Nasser - the new King of Dubai.
FIA Middle East Rally Champion Nasser Al-Attiyah romped home to victory in the recent Dubai International Rally. Holding a comfortable overnight lead, the Qatar Rally Team driver remained unstoppable on the final leg of the rally, showing complete dominance by winning every stage in his new S9 Subaru Impreza WRC.
Supported by Qatar National Bank and helping to promote the 2006 Asian Games in Nasser's home city of Doha, the Qatari demonstrated his championship winning skills in fine style. With co-driver Steve Lancaster (Selby, England) on the pace notes, the pair only needed to start the rally to make their championship victory a certainty. Once that small task had been completed, the 32 year old sailed through the opening day of the rally in total control of the car and the stages. A four minute and fifty second lead suitably reflected his dominance.
The second day of the rally began much the same as the first. Out on the rough desert roads to the south of Sharjah, Al-Attiyah took his time as he picked his way through the many tracks in the sandy stages. Despite the cautious approach, Nasser was still increasing his lead of the rally over second placed Sheikh Abdulla Al Qassimi. Toyota Celica driver Michel Saleh held third despite hitting a bump in the road too hard and breaking the cooling fans. Missing from the podium was young Qatari driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.
Holding third position overnight, the promising youngster was caught and passed by Michel Saleh on the 8th stage of the rally. As Al-Kuwari pulled his Mitsubishi to one side, he realised that the car had a problem. When trying to rejoin the stage, clouds of smoke were pouring from the back of the Lancer Evo 6, and although the 23 year old coaxed the car out of the stage, his rally was over. It was a sad and unfortunate end to a fine performance from a Middle East star of the future.
At the top of the leaderboard, a comfortable lead for Nasser did not look as comfortable as everyone thought. The immaculate Autotek Motorsport run car had a noisy rear differential, which was causing the team some concern. Without a spare, Nasser backed right off to prevent any problems that might have developed as a result of the noise. Few onlookers would have noticed, as during the penultimate loop of stages, the Qatari extended his impressive lead to over the nine minute mark. It was an impressive display of controlled speed mixed with caution.
Entering the final stage, it was fingers crossed for the whole Qatar Rally Team as Nasser started the test. Fittingly, the Subaru driver set a time of 5.55 - and the victory party could begin. After completing the 60 kilometre road section back to the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai, Al-Attiyah and Lancaster received plenty of applause as they celebrated on the podium. Middle East rallying had a new star, and a new name appeared on the winners' roll of honour for one of the FIA Middle East series most popular rallies.
Understandably, the victor was delighted with a textbook performance in a brand new car:
"What can I say? Everything worked out so well for the whole team this weekend. Autotek did a fantastic job in running the car - and what a car! It was the best car I have ever driven on a rally. It was just so easy to drive. Maybe it was a little too easy to go fast in the car, especially on the long straights! In places we were touching 225 KP/H but it didn't feel like that. I thank Subaru and Prodrive for their support this year. It really has made for a successful season.
"On the rally, again, we controlled everything from the front. We were fastest on every stage, and you cannot do more than that. Steve did a great job on the notes, and everyone in the team worked professionally to maintain our position. Although we had noise from the rear diff, the car never had any problems and it worked perfectly at all times. The rally was very well organised and we achieved our goal - to win the Dubai International Rally for the first time, and to celebrate the FIA Middle East Championship win for Qatar Rally Team and Qatar National Bank, who have supported our efforts.
"For next year, I am not sure what will happen. We have many options to look at, including some outside of the Middle East. Either way, I am delighted to have won this rally and this championship, it has been a fantastic season despite our share of problems along the way. I hope next year is equally as successful."
Al-Attiyah's victory on the rally not only assured him of the Middle East crown, but it also netted the win for Subaru in the FIA Middle East Manufacturers' Championship. Despite a heavy Mitsubishi presence on all events, Nasser's victories in Qatar, Jordan, Cyprus and now Dubai have been enough to lift the title for the car as well as the team.