By Rosie Ogden
THOUSANDS of motor sport fans lined the streets of central Nicosia on Friday afternoon to watch the Cyprus Rally’s opening ‘superspecial’ stage – which for the first time took crews through both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot areas of the capital.
As a counter for both the European Rally Championship (ERC) and the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), Cyprus’ premier international sporting event promised plenty of thrills for fans on both sides of the Green Line – and the cheers from Turkish Cypriot spectators standing atop the ancient city walls when one of ‘their’ crews came through was uplifting.
However, the inclusion of central roads was not altogether popular: it meant swathes of the capital’s transport arteries were closed to traffic all day – with many people complaining bitterly about the inconvenience of spending hours in traffic jams trying to go about their business. Fans also experienced frustration, as, even on foot, they couldn’t cross the barriers to their desired spectating point because the streets were closed off totally – perhaps next year the organisers need to designate a few crossing points (manned by marshals) because there’s no need for movement to be restricted over an hour before the first car is due.
That said, the atmosphere was electric as the protagonists hit the gas: despite hitting one of the chicanes, Yazeed Al-Rajhi clocked fastest time (5’ 04.1”) over the 5.98-kilometre mixed-surface stage, in his Ford Fiesta RRC. “We can push now for the rest of the rally” he said.
Second fastest, 2.8 seconds behind the leader, was Robert Consani (Peugeot 207 S2000), with Khalid Al-Qassimi third in his Citroën DS3 RRC. Several drivers finished the stage with damaged cars – among them Antonín Tlusťák, Martin Hudec and Jaroslav Orsák.
Posting the 8th fastest time, Panicos Polykarpou was the leading Cypriot driver and he also heads the ERC Production Car Cup standings.
Saturday’s action gets underway at 8.30am, with the crews tackling 8 special stages to the south of Nicosia, returning for a lunchtime regroup just after 1pm, and then the overnight halt at 6.20 tonight.
Sunday’s action starts at 8.45am, with a further six special stages, broken by a lunchtime regroup at just after 1pm and the finish soon after 6pm. Details of the itinerary are available at http://www.cyprusrally.com.cy/2014/