FIA European Rally Championship 2018: Round 4 of 8
Cyprus Rally: Leg one report, 16 June
*Young Finn in front in thrilling battle as Al-Attiyah and Lukyanuk hit trouble
*Russian rocket’s title lead under attack from SEAJETS-backed Magalhães
*Polykarpou heads ERC2, Pellier rapid in ERC2 in Saintéloc PEUGEOT
ŠKODA Motorsport-backed junior talent Juuso Nordgren turned in a clean FIA European Rally Championship performance on the Cyprus Rally’s dusty roads, establishing a 4.6s lead over local expert Simos Galatariotis with Bruno Magalhães 4.2s behind in third following a day of thrilling action and drama.
In a drastic change of fortunes, Nordgren was able to take advantage of the tricky conditions that caught out several rivals to move into first position, a stark contrast to two weeks ago when he retired from the EKO Acropolis Rally with multiple punctures.
Instead, Autotek Motorsport’s Nasser Al-Attiyah suffered a similar fate, picking up a puncture in both the first and second stages during this afternoon’s loop, leaving him short on spares after only taking a single backup tyre when leaving service in Larnaca. Luckily he was able to survive on three wheels, staying in the rally and holding fourth place having moved in front when Alexey Lukyanuk crashed out on stage four.
Cypriot driver Simos Galatariotis is now second on his home event, only 4.6 seconds behind Nordgren. SEAJETS-backed Bruno Magalhães inherited third after Al-Attiyah’s troubles, 8.8s behind Nordgren. Al-Attiyah is now 48.4s adrift of Nordgren in fourth but still in contention with seven Sunday stages remaining.
Local prospect Alexandros Tsouloftas had been set to take a provisional podium spot, but he stopped early on Saturday’s final stage with a broken wishbone and unable to continue further. Norbert Herczig now completes the top five overall in his absence, 1m09.9s behind Nordgren.
Leg one recap: Mixed fortunes for ERC top guns
Saturday morning on the Cyprus Rally began in familiar ERC fashion, with Alexey Lukyanuk leading the way from stage one. Five-time Cyprus winner Nasser Al-Attiyah had been touted as the odds-on favourite to score a sixth victory but his pace was tempered by a pop-off valve issue, leaving him slightly down on power compared to Lukyanuk.
While Lukyanuk and Al-Attiyah duelled for dominance, Juuso Nordgren settled into a safe third position, taking his time to drive safe, clean lines and avoid another double puncture scenario which had ruined his podium chances in Greece two weeks prior.
A tight battle for fourth quickly emerged between ERC regulars and local specialists. Cypriots Simos Galatariotis and Alexandros Tsouloftas were early winners, running fourth and fifth before morning service despite a first-stage puncture for Tsouloftas. But just as a running order seemed to be settling down, Saturday afternoon blew the Cyprus Rally's lead battle wide open. Coming through a fast section of Tarmac road, a cracked rim aboard Lukyanuk’s Ford Fiesta R5 spun him out and into a barrier, wrecking his car and putting him out. Though both he and co-driver Alexey Arnautov were uninjured their Russian Performance Motorsport entry was heavily damaged, forcing their retirement and leaving debris behind.
Al-Attiyah would inherit first from Lukyanuk’s exit, though not without troubles of his own. A puncture three kilometres into the same test which had claimed Lukyanuk not only cost him time but also forced Al-Attiyah to fit his only spare tyre.
Nordgren was unable to capitalise on Al-Attiyah’s puncture thanks to one of his own aboard his Wevers Sport Fabia, picked up while dodging Lukyanuk’s stranded Fiesta and running through its debris. This demoted him to third, 50.1s behind Al-Attiyah and also 2.0s down on Galatariotis.
Stage five held one last plot twist in the lead battle, a second puncture in as many stages for Al-Attiyah leaving him out of spare tyres to use. He left his shredded tyre on his right rear corner for the leg-closing SS6, dropping over a minute to save his earlier delaminated cover for the road section back to service.
Two successive stage wins for Nordgren after his puncture put him back in first place, 4.6s up on Galatariotis in second. “We had some really bad luck with what happened to Lukyanyk but I think we’ve learned something from Acropolis,” said Nordgren, referring to his earlier puncture picked up while avoiding Lukyanuk’s damaged car. “It’s been quite rough today, we didn’t expect so many loose stones, but I think we’ve survived well.”
Bruno Magalhães had struggled to get on top of his Fabia’s set-up on Saturday morning, but was feeling more at home aboard his SEAJETS-backed machine after midday service in Larnaca. Combined with his trademark measured approach, Magalhães surged from sixth to third, his eyes firmly fixed on making up points on championship leader Lukyanyk. “When I saw that Lukyanuk was out, I realised that I need to finish this day because I score points for this day,” said Magalhães. “Of course now for tomorrow we try to recover some positions. We have improved the car a lot this afternoon. This morning I was not so happy. We are going to think about the stages for tomorrow because this rally is a big challenge for the set-up.”
Fighting talk from Magalhães came in stark contrast to second placed man Galatariotis, who was focused on securing points for his Cyprus national championship campaign. “We are trying to finish for the Cyprus championship and score those points, so we took the foot off the [throttle] pedal.”
Tsouloftas had been set to inherit third until a late stoppage on Saturday’s final stage caused him to retire altogether, allowing Magalhães into a podium place and Al-Attiyah to slot his limping Fiesta into fourth.
MOL Racing's four-time Hungarian champion Norbert Herczig demonstrated what could be achieved by a strict safety-first approach, dismissing any desire for a podium push to focus on improving step by step. He had dropped as low as ninth place on Saturday morning, but picked his way up to fifth by day’s end with a clean, no-nonsense drive. He heads into Sunday with a 1m01.9s deficit to rally leader Nordgren.
