Rally Review -- Rothmans Cyprus

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Gerry Phillips

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Fun for the few

No matter how tough nor how well organised a rally, in the long run the factor which determines how memorable it will have become is the quality of the competition. An event which attracts a good field of top class competitors tends to be remembered for the keen, close contest between them, whereas another which does not draw the leading drivers of the day will no doubt merit no more than academic mention.

A rally in the latter category was this year’s Rothmans Cyprus Rally, a splendid event, as tough as they are made, organised by as friendly and efficient a bunch of organisers as you will find anywhere. It attracted no less than 86 starters, but there was a distinct lack of Europe’s leading crews, which led to an initial fight between just two drivers, one of whom gradually opened the gap until he won by a margin of nearly seven minutes.

The world’s top professionals are concerned only with the World Championship and are so bound by their contracts and programmes that they find it impossible to extend them.

This was not always the case. In the days when full onslaughts on the entire World Championship were rare, budgets less tight and development less time-consuming, many factory teams entered cars in the Cyprus Rally because they were more interested in the kudos of winning the event itself than any championship. Indeed, the non-Cypriots in the list of past winners since it began in 1970 include such names as Blomqvist, Clark, Vatanen, McRae, Buffum, Waldegård, Mehta, Loubet, Snijers, Llewellin and others, so it can not be said never to have attracted the world’s best.

Nowadays, such people are largely tied up, although there must be several around who would be able to accept an offer to drive for a Cyprus importer or distributor, a system which was once used to good effect by the Pretoria Motor Club for South Africa’s Total Rally, an event which has now re-attracted the backing of Total SA.

Nicosia, in the centre of the island, has always been the operational base of the rally, although the route does not actually follow a cloverleaf pattern. This year’s start was at 2.30 pm on the Friday, and from Nicosia it ran through five special stages in the mountains around Troodos to a four hour stop at the south-western coastal resort of Paphos. Then came a night section through four more stages, the first of which was in the unspoilt and desolate region of Akamas, close to the northwestern tip of the island.

After an eight-hour day stop at Limassol came six more stages on the way back to Nicosia where the first real night stop lasted from 8 pm on the Saturday to 10 am on the Sunday. The final leg was entirely in the area to the south of Nicosia and went via six special stages which were split by a half-hour service stop at Larnaca. The first car finished back at Nicosia at 3.14 pm.

Any rally which takes place in a mountainous country not well served in its interior by telephones is likely to have a communications problem. The Cyprus Rally is no exception, but its organisers have many experienced amateur radio enthusiasts among their numbers and many years ago they constructed automatic VHF radio repeaters which were then installed on strategic mountain tops.

Another innovation by the Cyprus AA made its first operational appearance this year. Rather than have a manual timing system which was separate from the communications network, requiring times to be read over the radio or the cellular phone system, they simply integrated the two and made them automatic.

Each control had a small computerised device which incorporated an accurate timer, a memory buffer and a modem which could be connected to either a normal telephone or a radiophone. Competitors carried magnetised cards, similar to credit cards, and when they were slid through the slot in the machine, both the car number and the time were recorded and stored in the device’s memory. When the controllers were ready, they simply called a number in Nicosia, pushed a button and the stored data was immediately squirted down the line into the main results processing computer in Nicosia.

The field devices worked really well and the only hitches were when a control happened to be nowhere near a normal telephone and in a black spot for cellular phone operation. In such cases, the data was either kept stored for a while or transmitted verbally by VHF radio. There were also some hiccoughs in the mainframe computer, but these had nothing to do with the sending devices which worked faultlessly. They should certainly be looked at by organisers of some World Championship events.

Like countries in Africa, Cyprus has rainy seasons and dry seasons. The last rains failed to appear and the result at the time of the rally was a water shortage which left many homes and business establishments subject to a rationing scheme. It also left the roads very hard, very abrasive and very dusty, producing a high rate of tyre wear and a crop of punctures, and resulting overtaking which was decided tricky, sometimes impossible, in the thick dust of those ahead. There was generally little wind and the two-minute interval between cars was not enough to allow the dust to disperse. Even when, through retirement or delay, a competitor found himself separated by four minutes from the car ahead, the dust was still there.

The temperature was higher than usual for the end of September and in the daytime many crews were complaining of engine overheating and boiling clutch and brake hydraulic fluid. The use of interior heaters was common to take heat from the engine, whilst one competitor lagged his hydraulic lines in an effort to keep heat away from them.

Leading Cypriot entries were 1990 winner Mavropoulos (who lives in London) and Antoniades in an Audi 90 Quattro, Jeropoulos/Michael in a Mitsubishi Galant VR4, Mashias and Panayiotou (the latter from Greece) in a Subaru Legacy and Melissas/Alexandrou in another Legacy. Past winner Terzian was also there, with Sergides, in a well-prepared Honda Civic which he drives impressively.

Two entries from Bulgaria and one from Italy did not materialise, but there was one from the Soviet Union, a Lada Samara driven by Shkolny and Gogonov. Trimmers and Fortin came from Belgium in a Mitsubishi Galant VR4, but this was their first experience off the tarmac. Regular visitor ‘Bagheera’ came from Lebanon with Stefan

in a Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4 prepared by Ola Strömberg in Sweden, whilst Atakan and Avimelek brought a Lancia Delta integrale from Turkey.

