Middle East champion survives big challenge from Al Qassimi after last stage puncture destroy's UAE driver's victory bid

Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah won the Dubai International Rally for the second year in succession today to round off another triumphant FIA Middle East Championship campaign.

Partnered by British co-driver Chris Patterson in a Subaru Impreza, Al Attiyah emerged from a fascinating battle with the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi to take victory by a margin of 3 mins 42 secs in the seventh and final round of the regional series.

It would have been much closer but for a puncture which destroyed Sheikh Khalid's challenge on the final special stage of the event this afternoon after he had closed to within 17 seconds Al Attiyah to potentially set up a dramatic finish.

Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, brother of Sheikh Khalid, took third place ahead of Oman's Nizar Al Shanfari. Lebanon's Roger Feghali in a Mitsubishi Evo 9 and the UAE's Sheikh Suheil Al Maktoum in a City of Arabia Subaru Impreza completed the top six.

Despite going out of the rally on the final leg with mechanical problems, Qatar's Misfer Al Marri claimed runner's up spot in the Middle East Championship, just edging out Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou, who retired on the penultimate stage, and Al Shanfari.

Al Attiyah, who had clinched his fourth successive Middle East title in Cyprus earlier in the month, had to be at his best to see off the challenge of Sheikh Khalid who had returned from World Rally Championship duty with Team Abu Dhabi.

The two great Arab rivals had been separated by just six seconds at the end of a dramatic first leg on Friday, and Al Attiyah was clearly determined to build on his advantage as the second leg got under way.

He was 12 seconds quicker than Al Qassimi on the day's first special stage and, after the next stage had been cancelled for technical reasons, increased his lead by another 13 seconds on the following stage.

With time running out, Al Qassimi produced a superb response on the penultimate stage, winning it in brilliant style to set the stage for what would have been a tense finish but for his last leg puncture.

Among the second leg casualties were UAE-based Lebanese driver Michel Saleh and Qatari Mubarak Al Hajri who both rolled their cars on the day's first special stage.

Georgiou had looked set to claim second place overall in the championship before his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9 came to a complete halt with mechanical failure on the penultimate stage. Provisionally placed seventh, the UAE's Rashed Al Ketbi later faced time penalties for route deviation which would drop him to tenth place.

-credit: dir