By Rosie Ogden
THE eighth round of the European Rally Championship (ERC), the CNP ASFALISTIKI Cyprus Rally, takes place this weekend and it should be an exciting race, as there are just two more rallies on the calendar after Cyprus – in Greece and Switzerland – with the main contenders for the title very close in the standings.
Currently, Poland’s LOTOS Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5 driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz heads the leaderboard, 23 points ahead of Ireland’s Craig Breen, and 54 points in front of third-placed Alexey Lukyanuk of Russia.
Kajetanowicz, known as ‘Kajto’ to his fans, sees the Cyprus event as a great chance to extend his lead, as second-placed Breen (Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16) is not competing in Cyprus, so Kajto has a golden opportunity to extend his advantage.
What’s more, he is familiar with the rally, having finished second last year. He knows, however, that his task will not be easy, as the mixed-surface event is typically hot, rough and extremely challenging – but recent unpredictable weather conditions could also change the picture dramatically, as they did in 2002 when an unexpected downpour turned the mountain stages into rivers.
This year’s race will be the fastest Cyprus Rally ever, with 16 special stages covering 664.18 kilometres.
The ERC crews will get their first speed test on the 4.46km Qualifying stage, which takes place at Agios Sozomenos just outside Nicosia, starting at just after 9.30am on Friday.
That is followed later the same day with the road selection process in Nicosia and the ceremonial start at Larnaca’s Phinikoudes seafront at 6.30pm.
Leg one on Saturday features eight stages over 109.2 kilometres. The day finishes at 9pm at the Service Park behind the police headquarters in Aglantzia.
Sunday’s final leg includes eight more stages totalling 95.3kms before the finish at Larnaca seafront at 6.30pm.
The total competitive distance is 204.5kms, with 126.8kms run on gravel and 77.7kms run on tarmac.
The Super Special Stage returns to the buffer zone and will be the highlight of the Rally, run through the streets of north and south Nicosia on Saturday afternoon.
This was a huge success last year, with thousands of fans lining the streets to watch the action, and it broke the boundaries of sport by being mentioned in a report of the United Nations Secretary-General as “the most successful measure in the building of trust between the communities since 1974.”
This year’s 6.48km urban stage will take place in the early evening of Saturday, starting from Griva Digeni and Dimostheni Severi Avenues, and finishing outside the Nicosia District Court.
The local challenge is headed by three seasoned Cypriot drivers, all in Lancer Evolution IXs: Christos Demosthenous clinched victory in the ERC Production Car Cup last year and finished sixth overall, and he returns hoping to repeat that success.
Stavros Antoniou, who finished seventh overall last year, returns with high hopes of improving on that, while Panikos Polykarpou, who is a member of the FIA Young Drivers Excellence Academy and Ambassador of the FIA Road Safety movement, has had a fantastic season so far, with a podium finish in every rally he has taken part in.
FIA European Rally Championship standings:
1. Kajetan Kajetanowicz 159
2. Craig Breen 136
3. Alexey Lukyanuk 105
4, Robert Consani 55
5. Slim Plangi 43
6. Bruno Magalhaes 38
7. Jaromir Tarabus 37
8. Jan Kopecky 36
9. Freddy Loix 35
10. Dominykas Butvilas 33