With 70 per cent of the timed runs on gravel and 30 per cent on asphalt and some stages featuring a combination of both surfaces, driver skill is put to the ultimate test as competitors grapple with compromised levels of handling and grip through the Troodos mountains and surrounding countryside.
Based in Pafos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the south-west of the island, the Cyprus Rally first ran in 1970 and its list of illustrious winners includes Stig Blomqvist, Sébastien Loeb, Colin McRae, Ari Vatanen and Björn Wåldegard. Since its inclusion on the IRC calendar for the first time in 2010, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Andreas Mikkelsen have both enjoyed outright success.
They will be in action this year with Mikkelsen, the defending IRC champion, starting the event with an unassailable points advantage at the top of the standings in his ŠKODA UK Motorsport Fabia Super 2000. The Norwegian, 23, is planning the ultimate victory parade during the two days of competition by chasing a third victory of 2012 alongside co-driver Ola Fløene to seal his second IRC title in style.
However, it’s not just the main IRC drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles that will be settled in Cyprus: the IRC Production Cup and IRC 2WD Cup crowns are both up for grabs with several drivers in contention in the two hotly-contested support categories.
This year’s Cyprus Rally begins with a ceremonial start on the evening of Friday 2 November followed by the 3.20-kilometre Super Special Stage through the streets of Pafos from 19:00hrs local time. Six stages take place on Saturday 3 November over a competitive distance of 100.32 kilometres, with a further six stages running on Sunday 4 November with 133.62 kilometres timed. The finish will take place in Pafos at 16:56hrs local time on Sunday.
As well as counting as the 13th and final round of the 2012 IRC season, the Cyprus Rally is also the penultimate event of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship schedule.
Cyprus used to be synonymous for its punishing tight and twisty rock-strewn gravel tracks but the inclusion of asphalt and smooth loose-surface roads has increased average speeds and made it slightly less hard on car and crew. However, the event remains a tough test with high ambient and ground temperatures adding to the challenge.
Of the three repeated stages on the opening day, one takes place on gravel, one is on asphalt and one is on a combination of the two. Sunday’s route features two mixed-surface stages plus the event-closing all-gravel 30.41-kilometre Panayia test, which is the longest of the rally.
One of the exciting changes for this year is the inclusion of the 19.43-kilometre Prodromi-Neo Chorio stage, which will run twice on day one. Last year it was used for the Golden Stage Rally and is described by IRC Manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas as a “beautiful and spectacular stage”.
Double points will be on offer for all categories in Cyprus, which will only serve to increase the spectacle on offer.
*The origins of the Cyprus Rally date back to what were a combination of road races and reliability trials.
*Andreas Mikkelsen became the fifth IRC champion by winning in 2011 following a five-way title battle.
*Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily and Sardinia – both IRC venues.
*Despite its easterly location, heavy snow is experienced in the Troodos Mountains in the winter months.
*Away from the stages drivers might enjoy a serving of Halloumi cheese, which originated in Cyprus.