Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar, with co-driver Mathieu Baumel (Andorra), continued his love affair with the Cyprus Rally on Sunday, winning the 50th edition of the event for a record extending eighth time in a Volkswagen Polo GTi R5.
Abdullah Al-Rawahi/Ata Al-Hmoud finished second and Cypriots Christos Demosthenous with co-driver Kypros Christodoulou third.
Al-Attiyah covered the 194.88 kilometres of the 12 special stages of the two-day event in a time of 3 hours, 3 minutes and 38 seconds, finishing top in the general classification, 3 minutes and 21 seconds faster than Al-Rawahi with a Skoda Fabia R5, who improved on his 3rd place in 2021.
The award ceremony took place on Sunday evening at the old Nicosia city hall in Eleftheria square, with the ambassador of Qatar to the Republic of Cyprus, HE Ali Yousef Al-Mulla presenting the trophy to his compatriot. Municipal council of Nicosia Valerios Danielides awarded the second place trophy and Imad Lahoud, FIA MERC coordinator the third place trophy.
Al-Attiyah’s eighth victory in the Cyprus Rally (2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2023) extended his winning record in the national race.
Second in wins overall, with four victories (2004, 2005, 2006, 2009), is the 9-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb.
The Middle East champion remains unknown!
However, as far as the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) 2023 is concerned, which concluded in Cyprus with the 5th event of the season, the FIA will be tasked to decide the champion, according to its Regional Championship Regulations! This is because with the 30 points that Al-Attiyah obtained from his victory and the 24 points that Al-Rawahi got from the second place, the two are tied on 108 points, with a dead heat between them.
Since in this year’s MERC they both managed two wins, two second places and faced one retirement, in Oman, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Cyprus.
For the MERC2 category, the championship was decided in Cyprus, with Mshari Al-Thefiri (Kuwait), with co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari (Qatar) and a Mitsubishi Evo X car, winning the title for an eighth time.
Al-Attiyah said that it would be fair for the title to be shared between him and Al-Rawahi. He also expressed his wish for the Cyprus Rally to return to the ERC (European Rally Championship). Al-Rawahi said that his goal is to compete in the WRC (World Rally Championship).
At the end of the 1st day, on Saturday, Simos Galatariotis was top in the general classification, along with co-driver Antonis Ioannou and a Volkswagen Polo GTi R5. The 2018 Cyprus Rally winner was fastest on four of Saturday’s six SS’s and had built a 15.2 second lead over Al-Attiyah, which also gave him the victory in rally No3 of the Cyprus Championship (each day of the Cyprus Rally counted as a different event for the local championship).
But, early on Sunday, at SS7, he was forced to retire, when he broke his radiator at the jump point on the Yeri stage.
Careful drive by Nasser
The retirement of Galatariotis opened the way to victory for Al-Attiyah, since he already had a significant lead against the other contender for the win, Al-Rawahi (Oman), due to the latter’s flat tire in SS6, when he had lost more than three minutes.
By the end of SS7, the Qatari had already opened up the gap to 4 minutes, with the remaining five stages not being enough for Al-Rawahi to cover the ground. Al-Attiyah drove carefully the rest of the day, making sure to bring his Volkswagen Polo GTi R5 to the finish line as unscathed as possible.
The 26-year-old Al-Rawahi, however, closed his second appearance in the race in an excellent way, by being fastest in four of Sunday’s stages, which were also his first stage wins of his career in Cyprus. Al-Attiyah and Galatariotis also won four stages.
Demosthenous the top Cypriot
Christos Demosthenous, with co-driver Kypros Christodoulou and a Skoda Fabia R5, finished in 3rd place in the general classification and top of all the Cypriot crews!
With five placings in the top three of SS, the champion of Cyprus in 2015 and 2016 claimed for the second time in his career a spot on the podium of the Cyprus Rally, after the third place he took in 2020.
At the same time, the two of them celebrated their first victory of the season in the Cyprus Championship, since each day of the Cyprus Rally counted as a separate race.
This year’s event was sponsored by Honda – Galatariotis, ANCO Catering Equipment, Cablenet, Stop Fire, Andreopoulos Signs, Farmakas Natural Spring Water, Jeep and TGI Friday’s. It was supported by the Nicosia and Aglantzia Municipalities.