Simos Galatariotis has been a fixture on the Cypriot rallying scene for almost twenty years. During that time he has driven any number of cars, but the closest he has been to a championship win was after switching to a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X in 2009, in which he recorded two second-place and two third-place finishes.
Until last year that is. In 2017, and now driving for the Petrolina-Eni Racing Team, he decided to switch cars again and try his luck in a ŠKODA FABIA R5. The rewards were instantaneous: two victories and one runners-up finish saw him clinch the first Cyprus Rally Championship title of his career.
This year, he returned to defend his title, driving the entire season in a FABIA R5 for the first time, alongside co-driver Antonis Ioannou.
The 2018 Cyprus Rally Championship consisted of just four rounds, all of which took part in the first half of the year. Galatariotis was the only FABIA R5 driver in the field.
First up was the East Safari Rally in Paralimni. This rally has long been a favourite of Galatariotis. He had two wins under his belt there already, although in 2017 he could only manage to finish second.
This year was his first drive there in a FABIA R5. It seems the ŠKODA coped well with the tough gravel conditions – Galatariotis eased to victory by a comfortable margin of 29.3 seconds.
Round two saw the teams head to Pafos for the beautifully named Venus Rally. Buoyed by that opening win, Galatariotis put in a perfect drive. He dominated proceedings from start to finish and won by a margin of 3 minutes and 25 seconds. The combination of Galatariotis and the FABIA R5 already looked a cut above everything else in the field.
A month later and that point was emphasised once again at the Tiger Rally in Limassol. Another commanding display saw Galatariotis’ FABIA R5 come home a mere 3 minutes and 10 seconds ahead this time.
Three wins from three rallies meant that the Cyprus Rally Championship was already secured, but for Galatariotis the three biggest rallies of his season were still to come. His attention now turned to the European Rally Championship (ERC).
His next drive was the Acropolis Rally in neighbouring Greece, which was the third round of the ERC.
Faced with a big leap in the standard of driving and the quality of cars he was up against, Galatariotis more than held his own. He finished all but two stages inside the top ten on the way to a 5th place overall finish. He was just one of a remarkable 8 FABIA R5s to finish in the top 9!
The next event for Galatariotis brought the ERC and the Cypriot Championships together, as the domestic rallying season concluded with its flagship event, the Cyprus Rally.
For a number of years, this event was on the World Rally Championship schedule. These days, the calibre of driver in the field is almost as strong, because the rally is part of both the European and Middle Eastern Rally Championships. There hadn’t been a Cypriot winner for a decade, but Simos Galatariotis was about to rewrite the history books.
In addition to the tough competition, drivers also have to contend with the mixed surface. As a gravel specialist, Galatariotis had always found that challenging.
Perhaps that’s why he started fairly cautiously. He finished fifth in the opening two stages before upping the tempo. He took advantage of Nassar Al-Attiyah’s puncture problems to end the first leg in second place, behind the FABIA R5 of the talented young Finnish driver Jusso Nordgren.
In the second leg, the conditions continued to be challenging for Galatariotis as he fought for grip. Despite this, he clawed his way to the top of the leaderboard at the end of stage 9 and held onto it by a margin of 12 seconds in stage ten.
With the cancellation of stage 11, Galatariotis had only to see out two stages to claim his first ever win in the Cyprus Rally. Then, a disappointing penultimate stage saw him lose 20 seconds – and the lead – to Al-Attiyah.
He went into the final stage needing to regain 2.3 seconds on his Qatari rival, but disaster struck when he suffered a puncture. With nothing to lose, he kept going, eventually finishing the stage in 8th position.
His luck was in. Al-Attiyah also suffered a puncture and was forced to stop, losing more than two minutes. All eyes now turned to the FABIA R5 of Bruno Magalhães. Would he be fast enough to pip Galatariotis to the post? Magalhães was 8 seconds faster, but it wasn’t enough. In the closest finish in the history of the Cyprus Rally, Galatariotis claimed a historic win by a margin of just 0.6 seconds.
That result ensured his place in Cypriot Rallying folklore. It also meant that he ended the Cyprus Rally Championship with a 100% record over the four rounds and confirmed a second Championship title.
Buoyed up by two strong performances, Galatariotis decided to try his hand at another ERC round. He travelled to Italy to take on an all-asphalt rally for the first time in his career, in the form of the Rally di Roma Capital.
It was a rare appearance for him at a rally in a non-Greek speaking country and on an unfamiliar surface, so it’s is no surprise that there were a few minor accidents and spins. He finished in a respectable 18th place overall.
That result will certainly not take the shine off what was undoubtedly the most successful season of Simos Galatariotis’ rallying career to date. Now that he’s enjoyed a taste of overseas rallying, perhaps he’ll be looking to test himself and his FABIA R5 even more in the 2019 season.