MERC: Dubai Int'l Rally preview

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DUBAI RALLY SET TO PRODUCE CLASSIC BATTLE It's tough to pick a winner, says Sulayem as Middle East Championship heads for climax Dubai, UAE, 29th November, 2006: The Dubai International Rally brings the 2006 FIA Middle...

DUBAI RALLY SET TO PRODUCE CLASSIC BATTLE
It's tough to pick a winner, says Sulayem as Middle East Championship heads for climax

Dubai, UAE, 29th November, 2006: The Dubai International Rally brings the 2006 FIA Middle East Championship to a climax this weekend with a classic battle for victory on the cards.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE, the rally organisers, said today that he found it almost impossible to pick a winner of the event which gets under way from the Al Bustan Palace Hotel at 9.30am tomorrow (Thursday).

"The rally looks wide open, and there's a great chance for someone to come through and round off the season with a big victory," said Sulayem, who scored the last of his 15 wins in his home event in 2002, at an official press conference. "This is still one of the most prestigious rallies to win in the Middle East Championship, and the driver who comes through to take it will give himself a big boost for the start of next year's championship, which is only just over a month away."

Regardless of his performance this weekend, the UAE's Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al Maktoum is already assured of runners-up position in the regional series behind champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah of Qatar. Partnered by Wael Murjan in a Subaru Imprezza, Sheikh Suhail will be aiming to turn back the clock in an event he won in 1990, while three other drivers have a dual target.

Occupying fourth, fifth and sixth positions in the championship, UAE brothers Sheikh Khalid and Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, and Jordan's Amjad Farrah, are separated by just four points and could each overtake Qatar's Misfar Al Marri to take third place overall.

All three will be looking for a win, and Sheikh Khalid, accompanied by Khalid Al Kindi in his Subaru, is top seeded as he goes for his second successive victory in the event.

The 2006 Dubai International Rally takes place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, Chairman of Emirates Group and Chairman of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise.

The event enjoys the full backing of the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, the Unified Ambulance Centre, Dubai Ports World and the Dubai Immigration authorities. It is sponsored by Nakheel, Dubai's premier property developer, Emarat, Hertz UAE, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Shamil, Mashreqbank, Damas and the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, the official headquarters for the event.

In the absence of Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, who chases a shooting gold medal at the Doha Asian Games having already secured the Middle East rally title, Qatar makes a six-car challenge in the 35-strong starting line-up in Dubai.

Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah is partnered by his cousin's British co-driver, Chris Patterson, in the champion's Subaru Imprezza. Also carrying Qatari hopes will be Mohammed Al Subaey and Khalifa Al Attiyah in a pair of Subarus and Ahmed Al Kuwari, Khalid Al Suwaidi and Mohammad Al Mannai, all driving Mitsubishi Evolutions.

Headed by Farrah, the seven-car Jordanian team is the largest in the event. The other Jordanian contenders are Faris Bustami, Ammar Higazi and Fares Higazi all driving Mitsubishis, Marouf Abusamra in a Subaru Imprezza, Ahmad Mihar and Mazen Tanash.

Kuwait's six-car bid in Dubai is headed by Mufeed Mubarak who will be aiming to confirm a top ten Middle East Championship finish in a Mitsubushi Lancer Evo 8. Also representing Kuwait are Meshari Al Thafiri and Salah Bin-Eidan in a pair of Mitsubishi Evolutions, Mishari Al-Hajeri and Meshal Al Nejadi in two Citroen Claxos, and Essam Al Nejadi in a Proton Wera.

Oman's former Middle East Group N champion, Nizar Al Shanfari, returns to action in Dubai in a Subaru STI while Muscat-based Nichola Georgiou, son of former rally star Tony Georgiou, enters a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8.

Completing the line-up of Middle East drivers are Lebanon's Ziad Karanouh in a Peugeot 206 RC, as well as two UAE-based veterans of the championship, Michel Saleh in a Mitsubishi and Ron Oakeley, former winner of the Group N and 1600CC titles, at the wheel of a Subaru WRX.

Adding to the international flavour of the event are Swiss lady driver Edith Weiss, former Middle East Formula 2 champion Simon Nutter and fellow-Briton David Scialom.

Following scrutineering today (Wednesday) at the Shamil premises in Rashidiya, the 2006 Dubai International Rally gets underway from the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel at 9.30am tomorrow (Thursday), with a 640-km route containing 14 special stages lying ahead.

Leg One takes the cars through two loops of three special stages and a final burst of two more stages in the Hatta area, before the night halt back in Dubai. The second leg starts from the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel at 8am on Friday and finishes there at 3pm following a double loop of three special stages in the Jebel Ali area.

-credit: dir

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