Alex's sail

Almost a quarter of a century ago, members of the RAF MSA got together with the Cyprus AA to organise what was the first International Cyprus Rally. It was a kind of mixture of the Acropolis and RAC rallies of the time; hot, rough, dusty, very tightly timed and with a special stage/time control layout similar to that which was common in Britain. It was a rally not only for strong cars but for crews possessed of high degrees of tenacity and stamina.

It was a huge success and it was not long before the reins were taken over completely by the CAA which continues to run the event with aplomb.

This year, there were 19 special stages totalling 215 miles. All were on dirt roads, although there was some rain in places to lay the dust, and wind in others to disperse it quickly.

The Cyprus Rally is the final coefficient 20 round of the European Championship year, but the series is invariably settled before the event takes place. This was the case in 1994, although one wonders whether many more entries would have been attracted had this not been so. The ERC is so top-heavy with rounds that very few people take it seriously and those who go to Cyprus are usually tackling the event on its own merit, not because of a championship prop.

Regrettably, entries from outside the island were down to four this year. There was not a single British crew, for instance, a far cry from the situation of years past. Alessandro Florio and Vittoria Brambilla (pictured) are great fans of this event. They won both in 1992 and in 1993 and returned this year in a Giesse-backed Lancia Delta of the Astra team. Not unexpectedly, they won again and registered a hat-trick. They were also fastest on every single stage, creating a double record.

From Lebanon came Cyprus regulars 'Bagheera' and Naji Stephan in another Lancia, their progress, and that of another Lebanese crew, Jean-Pierre Nasrallah and Freddy Zriack in yet another Delta, being recorded by a strong crew from MTV Beirut.

Tihomir Zlatkov and Konstanca Tomova brought a Group N Ford Escort RS Cosworth from Bulgaria, completing the non-Cypriot entries.

The most favoured locals were Dimi Mavropoulos and Vahan Terzian, both past winners. The former was in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth with Michalis Michael and the latter in a Group N Toyota Celica Turbo with George Sergides. Andreas Tsouloftas drove a Mitsubishi Galant, as did Lenas Cleanthous, whilst Menelaos Melissas, a leading 2wd exponent, was in an Opel Astra GSi. Zacharias Prastitis drove a Honda Civic to a creditable fourth place and Costas Georgallis a Nissan Pulsar GT1-R to fifth. Michalakis Zambas was in another Pulsar and Dinos Mashias in a Subaru Legacy. Veteran Kypros Kyprianou drove a Peugeot 309 GTI and, amazingly, got it to ninth.

Rarely has an early lead resulted in a win in Cyprus. The favoured tactic is to start cautiously and to speed up gradually, when one has the opposition weighed up. But this year that was not the case. Fiorio decided to take the bull by the horns. He was fastest on the first stage, a twelve and a half miler through mountainous terrain and badly rutted by the rains of earlier storms. ,

Mavropoulos needed the first of several fuel filter changes in an attempt to stop a leak, whilst Terzian had both front shock absorbers changed after the first stage. Nasrallah completed the first stage with a punctured front left tyre after hitting a rock whilst Mashias lost his brakes in the same stage and came to the end with his exhaust pipe trailing.

After the third stage, Florio declared that his early speed was not just the result of exuberance. He had started the rally in first position on the road and wanted to stay in that place, free from others' dust. At Limassol, he held a 46s advantage over Tsouloftas, who was 52s ahead of Mayropoulos. Cleanthous was another 32s behind, just three seconds ahead of the wily Terzian.

Most disappointingly, ‘Bagheera' had left the rally before the start of the third stage as the result of nothing more than a wrong slot. Between SS2 and SS3 the route ran along the old Nicosia-Limassol road, which is parallel with and close to the more recently constructed highway. Unwittingly, co-driver Stephan chose the wrong one, recalling that last year's second stage was this year's third. So much time was lost that, rather than endure a low position, with all the dust that this would bring, they chose to withdraw.

