MERC: Syria: Sulayem heads WRC power show

Red Bull Ford Focus leads charge of World Rally Cars as Middle East title race hots up in Damascus Mohammed Ben Sulayem will head a line-up of 24 drivers from nine countries when the Syrian International Rally, fourth round of the 2002 FIA...

Red Bull Ford Focus leads charge of World Rally Cars as Middle East title race hots up in Damascus

Mohammed Ben Sulayem will head a line-up of 24 drivers from nine countries when the Syrian International Rally, fourth round of the 2002 FIA Middle East Championship, gets under way in Damascus on Thursday morning.

Sulayem's Red Bull Ford Focus WRC is one of four World Rally Cars in the final entry list announced by the Syrian Racing Organising Company (SYROCO), organisers of the latest event to join the Middle East series.

Chasing his 14th Middle East title, top-seeded Sulayem faces his biggest threat from the man who will follow him away from the starting ramp in front of the Cham Palace in Damascus, Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab in a Toyota Corolla WRC.

Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi in another Ford Focus WRC, Qatar's Hamad Al Sowaidi, in a Subaru Imprezza WRC, and Lebanon's Michel Saleh in a Group A Toyota Celica, are the other leading contenders, although Sulayem is ready for all challengers.

Partnered by British co-driver John Spiller, he will be going all out to increase his championship lead after earlier victories in Qatar and Bahrain this season, and the Arab world's leading driver says: "I feel I'm driving as well as I have ever done."

Added Sulayem, who is driving with additional support from Pirelli,: "I've been rallying for 20 years now, and I'm sure some people look at me and think that I'm bound to have lost some of my enthusiasm after such a long time in the sport, and that could open the door for someone to pass me.

"But the truth is I wouldn't be doing this now if I wasn't as keen as ever. The time I get up on the morning of a rally and don't feel the buzz, will be the time to call it a day.

"That's at least a couple of years down the road. I feel very sharp, and I've got one of the best co-drivers in the business driving me on. We're both determined to keep on winning."

In addition to the usual suspects like Bakhashab, Al Qassimi, Sowaidi and Saleh, the Syrian International Rally has attracted a strong Group N entry. Current Middle East Group N championship leader Khaled Al-Qassimi of the UAE faces pressure from the Qatari trio of Mubarak Al Hajri, Abdulla Al Kuwari and Misfer Al Marri.

-duby miller

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Series Other rally
Drivers Michel Saleh , Misfer Al Marri