Following the recent cancellation of November’s Kuwait International Rally, the Cyprus Rally will bring this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) to a thrilling conclusion on October 6th-8th.
Al-Thefiri can snatch MERC title if both rivals retire and he finishes
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is a record-breaking 18-time winner of the regional title, but the Qatari trails his arch rival Abdullah Al-Rawahi by six points heading into what promises to be a thrilling battle for both the Drivers and Co-drivers’ Championships – Al-Rawahi’s co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud and Al-Attiyah’s navigator Mathieu Baumel are also separated by six points.
What makes the final round so interesting is that Al-Rawahi currently has two wins (Oman and Jordan) and a second place (Lebanon) under his belt and a non-finish (Qatar). Al-Attiyah earned a win in Qatar, second places in Oman and Jordan and crashed out of the lead at the recent Rally of Lebanon.
That means, should Al-Attiyah claim the win in Cyprus and Al-Rawahi finish second, the MERC would have a dead heat and the FIA would need to determine the winners of the championship, according to the Sporting Regulations for FIA Regional Rally Championships.
The likelihood of this happening is extremely high as well, because only three of the 26 crews on the official entry list are registered for the MERC, with the remainder competing in the Cyprus National Championship. Victory for Al-Rawahi would give him a first ever regional title.
Seven-time event winner Al-Attiyah again wheels out his Autotek Motorsport-run Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, with Al-Rawahi lining up in his Oman Rally Team Škoda Fabia R5.
The third MERC-registered driver is Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X driver holds third place in the Drivers’ Championship – 24 points adrift of Al-Rawahi – and heads to Cyprus having already clinched another MERC2 title alongside his Qatari co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari.
Adding another potentially fascinating twist to the conclusion of the series is that Al-Thefiri and Al-Kuwari could also win their respective titles if they were to finish the event and their rivals were to retire. They would drop a lowest five-point score, earn 30 for the win and pip Al-Rawahi and Al-Hmoud to both championships by a single point!
Competition to the MERC trio comes from a host of local drivers, who have loyally supported the event since it lost its status as a round of both the FIA World and European Rally Championships.
Christos Demosthenous wheels out his Petrolina Racing Team Škoda Fabia R5, Costas Zenonos drives a Citroën DS3 R5, Yiangou Motor Sport has entered a Hyundai i20 R5 for Panayiotis Yiangou and Simos Galatariotis drives a Petrolina Racing Team Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. The remainder of the entry is made up of Rally3, Rally4 and National cars.
Organised by the Cyprus Automobile Association, competitors will face 12 mainly gravel special stages and 195.36 competitive kilometres on Saturday and Sunday. Last year’s event was cancelled because of a government funding shortfall.
Only the Yeri and Lefkara stages, which are repeated twice on Sunday, contain small asphalt sections. The remainder are narrow, twisty and demanding gravel trails, where the risk of punctures is large over abrasive rocky surfaces in high temperatures.
Cyprys Rally - leading entries (top 10)
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5*
2. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR)Škoda Fabia R5*
3. Petros Panteli (CYP)/Charalambous Laos (CYP) Renault Clio
4. Christos Demosthenous (CYP)/Kypros Christodoulou (CYP) Škoda Fabia R5
5. Costas Zenonos (CYP)/Phanos Christophi (CYP) Citroën DS3 R5
6. Simos Galatariotis (CYP)/Antonios Ioannou (CYP) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5
7. Panayiotis Yiangou (CYP)/Aristos Nicolaou (CYP) Hyundai i20 R5
8. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X*
9. Sofianos Rousou (CYP)/Constantinos Constantinou (CYP) Ford Fiesta Rally 3
10. Photos Yiannouri (CYP)/Andreas Chrysostomou (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX