Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, currently heading the leaderboard of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, is looking to secure another victory and the championship title, leading this weekend's Troodos Rally from the outset.
The 5th and penultimate round of the 2003 Middle East Championship, this year's Troodos Rally got off to a thrilling start with heavy rains falling on the first stage. Al-Attiyah and co-driver Steve Lancaster, led from the outset in their Subaru Impreza WRC, and held the lead, despite picking up a 20-second road penalty due to their late arrival at Time Control 2.
Chasing Al-Attiyah is former Cyprus national champion, and the winner of last month's Syrian International Rally, Andreas Tsouloftas. 8 points behind Al-Attiyah in the drivers' championship, Tsouloftas and co-driver Savvas Laos held second place throughout the day, but Al-Attiyah set a blistering pace. Abdullah Al-Qassimi, who currently holds second place in the drivers' championship, failed to start the event.
A strong international field of drivers arrived in Cyprus to compete in this year's Troodos Rally, which is organised by the Cyprus Automobile Association and sponsored by Opel and Valvoline. 30 cars started the event, out of 41 entries. Disappointment struck early for some drivers, however. Lebanon's Roger Feghali and co-driver Ziad Chehab were left high and dry after the ship carrying their Subaru Impreza WRC from Lebanon was delayed due to rough seas. Further delays saw their car arrive after this morning's 0900hrs start, thus eliminating them from the event. Saudi Arabia's Farouk Ghurab, whose car was on the same ship, suffered a similar fate.
Ken Dobson and Steve Sumner, British entrants from the British Bases in Cyprus, made a brave and impressive start to the first day of the rally, moving up the field ten places in the opening stage. Their luck didn't hold, however, and they were unable to continue after their impressive start
The overall length of the Troodos Rally is 849km, with 4 special stages today and a further 9 special stages tomorrow, totaling 230km. Tomorrow's action will start at 0600hrs from Nicosia's Makarios Stadium with the first car expected to cross the finish line at Eleftheria Square just before 1800hrs. Prize-giving will take place later the same evening.
Overall drivers' positions after Leg 1 of the 2003 Troodos Rally
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)
2. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)
3. Rami Shiohatovich (CY)
4. Christos Armeftis (CY)
5. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)