UAE from Qatarâ€™s Al-Attiyah, so a fierce battle is expected. Al Qassimi, who will be fielding a Ford Fiesta S2000 with co-driver Steve Lancaster, has already admitted that his rivalâ€™s stunning record of past wins in Cyprus makes him the favourite, but Al Qassimi is determined to take the maximum possible points from the event to maintain his lead.
Al-Attiyah, who will also steer an S2000 Fiesta alongside co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, can be expected to push hard from the outset, aiming for his ninth Cyprus MERC victory.
Other international crews taking to the start ramp this evening included Rashid Al Ketbi of the United Arab Emirates, who currently sits third on the leaderboard in his Skoda Fabia S2000, brothers Essam and Mishaal Al Nejadi of Kuwait, and fellow Kuwaitis Mufeed Mubarak and Mshari Al-Thefiri. Lebanonâ€™s Michel Saleh and Nicolas Amiouni are also in Cyprus, along with Ukraineâ€™s Volodymyr Pechenyk.
Hoping to build upon their home advantage, the strong Cypriot contingent taking part wonâ€™t make it easy for the overseas drivers and will be locked in a battle of their own for the Cyprus Championship.
Michalis Posidias is top of the local leaderboard in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X with 61 points. Marinos Patroclou sits second, 18 points behind Posidias, while fourth placed Constantinos Tingirides will be looking to gain ground by making the most of the eventâ€™s coefficient 1.5 status.
This eveningâ€™s Ceremonial Start took place against a backdrop of Pafosâ€™ impressive harbourside fort. This coastal resortâ€™s harbour will provide the base for the weekendâ€™s action, as the HQ and Service Park are all located close by, just a pebbleâ€™s throw from the Mediterranean and some of this historic townâ€™s most important archaeological sites and tourist attractions.
The rally proper gets underway at 10:00 tomorrow morning from the Service Park, with the first car entering Special Stage (SS)1 (Monashilakas) at 11:03, SS2 (Foinokli) at 12:06, and SS3 (Argaka) at 12:59. Crews will return to the Service Park at 14:14 and then head out again at 14:44 to tackle the afternoon loop of stages â€“ SS4 (Monashilakas) at 15:47, SS5 (Foinokli) at 16:50, and SS6 (Argaka) at 17:43.
Drivers tackle a total of 386.06km tomorrow, including 119.94km of special stage action.
Crews will cover a further 346.88km on Sunday, including 132.26km of Special Stages. Parc Ferme out is at 09:00 on Sunday morning, with the first car entering the first stage of the day SS7 (Anadiou) at 10:08. The first car enters SS8 (Galataria) at 11:16, and SS9 (Agios Nikolaos) at 11:59. Crews then return to Pafos harbour for Service at 13:14. Crews will then head out at 13:44 for the last three stages of the event â€“ SS10 (Anadiou) at 14:42, SS11 (Galataria) at 15:50, and finally SS12 (Agios Nikolaos) at 16:33. Cars will return to the Service Park for final service at 17:41, and a prizegiving ceremony will take place later in the evening.
Cyprus Rally 2011
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.
The 2011 Paphos International Rally is organised by the Cyprus Automobile Association (CAA).
Where to go to see the Paphos International Rally 2011?
For the itinerary and maps, see Organisers confirm itinerary and maps for Paphos International Rally.