MERC: Ben Sulayem Keen Lebanon preview

BEN SULAYEM KEEN to keep focus on ford as pressure BUILDS UP in lebanon Middle East Champion Geared Up For One Of His Toughest Tests As Italian Tarmac Ace Liatti Joins Rally Of Lebanon Battle Mohammed Ben Sulayem, facing one of the ...

BEN SULAYEM KEEN to keep focus on ford as pressure BUILDS UP in lebanon

Middle East Champion Geared Up For One Of His Toughest Tests As Italian Tarmac Ace Liatti Joins Rally Of Lebanon Battle

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, facing one of the toughest tests of his career in Lebanon next week, aims to provide further evidence that the Ford Focus World Rally Car (WRC) is now the most potent force in international rallying.

The presence of Italian star Pierro Liatti (Subaru) in the Rally of Lebanon means Ben Sulayem will have to beat one of the world's best tarmac specialists if he is to maintain his 100 per cent record at the wheel of his Ford Focus WRC this season.

And although he acknowledges that Liatti poses a major threat to his bid for a fifth win in Lebanon from June 29-July 1, the Arab world's top driver is determined to keep Ford on course for a double triumph at both Middle East and World Championship levels.

While Ben Sulayem has been dominating this year's Middle East series with four successive wins, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have also been raising hopes that Ford can win the manufacturers' and drivers' titles in the World Championship.

"That would be a fantastic achievement, and I think it's a real possibility," said the star of Ford's MERC Rally Team. "The car has been under development for more than two-and-a-half years, and we're now bearing the fruits of all the hard work put in."

Added Ben Sulayem: "In Lebanon, I'll be driving a lighter version of the Ford Focus WRC, which is better for the slippery conditions there, and both the car and myself will have to be at our best to take on Liatti.

"He's one of the top tarmac drivers in the world, and will be very tough to beat. I can't make any promises ^O all I can do is give my best. But the car is getting better, and more reliable all the time, and that's so important."

Liatti will be at the wheel of one of four Subaru WRC's entered in Lebanon, the others being driven by French star Yves Loubet, Lebanese champion Roger Feghali, and his countryman, Jean-Pierre Nasrallah.

Facing up to the challenge, Ben Sulayem takes confidence from Ford's superiority over Subaru in this year's World Championship, especially after McRae's third successive win in Greece this week which saw him top the drivers' standings, and increase Ford's lead in the race for the manufacturers' title.

Said Ben Sulayem: "There's still a long way to go in both championships, but the results we're seeing now are the reward for a tremendous amount of commitment, and this has the makings of a great season for Ford."

-duby miller


Cremen and Al-Hajri bid for Group N success in Rally of Lebanon

As preparations for the Marlboro Rally of Lebanon, round five of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, enter their final week, international rally drivers Ron Cremen and Mubarak Al-Hajri are putting the final touches to their plan of attack for the gruelling two-day, all-tarmac special stage rally on twisty and slippery mountainous roads to the north and east of Beirut.

Regarded as the strongest rally in the annual timetable, the Lebanese event has already been short-listed for inclusion in a future FIA World Rally Championship calendar and both Cremen and Al-Hajri will be bidding for a top result when action gets underway with a short 'super special' stage, near Beirut city centre, next Friday evening (June 29th).

Both Cremen, from New South Wales in Australia, and his Doha-based colleague Mubarak Al-Hajri will drive a pair of highly-rated Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI rally cars entered in the Group N . They line-up against a competitive entry, which includes defending regional champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, Kuwait's Mohammed Al-Sarraf, Jordanian champion Faris Bustami and a plethora of rapid Lebanese drivers.

Cremen will be co-driven by Wayne Boshier, a South African computer programmer based in Dubai. He co-drove for Ron in the recent Champions Rally and the pair finished third overall and won the Group N category, Cremen duly missing the last round of the regional series in Jordan as a result.

His new Lancer Evolution VI has now been converted to tarmac specification with the support of Cremen Motorsport's main team sponsor Ralliart and AAT (Arabian Automotive Technologies) of Sharjah. Cremen's car runs on Silverstone tyres and the Australian who will be combining driving and team management duties has additional support for his programme from Mobil Oil. The Australian flies into the Middle East for each event and prepares his car at the AAT workshops in Sharjah, the operation owned by none other than the defending showroom champion Abdullah Al-Qassimi.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge of the Lebanon Rally immensely," confessed Cremen, taking a break from his complex preparations for running a two-car team. "I've driven Mitsubishis in the Middle East series for several years and decided to upgrade to an Evolution 6 recently. We took the car out on a national rally in Dubai, but Lebanon will be the first time I've driven it on an international in the Middle East."

"Silverstone will provide Ron with stronger tyres for his rally activities in the Middle East rally championship," confessed Malaysia-based Russell Palmer of Silverstone. "Silverstone has a range of rally tyres built for normal rallies, but places like the Middle East, Africa and Greece are strong markets for us and we want our rally tyres to also be used in these countries."

Mubarak Al-Hajri was one of the most experienced co-drivers in the Middle East, before switching to driving duties at the start of this season. He suffered the ignominy of an early retirement in Abu Dhabi with electrical problems, but has improved markedly in recent events and set some excellent stage times in both Qatar and Bahrain, a freak timing error costing him a better finish in the Jordan International Rally last month.

With support from new sponsor EFG Hermes (a Cairo-based investment and financial group), the Qatari is tackling an international tarmac event as a driver for the very first time and teams up with Ulster co-driver Alan Harryman. The pair have their sights set on a top 10 finish.

"Driving on asphalt will be a new experience for me," confessed Al-Hajri. "I have improved this year on gravel and desert surfaces, but this will be a new test. Our team still has a lot to learn about this side of the sport, but we are looking forward to the challenge of competing on this top class rally against a strong international field. I am feeling confident. I have a new sponsor and Ron will help out with some of the logistical planning.

"Alan has wide experience of reading pace notes in Europe and his father Terry was one of the most knowledgeable of all the world class co-drivers. This should give me a big lift next weekend."

To comply with new guidelines laid down by the FIA to standardise events including in and bidding for inclusion in the coveted FIA World Rally Championship, the Marlboro Rally of Lebanon will run a shorter and more compact route this year. The stages have retained their unique character, but the route format is centred around the city of Beirut and road mileage is reduced to allow for centralised service parks and refuelling zones.

-duby miller

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Yves Loubet