On the first stage of the second leg, Mavropoulos collected a puncture and drove for almost three miles on a flat. But later his troubles increased when his power steering failed. The rack was changed, but not long afterwards the problem returned when hydraulic fluid again began to escape. It seems that the plastic discs used as backing stiffeners for the rubber seals at each end of the rack had not been put in place, and this was also the case with the replacement. Dimi was not a happy man, especially as he had to endure this disadvantage until the end of the rally, but he did say that he was getting excellent arm and shoulder exercise!

Tsouloftas rolled and retired in the fourth stage, which took the heat off Fiorio who slowed accordingly. The dust during the night was really dense and anyone who caught another competitor stood very little chance of getting close enough to attempt overtaking. Cleanthous lost a wheel in SS4 and had no brakes at all for the remaining seven miles of that stage. Mashias had a leaking brake master cylinder, whilst PareIli retired after his Opel Astra's engine computer went wrong, causing a misfire which eventually became a total stoppage.

The third, leg began with Florio still in a comfortable lead (11m 16s) over Terzian, but Mavropoulos was only another 5s behind and was determined, despite the continued absence of power steering, to get ahead of his long-time rival. Later, he lost his brakes as well and the London-based Cypriot could only slow the car with the handbrake.

Rain fell during this leg, so that dust was replaced by mist in places and some competitors found that their windows were fogging up. Furthermore, there were some really tricky mud patches.

Mashias stopped to have a new brake master cylinder fitted, but when this was found to be the wrong size the original was hastily refitted and off he went, still without brakes. Another to lose brakes was Chrysanthou.

Later in the evening, a thunderstorm broke, sending not only heavy rain but fearsome hailstones. Mavropoulos' service crews were meanwhile attempting to cannibalise several spare steering racks in order to make one which would not leak fluid.

On the final leg, there was no chance of anyone getting ahead of Fiorio. Equally, there seemed little chance that Mavropoulos would overhaul Terzian, especially as the former's Escort was leaving a pool of hydraulic fluid on the ground whenever he left the start of a special stage.

Melissas had his left halfshaft changed, only to have his mechanics return to change it again when the replacement was found to be bent.

As the rally drew to its close, Fiorio's times continued to be most respectable. He said afterwards, "I didn't want to slow down, because that's when you lose concentration and are likely to make stupid mistakes. I go better under stress, so I kept pushing even though there was no-one pressing me."

In the 17th stage Zambas experienced the helpfulness of spectators when he stopped to change a wheel after a puncture. He didn't have to use the jack. His Nissan was lifted bodily by a mass of willing manpower and it was got on its way again with minimum delay. Fiorio also had a puncture in SS17 after which, with just two stages to go, he further reduced his pace.

That was about the size of it. It all finished with Fiorio and Brambilla more than 20 minutes ahead of Terzian who, in turn, was nearly seven and a half minutes in front of Mavropoulos. G P

Rothmans Cyprus Rally – September 23-25 1994

1 Alessandro Fiorio - Vittorio Brambilla (I) Lancia Delta HF integrale, GpA 5n 59m 37s
2 Vahan Terzian - George Sergides (CY) Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD, GpN 6h 19m 46s
3 Dimi Mavropoulos – Michalis Michael (CY) Ford Escort RS Cosworth, GpA 6h 27m 09s
4 Zacharias Prastitis - Omiros Dimitriades (CY) Honda Civic EF3, GpA 6h 34m 45s
5 Constantinos Georgallis - Athos Kollitiris (CY) Nissan Pulsar GTI-R, GpN 6h 35m 08s
6 Kostas Lambrianides - Efklidis Papadopoulos (CY) Subaru Legacy 4wd Turbo, GpN 6h 36m 04s
7 Michalakis Zambas – Savvas Laos (CY) Nissan Pulsar GTI-R, GpN 6h 39m 30s
8 Dinos Maschias - Nicos Panayides (CY) Subaru Legacy 4wd Turbo, GpN 6h 41m 29s
9 Kypros Kyprianou – Charalambos Anastasiou (CY) Peugeot 309 GTI, GpA 6h 42m 17s
10 Menelaos Melissas - Giorgos Zorpas (CY) Opel Astra GSi, GpA 6h 47m 36s

74 starters – 31 finishers