MERC: Dubai International Rally preview

The Dubai International Rally will have a brand new route, when it brings the 2001 FIA Middle East Championship to a climax on November 14 -15 to accommodate the probable start of the Holy month of Ramadan on Friday, November 16. Mohammed Ben ...

The Dubai International Rally will have a brand new route, when it brings the 2001 FIA Middle East Championship to a climax on November 14 -15 to accommodate the probable start of the Holy month of Ramadan on Friday, November 16.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, already Middle East drivers' champion for 2001, will push to gain a significant double for Ford in next month's Dubai International Rally. The Arab world's top driver, who claimed his 13th Middle East drivers' crown with a fifth victory of the season in Syria now aims to wrap up the manufacturers' championship at the wheel of his Ford Focus World Rally Car in Dubai.The extra incentive for Ben Sulayem is that he could produce a perfect end to the season for Ford, who are also on course for both the manufacturers' and drivers' titles in the World Championship And while Ben Sulayem knows he will need only a top-three finish in the Dubai International Rally on November 14-15 to give Ford the Middle East manufacturers' title for a fifth time, he wants nothing less than a 14th victory in his home event

Cypriot Andreas Peratikos ensured that the battle for the Middle East manufacturers' title will be decided in Dubai by winning penultimate round, the Troodos Rally, to take Mitsubishi to within seven points of Ford.

While a succession of Mitsubishis will be in action in the Dubai International Rally, Ben Sulayem, partnered by Jordanian co-driver Khaled Zakaria, plans another dominant display at the wheel of his Ford Focus WRC to underline's Ford's Middle East supremacy.

Nabil Karam, Lebanon's current master of the hill climb, will bridge a 14-year gap when he lines up in the Dubai International Rally at the climax to the 2001 FIA Middle East Championship .

The two-times former Lebanese rally champion, who has won his country's national hill climb for the last three years, will compete in Dubai in a Group A Toyota Celica GT-4 hired from veteran UAE-based Lebanese driver, Michel Saleh.

Drivers from Cyprus, Great Britain and Australia will take their place alongside many of the Middle East's leading competitors when the new-look Dubai International Rally .

While Mohammed Ben Sulayem is expected to add to his 13 career wins in his home event, and give Ford the manufacturers' title after already clinching the drivers' crown for a 13th time, Cypriot champion Andreas Tsouloftas, Lebanese star Nabil Karam, and veteran Michel Saleh will all be waiting to pounce on any mistakes or misfortunes. Both Tsouloftas and Saleh are in the process of acquiring their own World Rally Cars to challenge Ben Sulayem's Ford Focus WRC, with the prospect that at least one new arrival could be given its Middle East debut in Dubai.

The international line-up includes UAE entries Mohammed Osman, Cypriot-born Nicholas Mandrides, Sadiq Fadhal, Toufic Mitri, Roger Thomas and former Middle East Group N champion, Ron Oakley, while Ahmed Al Sabban again carries the Saudi Arabian flag in Dubai.

Syria is represented by Yazan Rijleh, while Jordan's hopes are carried by Faris Bustami and Asem Aref. Another former Middle East Group N champion, Ron Cremen, makes a welcome return from Australia, while two ex-Formula Two title holders, Howard Patterson and Simon Nutter, again arrive from Great Britain.

Completing the British-based contingent is Amrik Sehmbi, overtaken as Middle East Super 1600 this year by Nearchos Nearchou, who is joined in the Dubai International line-up by fellow-Cypriot, Nenelaos Melissas.

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi can relax and plan a comfortable finish to the season in Dubai International Rally after being confirmed as Middle East Group N champion for the second year in a row.

The last threat to Sheikh Abdullah's title defence was removed when Qatar's Hamed Al Sowaidi went out of last Troodos Rally in Cyprus, penultimate round of the eight-event 2001 FIA Middle East Championship.

Needing to win Group N in Cyprus to maintain his faint championship hopes, Al Sowaidi made his exit on the first leg when his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 blew its turbo.

It means that the Dubai International Rally, now taking place on November 14-15, becomes a virtual lap of honour for Sheikh Abdullah, who has confirmed that, with the Group N crown secured, he will now drive his Group A Mitsubishi Lancer in the final round of the championship .

Al Sowaidi still intends to compete in Dubai, and he will be one of the favourites for victory in the production class, along with fellow-Qatari, Mubarak Al Hajri.

- duby miller

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Series RALLY