Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched an ultimately-comfortable victory in the Cyprus Rally by pulling away from Roger Feghali over the deciding loop
With little left to fight for in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge standings, most of the top teams chose to skip the Cyprus finale, leaving guest drivers like World Rally Championship and Dakar regular Al-Attiyah to take centre stage.
Two of his main rivals were out before the rally had barely begun, as pre-event favourite Andreas Mikkelsen's Hankook Ford suffered engine problems before the first full-length stage, and Peugeot's top driver Bryan Bouffier lost 25 minutes when he damaged his suspension on SS2.
That left Al-Attiyah and fellow Ford driver Martin Prokop to fight for victory. After a driveshaft problem had delayed Prokop on the opening night, he chased down Al-Attiyah and took the lead when his rival lost time with a jump-start penalty and a slow puncture on Friday afternoon.
But Prokop would not lead for long, as a second driveshaft breakage this morning cost him several minutes. Al-Attiyah lost time in Prokop's dust and was only seven seconds ahead of seven-time Lebanese champion Feghali's Skoda going into the last three stages, but the Barwa Ford man had the pace to pull away and win by 30.7s.
Prokop managed to salvage third ahead of his Czech Ford team-mate Jaromir Tarabus, despite a final-stage spin.
With Franz Wittmann also hitting trouble, Nicos Thomas was ultimately the highest-placed Peugeot in fifth, winning a long battle with top Group N driver (and ex-WRC man) Roman Kresta's Mitsubishi. Bouffier took some stunning stage wins after his Friday delay, before retiring with a broken wheel this morning.
Although the IRC championship season is now over, the crews will reconvene tomorrow for the new end-of-year Golden Stage event - a live televised shoot-out over two passes of a 31-kilometre stage in Limassol, which carries a 150,000-euro prize fund.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford 3h11m43.5s 2. Roger Feghali Skoda + 30.7s 3. Martin Prokop Ford + 4m32.0s 4. Jaromir Tarabus Ford + 5m40.5s 5. Nicos Thomas Peugeot + 6m45.5s 6. Roman Kresta Mitsubishi + 7m16.6s 7. Charalambos Timotheou Mitsubishi + 12m44.0s 8. Constantinos Tingirides Mitsubishi + 13m20.6s 9. Misfer Almari Subaru + 14m50.3s 10. Panikos Polykarpou Mitsubishi + 19m15.8s
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season