EVENT PREVIEW: 2016 FIA European Rally Championship, round 10 of 10
CNP ASFALISTIKI Cyprus Rally, 7-9 October
*Lukyanuk and Sirmacis battle for ERC runner-up honours
*ERC Junior champion Griebel steps up for R5 debut with prize drive
*Love Cyprus Golden Stage boosts prize purse to a massive 80,000 euros
The 2016 FIA European Rally Championship season concludes with a mixed-surface challenge on the CNP ASFALISTIKI Cyprus Rally next weekend (7-9 October), and the competing crews will have plenty to play for.
After Kajetan Kajetanowicz secured his second straight ERC title on Rally Liepāja last month, the two men that pushed him closest in 2016 – Alexey Lukyanuk and Ralfs Sirmacis – will duel for the runner-up spot in Cyprus, separated at present by only two points. For Marijan Griebel, the aim will be to impress on his four-wheel-drive debut in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 – his prize drive for claiming the ERC Junior title in a dramatic winner-takes-all decider in Latvia.
The drivers will face a demanding mixture of gravel and asphalt on most of the stages, including the final two tests of the entire season, which make up the Love Cyprus Golden Stage. Here, a share of 60,000 euros will be available to the fastest crews, on top of the usual 20,000 euros awarded to the leading finishers on every ERC round.
The Cyprus Rally was first part of the ERC schedule in 1973 (when it was won by Swedish hero Stig Blomqvist) and it returned in 2014 as a mixed-surface event, having been an FIA World Rally Championship round for much of the previous decade. The 2016 edition has a 60-40 split of gravel and asphalt, and all but three of the 14 stages feature a combination of the two surfaces. The same goes for the 4.48-kilometre Qualifying Stage that begins the action on the morning of Friday 7 October, setting the order for the start selection that afternoon in the capital and host city Nicosia.
The ceremonial start takes place on the Friday evening alongside the Mediterranean in the southern city of Limassol, before the crews take on the rally’s first two stages in darkness on their way back to Nicosia. Saturday features eight stages, the last of which is a superspecial stage through the streets of the capital. Sunday begins with repeats of the two Friday night tests prior to the two parts of the Love Cyprus Golden Stage. In total there are 214.19 competitive kilometres
Alexey Lukyanuk (Ford Fiesta R5): The spectacular Russian has had a season full of highs and lows, but will hope to end it on a strong note with his first win since the opening round on Gran Canaria. He’s proven his speed on both gravel and asphalt, gained experience of Cyprus last year and will be back in his R5 Fiesta after parking it in favour of his ERC2-specification Mitsubishi in Latvia.
Ralfs Sirmacis (Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5): Sirmacis remains the only driver to have won multiple rounds of this year’s ERC, and a fourth victory on his sixth start would give the 22-year-old the runner-up position. He’ll hope that any battle with Lukyanuk goes the same way as it did in Greece, Estonia and Latvia, though he’s less confident on asphalt.
Marijan Griebel (ŠKODA Fabia R5): The German ace will achieve a dream when he steps up to an R5 car for Cyprus – his prize for claiming the ERC Junior title. He’ll be learning in his first rally with four-wheel drive, and the mixed surface simply increases this challenge, but his crucial Rally Liepāja triumph demonstrated how far a driver who grew up on asphalt has improved on gravel.
Nikolay Gryazin (Sports Racing Technologies ŠKODA Fabia R5): Gryazin, who turns 19 on the first day of the rally, joins Griebel in moving up from ERC Junior to a Fabia R5 for Cyprus. He has driven the car before though, when he made an impressive ERC debut on the final round of 2015 in Switzerland. He has struggled for consistent results this year, but has shown great speed on both gravel and asphalt.
Dávid Botka (Botka Rally Team Citroën DS3 R5): Botka has had a challenging first season in the top class after winning the ERC2 title in 2015. He’s proven what he’s capable of when he’s had a clean run, finishing fourth in the Azores, and having competed in Cyprus in 2015 – only losing a class win to a penalty – he could achieve a strong result next weekend.
Lambros Athanassoulas (Team Greece Ford Fiesta R5): After an emotional second place on the Acropolis Rally, the Greek ace returns to the ERC for his first ever start in Cyprus. He’ll be using a Fiesta instead of a Fabia, but will hope that he can celebrate his third ERC podium from as many starts, 364 days after his first.
A total prize fund of 200,000 euros is on offer to competitors in the ERC again this year. A sum of 20,000 euros is available at each of the 10 events on the calendar, shared between the seven highest-placed eligible drivers in the final rally classification regardless of category. This year, all drivers that have registered for the ERC will be eligible as long as they are using tyres from one of the championship’s partner suppliers (Michelin and Pirelli). In 2015, 38 ERC drivers earned prize money.
The class acts
The ERC is split into three categories: ERC1 for top-of-the-range R5 machinery, ERC2 for production-based models and ERC3 for two-wheel-drive cars. The ERC Junior Championship took place on six rounds for drivers born in 1989 or later, competing in R2 machinery on Pirelli tyres.
Cypriots compete for ERC2 honours
With Wojciech Chuchała having already secured the ERC2 title, the category win in Cyprus will be fought exclusively between local Mitsubishi drivers. Likely to start as favourite will be Christos Demosthenous, the reigning national champion eyeing a hat-trick of wins in the ERC production class on his home event. He will face competition from domestic rivals Panikos Polykarpou, Costas Zenonos and Charalambos Timotheou. Nikolas Georgiou will be driving in the rally for the first time, but finished second in the class in 2014 as co-driver, while his father Costas was a multiple Cypriot champion.
