The 2018 Cyprus Rally came to a nail-biting end on Sunday evening in what proved to be the closest ever finish on this tough European Rally Championship (ERC) event.
After two days battling over 205 competitive kilometres on the rough stages in high ambient temperatures which saw many drivers struggling with mechanical and tyre problems as well as their car’s set-up, a mere 0.6 seconds separated first from second at the finish line.
In the first victory for a Cypriot driver in 10 years, Simos Galatariotis took the winner’s laurel, with Portugal’s Bruno Magalhaes pipped at the post into the runner-up position. Hungary’s Norbert Herczig took the third step on the podium.
In an action-packed first Leg which saw the race leader change three times, it was Finland’s Juuso Nordgren who led the field into the overnight halt, having moved to the top of the leaderboard on the last stage of the day.
Early race leader Alexey Lukyanuk had crashed out on special stage (SS) 4, leaving five-time Cyprus winner and rally favourite Nasser Al Attiyah to inherit the top spot, but punctures on three stages dropped the Qatari down to fourth and a fastest time on the final stage of the day gave the lead to the Finn, 4.6 seconds ahead of Galatariotis.
The drama continued on Sunday’s second Leg.
Nordgren survived the first two stages of the day but perhaps the pressure of heading the field by such a small margin began to tell: mid-morning he rolled his Škoda Fabia R5 on stage 9 and dropped down to fourth place. The error handed first place to Simos Galatariotis who was closely followed by Bruno Magalhaes and Nasser Al Attiyah, both of whom had their own agendas with the finish line in sight.
Magalhaes wanted the podium to move to the top of the ERC leaderboard after the demise of Lukyanuk, while Al Attiyah was hoping to rack up his sixth win on this event despite his disastrous first day.
A disconsolate Nordgren explained “We had a long wait before the stage, then at the first corner, very slippery, I went wide there. It was a really amateur mistake with the cold tyres into the first corner.”
Despite his indiscretion, he vowed to continue, but disaster struck on the very next stage when he had a head-on collision with a car belonging to a member of the public (which should not have been in a rally special stage). As a result, stage 11 was cancelled to try and get the entire race back on schedule.
The last two stages, at Layia and Lefkara – dubbed Golden Stages as prize money is up for grabs to the fastest overall crew, the best 2WD and the quickest Cypriot crew – were set for the final showdown. Galatariotis was hanging on to his lead, 12.7 seconds ahead of Magalhaes and 18.3 seconds in front of the charging Al Attiyah.
A blistering run at an average speed of over 76km/h through Stage 12 gave the lead back to the Qatari, with Galatariotis in second place, just 2.3 seconds behind, and Magalhaes third, 9.1 seconds behind the Cypriot. The final stage at Lefkara was almost 20 kilometres long and it was clear that anything could happen: one mistake or turn of bad luck could turn the leaderboard upside down again.
And it did.
Al Attiyah stopped in the stage to change yet another punctured tyre, which cost him all of two minutes and he dropped down to fourth again. Although Magalhaes clocked 8 seconds faster than Galatariotis over the stage, it wasn’t enough to snatch the top spot: the Cypriot finished the rally just 0.6 of a second ahead to claim his first victory on this tough event.
Alexandros Tsouloftas, who re-entered the rally under Rally 2 rules after retiring on Saturday, finished eleventh overall, scoring points for the local championship. He also secured top honours in the two Golden Stages after registering the fastest combined time, winning the €3,000 prize as well as an additional €1,000 for the top Cypriot crew.
Panteli and Christodoulou won the ERC2 class and the French pair of Pallier and Combre triumphed in the ECR3 category.
The next round of the ERC will be the Rally di Roma Capitale on 20 – 22 July, which made its ERC debut in 2017 when Italy returned to the European championship for the first time since 2013. Three more events follow, with the series ending in Latvia in October.
Final General Classification (including drivers in the Cypriot championship):
1.Galatariotis/Ioannou Skoda Fabia R5 1:55.40.2
2.Magalhaes/Magalhaes Skoda Fabia R5 1:55.40.8
3.Herczig/Ferencz Skoda Fabia R5 1:57.01.6
4.Al-Attiyah/Baumel Ford Fiesta R5 1:58.07.2
5.Avcioglu/Korkmaz Skoda Fabia R5 1:58.45.9
6.Stajf/Ehlova Skoda Fabia R5 1:59.05.3
7.Botka/Mesterhazi Skoda Fabia R5 1:59.18.3
8.Von Thurn Und Taxis A. Skoda Fabia R5 1:59.23.4
9.Demosthenous/Laos Mitsubishi Evo X 1:59.41.4
10.Panteli/Christodoulou Mitsubishi Evo X 2:02.24.8