FIA European Rally Championship 2017: Round 4 of 8
Cyprus Rally: Leg one report, 17 June
*Bostanci, Kajetanowicz and Magalhães crash at the same point on the same stage
*Technical problems hit Gryazin’s hopes on demanding gravel event
*Ground-breaking street stage crosses UN Buffer Zone into Northern Cyprus
Nasser Al-Attiyah underlined his status as a Cyprus Rally legend by steering clear of the high drama that has formed the backdrop to the opening leg of the FIA European Rally Championship counter today.
A four-time winner of the demanding gravel event, Al-Attiyah completed the day-closing CNP Asfalistiki Super Special Stage, which crosses over the United Nations Buffer Zone into Northern Cyprus, leading by 3m19.0s. But while the Qatari could reflect on another standout performance behind the wheel of his Autotek Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5, several of his ERC rivals hit trouble on the Nicosia-based event.
Championship leader Bruno Magalhães, in his SEAJETS ŠKODA Fabia, dropped out of contention when he lost vital time stuck in dust clouds thrown up by Murat Bostanci when the Castrol Ford Team Turkey driver resumed just in front of him after stopping to change a puncture, unaware the Portuguese was in hot pursuit. Nikolay Gryazin went off into a ditch, survived a spectacular landing on stage three but dropped out of the lead, only to stop on stage five with mechanical issues. Although the Russian teenager made it through the run and completed stage six following repairs, a reported jammed gearbox put him out.
While Gryazin, who beat Al-Attiyah to the fastest time on the opening run by 0.1s, reached the stage six stop line, Bostanci, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Magalhães were far less fortunate, all crashing down a steep bank at exactly the same right-hand beyond approximately four kilometres from the stage start. All crews were uninjured but their cars suffered extensive damage and only Kajetanowicz is certain to restart on day two.
Al-Attiyah’s charge wasn’t entirely trouble-free after he drove for 10 kilometres with a punctured rear-left tyre on stage seven. However, he was able to maintain his advantage ahead of Cypriot rising star Alexandros Tsouloftas, whose run to second at the overnight halt in Nicosia included a broken gearshift mechanism on stage four and a puncture on stage five.
“It’s a really difficult rally and we need to be strong to fight to the end,” said Al-Attiyah, who dropped out of the lead of the previous ERC round in Greece with mechanical issues. “We had a puncture in the first four kilometres [of stage seven] but we said if we drive slowly we can manage it and we win the stage. The pace of the drivers is very high and you need to push everywhere but I am really happy to finish today with a good lead. We try to manage that tomorrow but with a good speed because it’s important we win this race. We did a really good job and thanks to Matthieu [Baumel, my co-driver] and the team. I will do my best to win for a fifth time tomorrow.”
Tsouloftas, who is planning several ERC appearances this season, said: “I’m super-lucky to be in second overall, so blessed to be in this position in my first full season of rallying. We also get 25 points for the Cyprus championship so I am a day away from being champion. It’s only a year I’ve been driving but it’s the toughest rally I’ve driven for sure. The stages are so difficult. There’s no reason to push tomorrow because Nasser is too far away, we just need to finish now.”
ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák retired on stage five with broken steering following a heavy impact but Albert von Thurn und Taxis has belied his lack of experience to overcome the tough conditions and complete leg one in sixth behind Cypriot drivers Panikos Polykarpou and Christos Demosthenous in his Wevers Sport Fabia. “It’s really incredible and the last thing I thought is we would be in the top 10 at the end of the day,” said the former GT racer. “It’s been incredible today, such hard, hard conditions. The care we applied was rewarded, not that we didn’t have our own moments and scares. I am very happy we are still here.”
ERC2: Demosthenous proving a class act at home
Christos Demosthenous is on course for a home win in ERC2 having made the most of his experience of the Cypriot stages to lead his class from the start. Compatriot Petros Panteli is second with Zelindo Melegari third and now leading the championship standings after capturing five leg bonus points to move ahead of Tibor Érdi Jr, who hasn’t included the Cyprus Rally on his schedule for 2017. Sergey Remennik is back in action in a replacement Mitsubishi Lancer following his SEAJETS Acropolis Rally crash and is fourth in class following a puncture and a dramatic final stage in Nicosia when he hit a wall and a tree after losing his brakes. Deniz Denner retired on stage two with a broken gearbox and inadvertently ended up blocking the road, which caused the test to be cancelled.
ERC3: Özdemir upholding team pride following Banaz woe
Castrol Ford Team Turkey will look to Ümitcan Özdemir to claim ERC3 success for the second rally running after his team-mate, the pre-event favourite Buǧra Banaz, went off on stage three and lost 10 minutes waiting for spectators to haul his Ford Fiesta R2 back onto the road. Deniz Fahri has been delayed by transmission issues and a damaged front bumper on his ERC debut but is a strong second with İsmet Toktaş third following dashboard display woes and a bent rear wheel. Banaz, who was fastest on the day’s opening stage despite a spin, is in fourth and intent on gaining crucial championship points by reaching the finish following a frustrating rally. Russian Peugeot driver Artur Muradian is classified fifth overnight followed by Christos Mannouris.
The 2017 Cyprus Rally concludes with six stages on Sunday 18 June. Starting with the 22.00 kilometres of Psaltis Eneos Yeri from 09h10 local time, the leg reaches its climax with Love Cyprus Golden Stage 1 and 2 from 15h57. They carry a combined prize fund of 24,000 euros and will bring the event to a thrilling finale ahead of the podium finish in party town Ayia Napa in the far south east of the island from 18h00. Follow this link for live timing and results.
WATCH DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS ON EUROSPORT AND EUROSPORT PLAYER.