MERC: Dubai: Sulayem clinches milestone win, Qassimi gets title

Arab world's top driver, Sulayem reaches new milestone clinching 60th career win at the Dubai Rally. UAE-driver, Khaled Al Qassimi claims first Middle East Championship. Mohammed Ben Sulayem won the Dubai International Rally for the 15th time...

Arab world's top driver, Sulayem reaches new milestone clinching 60th career win at the Dubai Rally.

UAE-driver, Khaled Al Qassimi claims first Middle East Championship.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem won the Dubai International Rally for the 15th time to reach another milestone in his career, while fellow-UAE driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi claimed his first Middle East title.

Sulayem rounded off the 2002 FIA Middle East Championship with a fifth victory of the season in his Ford Focus World Rally Car - his 60th career success in the Middle East series - winning by 3 mins 59 secs from Sheikh Abdullah Ql Assimi's Ford Focus WRC.

Taking third place overall, Al Qassimi's brother, Sheikh Khalid, also headed the production class to claim the Middle East Group N championship from Qatar's Misfer Al Marri who had led the title race at the start of the event but suffered major mechanical problems .

Also celebrating a Middle East title win was UAE-based Ron Oakeley, partnered by co-driver wife Julie, who squeezed into the top ten in his Subaru Impreza to land the super 1600 championship. The 1992 Group N champion is only the second driver to win regional titles in two categories.

Sulayem, who had wrapped up his 14th Middle East drivers' crown with victory in Jordan in September, was in control from start to finish in the Dubai International Rally. His win also confirmed Ford as Middle East manufacturers champions for a sixth time.

Celebrating at the finish at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel with British co-driver John Spiller, Sulayem said: "I'm very happy with the result, and I'm so impressed with this Ford Focus. I've won all five out of five events in the car this year using the same engine.

"Abdullah (Al Qassimi) pushed hard and it was good to have that competition. But I was fastest on all but one of the stages and I'm very pleased to win the Middle East manufacturers' championship for Ford again."

While Misfer Al Marri lost his chance to become the third Qatari driver to win a Middle East title, another Qatari, Mubarak Al Hajri was set to take fourth place overall and second in Group N until in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 broke down agonisingly on the last stage.

That misfortune promoted the UAE's Raed Baker in a Group A Toyota Celica, while another UAE driver Sadeq Fadhel and Bahrain's Abdul Rahman Ghuloom completed the top six. They had all moved up a place after Cypriot challenger Menelaos Melissas went out when his Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 rolled two stages from the end.

Finishing 12th out of 13 survivors from an original 33 starters, Jordan's Abir Albatikih was the only lady driver to complete the event, in a Group N Toyota previously driven by two-times Jordanian champion Faris Bustami.

Cypriiot Nearchos Nearchou joined the casualty list when his Proton was halted by mechanical problems and the UAE's Mohammed Juma also went out of the event when his Volvo overheated.

Rising British star Justin Dale made a dramatic exit from the final round of the 2002 FIA Middle East Championship. Dale's promising start came to a sudden halt when he rolled his Group N Subaru Impreza end over end near the finish of the fourth special stage.

The current British Super 1600 champion and this year's British Championship runner-up was taken to Rashid Hospital in Dubai for precautionary X-rays after his accident on the fourth stage. He was found to have badly bruised ribs but no fractures. Co-driver Andrew Bargery was not hurt.

Dale, lying third before his accident, said: "I was coming to the end of the stage and it was dead straight over another track before a hairpin. I was slightly left of where I should have been and went into a dip and rolled end over end several times.

"There were no dramas at all before that. I think it was probably down to my lack of experience in the desert. I was really enjoying the rally and having fun." <pre> Provisional results:

1.      M. Ben Sulayem / J. Spiller     (UAE/GB) Ford Focus WRC (A)             1hr 58mins 33secs
2.      A. Al Qassimi / K. Zakaria      (UAE/HKJ) Ford Focus WRC (A)            2:02:32
3.      K. Al Qassimi / T. Al-Warshaw   (UAE/UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI (N)  2:15:48
4.      R. Baker / N. Ahmadi            (UAE/UAE) Toyota Celica GT4 (A)         2:22:51
5.      S. Fadhel / I. Naban            (UAE/UAE)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 5 (N)    2:30:05
6.      A. R.Ghuloom / E. Ghuloom       (BH/BH) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo  (N)      2:33:11
7.      H. Al Sadadi / TBA              (BH) Subaru Impreza WRC (N)             2:35:30
8.      M. Al Marri / A. Hussain        (QA/QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII (N)   2:50:41
9.      R. Oakeley / J. Oakeley         (UAE/UAE) Subaru Impreza  (N)           3:00:59
10.     C. Johnson / D. Mc Dowall       (UAE/UAE) Subaru Impreza (N)            3:16:20

-duby miller

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