By Rosie Ogden
Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi stormed through the final day of the CNP ASFALISTIKI Cyprus Rally to take back the lead he briefly lost to Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz, whose second place moved him up to third in the European Rally Championship (ERC). He now heads to the final two events on the calendar just 29 points behind title leader Esapekka Lappi – with a total of 78 points up for grabs.
Al Rajhi began his charge to the head of the leaderboard on Friday’s Super Special Stage, run through the streets of Nicosia. The Saudi, with Northern Irishman Michael Orr by his side, battled Kajetanowicz throughout the rally, with the outcome only becoming clear after the very last special stage on Sunday afternoon. “This is a big win after a good fight with Kajetanowicz” said a delighted Al Rajhi at the finish.
Khalid Al Qassimi, meanwhile, had a battle royal with Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari for the first spot in the Middle-East Rally Championship (MERC). Pre-race favourite Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar, nine-time MERC champion and triple Cyprus Rally winner, was forced to retire on Leg 1 after his Ford Fiesta developed engine ECU problems.
The first day ended with Kajetanowicz leading Al Rajhi by a mere 3.8 seconds. Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari’s Ford Fiesta was third overall, with Al Qassimi in fourth. In fifth place overall was the Peugeot 208 T16 of Portuguese crew Bruno and Carlos Maghalaes. Just behind in sixth was Ireland’s Craig Breen, who had a heap of trouble throughout the event with an overheating engine that refused to run in “stage mode”. The Peugeot Rally Academy driver was still lying sixth overall as the crews started the final stage on Sunday, but he was forced to stop half way through the stage, and although he and co-driver Scott Martin made some repairs that enabled them to reach the end of the stage, they lost more than 16 minutes – and then found that they couldn’t get the car to the rally Finish, which was some 60 km away in Nicosia.
Christos Demosthenous and Pambos Laos led the Cypriot crews at the end of the first day, in seventh overall, followed by Stavros Antoniou/Chips Junior and Petros Panteli/Christos Alexandrou in 8th and 9th position. Rounding off the top ten at the end of Saturday were Vitaliy Puskhar and Ivan Mishyn of Ukraine in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
With everything to play for, the second Leg on Sunday was a nail-biter: Al Rajhi drove his Ford Fiesta flawlessly to win four of the six special stages and overhaul Kajetanowicz on his way to a thrilling victory. Fifth overall, but third of the ERC finishers, were Bruno and Carlos Maghalaes.
The MERC victory went to Abdul Aziz Al-Kuwari with Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi second. Third in the MERC category was Abdulla Al Kuwari.
The ERC Production category was an all-Cypriot affair: sixth overall, and winner of the Production category was Christos Demosthenous with co-driver Pambos Laos. Second in the ERC Production, and seventh overall, were Stavros Antoniou and Chips Junior, with Petros Panteli and George Alexandrou completing a great local showing in the ERC Production class – they finished the rally eighth overall.
Zoltan Bessenyey was perhaps one of the luckiest finishers: he rolled his Honda Civic Type-R R3 in SS7 on Saturday, and was only able to continue after Charalambos Charalambous and George Pouyioukas stopped to help him put the car back on its wheels. He went on to win the 2-wheel drive category, moving ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre in his bid to win the ERC 2WD title.
1 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr Ford Fiesta RRC 3:03:44.4
2 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Jaroslaw Baran Ford Fiesta R5 3:04:33.3 +48.9
3 Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari/Duffy Gilian Ford Fiesta 3:05:14.9 +1:30.5
4 Skh Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson Citroen DS3 RRC 3:05:50.1 +2:05.7
5 Bruno Magalhaes/Carlos Magalhaes Peugeot 208 T16 3:07:07.7 +3:23.3
6 Christos Demosthenous/Pambos Laos Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3:11:28.4 +7:44.0
7 Stavros Antoniou/«Chips Junior» Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3:13:27.0 +9:42.6
8 Petrosw Panteli/Giorgos Alexandrou Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3:15:40.5 +11:56.1
9 Vitaliy Puskhar/Ivan Mishyn Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3:16:22.2 +12:37.8
10 Antonin Tlustak/Jan Skaloud Skoda Fabia S2000 3:19:10.4 +15:26.0