The Cyrus Rally kicked off on Friday. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, well-known to Cypriot rally fans, has won the event six times and is gunning for a 7th win; he currently leads the Middle East Championship and is hoping to be crowned Middle East Champion for the 10th consecutive year and 16th time in his career.
The official start was Friday at 5pm at the Service Park in Aglantzia. This year’s rally is taking place without the presence of spectators, who are ‘strictly forbidden’ from entering the Service Park or the special stages from the start and finish points.
This year’s Cyprus Rally will be unlike any other in its long and illustrious history. The fact that it is being staged at all during the coronavirus pandemic is perhaps rather remarkable, but don’t expect the glitz and glamour of past years.
For a start, the event will be held without spectators, except for the super special stage at the 3.3-kilometre Achna Speedway circuit on Sunday afternoon. The number of competitors has dwindled to 24 entries, with just three coming from overseas.
As Antonis Michaelides, President of the Cyprus Automobile Association (CAA) put it at the press launch, “the strict conditions set for moving from country to country were the reason why most competitors of the European Championship expressed reluctance to travel to Cyprus”.
The event will not be counting towards the European Championship because that involves considerable sums being paid to the promoter and the organisers are already incurring increased costs due to the Covid protocols. Instead, “we will focus on organising a well-run event that counts towards the Middle East Championship.”
The 514-kilometre rally this year consists of ten gravel and one asphalt special stage covering 181.12km of the total route.
Saturday’s schedule includes a loop of three stages in the Nicosia district, run once in the morning and again in the afternoon, while on Sunday there will be two competitive sections, in Nicosia and Larnaca, run twice (morning and early afternoon) before the super special in Achna, where the first car is due at 14.30.
Though the field is much diminished this year, there are some familiar names on the starting list, not least Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has won the event six times in its 48-year history. Al-Attiyah will be co-driven by Frenchman Matthieu Baumel, with whom he won here in 2017 and 2019. They will compete in the Volkswagen Polo R5 with which took them to victory last year. Al-Attiyah currently leads the Middle East Championship and is hoping to be crowned Middle East Champion for the 10th consecutive year and 16th time in his career, at next month’s Lebanese Rally.
Talented Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas heads the local challenge, seeded 2 in his similar car, co-driven by Stelios Elias; at number 3, in a Ford Fiesta R5, is Abdullah Al-Rawahi from Oman, with Ata Al Hmoud of Jordan in the co-driver’s seat.
Last year’s Cypriot Champions, Petros Pantelis/Kypros Christodoulou will run at number 4 in a Citroen DS3 R5, Panayiotis Giagkou and Panayiotis Kyriakou, also in a Citroen, rounding off the top five.
Other familiar local names include Simos Galatariotis, Charalambos Timotheou, Christos Demosthenous and Panikos Polykarpou.
There are also four cars entered in the two-wheel-drive category.