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Yazeed Al-Rajhi has claimed a debut victory in the FIA European Rally Championship to become the eighth different winner of the all-action ERC season.
 

By finishing second on the CNP Asfalistiki Cyprus Rally, Kajetan Kajetanowicz is one of four drivers still firmly in contention for the coveted regional title with two rounds remaining. Kajetanowicz, whose performance makes him the inaugural ERC Gravel Master, was also chosen as the recipient of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy.
 
There was a home victory in the ERC Production Car Cup with Christos Demosthenous taking the honours, while Zoltán Bessenyey moved back ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre in his bid to win the ERC 2WD title for a second time in as many years.
 
Co-driven by Northern Irishman Michael Orr, Al-Rajhi started Sunday’s closing six stages 3.8s down on Kajetanowicz in second place having lost ground with a broken rear anti-roll bar on Saturday’s penultimate stage. He was ahead at the completion of the day’s opening all-gravel run. And the Saudi ace extended his advantage over Kajetanowicz to 4.1s on the next stage. But the decisive moment came on stage 12 when Al-Rajhi went a full 31.5s faster than his rival to all but seal victory in his Ford Fiesta RRC as a power issue slowed Kajetanowicz.
 
“We come 12,000 kilometres [from Rally Australia] for this rally and we come to win and not to play,” said Al-Rajhi. “We did a good job, everything was under control and for us this is a big win after a good fight with Kajetanowicz. “In the first stage this morning we have a small spin and lose four or five seconds. In the second stage we need to take carefully but then on the last stage it was a big push because it was the last chance for me and before the service you must take a risk.”
 
Kajetanowicz had produced one of the drives of the season on Saturday as he cancelled a deficit of more than 30 seconds – and overcame a 10-second time penalty – to lead at the overnight halt in Nicosia. The LOTOS Rally Team driver was 33.8s behind Al-Rajhi after he damaged the steering of his Ford Fiesta R5 on the Nicosia street stage on Friday. Penalised by 10 seconds for leaving first service one minute behind schedule while his mechanics rushed to complete essential repairs, Kajetanowicz suffered more woe with powersteering issues and a puncture. But a succession of stage wins in the sweltering Cyprus heat put him in the lead for leg two.
 
However, his tenure of top spot wasn’t to last as a power issue dropped him to second. Although a replacement turbo wastegate was fitted at midday service to restore the M-Sport Poland-run Fiesta to full working order, Al-Rajhi couldn’t be caught. Nevertheless, the Pole’s season-best second place marked a fine effort by the four-time national champion. He heads to the final two events of the season 29 points adrift of title leader Esapekka Lappi with 78 points still up for grabs.

“Before the start I never thought I could be second so this is a dream,” said Kajetanowicz. “It was a big weekend and fantastic rally for us. Yazeed was really fast but we had some small problems although in the end we are really happy. Big thanks to my team and to Jarek.”
 
Abulaziz Al-Kuwari claimed maximum FIA Middle East championship points in a strong third with Khalid Al-Qassimi one place behind in his Citroën DS3 RRC after a handful of spins and an overheating issue cost him vital time.
 
Bruno Magalhães was a fine fifth – and the third-highest ERC scorer – in his Peugeot 208T16, which he was using on gravel for the first time. However, there was late misfortune for Craig Breen when the Irishman’s 208T16 developed a technical issue on the final stage. Although he eventually reached the end of the run he was unable to complete the 65-kilometre road section back to service in Nicosia to compound a troubled weekend for the Peugeot Rally Academy ace, which was beset by mechanical problems from the start. However, he remains in he hunt for the ERC title spoils but will need a strong result on the penultimate round in Switzerland next month.
 
ERC stalwart Antonín Tlusťák took a solid 10th overall with Láslo Vizin three places further behind. However, several drivers were unable to restart on Sunday following their exits on the opening leg. They included Nasser Al-Attiyah and Robert Consani due to engine failures, and Jaroslav Orsák, who damaged his ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 beyond immediate repair on the Nicosia street stage on Friday evening.
 
ERC Production Car Cup: Home joy for Demosthenous
Cypriot driver Christos Demosthenous took the ERC Production Car Cup lead on stage three and never looked back to claim comfortable win ahead of his compatriots Stavros Antoniou and Petros Panteli, who was held back by myriad mechanical issues on the final day. “We are particularly happy not only for finishing first among the Cypriot crews but also to finish first in our class and sixth overall,” said Demosthenous. “Our plan worked from the beginning and we were fortunate enough not to have any car problems. This victory has placed us on track to win the national championship and everything will be decided in the last rally a few weeks from now.” ERC Production Car Cup title chaser Martin Hudec completed the final stage with no working second gear on his Mitsubishi Lancer but made it home seventh in class after being slowed for much of leg one by a broken front differential. Vitaliy Pushkar retook the championship initiative despite an engine problem causing a concern on the final stage.
 
ERC 2WD Championship: Roll no barrier for champion Bessenyey
Not even a leg-one roll could prevent Zoltán Bessenyey from dominating the ERC 2WD category to reclaim the title lead. Bessenyey was fastest in his class on all but three stages in his Eurosol Racing Team Hungary Honda Civic Type R, which he shared with co-driver and partner Yulianna Nyírfás. However, there was late drama when the car’s powersteering failed starting the final stage although a determined effort by Bessenyey ensured victory by more than six minutes ahead of fellow Honda driver Stavros Achilleos from Cyprus.
 
TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 15 stages, 232.02 kilometres)
1 Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 3h03m44.4s
2 Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jarek Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +18.9s
3 Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC +1m30.5s*
4 Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC +2m05.7s*
5 Bruno Magalhães (PRT)/Carlos Magalhães (PRT) Peugeot 208T16 +3m23.3s
6 Christos Demosthenous (CYP)/Pambos Laos (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +7m44.0s
7 Stavros Antoniou (CYP)/Chips Junior (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +9m42.6s
8 Petros Panteli (CYP)/George Alexandrou (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +11m56.1s
9 Vitaliy Pushkar (UKR)/Ivan Mishyn (UKR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +12m37.8s
10 Antonín Tlusťák (CZE)/Jan Škaloud (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +15m26.0s

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