Powerful starting line-up features 33 drivers from 12 nations, with Jordanian and German ladies in the hunt
The Dubai International Rally is ready to provide a powerful climax to the 2001 FIA Middle East Rally Championship next week.
Any fears that the eighth and final round of the regional series could be hit by travel concerns have been dispelled by an impressive final entry list issued today by the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE (ATCUAE), the rally organisers and national motor sport authority.
Thirty three drivers from 12 countries, including challengers from Great Britain, Australia, Germany and the Czech Republic, will go into action when the rally roars to life at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel at 10.30am on Wednesday next week (November 14).
Headed by 13-times Middle East champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the starting line-up consists of another 10 drivers from the UAE, four from Jordan, three each from Great Britain, and Qatar, two apiece from Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, and one each from Australia, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic and Germany.
Sulayem's top-seeded Ford Focus World Rally car will lead a procession of 13 vehicles classified in Group A, and 20 contesting Group N production class honours.
While rallying remains a male-dominated sport, the presence of Jordan's Nancy Al Majali and Germany's Edith Weiss brings extra interest, and competition for the ladies' prize.
Another lady driver, Ruth Paterson, this time takes the co-drivers' seat to assist husband Howard, the 1999 Middle East Formula Two champion who runs his own rally driving school in the UK.
Paterson, Formula Two winner in Dubai two years ago, will have to replace his Group N VW Golf in the future if he is to challenge for more official titles as the car does not qualify for the new Super 1600 series for two-wheel-driver cars. He was leading Formula Two driver overall in Bahrain earlier this year before oil pressure problems put him out of the event, and he will be looking for better fortunes in Dubai, even if Cypriot Nearchos Nearchou arrives to confirm his Super 1600 title success.
Another Cypriot, Menelaos Melissas, gives a competitive debut to his newly-converted Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, and will be aiming to build on his seventh place in Dubai in 1999 and sixth in last year's UAE International Rally in Abu Dhabi. Syrian driver Yazan Rijleh is another hoping to at least go the distance in his Group N Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 after failing to finish in Dubai last year because of gearbox problems, and retiring in Abu Dhabi in January, at the start of this year's Middle East series, with engine problems.