The leading Greek entries were Panagiotopoulos/Panou in a Toyota Celica GT-4, Constantakatos (who lives in Edinburgh) and Pallas in a Toyota Corolla GTI, ‘Leonidas’, the Greek Renault importer, in a Clio with Pavli-Corre and Germenis/Kepetzis in a Mazda Familia 4wd. Two crews came from Sweden, Blomqvist/Lindberg (no relation to Stig) in an Opel Corsa GSI and Sellholm/Böckavall in a Skoda Favorit.

David Sutton brought a Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4 from England for Saudi driver Mamdouh Khayat and British co-driver Dave Nicholson. The car was backed by Samarec, the Saudi Arabian oil company. Another Sierra Cosworth 4×4 was driven by Fielding and Robinson from the UK, and these two cars were the only British representatives. There weren’t even any entries from locally based British servicemen this year, although Cyprus resident Mike Hillyar drove a Suzuki SA310 with Georgiades. Mention must be made of 1983 winner Jimmy McRae who was on holiday in Cyprus at the time. When a certain proposal was put to him, he agreed enthusiastically and found himself at the wheel of a course car, a Peugeot 305 GTI, on the ‘superspecial’ stage on the second day.

Right from the start, the heat, the dust and the abrasive, puncture-provoking roads took their toll. Terzian, at No 2, was two minutes behind Timmers, and on both first and second stage he caught the Belgian less than four miles after starting. On the second, whilst driving completely blind in the dust, he went straight off the road and out of the rally, only being prevented from going down a very steep slope by the presence of a tree.

Blomqvist rolled on the first stage but continued, whilst Tsouloftas’ engine stopped several times, caused by a loose wire to the cut-out switch. Mavropoulos had the first of several charging failures, caused by alternator belts coming off. Jeropoulos had intercom failure but nevertheless made best time. He kept that lead to the end, only being threatened by Mavropoulos in the first two of the three days.

Mashias has a puncture on each of the first three stages, but each was within 250 yards of the finish so he didn’t have to stop once to change a wheel.

‘Bagheera’ ended his rally on the last stage before Paphos when his engine mysteriously stopped. Mechanics ran into the stage, changed first his fuel pump, then the wiring to it, but neither remedy made any difference. They even tried wiring the pump directly to the battery, but to no avail. Later, they blamed a fuel line blockage.

Cypriot driver Michaelides had to stop after stage three when his co-driver, who had complained of dizziness on the first stage, declared that he could go no further. He picked up the co-driver of a car which had retired and continued to Paphos, where he was disappointed when told that he could not continue. Crew changes are forbidden, of course, once an event has started. He was not too aggrieved to cannibalise his car and donate steering parts to a friend in a similar machine.

The first stage after Paphos ran into desolate country in the north-western corner of the island where navigation is tricky, even with a roadbook. Fielding took a wrong road and, when turning around, got the car wedged on rocks. The jack was needed to get it off, and the operation cost some time.

After the return through the mountains to the stop at Limassol, Jeropoulos had extended his lead over Mavropoulos and, barring problems, it seemed more or less certain that the former would win.

Khayat had the misfortune to roll, explained as the result of track control arm breakage, on the last stage of the day. The car was blocking the road, so the crew dashed back to warn others and, when enough manpower had been amassed, the car was righted and pushed to the side of the road. Remaining crews went through the stage as a road section and were later credited with the time of the slowest of the three cars to have completed the stage before the incident.

The only all-girl crew, Kyprianou/Christodoulu, collected a puncture on this interrupted stage and spent so long changing the wheel after their boot lid refused to open that they had no time for service when they got to Nicosia. Fortunately, there was time the next morning.

On the final day, little happened to alter the situation among the leaders, but Swedish driver Blomqvist came to a dramatic stop when he went off the road and just about destroyed his car. They were unhurt, but so shocked that they gratefully accepted the stage officials’ offer to drive them back to Nicosia. Fielding also stopped when his camshaft drive belt broke just as they were checking in to an end-of-stage control.

On the last day there was a scene reminiscent of the works Minis of the ’60s after Kevezes had a hole punched through the gearbox casing of his Polonez. Quickly, the car was turned on its side, resting on two spare wheels, and mechanics were able to patch the hole with stout canvas and silicone sealant.

Of the 86 starters, only 28 finished. That statistic, plus the winner’s average speed of just 35.68 mph over the 230 miles of special stages, bear witness to the toughness of this three-day event. If you want to do well, you need a stout heart, but we have always said that the Cyprus Rally represents a particularly worthwhile event for private entrants.

It is certainly on the rough side, so a strong car with plenty of underbody protection is a requirement, whilst the twisty character of the roads, often climbing and descending steep mountains, places more emphasis on acceleration than sheer speed. For anyone whose rallying taste leans towards a lacing of adventure, who appreciates a warm climate and enjoys good company, this is one which should be near the top of the list. — GP

***

Results (top five) Rothmans Cyprus Rally — 27-29 September 1991

European Rally Championship — Final Coefficient 20 Round

1. Antonis Jeropoulos (CY)/Michael Michael (CY) — Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, Gp A — 6h 25m 52s

2. Dimi Mavropoulos (CY)/Nicos Antoniades (CY) — Audi 90 Quattro, Gp A — 6h 32m 42s

3. Iskendur Atakan (TR)/Yusus Avimelek (TR) — Lancia Delta Integrale 8v, Gp A — 6h 37m 47s

4. Manolis Panagiotopoulos (GR)/Nicos Panou (GR) — Toyota Celica GT, Gp N — 6h 37m 55s

5. Dinos Mashias (CY)/Makarios Panayiotou (GR) — Subaru Legacy 4WD, Gp N — 6h 42m 55s

86 starters; 28 finishers

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