MERC: Ben Sulayem, Ford back Syria's debut

DAMASCUS, Syria, May 31, 2001 - Mohammed Ben Sulayem today welcomed the inclusion of the Syrian International Rally for the first time in the FIA Middle East Championship (MERC.) He hailed it as another positive step for the regional series, and...

DAMASCUS, Syria, May 31, 2001 - Mohammed Ben Sulayem today welcomed the inclusion of the Syrian International Rally for the first time in the FIA Middle East Championship (MERC.) He hailed it as another positive step for the regional series, and said he looked forward to defending his title in the event, at the wheel of his Ford Focus World Rally Car WRC.)

The 12-times Middle East champion and star of Ford's MERC Team took his Focus WRC to victory in Syria last year when the rally was run as a non-championship event, under the observation of a representative of the FIA, motor sport's world governing body.

Both the FIA, and Ben Sulayem, were suitably impressed, and the rally has been included in this year's FIA Middle East Championship. Ben Sulayem happily accepted an invitation from the organisers, the Syrian Racing Organising Company, to attend an official news conference staged in Damascus today to announce details of the event.

He said: "We entered the rally last year as an official Ford MERC team because we wanted to support efforts to give Syria a place in the championship."

He added: "It was a well organised event, and I'm very happy that it has been included in the championship. We need new events and new rally venues to boost interest in the sport in the Middle East."

Taking place on September 6-7, the 2001 Syrian International Rally will see Ben Sulayem bidding to extend the sport's best winning record in his Ford Focus WRC. His recent victory in the Jordan International Rally was his 53rd career win in the FIA Middle East Championship, and his fourth success in a row this season. It kept Ford firmly on course to land both the manufacturers' and drivers' titles for a fifth time in the same year.

Ben Sulayem, who arrived here today as a guest of honour of the Syrian Racing Organising Company, will be attempting to extend his 100 per cent record in the Ford Focus WRC this season in next month's Rally of Lebanon.

<pre> FIA Middle East Championship leading positions after four rounds 1. M.Bin Sulayem (UAE) 40pts 2. A.Al Qassimi (UAE) 20pts 3. H.Al Sowaidi (QT), A.Tsouloftas (CY) 10pts; 5. M.Al Hajri (QT) 6pts 6. Skh J.Al Khalifa (BAH) 4pts 7. M.Abu Samra (HKJ) 3pts 8. F.Bustami (HKJ), A.Al.Sabban (KSA) S.Fadhel (UAE), N.Shanfari (OM), R.Cremen (AUS) 2pts 13. C.Armeftis (GB) 1pt

Manufacturers' Championship:

1. Ford 40pts 2. Mitsubishi 24pts

Group N Championship:

1. A.Al Qassimi (UAE) 36pts 2. H.Al Sowaidi (QT) 18pts 3. M.Al Hajri (QT) 11pts 4. Skh J.Al Khalifa (BAH) 6pts 5. F.Bustami (HKJ) 5pts 6. M.Abu Samra (HKJ), S.Fadhel (UAE), N.Shanfari (OM) 4pts 9. A.Al Sabban (KSA), C.Armeftis (GB), R.Cremen (AUS) 3pts 12. A.Peratikos (CY), A.Al Kuwari (QT) 2pts; 14. R.Oakeley (UAE), A.Wahid Al Haye (QT), A.R.Ghuloom (BAH) 1pt.

Super 1600 Championship

1. N.Nearchou (CY) 20pts 2. A.Sehmbi (GB) 16pts 3. P.Hartl (CZ) 10pts

-Ford Racing

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