Three-way fight to decide the crown.
The Dubai International Rally has launched some epic battles to decide the FIA Middle East Rally Championship over the last four decades, and that trend continues this weekend when the race for the regional title goes down to the wire in the UAE’s longest running sports event.
On this occasion there is a three-way fight to determine who takes the Middle East crown, with Qatar’s defending champion Nasser Al Attiyah, looking to win it for the ninth time, under pressure from the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and another Qatari, Abdulaziz Al Kuwari.
Al Attiyah heads the official entry list of 21 drivers which was announced today by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the national motor sport authority and organisers of the 36th Dubai International Rally.
Partnered by Giovanni Bernacchini in a Ford Fiesta RRC, Al Attiyah is the top seed for the sixth and final round of the Middle East Championship following earlier rallies in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Cyprus.
He will lead the cars away from the start ahead of Al Qassimi, who can snatch the regional title with a win in Dubai, and Al Kuwari, who will need one or both of the two drivers ahead of him to find trouble if he is to be crowned champion.
Among the other Emirati drivers hoping to give the host country victory in the build-up to UAE National Day are Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, who must at least have a chance to add to his list of Dubai Rally podium finishes, and Rashid Al Ketbi, both driving Ford Fiesta RRCs.
Down to three drivers
“The fight for the championship is down to three drivers, but there are always a lot of possibilities in international rallying and no-one can take anything for granted,” said ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
Taking place under the patronage of H.H Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE National Olympic Committee, the Dubai International Rally is one of the main attractions of the 2nd edition of Dubai Motor Festival.
The event gets under way with a ceremonial start at Dubai World Trade Centre at 7.30pm on Thursday before two days of desert special stage action in the Al Dhaid, Kadra and Mileiha areas. The event finishes at Dubai World Trade Centre at 4.30pm on Saturday.
With much of the competitive stages taking place in the Emirate of Sharjah, the ATCUAE is grateful for the backing of Sharjah Sports Council, and the key logistical support from the Police, ambulance service, municipality and other Sharjah government departments.
Pursuing his first Dubai Rally win since his back-to-back victories in 2005 and 2006, and looking to end a ten-year wait for a second Middle East title, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi spearheads a five-car challenge from Abu Dhabi Racing and Citroen.
Partnered by Chris Patterson in a Citroen DS3, he is joined by fellow Emirati drivers Mohammed Al Mutawaa and Mohamed Al Sahlawi - both completing their second season in the championship - and this year’s new boys, Saeed Bintouq and Mansoor Al Helei.
Qatari challenge potent
As usual, the Qatari challenge in Dubai is strong, with Abdulla Al Kuwari and Khalid Al Suwaidi also entering Ford Fiestas and Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah, lying second in the production class championship, at the wheel of a Group N Mitsubishi Evo.
Having already secured the Middle East Group N title, Kuwait’s Mshari Althefiri will be looking to round off the season with another success in Dubai, while Qatar-based female driver Edith Weiss, aims to secure third place overall in the championship’s production class.
No driver has tried harder to win the Dubai Rally than UAE-based Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh, and he maintains his ever present record in the event at the weekend in a Subaru.
For a fifth year, the event will be based at Dubai Men’s College, in the Higher Colleges of Technology campus at Academic City, Dubai, which hosts the Rally HQ and service park.