MERC: Syria: Sulayem primed for title charge

UAE star aims for Syrian hat-trick to move within reach of 14th Middle East Championship drivers' title Mohammed Ben Sulayem aims to move within reach of his 14th FIA Middle East Rally Championship title by completing a hat-trick of victories ...

UAE star aims for Syrian hat-trick to move within reach of 14th Middle East Championship drivers' title

Mohammed Ben Sulayem aims to move within reach of his 14th FIA Middle East Rally Championship title by completing a hat-trick of victories in Syria next week.

While there are still four rounds remaining in the 2002 Middle East series, Sulayem knows he can wrap up the drivers' crown with victory in two of them, the Syrian and Jordan Intrernational Rallies, both taking place in September.

As the Arab world's leading driver looks forward to returning to action at the wheel of his Red Bull Ford Focus World Rally Car in Syria on September 12-13, his career record suggests there is little to prevent him from adding to his previous wins this season in Qatar and Bahrain.

He has scored successive victories in Syria, firstly in 2000 when the event was run outside the championship, and then again last year when he had an eight-minute winning margin over Qatar's Hamad Al Sowaidi as the rally took its place in the Middle East series for the first time.

Meanwhile, Jordan has always been a happy hunting ground for the Red Bull-sponsored UAE star. He recorded his first of 57 Middle East Championship wins there in 1984, and has won the Jordan Rally 11 times in total.

Sulayem currently holds a commanding 18-point lead in this year's championship, and has again put Ford in control of the manufacturers' title race. And while he is well aware of the threat from Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab and fellow-UAE driver Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, he is confident that he can take Ford to another double championship success.

"You never take anything for granted in rallying, but I have a good lead and will be going all out to win in Syria," he said. "It would be nice to go to Jordan knowing that another win will be enough to give me the championship."

Sulayem, driving with additional support from Pirelli, is delighted to have resumed his partnership with John Spiller, who was his co-driver in the late 1980s before heading back to his native UK to join the Subaru works team in the World Rally Championship. "It's just like old times," said Sulayem.

After the Syrian, Rally, and the Jordan Rally (September 27-28), the 2002 FIA Middle East Championship concludes with two more rounds in Cyprus (October 19-20) and finally Dubai (December 5-6).

FIA Middle East rally championship positions after three of seven rounds:
1. Mohammed bin Sulayem (UAE) 26 pts
2. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 8pts
3. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (Subaru Impreza WRC), Abdullah Bakhashab (Saudi Arabia), Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE) 6pts
6. Misfer Al-Marri (Qatar) 4pts
7. Michel Saleh (Leb), Abdullah Al-Kuwari (Qatar) 2pts;
9. Ahmed Al-Sabban (Saudi Arabia) 1pt

Manufacturers' championship:
1. Ford 20pts
2. Subaru 16pts
3. Mitsubishi 10pts
4. Toyota 8pts

-duby miller

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Series Other rally
Drivers Michel Saleh