IN truly imperious form, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini on board their Ford Fiesta RRC clinched victory and a ninth Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) in the CNP Asfalistiki Cyprus Rally.
With only Dubai left in the MERC, the Qatari multi-champion can now set his sights on next year’s Dakar Rally.
Almost three minutes behind them was Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin with their Citroen DS3 RRC.
The battle for second place was fierce with the UAE driver claiming second only 4.7s in front of Qatari rally prodigy Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and his co-driver Killian Duffy.
The two crews exchanged blows all weekend until Al-Kuwari suffered a puncture on Sunday morning and had to chase the Emirati, almost catching him before the end.
In fourth place overall was 2010 MERC champion Misfer Al-Marri and Nicola Arena on board their Ford Fiesta RRC.
Right behind them was Cyprus championship leader Costas ‘Chips’ Georgiou with Elena Pieri and their Mitsubishi Lancer. The duo drove a clever rally on the second day, allowing Al-Marri to slip fourth overall in order not to risk losing first place amongst the local crews, which all but ensures them this year’s title.
In a testament of how gruelling a Cyprus Rally can be, from the 24 crews that took to the starting ramp, only nine managed to survive the heat, dust and tricky special stages.
After winning all but one special stage on Saturday, Al-Attiyah dominated all eight Sunday stages on his way to victory.
The battle of the day was undoubtedly between Al-Qassimi and Al-Kuwari, with the pair going into Sunday with only 1.6s separating them.
Al-Kuwari, after having a puncture early in the day, promised to drive flat-out in the afternoon and that is exactly what he did. Unfortunately for him he came within 4 seconds of his great rival and had to settle for third, which is the same position he currently holds in the MERC championship.
‘Chips’ Georgiou was calm and collected on Sunday, finishing fifth after being overtaken in the overall standings by Misfer Al-Marri.
Georgiou and Elena Pieri have two more rallies to go until the end and need only six points in order to lift this year’s title.
Sixth overall was Stavros Antoniou and ‘Chips Junior’ with their Lancer Evo IX, who were fastest among the local crews on SS16.
The day could not have been complete with yet more retirements. Local driver Michalis Poseidias was on course to finish ninth overall and third among the Cypriot crews yet bad luck struck on the final stage with fuel pump trouble.
Poseidias was devastated after seeing how highly competitive he was on the final day with three fastest times among local crews in Sunday’s stages.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX of Phanos Christofis and Pambos Laos also faced fuel pump trouble. At the same time, it was gearbox trouble that ended the rally for Kyriacos Kyriacou and Christos Aristidou with their Subaru Impreza.
The final round of the MERC will be held in Dubia from November 28-30.
The CNP Asfalistiki Cyprus Rally 2013 was organised by the Cyprus Automobile Association with the sponsorship of CNP Asfalistiki and the support of the Nicosia Municipality, Cyta, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, the Cyprus Sports Organisation and the state of Qatar.
SOURCE Cyprus Mail