Whilst World Championship devotees were busying themselves in Australia (see following pages), those concerned with the European series were getting ready for that championship’s final co-efficient 20 round, the Rothmans Cyprus Rally.
That statement is not strictly true, however, for the championship had been settled, as it usually is, before this qualifier in the Eastern Mediterranean and those who were taking part in it were not doing so for the sake of championship points. The event attracts competitors on its own merit and those who tackle it are invariably rewarded with as tough and as satisfying a rally as any in the world.
Spanning just three days, it has many stages which can only be described as rough, and it would be a foolish crew indeed that would enter a fragile car. Rest stops meet FISA’s requirements, but the first is in the evening, so there is still considerable rallying to be done in darkness.
Inaugurated in 1970, the event began as a kind of hybrid of RAC and Acropolis rallies, and it continues like that even today. However, that is not to say that it has no character of its own. On the contrary, it is distinctively the Cyprus Rally and is run by organisers who are as adept at locating competitive roads (not difficult in Cyprus) as they are innovative.
They have been using mountain-top radio repeaters to link controls directly with HQ by VHF radio for many years, long before the Safari established its now well-known network in Kenya, and last year they set up their ‘timing by credit card’ system.
When a car arrives at the end of a special stage, a plastic card is wiped through a sensor slot and the car number, with its time, is then transmitted directly to the HQ results computer via a modem connected to either a normal or a portable telephone. It’s quick and efficient, cutting out the risk of misunderstanding, and even the drawback of a control sited where a portable ‘phone will not work is overcome by taking, every five cars or so, a data disk to a convenient location where the modem/phone combination will work.
Organisational slickness and a network of demanding roads are not the only attractions of this rally. The people of Cyprus are friendly and hospitable, and there have been many competitors and mechanics who have enjoyed the pleasure of a meal in the home of a mountain villager. The weather is usually good, although warm sunshine can sometimes give way to wind and rain in September, as it did occasionally this year. But at least the dust was reduced!
Among the 90 starters this year were just nine from outside the country, a surprisingly low proportion when you consider the attractions of the event, even if the time-consuming sea journey is taken into account. There were three from Greece, two from Czechoslovakia and one each from Italy, Poland, Russia and Great Britain. The usual visitors from Bulgaria and Lebanon were absent.
From Italy came the Astra Team with a Lancia Delta Integrale for Alessandro Fiorio/ Vittorio Brambilla. It was their first visit to the event, but one which they will never forget as they emerged outright winners. Indeed, it was Fiorio’s most significant victory since he began driving and he said afterwards that he would endeavour always to keep his Septembers free for the Cyprus Rally.
From Britain, David Metcalfe and Ian Grindrod took their Atkinsons-built Opel Corsa GSI which they entered privately. Metcalfe drove remarkably well until stopped by a breakage, and was often showing his heels to much more potent four-wheel-drive cars.
Marian Bublewicz from Poland drove a Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, as did Dimi Mavropoulos/Nicos Antoniades. Mavropoulos, a regular competitor in the Cyprus Rally and winner in 1990, actually lives in London but returns frequently to his homeland.
Czechoslovakians Josef Sivik and Miroslav Houst drove a Lancia Delta Integrale and their fellow-countrymen Dawson and Bicanova a Skoda Favorit, whilst Russians Vladislav Shtykov and Yuri Baikov were in a Lada Samara. The Greek visitors were Panagiatopoulos in a Subaru Legacy, Gemenis in a Mazda 323 GTX and Margaronis in a Lada Samara.
Among the Cypriot drivers were 1991 winner Antonis Jeropoulos in a Mitsubishi Galant VR4 and 1981 winner Vahan Terzian in a Toyota Celica 4wd. Andreas Tsouloftas drove a Lancia Delta whilst Dinos Mashias had a Subaru Legacy.
The rally was based at Nicosia, where headquarters were set up at the Ledra Hotel in the suburbs, not to be confused with the Ledra Palace Hotel in the city centre. The first leg, which started at 14.30, went through the forests of the Troodos Mountains and included five special stages before arriving at the southwestern coastal resort of Pahos just after 20.00.
The second leg began at 2.00 and went northwards into the desolate Akamas region before heading back to Nicosia, again via the Troodos, arriving at 8.15. This also contained five stages, the first of them being a particularly rough 14-miler close to the north-western coastline.
After some six hours’ rest, the third leg ran from 15.00 to 20.45 and included six special stages, some in the moutains and some in the lower, but nevertheless hilly, regions nearer the coast. This leg skirted Limassol, passed close to Episkop and finished back at Nicosia. The final leg, on the Sunday, ran from 10.00 to 15.15 and included six special stages. These were to the south of Nicosia, on both sides of the main Limassol road. In that final leg there was also a scheduled 25-minute service stop at Larnaca.
