Ice cool for Alex

Whilst Colin McRae was spending much of his mid-year time on the other side of the world, the other rallying members of the family were deeply involved in preparations for the Cyprus Rally, the final co-efficient 20 round of the European Championship and certainly the one which has the greatest endurance factor.

As the last major qualifier of the series it rarely attracts drivers who are chasing championship points, but this is an event which stands on its own feet without needing a championship prop, and to win it is to demonstrate both skill and a certain degree of stamina. The special stages are all on dirt roads, many of them very much on the rough side, rest stops are relatively short and there is a full-blooded night leg. This is no forest race; this is a real battle over rocky, dusty tracks; rallying almost in the old style, in which reliability counts as much as skill and in which regulatory dilution has not reared its ugly head as much as in other events.

Those who were tackling the event were there to enjoy as tough and as satisfying a rally as you will find anywhere in the world. Merely to finish is an achievement, a fact which is emphasised by the winners’ overall stage average speed of just 38 mph (in the 1000 Lakes Rally it was 71.7) and the retirement rate of 62 per cent (46 per cent in Finland).

The organisers of the Cyprus Rally are as competitor-friendly as they are innovative. They pioneered radio communications via mountain-top repeaters (since copied by the Safari Rally, but no other), introduced swipe-card direct input timing which, to our knowledge, no other event has yet introduced, and are as helpful to competitors as any organising club you will find in the world. Add to these points the delightful climate and the spontaneous hospitality of the people and you will be part of the way towards appreciating the quality of this unique event.

Based at Nicosia, the rally was divided into four legs. The first went via four special stages to Paphos, on the south-west coast, where there was an evening stop of five hours. The second, running from half-past-midnight to 6.45 am, led through the desolate, north-westerly area of Tilliria and the forest areas of the Troodos Mountains, via six special stages, to Limassol on the south coast, where there was a lengthy stop. The third leg ran from 14.00 to 20.18, leading crews via six special stages back to Nicosia. The final leg, on the Sunday, was a loop starting and finishing at Nicosia, running through six special stages and an official 25 minute service stop at Larnaca.

Among the entrants, Italy’s Astra team sent a Lancia integrale for Fiorio/Brambilla, whilst a similar Astra-built car was provided for Lebanese crew ‘Bagheera (real name Maurice Sehnaoui)/Stephan.

Jimmy McRae took his own Ford Sapphire Cosworth with Ian Grindrod, whilst son Alister drove a locally prepared Subaru Legacy with David Senior. Both had made a sponsorship deal with Cypriana Holidays. There was a group of four private crews from Lancashire, Coupe/Watson and Skidmore/Kidd in Ford Escort Cosworths, Joannides/Patterson in a Ford Sierra Cosworth and Morton/Whittaker in a Lancia Delta integrale.

Also from the UK, although he is a Cypriot and commutes regularly, came Dimi Mavropoulos, partnered by Nicos Antoniades in a Ford Escort Cosworth. Bulgarians Jekov/Tcholakov drove a Mazda 323, whilst Nikonenko/Talantsev from Russia took a Lada Samara and drove it very spiritedly indeed.

Svanholt/Marx brought their Peugeot 309 GTi from Denmark, and Antypas/Richa an Audi 90 Ouattro from Lebanon, the latter crew chasing points in their national championship. There was one French crew, Pascale Neyret/Carole Cerboneschi in a locally provided Suzuki Swift, the first right-hand-drive car that Bob Neyret’s daughter has ever driven in a rally.

Among the local crews, Jeropoulos/ Michael, Cleanthous/Antoniou and the Hadjisavvas brothers were in Mitsubishi Galant VR-4s, Tsouloftas/Achilleos in a Lancia Delta integrale and past winner Terzian with Sergides in a Toyota Celica. Melissas/Zorpas were in an Opel Astra GSI and Georgallis/Kollitiris in a Nissan Sunny GTI.

From the Friday start, the route led southwards to two stages, then, after skirting Limassol, inland via two more stages to Paphos. Alister McRae didn’t even make it to the first stage. Despite much round-the-clock work to improve his local Legacy. there were still fears concerning its durability, and when the gearbox began leaking faster than it could be refilled, they decided to pull out rather than risk seizure or, worse, a fire caused by oil spray on the turbocharger.

