One of the most satisfying experiences of rallying is to see a new event appear on the calendar and then to watch its progress from infancy and inexperience to strong, tough maturity. We have seen the beginnings of many rallies in our time, some now floundered and gone forever, some still struggling to make the grade every year, and some having achieved recognition as a worthwhile and established annual addition to the calendar.
Such an event is the Rothmans-backed Cyprus Rally, and it is difficult to think of a rally which, in little more than a decade, has become of the stuff that World Championship events are made. Indeed, it has been of that calibre for some years, although it has not so far achieved that status, which it most certainly deserves.
Alas, motor sporting politics being what they are, quality alone is insufficient for advancement, and whilst selection depends on how many FISA colonels and their lieutenants an organiser can gather on his side we wonder how long it will take for this superb rally to be placed where it deserves to be among the list of the world's best.
Cyprus has no vehicle manufacturing industry to match those of Europe and elsewhere, so its voice on the BPICA has no outlet. Furthermore, its small size seems to generate the idea that no country so diminutive could ever host a World Championship qualifier and live up to all the requirements — and there are as many of those between the lines as there are on them.
However hard the struggle, the Cyprus AA has soldiered on to produce each year an excellent route, superb communications, slick marshalling and as tough and satisfying a contest as you will see anywhere. Add to that a friendly, convivial atmosphere and a bunch of organisers who are helpful beyond measure and you will be part of the way to appreciating what it is that makes this fine rally tick.
Based at Nicosia, the rally is confined in time to a long weekend, but it uses a great deal of the available terrain, with tortuous forest roads high in the mountains, faster ones near the coast, and surfaces varying from terribly rough to perfectly smooth. The scenery is wonderful too, even if some of the sheer drops are on the nerve-wracking side for the inexperienced.
Although a coefficient 4 qualifier of the European Championship, the event gathers precious few entrants for that reason. Those who go do it largely for the adventure and pleasure it gives them, so it has never gathered more than just a handful of top-line overseas crews. This is rather a pity, for some measure the quality of a rally by the calibre of the competitors it attracts.
This year the numbers were reasonable, 73 leaving the start at Nicosia stadium. The various loops were divided by stops at Paphos, Limassol and Cape Kiti, a small resort near Larnaca. The 36 special stages totalled 419 miles — they don't use kilometres in Cyprus, and they even drive on the correct side of the road!
Favourite was undoubtedly Jimmy McRae, in an Opel Manta with Ian Grindrod, and they went faultlessly through the rally to take a comfortable win ahead of local driver (and previous winner) Vaham Terzian in a GpA Mitsubishi Lancer. Terzian is a remarkably polished driver, and whilst Mitsubishi Europe remains undecided about its crews for the future we suggest that they might be surprised if they give this young Cypriot businessman the opportunity of a test drive.
Third place went to Kenyan pair Mike Kirkland and Anton Levitan in a Nissan 240RS, the servicing of which they shared with Greek driver George Moschous who was fifth in a similar car.
Another foreigner was Saeed al Hajri from Qatar, driving a Rothmans Opel Ascona with Englishman John Spiller. Al Hajri, too, is no mean performer, and he finished in fourth place.
Alain Coppier, a leading contender in France's Citroen Visa Challenge, finished eighth and made the visit worthwhile, although he did say that he found the going much rougher than anything he'd seen before.
There was one little hiccough in the event when marshals sent out to block a stage short-cut blocked the wrong road, and it was not until McRae and Kirkland took the unexpected diversion and came back that the officials realised their error and moved to the correct place. The stage was quite correctly scrubbed, but there was a delay at the end when Moschous' entrant attempted by way of protest to get the following road section (on which he'd been delayed by a gearbox change) scrubbed as well. The stewards made the correct decision and rejected the protest.
Among the privateers, Ernest Kenmore turned in a fine drive to finish 10th in his Talbot Sunbeam, with the absolute minimum of amateur service support, whilst Ivan Clark (with former Kenyan and now Cyprus resident Mike Fraser as co-driver) overcame no end of problems to finish 12th in his Avenger. Equally troubled by snags was Gary Hicks, but he too got to the finish, his Nissan taking 19th place.
We would like to go on describing the happenings of this fine rally, but space does not permit. But we will suggest once again that this is a really tough rally which will suit professional and privateer alike. — G.P.