2002 FIA Middle East Rally Championship Bahrain International Rally 2002, round 2 of 7 SULAYEM LAYS DOWN THE GAUNTLET IN BAHRAIN RALLY Punctures cost Al-Qassimi; Al-Sarraf and Al-Hajri among first day retirements Defending FIA Middle East...
2002 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Bahrain International Rally 2002, round 2 of 7
SULAYEM LAYS DOWN THE GAUNTLET IN BAHRAIN RALLY
Punctures cost Al-Qassimi; Al-Sarraf and Al-Hajri among first day retirements
Defending FIA Middle East rally champion Mohammed Bin Sulayem began his challenge for success in the two-day Zayani Motors Mitsubishi Bahrain International Rally in winning style. The Dubai driver and new co-driver John Spiller edged well ahead of arch rivals Abdullah Bakhashab and Bobby Willis over the opening nine timed special stages to take a firm advantage into the final tests on Friday.
Bakhashab suffered a puncture at the end of the opening stage, which handed the early advantage to bin Sulayem in his Ford Focus WRC. But Bakhashab redressed the balance with fastest time in the second stage and was five seconds ahead of his great rival at the first service point. But Bin Sulayem upped the pace from then on, extending his advantage as the event looped around the service park. The lead had grown from 33 seconds to 52 seconds after the sixth stage and Bin Sulayem was growing ever confident, eventually finishing the day 68 seconds ahead.
"It was a great start for us," admitted Sulayem. "We have had no problems so far and the car is working well. The pace was a bit frenetic on the opening two stages, but John and I are in control now. I am happy." Bin Sulayem's on-event team manager Ian Davies affirmed the Ford operation's delight: "It's play time out there!"
Behind second-placed Bakhashab, Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi was holding third position in his Subaru Impreza, the youngster staying out of trouble as the leading duo forged ahead.
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and his Lithuanian-born co-driver Fred Gocentas were in fourth overall, after losing time with a bad engine misire over the first pair of stages and then a pair of flat tyres on the fifth and sixth stages. "Right from the start of the very first stage, the engine started to misfire badly," said Sheikh Abdullah, supported by Adnoc and the Saif-Zone.
"It was the same in the second stage and we lost some time to Mohammed, Hamed and Abdullah. The mechanics changed a couple of computers at the service point and then it was okay. But then we had two punctures. It was one of those mornings."
There was disappointment for the Kuwaiti Group N challenger Mohammed Al-Sarraf. "There was a hole in the rear differential casing after the third stage and we arrived in service and it was not handling properly. The mechanics took a look under the car and we saw the rear differential problem. The part is a different specification to the Evo 6 and Evo 7 and we have no spares. That was the end for us," said Sarraf.
There were a spate of further retirements over the opening stages, with Bahraini Mitsubishi driver Ebrahim Busmait sidelined with electrical problems and the pre-event Group N favourite Mubarak Al-Hajri, from Qatar, put out with a broken ball joint in his new Evolution 7.
Cypriot Melaneos Melissas and Britain's Simon Nutter joined them on the retirement list, while Saudi Arabian newcomer Amr Shas Hassanain - competing behind the international in one of three new Toyota RAV4s - fell foul of mechanical problems.
Nutter's retirement was later confirmed as a driveshaft problem, while a clutch failure sidelined Hassan Al-Sadadi and head gasket maladies put paid to Yasmin Alhilli's rally. Britain's Howard Paterson lost time in the seventh stage - stuck in soft sand with the two-wheel drive car.
<pre> Positions after 9 of 19 special stages (end of leg 1 - top 4 only): 1. Mohammed bin Sulayem (UAE)/John Spiller (GB) Ford Focus WRC 1h 12m 25s 2. Abdullah Bakhashab (KSA)/Bobby Willis (GB) Toyota Corolla WRC 1h 13m 33s 3. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Subaru Impreza WRC 1h 16m 36s 4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Fred Gocentas (LIT) Ford Focus WRC 1h 18m 55s