IRC - Al-Attiyah takes huge lead into final day

Nasser Al-Attiyah will take a 90-second lead into the final day of the IRC Cyprus Rally after coming first or second on all six stages on Saturday.

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IRC - Al-Attiyah still leads in Cyprus despite Mikkelsen charge
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Nasser Al-Attiyah - IRC Rally Cyprus

The Qatari, who took time out of his rallying career during the summer to win bronze in the men’s skeet shooting at the London 2012 Olympics, finished second to Andreas Mikkelsen on four of Saturday's six stages and won the other two.

But Mikkelsen's woes on stages two and seven meant that his brilliant driving was only good enough to leave him second going into Sunday's six stages: he suffered from right-rear puncture and damper problems on stage two, then sustained a front-left puncture on the final stage on Saturday to halt his charge and see him lose yet more time.

Al-Attiyah also suffered problems with his Ford Fiesta S2000 suffering alternator and steering issues, but he is one minute 30.2 seconds ahead of Mikkelsen in the Skoda Fabia S2000, with Toshihiro Arai in the Subaru Impreza R4 a very distant third, a further five minutes 22 seconds behind Mikkelsen.

Mikkelsen, has already secured enough points to win the title regardless of the result in Cyprus, admitted that he needs some luck - or bad luck for his rival - if he is to win.

"At the moment we’re 1:30 behind and for sure it’s too much without him hitting any problems. But you never know with this rally," he said, adding that his problems were almost inevitable given how hard he was pushing to make up for lost time.

"I was taking one second per kilometre out of Nasser but then we had another puncture. To be honest it could have happened anywhere because I was on the limit everywhere hitting everything. The win is out of my hands now, I will not be able to catch Nasser on pace alone."

Al-Attiyah is confident that he can hold off any challenge, however, despite Mikkelsen having won five of the seven stages so far.

“I’m not too concerned about Andreas’ pace,” Al-Attiyah said. “If we keep our pace we will win this rally."

The Qatari added that the only reason he was slower than Mikkelsen on so many stages was because of his heavy-duty tyres.

"We made the decision to use the [reinforced] Michelin tyre, which is heavier, but it’s better to lose 10s in a stage than a lot more time with a puncture as the risk of punctures is very high in Cyprus."

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