From the start it was Fiorio who made the running, breaking the record for the first stage despite collecting a puncture. Jeropoulos and Mashias also had punctures, the former breaking a wheel rim and the latter finishing on a flat tyre. Mavropoulos suffered severe brake fade due to overheating and this persisted throughout the first leg. He also had trouble selecting first gear, often having use both hands on the lever, and this continued until he got back to Nicosia.
Panagiotopoulos lost all his gears except first and third and needed a new gearbox at Paphos, whilst throughout the field there was much evidence of the pounding as shock absorbers were changed regularly, exhaust pipes welded and worn-out wheels and tyres replaced. Bodyshells were also distorting, so much in one case that the driver could not open his door and had to resort to the window for entry and exit.
When Skevos Charalambous stopped his Opel Kadett for service after the third stage he knew that suspension attention was required but he didn’t realise the seriousness of the damage until, seconds after the car stopped, its left rear wheel promptly fell off and rolled away down the road!
Sivik’s alternator stopped working and he was given a new battery for every stage until he could have the alternator replaced back at Nicosia. Meanwhile, Metcalfe was playing himself in gradually, not risking the car on the rough stages but nevertheless recording respectable times. At Paphos he was fifth, but moved up a place soon afterwards when Jeropoulos retired after his clutch thrust bearing broke up and all the required parts were not available to replace the unit.
Terzian, who had earlier lost second gear, withdrew soon after leaving Paphos. there being insufficient time to replace his gearbox. Metcalfe also began having problems, firstly losing his right rear wheel in the seventh stage after a hub broke up and then continuing without brakes until new discs and calipers could be fitted. Later, at Nicosia, he said: “It was a really tough night, but the car is all sorted out now.”
Fiorio’s lead over Mavropoulos was more than five minutes after the second leg, whilst Bublewicz was only a minute and a half behind the leading Cypriot.
Fiorio began the third leg determined not to take any risks, but he nevertheless broke his front right suspension by hitting a bump too hard. However, this was quickly replaced afterwards and the Italian pair were not at all concerned. Metcalfe also hit a bump rather hard, the front struts denting the top front bodywork from the inside. Later, the left front strut was changed, along with the half-shaft. Back at Nicosia, his entire brake hydraulic system was replaced, along with the rear axle.
Alas, Metcalfe’s rally came to an end in the first stage when, not far from the finish, his steering broke and the car became impossible to drive. Two mechanics, armed with replacement parts and tools, ran into the stage and got the car going again, but so much time was lost that they eventually withdrew, knowing that they would be declared beyond maximum lateness when they got to the finish. There were some smiles at the end of that stage when the Opel mechanics arrived at the end of the stage at the same time as the car itself!
Fiorio spend the remainder of the day at much less than 100 per cent, whilst Mavropoulos was making sure that Bublewicz did not catch him. During the day, his gearbox rear mounting bolts broke, and the temporary repair which got him to the finish consisted of wires pushed through holes drilled through the floor pan and welded to screwdrivers inserted from the inside.
Sivik cracked his windscreen against a tree branch. Shtykov collected a puncture, whilst Parellis, driving a Fiat Uno Turbo, spent the day continually wrapping grease-filled polythene around a driveshaft joint, the gaiter of which had broken and fallen off. Indeed, they had been doing this since leaving Paphos.
At the finish, Fiorio, Brambilla and all the Astra people were wild with delight. It was the Italian crew’s best ever result, made even better by the fact that it was also one of the toughest events they had tackled, even though it only spanned three days. Another pair to celebrate at the finish were the two girls Nitsa Kyprianou and Mickey Christodoulou who finished 32nd in their Suzuki Cultus. It’s not the first time they have finished the event, but they are the only ladies to have done so.
This is certainly an immensely satisfying event and one which should be on the short list of any privateer who likes his or her rallying to lean on the rough side. It isn’t one for the faint-hearted but, on the other hand, neither are most others!
Rothmans Cyprus Rally – 25-27 September, 1992
European Rally Championship, Coefficient 20
1. Alessandro Fiorio / Vittorio Brambilla – Lancia Delta HF Integrale, GpA
2. Dimitri Mavropoulos / Nicos Antoniades – Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, GpA
3. Marian Bubiewicz / Gregorz Gac – Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, GpA
4. Andreas Tsouloftas / Andros Achilleous – Lancia Delta HF Integrale, GpA
5. Andreas Kalogeru / Andreas Christodoulides – Mitsubishi Galan VR-4, GpN