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After 11 months of gruelling competition over several thousand kilometres of competitive stages, the curtain comes down on another enthralling Intercontinental Rally Challenge season in Cyprus next week (4-6 November).

The FxPro Cyprus Rally, the 12th and final event of the year, might be new to the IRC schedule for 2010 but it has become one of the most demanding events on the international rallying calendar since it first took place in 1970.

Featuring mixed-surface stages, the country's narrow and undulating roads and passes will test driver and car to the limit. And Eurosport, Europe's largest television sports channel and the IRC's international media partner, will be showing four stages of the event live.

As well as counting for IRC points, the event forms the penultimate round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship and several competitors from the regional series, including multiple champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, will be in action and will doubtless pose a threat to the IRC regulars.

Forty-two competitors will tackle the rally and the majority will remain on the island for the inaugural Love Cyprus Golden Stage Rally, which takes place on Sunday 7 November. The event, a joint initiative between the Cyprus Automobile Association and the IRC's promoter, Eurosport Events, will be contested over a single 25-kilometre mixed-surface stage run twice. The action will be televised live on Eurosport and Cypriot channel Lumiere TV and a combined prize fund of 150,000 Euros has been pledged by the organisers.

The Cyprus Rally is characterised by its breathtaking and dramatic scenery. The move to a mixed-surface format in 2009 has resulted in the inclusion of some faster and flowing roads as opposed to the low-speed tracks that were synonymous with the event in the past. However, it is still widely known for providing a stern test for competitors and their cars.

Despite the rally's early November date, ambient temperatures are set to peak at 27 degrees centigrade and won't dip any lower than 20 degrees centigrade. This will put the onus on driver fitness and increase the strain on the cars as they pass over the rock-strewn roads.

Action gets underway with an all-asphalt superspecial stage in the Limassol's port, the island's largest, on the night of Thursday 4 November. The Lemesos Super Special Stage covers a total distance of 2.45 kilometres and drivers will compete against each other in pairs.

Friday is made up of three mixed-surface stages based to the east of Limassol, plus a return to the Lemesos Super Special Stage that evening. Saturday's action takes place over six stages with the first car due to reach the finish close to the event's permanent service park in Limassol in the south of the island at 18:03hrs local time.

The Cyprus Rally marks the finale of the IRC 2WD Cup for crews in two-wheel drive machinery. Both the drivers' and manufacturers' titles will be decided in Cyprus.

Another significant accolade up for grabs in Cyprus is the Colin McRae IRC Flat Out Trophy. The award is handed to the most spectacular driver who best embodies the spirit of the Scottish hero and rallying legend on rounds of the IRC. Its recipient is chosen by a panel consisting of IRC's Motorsport Development Manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Gilbert Roy, the Director of Editorial and Programme Development at Eurosport Events, and Jim McRae, Colin's father. A special award will also be given to the most spectacular driver of the year.

THE COMPETITORS
     
Andreas Mikkelsen will start the FxPro Cyprus Rally on the back of his strong run to second place on Rally of Scotland earlier this month and will be a firm contender for his maiden Intercontinental Rally Challenge victory in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000. The 21-year-old from Norway has impressed mightily throughout the season and is determined to finish 2010 with a podium.

Nasser Al-Attiyah has enjoyed plenty of success in Cyprus in the past by winning the country's Troodos Rally on seven occasions. Armed with a Fiesta S2000, the Qatari made his IRC debut on Rally Argentina in March and will be aiming to make his most of his experience of the island's gruelling terrain alongside Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.

Martin Prokop will also rely on Fiesta technology when he makes his first IRC start of the season. The Czech has sampled the Cypriot stages in the past, winning the Junior world championship event in the country in 2009. Jaromir Tarabus will partner his countryman in the Czech Ford National Team at the wheel of a similar Fiesta.

Franz Wittmann returns to IRC action after missing the last two events in Italy and Scotland. The Austrian, 27, visited the Cyprus Rally in 2006 when it counted towards the world championship and has fond memories of the island and its punishing stages. Despite showing plenty of pace this season in his Interwetten Racing Peugeot 207, Wittmann has been frequently out of luck and is still chasing his first points of the campaign.

Joining Wittmann in the ROMO Motorsporttechnik outfit will be Frenchman Bryan Bouffier, who has concluded a one-off deal to drive for the German squad in a second 207. Bouffier came close to winning Barum Czech Rally Zlin in August and is relishing the mixed-surface stage format in Cyprus. Buoyed by her first IRC points in Scotland, Burcu Cetinkaya will be aiming to add to her tally in her Peugeot Sport Turkey 207.

Daniel Oliveira scored his first IRC points back in his native Brazil in early March. He has recruited Bruno Magalhaes' co-driver Carlos Magalhaes to partner him in Cyprus aboard his Stohl Racing 207. Team boss Manfred Stohl finished second on the Cyprus Rally in 2006 and will be anxious to offload his experience onto his young charge.

Cypriot Nicos Thomas holds the record as the youngest winner of the Cyprus Rally, a feat he achieved as a 20-year-old in 2007. Now 23, Thomas has got his hands on a Peugeot 207 and will be an unknown quantity as he adapts to the Super 2000-specification machine. Thomas is one of several leading local drivers in action. Others include current Cypriot champion Constantinos Tingirides and Charalambos Timotheou. Both will drive Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancers.

With the IRC title-winning Skoda Motorsport team not competing in Cyprus, Lebanese driver Roger Feghali will be responsible for upholding the Czech manufacturer's honour in his Fabia S2000. Feghali is better known as an asphalt specialist but has some experience driving on gravel.

Misfer Almari is one of several Subaru Impreza drivers in action in Cyprus. Hailing from Qatar, Almari leads the Middle East Rally Championship and will be a contender for the Subaru Individual Award, which is handed out to the leading Subaru finisher by the Japanese manufacturer on rounds of the IRC.

With Kevin Abbring and Rafael Tulio not competing in Cyprus, Harry Hunt knows that a points' finish will be enough to secure the IRC 2WD Cup title. The trio are tied on 20 points each although Hunt might be hard-pushed to land a maximum score against Hungarian Honda Civic drivers Janos Puskadi and Laszlo Vizin.

Cyprus is the final event of the 2010 IRC season and will determine third place in the overall IRC manufacturers' ranking. The manufacturers' title in the IRC 2WD Cup is also still up for grabs and the outcome will be determined in Cyprus.

All IRC awards will be presented at the end-of-season ceremony in Limassol on the evening of Sunday 7 November. The event is being jointly organised by Eurosport Events and the Cyprus Automobile Association. IRC champions Juho Hanninen and Mikko Markkula, runners-up Jan Kopecky and Petr Stary, and third-placed crew Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle are among those set to attend.

THE EXPECT ATIONS

Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar), M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000: "It's a very tough rally and the mixed-surface stages will increase the challenge but my experience means I know what to expect. My target is to win even though the level of the IRC drivers will be very high."

Bryan Bouffier (France), Peugeot 207 S2000: "This will be the highest level rally I have done on gravel but I hope to find a good pace quickly. I like driving on gravel and my Peugeot is very competitive on this type of surface. I don't know the rally but I know it will be difficult."

Franz Witttmann (Austria), Peugeot 207 S2000: "After a bad season I really need a strong result so this is a very important rally for me. If I can show the pace I have on other gravel events then I will be happy but I also need to stay out of trouble to ensure I finish." 
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