Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah opened his campaign to retain the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in winning style by dominating the ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally, which finished in Abu Dhabi, today (Friday). At the wheel of his...
Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah opened his campaign to retain the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in winning style by dominating the ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally, which finished in Abu Dhabi, today (Friday).
At the wheel of his Qatar Rally Team Subaru Impreza STi, which was built by Prodrive and run on the 13-stage event by Britain's Autotek Motorsport, Al-Attiyah dominated from the second timed section. After sharing joint fastest time with the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi on the super special stage, the reigning Middle East champion hit the front on the opening desert section on Thursday and had extended his advantage to 1m 49s at the overnight halt.
He and co-driver Steve Lancaster had set the fastest time on every stage and continued where they left off on the final six stages today to record a crushing win, although Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi was fastest on the third stage of the second day. Al-Attiyah won the event by a margin of 3m 31s.
"I didn't expect it to be quite as straightforward ," said Al-Attiyah. "I have a new car and it was fantastic. I had only driven it for 20 minutes before the start, but we had no problems at all and it was easier than I thought. I needed to win this event, because I have a programme of events in the World Rally Championship as well this season and will not be able to tackle all eight rounds of the Middle East championship."
Nasser's Qatar Rally Team programme has support from the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF), Qatar Petroleum, the Qatar National Bank and the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006.
The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr had moved into second position by the restart this morning in their Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza STi and held on to the runner-up spot throughout the final leg to collect eight championship points in their quest for a maiden Middle East title.
Al-Qassimi headed Al-Sowaidi by 31 seconds after seven special stages in the deserts around the Sweihan oasis, but the Qatari was penalised 10 minutes at the end of the first leg for missing a passage control board. He slipped from third to ninth at the restart and was forced to take risks on Friday in a bid to regain a top placing. He and Irish co-driver Michael Morrisey finished the rally with a damaged gearbox.
"I needed a good result in Abu Dhabi," said Power Horse-supported Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi. "I am not fully fit yet and it was important that I put some points on the board at the start of the season. In Qatar last year I failed to score any points on the first round, so this was crucial for me. We set some encouraging stage times over these fast stages. The car felt superb."
Qatar's Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari finished as the runner-up in last year's Group N championship in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 and began this year's challenge for the outright title with sixth overall in his Qatar Rally Team car. He had been third overall before being docked 15 minutes at the finish for missing a passage control.
Defending Group N champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi complained that he'd lost over 50 seconds on Thursday attempting to find a time control board and he was never able to regain the lost time. The Sharjah driver and co-driver Gaby Khoury completed the 260 kms of special stages in fourth position after losing further time in a ditch in SS4.
Former Jordan rally champion Amjad Farrah returned to a full rally programme for the first time in 10 years and finished third in the Team Jordan Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The Rumman hillclimb record holder claimed six championship points and vows to contest each of the eight rounds of this year's series.
Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi is the reigning Super 1600 champion in his Citroen Saxo and took maximum points on the opening round and 10th place overall. Fellow Kuwaiti Essam Al-Nejadi finished second in the two-wheel drive section in a Proton Wira.
The second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship takes place in Bahrain in March, although many of the championship contenders now head to Qatar to tackle the FIA's regional candidate rally on February 19th-21st.
Victory in the UAE was crucial to Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah's championship challenge this year, as the Qatar Rally Team star will miss the event in Bahrain to tackle the Mexican round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
<pre> UAE Rally - final positions 1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza 2h 18m 10s 2. Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza 2h 21m 42s 3. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khalid Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 28m 52s 4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Gaby Khoury (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 29m 39s 5. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2h 34m 14s 6. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2h 37m 55s 7. Toufic Mitri (UAE)/Jafar Al-Souhail (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 43m 14s 8. Essa Al-Dossari (KSA)/ TBA Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 2h 46m 50s 9. Sean Keith (UAE)/Wayne Boshier (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 3h 17m 16s 10. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT)/Shaker Al-Raeis (KWT) Citroen Saxo 3h 23m 06s
Overall championship positions after round 1 of 8 1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10 pts 2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 8 pts 3. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 6 pts 4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 5 pts 5. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA) 4 pts 6. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 3 pts 7. Toufic Mitri (UAE) 2 pts 8. Essa El-Dossari (KSA) 1 pt
Manufacturers 1. Subaru 10 2. Mitsubishi 6
FIA Super 1600 1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) 10 pts 2. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) 8 pts