Ironically, it was father Jimmy who came to a stop due to a fire. In the first stage, probably due to a stone damaging either a fuel line or a pump, leaking fuel was ignited by the hot exhaust pipe. There is no actual evidence of this, but it is the only logical reason. The rear of the car caught fire, and within seconds the whole thing was ablaze. Eventually, nothing remained except a charred, mostly-melted skeleton, and it is to the discredit of the Cyprus authorities that McRae was later compelled to take the worthless wreck out of the country in order to avoid paying import duty on the entire original car. Far better and simpler for everyone to have dug a hole and buried it, for nothing salvageable was left. Red tape can often be scissor-proof!

A point worth making here is the danger of souvenir hunting. Valves and various other parts had been taken from the remains before mechanics arrived to cart the lot away, and those who took them no doubt had no idea of the risks involved. Several components of modern rally cars, particularly engines, undergo chemical changes when subjected to fire, the residue often becoming highly dangerous, capable of skin penetration and cancer production. If you see a wreck, leave it well alone.

Joannides pulled out after the first stage after having been told by a FISA representative that oversize tyres would probably lead to his exclusion at Paphos, whilst Mavropoulos’ left rear shock absorber went soft and began leaking fluid. Both rear shocks were changed at Paphos.

At the evening stop, Fiorio was leading from Jeropoulos by 59 seconds, followed after another 1m 55s by ‘Bagheera’, and another 24s by Terzian. Mavropoulos was fifth, another 23s back, whilst Nikonenko was 10th, Coupe 20th and Neyret 47th.

On the second stage of the night leg, Fiorio had a rear halfshaft break, which allowed Jeropoulos to get ahead of him by one second. But on the next stage he regained the lead without any trouble. Terzian lost his second gear and, in a Group N car, could not find sufficient service time to have the gearbox changed. He went right through the rally with one eye on his class rival Cleanthous, the other on the road, and all his other senses on gearbox noises, smells and vibrations. Amazingly, he survived and even won the category.

Jeropoulos had his windscreen wipers pack up. It was not raining, but the dust was extremely dense. Mavropoulos cracked a rear cross member and had to lift off for the remainder of the night as, apparently, there was no opportunity to have it fixed. It was eventually welded before the Limassol regrouping control, where Fiorio led Jeropoulos by 2m 08s.

On the Saturday afternoon run back to Nicosia, Jeropoulos stopped for four new shock absorbers (the front struts were bulging the bodywork), whilst Terzian still struggled gamely with no second gear. On the way into Nicosia that evening, roadworks caused some problems, for several people arrived too hard and damaged their cars on a hole which became known as ‘The Nicosia Pothole’. Damage caused by this hole was being repaired throughout the next day.

By this time, and with just half a day to go, Fiorio had extended his lead over Jeropoulos to 3m 16s and had decided to relax his speed. Jeropoulos, on the other hand, had resigned himself to second place and was taking no chances of losing that position. There was therefore no more fighting at the front.

Last minute mishaps on the final day included sheared bolts causing the front of Mavropoulos’ sumpguard to drop and become almost like a scoop. Later, he very nearly stopped altogether when his fuel filter blocked, but some determined pushing got him under way and the offending part was quickly replaced by mechanics.

The Group N battle was resolved most dramatically when Cleanthous rolled and went out of the event, leaving Terzian to coast to the finish, treating his gearbox, still without second, even more tenderly than before.

Local man Mannouris rolled his Peugeot spectacularly on a short piece of tarmac between some houses on stage 19, but there were so many spectators there that he had no time even to get out of the car. Within seconds, it had been put back on to its wheels again and, puffing a little white smoke, went on its way. It was Mannouris’ second inversion of the rally and, remarkably, he finished 15th, albeit with no glass in his car save for the right rear window.

Melissas was not so lucky. Stemming from damage caused at the previous evening’s roadworks on the way into Nicosia, the last of several driveshaft failures finally put him out. Russian driver Nikonenko, after a stirring drive in his private Samara, ditched his car just two stages from the end and, try as he might, he just could not get out.

Florio was delighted with his second successive win on this tough event, as was Mauro Pregliasco, boss of the Astra Team. There is no doubt that this event remains one of the toughest on offer. Whether it gets into the 1995 World Championship remains to be seen, but we sincerely hope that meddlesome Paris-based hands refrain from diluting its strength and changing its character.