Dávid Botka was another driver to turn in a quietly efficient performance, taking his Sysinfo Rallye Team Fabia to sixth place, 2m01.2s behind Nordgren. He holds a slim 4.0s advantage over fellow Fabia runner Orhan Avcioğlu in seventh, whose day was far from quiet.
The Toksport-run Turk picked up a puncture through SS5 in an extraordinary fashion, heading off through a field and smashing through fences, deflating a tyre while finding his way back onto the stage. “I think there’s going to be an angry farmer, I hope he doesn’t find me!” said Avcioğlu, before heading towards service in Larnaca, possibly to seek shelter.
An early tyre gamble on a mixed Tarmac-gravel tread pattern didn’t pan out as ACCR Czech Team pilot Vojtéch Štajf had hoped, but he still finished Leg One in eighth despite a puncture after midday service.
Albert von Thurn und Taxis did well to avoid any major dramas to finish Leg One in ninth, only 4.6s behind Štajf aboard his Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team-prepared Fabia. ERC2 category leader Panikos Polykarpou demonstrated why he finished third overall on the Cyprus Rally last year, heading his class whilst also holding P10 overall.
Polykarpou primed for ERC2 glory at home
Panikos Polykarpou heads a provisional podium position lockout of Cypriots in the FIA European Rally Championship’s ERC2 category after Leg One of the Cyprus Rally, leading by 19.8s from compatriot Petros Panteli. Psaltis Auto Parts driver Polykarpou continued on from his overall podium in last year’s event with a strong Saturday performance, winning four stages from six. However, those two stages which Polykarpou could not win were instead topped by Q8 Oils Rally Team pilot Panteli, who recovered 7.2s from Polykarpou to keep ERC2’s lead battle alive and well. As many R5 specification cars in the ERC’s top tier hit trouble, the production-spec Mitsubishi Lancers in ERC2 remained tough, with only one retirement all day amongst the support class field. Andreas Psaltis had been locked in a fight over second place with Panteli on Saturday morning, but steering failure in SS3 sent him into a ditch, causing a red flag and his retirement. His exit allowed Michalis Posedias to elevate his Autotelio Lancer Evo X into an overnight podium position, holding station in third throughout the remainder of Saturday, 56.9s behind category leader Polykarpou. Behind a trio of local experts were a pair of familiar ERC faces. Juan Carlos Alonso came closest to breaking a Cypriot podium lockout in Leg One, finishing Saturday 1m26.5s behind Polykarpou. Alonso’s efforts were compromised by being first on the road, leading ERC’s entire 28-car contingent into every stage. This meant suffering through road sweeping duties, cleaning a path for those who followed. Italian Zelindo Melegari was pleased to complete a trouble free day in fifth place, 3m02.8s behind Polykarpou. Despite his gap to the Cypriot frontrunners, it was a welcomed improvement for Melegari after suffering mechanical woes throughout this season to date.
Pellier sets an example in ERC3 Cyprus cameo
Laurent Pellier set an example for the FIA European Rally Championship’s ERC3 category contingent, winning all six Satuday stages on the Cyprus Rally to lead comfortably. ERC Junior Experience graduate Pellier is a regular for PEUGEOT Rally Academy in the ERC Junior Under 28 category, but with no points on offer in ERC Junior U28 this weekend, dropped down to ERC3 for Cyprus. Rather than having his usual PEUGEOT 208 T16 underneath him, Pellier is driving a 208 R2, prepared by the same Saintéloc Junior Team which is responsible for his ERC Junior U28 assault. Familiarity with both team and car had a clear effect, as not even a front right puncture could stop him from building a comfortable cushion over his ERC3 rivals. Artur Muradian completed day one second in class despite driving someone else’s car. His usual TBRacing PEUGEOT 208 R2 was heavily battle scarred from a gruelling EKO Acropolis Rally two weeks prior. This meant his 208 was sent away for repairs while he borrowed a Renault Clio R3 from fellow Acropolis competitor “El Nak Jr”. While his loaned R3 Clio has more power than his usual R2 charge, it also weighs in at 150kg heavier, leaving Muradian to spend most of Leg One adapting his driving style to suit a car he hadn’t driven since 2016. While his driving on special stages was excellent given his unfamiliar equipment, one small blot on his copybook came before SS4, missing a junction on his roadbook and ending up lost. He soon found his bearings, but arrived at stage time control late, picking up time penalties for his delayed arrival. Local entrant Constantinos Televantos finished Leg One in third place, keeping his Q8 Oils Rally Team Ford Fiesta R2 on the road and out of major trouble. However, he remains under intense pressure from ERC Ladies' Trophy leader Catie Munnings, who is only 11.6 seconds behind despite a difficult Saturday afternoon. Pellier’s Saintéloc Junior team-mate Munnings was forced to stop three kilometres from the finish of SS4 to change a puncture, only to sustain a second puncture one stage later. With no spares remaining she backed off in SS6, yet still gained 15.9s on Televantos to set up an exciting battle for on Sunday. Norbert Bereczki completed his first full day of ERC3 competition fifth in class, ahead of Emma Falcón in sixth place. Christos Mannouris had been in a close battle with Bereczki over fifth place initially, but retired at midday service.
What’s next? Sunday’s closing leg, the longest of the rally at 114.29 kilometres, features seven stages starting with the 24.50-kilometre Cyta Yeri test from 08h43 local time. Among the highlights will be the superspecial stage through the streets of the Cypriot capital Nicosia from 09h36 and PSALTIS AUTOPARTS Golden Stage 1 and ENEOS Golden Stage 2, which bring the ERC counter to a close and carry a cash prize. Click here for results and live timing.
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