MERC: Sulayem's reign is over, at least for 2003

Sulayem's Middle East reign is over, at least for this year Arab world's top driver sits out Rally of Lebanon but says he could be back next year Mohammed Ben Sulayem has conceded that his remarkable reign as Middle East rally champion is over,...

Sulayem's Middle East reign is over, at least for this year
Arab world's top driver sits out Rally of Lebanon but says he could be back next year

Mohammed Ben Sulayem has conceded that his remarkable reign as Middle East rally champion is over, at least for this year.

Sulayem, who missed the opening round of this year's FIA Middle East Championship in Qatar, did not enter the Rally of Lebanon and, apart from his home event in Dubai, currently has no plans to contest any other rounds in this year's regional series.

It means that a new Middle East champion is certain to be crowned this year, and this will be only the fourth time in 17 years that a driver other than Sulayem has held the regional title.

Since capturing the Middle East Championship for the first of 14 times in 1986, he has won it each year with the exception of 1992, 1993, and 1995, when he did not contest the series because of overseas rally programmes.

Sulayem's unbeaten run in the championship has been interrupted by a shortfall in sponsorship which has prevented the arrival of a new Red Bull Ford Focus World Rally Car from the UK.

The Arab world's top driver is stopping short of officially confirming his retirement, and admits that he could yet make a return to the championship next year if the conditions are right.

"I've been driving competitively since 1982, and I know a lot of people think the time is right for me to call it a day," said the UAE star. "That's going to happen eventually, and after enjoying so much success this would be a good time to step back.."

"I'm definitely not going to go back in the championship unless everything is in place. Ford and Red Bull have given me loyal support, and who knows, if another major sponsor came forward perhaps I could have another crack at the title next year."

Sulayem has already won more FIA regional championships, and more international rallies, than any other driver in history.

He has scored 60 rally wins in the Middle East Championship, those victories coming in Dubai (15), Qatar (9) Lebanon (4), Jordan (12), Oman (6), Kuwait (4), Abu Dhabi (5), Bahrain (3) and Syria (2).

-duby miller

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