Qatar Rally Team lead driver Nasser Al-Attiyah showed his resilience with third place overall on the Syria International Rally, as the Qatari ace fought back from near crippling mechanical problems on the first day to extend his FIA Middle East Rally Championship lead to four points.
After recent victory on the Jordan International Rally, it was a confident Qatar National Bank supported Nasser who arrived in Damascus for the challenge of the desert stages on the Syrian/Iraq border. The Al Jazeera TV backed Subaru Impreza WRC2002 was once again helping to promote the 2006 Asian Games, being held in Nasser's home city of Doha, Qatar.
Straight from the off, it was clear that Nasser was in similar form to his last outing in Jordan. After four stages, the Qatari and his English co-driver Steve Lancaster (Selby, Yorks.) had moved into a comfortable two minute lead, with Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas heading the chasing pack. Unfortunately, disaster was around the corner for the multi talented Al-Attiyah, who has represented Qatar in Skeet Shooting at two Olympic Games.
Flat out in 6th gear on a very long straight, a component failure in the left front suspension suddenly left Nasser with a flapping front left wheel, which was rapidly coming apart from the rest of the car. Quick thinking saw Nasser and Steve load the boot of the Impreza with rocks, in order to try and even up the balance of the Subaru. The Track Control Arm (TCA) had parted company with the wheel hub on the car, rendering the entire left front of the car unusable. Over six and a half minutes were lost as Nasser fought valiantly to get the Subaru out of the stage.
Fortunately for the Qatari ace, the sixth stage of the rally was cancelled, and the Autotek Motorsport team worked miracles to fix the stricken machine. As co-driver Lancaster worked out the calculations to see how much time they needed to take back from their rivals, the mechanics frantically changed the broken components on the car, and for the second and final leg, Al-Attiyah would have his Impreza restored to near fully working order. The fight for victory was on.
Lancaster had worked out that the team needed to take 2 and a 1/2 seconds per kilometre off the opposition in order to win the rally. Immediately, Nasser was into full flow on the stages, as he rapidly began to reduce the deficit to the leaders. Unfortunately, the cancellation of a 14 kilometre stage was to prove crucial for the team, and after negotiating the final loop of stages, Al-Attiyah ended the rally in third place, but more importantly, he still leads the FIA Middle East series:
"I really did think our rally was over when the suspension broke" commented Nasser. "The car was all over the place and nearly impossible to drive. It was everything that I could do just to keep the car on the road at times. Fortunately, the Autotek Motorsport team showed their true professionalism and worked so hard to get the car repaired. They really did a wonderful job and I'm so thankful to them for allowing me to have the chance of finishing the rally.
Third was a good result on the rally considering the time we lost on the first day, and it has given us a slight increase in our FIA Middle East Rally Championship lead, which is very important for the Qatar Rally Team. We must also thank our sponsors for their continued support as we get to the closing point of the season. The Troodos Rally in Cyprus is next, and for sure, it will be a difficult rally. It is also a local rally for Andreas Tsouloftas and he will be very competitive there. Everything is still possible - we are in a good position and we must be strong again in the Troodos Mountain stages."
Syria International Rally (positions after final stage):
1. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 50m 03.0s
2. Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 51m 27.0s
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 1h 51m 31.0s
FIA Middle East Overall drivers' positions after round 4 of 6
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QA) 26
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 22
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 18
4. Roger Feghali (RL) 10
5. Abdo Feghali (RL) 8, etc