Bostanci eyes a second ERC3 triumph
Murat Bostanci will look to end his first season in the ERC by repeating his Greece class victory in Cyprus. He can’t catch Chris Ingram and Marijan Griebel at the top of the drivers’ standings, but navigator Onur Vatansever can snatch the co-drivers’ crown with seven more points. Fellow Castrol Ford Team Türkiye drivers Bugra Banaz and Ümit Can Özdemir have registered to compete for ERC3 honours for the first time, having previously taken part on the Acropolis and Rally Rzeszow. Moscow-born Dimi Morozov returns in his Suzuki Swift after winning the class last year and brings a team-mate in Leo Lavrentiev.
Q&A: Marijan Griebel
By claiming the ERC Junior title in a thrilling must-win decider on Rally Liepāja, Marijan Griebel earned a prize drive in a ŠKODA Fabia R5 run by Motorsport Italia on the final round of the ERC. The German looks ahead to his debut in R5 machinery.
How excited are you by this opportunity to make your R5 debut?
I’m really excited. This is the first time that I can drive an R5 car, and also the first time for me in a four-wheel-drive car on a rally. So I’m really, really looking forward to it, and I hope it will be a good one! On Wednesday I did a really small test with a Fabia R5 from the Austrian BRR team to be well prepared. One test day is not really much, but I hope I can have good fun and a good result at the end.
What was the car like to drive?
For sure it was quite different to the R2, because it’s four-wheel drive and also because it has a turbo. But it was OK. Ten kilometres and 16 kilometres was not so much but I was driving quite fast – not on the limit, but quite fast – and everything worked well, so I think I can be satisfied with that.
Your mentor Armin Kremer, a previous European champion, regularly drives a Fabia R5. Have you been able to get any advice from him?
Yes, for sure. In my test I was actually sitting next to Armin Kremer because he was testing for the World Rally Championship round in Spain at the same time. He gave me some advice in the car and also outside of the car, so that was definitely a good help for me.
What are you expecting from the Cyprus Rally? You will have to face both gravel and asphalt…
Yes, that’s quite special because I’ve never done a rally which is nearly 50-50 Tarmac and gravel. But I think it’s not bad for me because other drivers are also not too used to that. So I think it will be a lot of fun with those surfaces and this car. I’ve never been to Cyprus so I don’t know how rough the stages are or much about the characteristics but I’m looking forward to it and I hope we can do a good recce.
At the end of the rally you will have the Love Cyprus Golden Stage with prize money on offer to the fastest crews. Are you going to be pushing to get a share of that?
Maybe that would be an opportunity for me, that I can practice and get used to the car over the first day and a half and then do a big push on the Golden Stage. For sure it would be an opportunity. We have to see which drivers are still in the rally but maybe it’s possible to go for some extra money: that would be really nice.
On this event in 2015…
Kajetan Kajetanowicz won the 2015 CNP ASFALISTIKI Cyprus Rally by over four minutes with the fastest time on 14 of the 16 mixed-surface stages. Bruno Magalhães was an excellent second, while a final-stage puncture couldn’t deny Robert Consani a well-deserved podium finish. Jaromír Tarabus went off the road twice on the opening two stages of leg two but scooped fourth overall. Alexey Lukyanuk endured a season’s worth of problems in one event but his perseverance was rewarded with fifth overall and the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy. Dávid Botka fought back from gearbox issues to provisionally win ERC2, but a penalty for using more than the permitted number of tyres cost him the victory to Cypriot Christos Demosthenous and dropped him to eighth overall behind Antonín Tlusťák. Dimi Morozov scored maximum ERC3 points in his Suzuki Swift Sport.
EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local and subject to change)
Starts: 18h30, Friday 7 October, Promenade, Limassol
Finishes: 15h00, Sunday 9 October, Promenade, Limassol
Headquarters: Filoxenia Conference Centre, 17 Thrakis Street, CY-1311 Nicosia
Service park: Lieutenant-General Evangelos Florakis Street, Nicosia
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): Two
Stage distance: 214.19 kilometres (32.84 kilometres leg one, 113.91 kilometres leg two, 67.44 kilometres leg three)
Liaison: 606.81 kilometres
Total: 821.00 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt (83.96km/39%) and gravel (131.23/61%)
MEDIA EVENTS AND INFORMATION (all timings local)
Media accreditation and media centre: Filoxenia Conference Centre, Nicosia
Opening times: 10h00-20h00, Wednesday 5 October; 10h00-22h00h, Thursday 6 October; 08h00-24h00, Friday 7 October; 08h00-24h00, Saturday 8 October; 08h00-23h00, Sunday 9 October
Friday 7 October
Free Practice (for FIA/ERC priority drivers): 07h00-09h00, Friday 7 October, Ayios Sozomenos (4.48km)
Qualifying Stage (for FIA/ERC priority drivers): 09h30, Friday 7 October, as above
Shakedown (for all other drivers): 10h30-12h00, Friday 7 October, as above
Start order selection: 13h30, Friday 7 October, Filoxenia Conference Centre, Nicosia
Pre-rally press conference: 14h30, Friday 7 October, Filoxenia Conference Centre, Nicosia
FIA Action for Road Safety photo: 17h15, Promenade, Limassol
Ceremonial start: 18h30, Friday 7 October, Promenade, Limassol
Sunday 9 October
Podium ceremony: 15h00, Promenade, Limassol
Post-event press conference: 15h30, Promenade, Limassol
Event media contact: Petros Soutzis, firstname.lastname@example.org, +357 99643743
Television coverage: Daily highlights and the post-event Inside ERC magazine programme will be broadcast on Eurosport
ERC Rally Radio: Live throughout the event at Fiaerc.com or through the ERC app
Results, standings, live timing and text commentary: www.fiaerc.com
Rights-free images: Register media.fiaerc.com
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