Nasser Al-Attiyah leads the Cyprus Rally following a day of high drama on the sun-baked final round of the all-action 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

In ambient temperatures of 26 degrees centigrade, the Qatari - who took time out of his rallying career during the summer to win the bronze medal in the men's skeet shooting section of the London 2012 Olympics - completed Saturday's mixed-surface route with an advantage of 1min 30.2secs over Andreas Mikkelsen.

Mikkelsen started the event with an unassailable advantage in his bid to make it back-to-back IRC titles and was leading following Friday night's Super Special Stage through the streets of host town Pafos. But a right-rear puncture on stage two resulted in a costly stop, before a broken right-rear damper meant further delay for the ?koda UK ace. Although he set a succession of fastest times in his bid to make up the lost time, he then slipped further back when he suffered a front-left puncture eight kilometres from the finish of Saturday's final stage while on a flat-out charge.

Despite leading, Al-Attityah hasn't enjoyed an entirely trouble-free day, after an alternator warning light on stage four left him momentarily distracted and resulted in his Fiesta striking a rock, bending its front-left steering. Repairs at service, including the fitting of a new alternator, restored his car to full working order. Although Al-Attiyah was unable to match Mikkelsen's pace during the afternoon loop of stages, his comfortable margin meant he hasn't needed to push.

"It's not been easy today," Al-Attiyah admitted, "We made the decision to use the [reinforced] Michelin tyre, which is heavier, but it's better to lose 10secs in a stage than a lot more time with a puncture as the risk of punctures is very high in Cyprus. I need to win this rally for the Middle East championship and now we have a good lead for tomorrow. Our strategy then will depend on the pace of Andreas, but I am not concerned about his pace. If we keep our pace, we will win this rally."

Mikkelsen said he had been taking big risks to cut the deficit to Al-Attiyah when he was delayed on stage seven.

"I was taking one second per kilometre out of Nasser, but then we had another puncture," he sighed, "To be honest, it could have happened anywhere because I was on the limit everywhere, hitting everything. The win is out of my hands now, as I will not be able to catch Nasser on pace alone."

Sepp Wiegand was on course for his maiden podium finish in IRC when broken steering forced the ?koda Auto Deutschland driver's retirement on Saturday's closing stage. The youngster, making his Cyprus debut, had lost time when he spun on stage four and spent several seconds getting his Fabia S2000 pointing in the right direction in a narrow part of the run.

Wiegand's misfortune has elevated IRC Production Cup leader Toshi Arai into third overall, despite the Japanese Subaru Impreza R4 STI driver spending two minutes stuck off the road on stage three when he overshot a junction. It took the intervention of his co-driver, Dale Moscatt, to enable Arai to get back on the road after the Australian dragged several large rocks out of the way.

Arai's Tommi M?kinen Racing team-mate Jarkko Nikara had been leading the category only for a puncture to drop him back on stage seven. He lost more time in dust clouds created by Marco Tempestini's Subaru after the Italian-born Romanian stopped to change a puncture of his own. In the confusion, Nikara, who has struggled with a headache and sickness throughout the day, damaged his Impreza's front-right suspension striking a rock.

Savvas Savva is the top Cypriot driver in fourth, with Armin Kremer, from Germany, sixth, despite encountering a few mechanical issues in his Subaru. Hungarian ?koda driver L?szl? Vizin is ninth following a spin and an overshoot this morning.

Other drivers in trouble today included Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who was second when he rolled 40 metres down a drop on stage three, and Qatari Khalid Al-Suwaidi who went off nearing the end of stage four and got stuck. Russia's Vasily Gryazin overcame a spin in the morning, but then stopped on stage seven.

Andreas Aigner's hopes of winning the IRC Production Cup were dealt a huge blow when his Subaru developed a brake fault a handful of kilometres into stage two, leading to the Austrian's retirement. Tempestini was also in trouble early on thanks to a broken centre differential, while brake issues hampered Vitaliy Pushkar.

Robert Consani was on track to win the IRC 2WD Cup title when clutch failure triggered his exit on stage four and handed the impetus back to class rival Harry Hunt, who'd been leading until he picked up a front-left puncture halfway through stage three. Consani will restart on day two but must now hope that Hunt falters if he is to win the crown in his Renault Clio R3. Although the IRC 2WD Cup could be out of reach for Consani, the Frenchman still tops the IRC Production Cup standings even though he's not able to score category points this weekend due to the car he's using in Cyprus being ineligible for the class.

Behind Hunt, Hungary's Menya Kr?zser is a strong second in the IRC 2WD Cup with young Cypriot driver Panikos Poykarpou in third place followed by Honda Civic driver Zacharias Manoli.

Sunday's action covers 100.32 competitive kilometres and consists of three stages run twice: the mixed-surface Prodromi run, the all-gravel Gialia test and the Tarmac-only Stavros stage, either side of service in Pafos.



Loading Comments...