THREE-WAY BATTLE ON THE CARDS FOR VICTORY IN DUBAI RALLY
Veteran Saleh tips Al Ketbi to challenge Al Attiyah, Al Qassimi for top spot, and Al Marri to be crowned FIA Middle East champion
Dubai, UAE, 29th November 2010: One of the region's most experienced drivers today predicted a three-way battle for victory in the 32nd Dubai International Rally and the arrival of a new FIA Middle East champion on UAE National Day weekend.
Michel Saleh, a survivor from the early days of regional rallying prior to the launch of the FIA Middle East Championship in 1984, expects UAE drivers Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Rashid Al Ketbi to fight Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah all the way in the final round of the 2010 series.
The UAE-based Lebanese driver also believes championship leader Misfer Al Marri will take a safe route to the top six place he needs to replace fellow countryman Al Attiyah as FIA Middle East champion.
"It will be between the three Super 2000 drivers, Nasser, Khalid and Rashid," said Saleh, seeded seventh along with Jordanian co-driver Ziad Masannat in a Group N Mitsubishi Evolution 9.
"They will all be going for it and Rashid could be the one to watch. He has a new car and he knows the terrain so well. He won all but one of the stages on the second leg last year and this could be his year."
Despite winning the last two rounds of the championship in Syria and Cyprus, defending Middle East champion and six-times winner Al Attiyah trails Al Marri by eight points. He needs to win in Dubai and count on his fellow Qatari finishing outside the top six if he is to retain the title.
"Misfer will just be going for the points he needs to make sure of the championship," said Saleh. "The most important thing is that he drives his normal way, and doesn't take any risks. The organisers have produced a very good route. The stages are smooth and that will help Misfer. I think he'll be ok, and will be looking for a top four finish."
Both driving Ford Fiesta Super 2000s, top-seed Al Attiyah will be partnered by Italian Giovanni Bernacchini and second-seeded Al Qassimi by Irishman Michael Orr. Accompanied by fellow-Emirati Khalid Al Kendi sixth-seed Al Ketbi drives a Skoda Fabia Evo2.
Organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), the 32nd Dubai International Rally is being held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Arts and Culture Authority. Enthusiasts can follow the rally on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DubaiInternationalRally
Sheikh Majid will officially launch the event at a ceremonial start on Emaar Boulevard beside The Palace in the Old Town Island, Dubai at 7.30pm on UAE National Day. Over the following two days six stages of approximately 22 kms each will all be run twice to produce a route of 280 kms leading to the finish back in the Old Town Island, Dubai at 4.30pm on Saturday.
Al Marri is bidding to become the eighth driver, and the fourth Qatari, to win the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in its 26-year history.