The fight for the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) title came to a dramatic conclusion today with Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen securing the title on a riveting 2011 IRC Cyprus Rally.
Watch the action – SS9 Gialia
Going into the last event of the 2011 season, no fewer than five drivers had the chance to take the IRC title here this weekend – Mikkelsen, defending champ Juho Hanninen of Finland, championship leader Jan Kopecky of the Czech Republic, and Thierry Neuville and Freddy Loix of Belgium.
But it was Mikkelsen who proved the master, driving his Skoda Fabia 2000 to a worthy victory alongside co-driver Ola Floene.
Super Special Stage
Mikkelsen stamped his authority on the event early on, taking the first stage of the event – the 3.2km LTV Super Special Stage, held in the streets on the streets of Paphos on Thursday night – in impressive style and giving himself an early event lead.
In a rally packed full of high drama, with challenging stages and unexpected retirements, Mikkelsen kept his cool to take the event and the season with phenomenal pace and considerable style.
This year saw the 2011 IRC Cyprus Rally move to the popular west coast resort town of Paphos, where the Service Park was located just metres from the Mediterranean with the town’s picturesque fort as a backdrop. The special stages saw crews head into the countryside north of Paphos to do battle in the Cyprus sun.
Having started today with a 20.7 second lead over Qatari star Nasser Al-Attiyah, Mikkelsen showed impressive form in his Skoda Fabia S2000 throughout the morning, keeping up the pressure and, after Al-Attiyah exited the event with a broken valve spring on his Ford Fiesta S2000, the Norwegian saw his early afternoon event lead stretch to 48.2 seconds over the second placed Skoda of Jan Kopecky.
Knowing that Al-Attiyah was out of the event prior to the afternoon’s stages, Mikkelsen was obviously pleased with his lead and determined to deliver a clean and efficient drive through the afternoon’s stages.
Mikkelsen was slowed by a puncture in the first stage of the afternoon (SS9 – Gialia), but then so was Kopecky so it had no negative impact on Mikkelsen’s title bid.
Hanninen ended up fastest through the gravel stage, followed by the Fabias of Loix, Kruuda and Sandell. Toshihiro Arai’s IRC Production Cup was effectively secured in the stage when his closest rival Nicos Thomas exited the event.
Mikkelsen was back up to speed in SS9 (Gialia) but was still 0.2s off the pace of stage winner Sandell. Hanninen, Kruuda and Kopecky rounded of the fastest five through the stage.
The last stage of the day – and the event – SS11 (Anadiou) gave the combination of stunning sunshine, striking Cyprus scenery and expert, high-speed driving.
Rallying… especially in Cyprus… is an unpredictable sport and this event certainly proved it.
Hanninen’s shock exit on the first of yesterday’s special stages set the tone and while Hanninen chose to Superally here this morning,
Thierry Neuville – who held the lunchtime lead yesterday before exiting with alternator problems on his Peugeot 207 S2000 – opted to sit out the day’s action to focus on tomorrow’s Cyprus Golden Stage Rally – a one-day, single stage shoot-out that will see drivers battle for their share of a €150,000 prize fund.
Day two starts
Despite being first on the road, 22-year-old Andreas Mikkelsen flew through today’s first stage – (SS6 – Gialia) – justifying the confidence he showed at Service this morning.
Al-Attiyah struggled to find pace in his Ford and could only manage sixth fastest through the stage, opening up a further 6.9 second gap between him and the event leader.
Hanninen fared slightly better, coming through the stage ahead of the Qatari driver. Estonia’s Karl Kruuda, in a Fabia S2000, was closest to Mikkelsen, followed by Kopecky and Sweden’s Patrick Sandell (also in a Skoda).
SS7 – Stavros
Mikkelsen kept the hammer down in SS7 (Stavros), widening the gap over second fastest Al-Attiyah by a further 5.3 seconds. With Kopecky third fastest, Hanninen managed fourth and Loix fifth.
SS8 – Anadiou
Al-Attiyah threw everything he had at the mixed surface Anadiou stage (SS8) and finished a full 6.1 seconds faster than second placed Mikkelsen –. Kopecky, Hanninen and Sandell rounded off the fast five finishers.
Al-Attiyah’s storming drive on the last stage of the morning was enough to cut Mikkelsen’s lead, but it was all to no avail as a broken valve spring in service ended the Qatari’s event prematurely.
Among the Cypriot entries, a consistent drive from former Cyprus Rally winner Nicos Thomas saw him build a healthy lead over his rivals, but his luck didn’t hold today and Doros Loucaides ended the event the highest positioned Cypriot driver, followed by Charalambos Timotheou and Savvas Savva. Michalis Posidias leaves the event as the new leader of the local championship.
Find out more about the Cyprus Rally 2011
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