At the end of the first real day of the 2011 Cyprus Rally, two of the IRC title contenders are out and Mikkelsen holds a 20.7sec overnight lead over Al-Attiyah.
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SS3 – Salamiou (4min 27sec)
SS4 – Koilinia (2min 30sec)
The fight for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) title continued in dramatic style in the eastern Mediterranean today as two of the potential champions – Juho Hanninen and Thierry Neuville – exited on Day 1 of the 2011 Cyprus Rally, giving 22-year-old Andreas Mikkelsen a real chance of securing the IRC crown tomorrow.
With double points on offer in the final event of the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, a fierce battle was always expected between the five IRC drivers who could claim the title in Cyprus.
Hanninen and Neuville out
But this challenging Cyprus event soon justified its reputation for unpredictability with Juho Hanninen leaving the road and rolling his Skoda Fabia S2000 on today’s first special stage in the Cyprus countryside, and Neuville, who held the overall event lead during lunchtime service, forced to stop in SS4 due to alternator problems .
The 2011 Cyprus Rally began in scintillating fashion last night with the spectacular LTV Super Special Stage in the centre of Paphos – the west coast resort town that is the base for this year’s event. Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen flew through the 3.2km tarmac stage in his Skoda Fabia S2000 to take a 3.1 second overnight lead over Hanninen.
This morning’s action got underway from the seafront Service Park in glorious Cyprus sunshine with the assorted field of international crews feeling confident.
But while Hanninen might have felt confident at the start thanks to his overnight second place, his good fortune wasn’t to last and the defending IRC champion left the road just 800 metres into the first Special Stage of the day (SS2 – Koilinia). Fortunately the crew were unhurt.
Mikkelsen continued to stamp his authority on the event, taking the Koilinia stage – the longest of the rally at 24.15km – 3.9 seconds faster than the Peugeot 207 S2000 of fellow title contender Thierry Neuville.
Qatari rally ace Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has claimed many victories on Cyprus events in recent years, showed slightly disappointing form on last night’s Super Special Stage, but picked up the pace this morning to finish SS2 a creditable third.
Current championship leader Jan Kopecky of the Czech Republic was fourth fastest through the stage in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000, with Freddy Loix sixth behind Patrick Sandell.
Neuville showed blistering form on the morning’s second stage (SS3 – Salamiou), flying through the 18.16km stage a full 11.2 seconds faster than second-placed Al-Attiyah.
Mikkelsen could only manage fourth fastest behind third placed Kopecky, which was enough to give Neuville the overall lunchtime lead – 8.8 seconds ahead of Mikkelsen.
While the morning’s stages proved a challenge, the crews were invariably upbeat at lunchtime service and keen to get out and tackle the afternoon’s repeat loop.
Mikkelsen admitted at service that he would have to push harder, and he struck back immediately, taking SS4 (Koilinia) 2.3 seconds faster than closest rival Al-Attiyah. Kopecky and Loix, the two drivers left in the running for the IRC title came through SS3 third and fourth respectively.
Having resumed the overall rally lead after SS3, Mikkelsen kept the pedal to the metal in SS5 (Salamiou), setting the fastest time through the stage two seconds ahead of Al-Attiyah.
Kopecky and Loix held position in third and fourth, but fast times from Mikkelsen and Al-Attiyah saw the lead drivers increase the gap between them.
Overnight, Mikkelsen holds a 20.7sec event lead over Al-Attiyah. In terms of Mikkelsen’s remaining rivals for the championship title, Kopecky trails by 46.1 seconds, and Loix by a sizeable 1 minute 41.2 seconds.
Local Cypriot teams
Of the Cypriot entries, a consistent and confident drive from former Cyprus Rally winner Nicos Thomas sees him lead the pack ahead of his countrymen in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Charalambos Timotheou trails Thomas by more than a minute, with Doros Loucaides and Constantinos Tingirides further down the field.
After a tough day’s competition, Mikkelsen will be happy to have secured a 20.7 second overnight lead, but will be taking nothing for granted on what is proving a hugely exciting and unpredictable event.
Tomorrow will see crews tackle a further six special stages, before the Finish later in the day when the new champion will be crowned.
On Sunday, Cyprus will host the second Cyprus Golden Stage Rally. This innovative concept will see entrants tackle a single, mixed surface Special Stage twice – once in the morning, once in the afternoon – for a share in a €150,000 prize fund.
Find out more about the Cyprus Rally 2011
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