Qatarâ€™s Nasser Al-Attiyah swept to an emphatic victory today at the inaugural Paphos International Rally 2011Â - round 4 of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).
Video of SS8 Galataria 1 and SS10 Anadiou 2 (6min 53sec)
The win, which marks Al-Attiyahâ€™s ninth Cyprus MERC victory, also pushes the star Qatari driver to the top of the MERC leaderboard with a healthy 75 points.
Al-Attiyah arrived in Cyprus with 50 points, just one point behind then Championship leader Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi of the UAE.
Tough battle expected
A tough battle was expected between the two drivers, each of whom fielded S2000 Ford Fiestas, but Al Qassimi and his British co-driver Steve Lancaster, struggled to find pace on Day 1 and were further slowed by steering problems on Day 2.
Al-Attiyah and his Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini led the event from the off, storming through the eventâ€™s opening asphalt special stage yesterday and going on to take five of the dayâ€™s remaining stages under the hot Mediterranean sun.
Cypriot Constantinos Tingirides was the only other driver to take a special stage (SS2), hoping to boost his position in the local Championship through the eventâ€™s coefficient 1.5 status.
Tingiridesâ€™ good fortune seemed to run out yesterday afternoon, however, with gearbox problems forcing him out of the running in SS6. Something he made up for today, when he restarted under SupeRally.
Al-Attiyahâ€™s blistering pace yesterday was enough to give him a 4m 18.6s overnight lead over his closest rival, Cypriot driver Simos Galatariotis (fielding a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X).
After struggling to make good times on Day 1, Al Qassimi found himself starting today chasing the Skoda Fabia S2000 of Rashid Al Ketbi, also of the UAE, for valuable MERC points.
Al-Attiyah starts the day in the lead
Once this morningâ€™s action got underway from the Service Park, located at the heart of Paphosâ€™ tourist area and just metres from the Mediterranean, Al-Attiyah left no doubt about his dominance of the event, taking the 32.84km Anadiou stage 21.9s faster than Tingirides, his closest rival.
Galatariotis was out of the event before the end of SS7 with mechanical failure.
Tingirides upped his pace further in SS8 (Galataria) but Al-Attiyah still took the stage 8.8 seconds faster than his Cypriot rival.
With Al Qassimi struggling with steering problems, Lebanonâ€™s Nicolas Amiouni set the fourth fastest time through the stage, ahead of Al Ketbi.
Tough rally forces many to drop out
Attrition rates continued to be high this morning, with Kuwaitâ€™s Essam Al Nejadi among those failing to reach lunchtime service. Amiouni would exit the event in the afternoon.
Al-Attiyah continuing to show scintillating pace in the last stage of the morning, SS9 Agios Nikolaos, to seal an emphatic lunchtime lead of 8m 24.8s over the Cypriot crew of Petros Panteli and Chrysostomos Panteli in their Evo IX.
Lunchtime service proved disastrous for Al Qassimi where replacement of his steering rack and power steering pump proved problematic and resulted in him leaving service 21m late.
Meanwhile, Al-Attiyah continued to take no prisoners, flying through SS10 a full 30.2s faster than second fastest Tingirides, and SS11 10.1 seconds faster.
Al-Attiyah went on to seal the deal in style by charging through the final stage of the day – and the rally â€“ with a clear 28.3 second lead over Tingirides and a 46.2s lead over Panteli.
In the Middle East Championship, Al-Attiyah leaves the island as the frontrunner with 75 points, Al Qassimi drops to 2nd place with 63 points, Al Ketbi is close behind with 61 points, and Mufeed Mubarak retains fourth place with 42 points. The MERC battle now moves to Lebanon in September (16th-18th).
In terms of the local Championship, former leader Michalis Posidias and second placed Marinos Patroclou exited the event on Day 1, with only Posidias restarting this morning under SupeRally. His luck didnâ€™t hold, however, and he exited the event early today with mechanical failure. As a result, Posidias retains his overall championship lead, with Patroclou second, while Tingirides moves up to third.
Don’t miss the Cyprus Rally in November
International rallying will return to Cyprus later this year with the Cyprus Rally, one of the best known rallies on the international stage. Set for 3rd – 5th November, it will serve as the twelfth â€“ and final – round of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) calendar.