MERC: Bin Sulayem takes second successive win on Bahrain Rally

Mitsubishi Ralliart Bahrain International Rally 2001 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 9 Twelve-times Middle East rally champion Mohammed bin Sulayem extended This lead in the 2001 FIA regional series, by winning the Mitsubishi ...

Mitsubishi Ralliart Bahrain International Rally
2001 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 9

Twelve-times Middle East rally champion Mohammed bin Sulayem extended This lead in the 2001 FIA regional series, by winning the Mitsubishi TRalliart Bahrain International Rally. he event was held on mixed Tsurface stages over two days and finished at the Gulf Hotel in Manama Ton Friday afternoon.

Muhamed bin-Sulayem in his Ford Focus WRC car. Photo: Duby Miller

Sulayem and Jordanian co-driver Khaled Zakaria extended an overnight advantage of 3m 08s to over seven minutes after 19 timed sections to the south of Manama. Victory marked Sulayem's third success in this year's series and his second in Bahrain in consecutive seasons. He now has a 14-point lead in the regional series.

"We had a good run today," confessed Sulayem. "It was disappointing for Andreas to retire when he did, but it boosted our lead in the championship. Abdullah is still in contention, but it means that we can take a look at the programme for the year and now we don't have to go to Cyprus or maybe even Lebanon, which is an event which relies on a substantial budget."

The Dubai driver's closest challenger was the Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas, tackling this event for the first time in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6. In need of at least second place to keep him on the heels of Sulayem, Tsouloftas set the fastest time on the opening stage of the second day at Al Riffa, only to drop back with a flat tyre in the subsequent Tree of Life test. As he fought hard to regain the lost time, he survived a huge moment in unlucky stage 13, wrecked the underside of the Mitsubishi on bumpy ground in the 14th stage and was unable to reach the service point.

This handed second overall to the runaway Group N leader Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, who collected a hat-trick of victories in the showroom section and now lies second in the overall championship.

"It was a good rally for us and gives us a commanding position in the Group N championship," said Al-Qassimi.

One of the drives of the event came from Bahrain's Sheikh Jaber Al-Khalifa and Ulster co-driver Terry Harryman in their Mitsubishi Ralliart Germany-prepared Lancer Evo6. The fighter pilot was up to fourth overall at the start of the final day and quickly moved up to third following the demise of Tsouloftas.

"We drove well today," said Sheikh Jaber. "But Terry and I thought we heard a noise at the back of the car before the second service and we weren't sure whether it was a puncture or the suspension. I spoke to Niels Jung from Ralliart Germany, who looks after our car, and they checked it over to make sure it was okay."

A nip and tuck battle developed for the minor placings, with Qatar's Mubarak Al-Hajri taking a fine fourth overall in his Cremen-run Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6. Team manager and rival competitor Ron Cremen lost time during the first leg with front differential problems, but was delighted to take his first finish of the season, the Australian coming home in fifth, well ahead of a troubled Hamed Al-Sowaidi, the Qatari delayed by a flat tyre and fuel pump problems.

Bahrain's Abdulrahman Ghuloom brought his new Mitsubishi Lancer home in seventh place, with Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban, Qatar's Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Bahrain's Sajjad Kunzad completing the top 10.

Victory in the Super 1600 section fell to the Czech driver Pavel Hartl, the Skoda driver comfortably beating former champion Amrik Sehmbi, who brought up the tail end of the surviving cars.

Many of the retirements occurred during the opening leg. Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari succumbed to transmission problems, Toufic Mitri's suspension collapsed on his Mitsubishi and there was further disappointment for Nancy Majali, Nearchos Nearchou and Jaroslav Cernik.

Britain's Howard Paterson was the first of the day two retirements with failing oil pressure in his Volkswagen Golf GTI. He was soon followed by Cumbrian Simon Nutter, who was sidelined with a broken driveshaft. The UAE's Raed Baker had been up to fifth overall before the engine let go in his Toyota and Jordan's Faris Bustami cruelly retired with a broken gearbox a mere three stages from the end..

The fourth round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship takes place in Cyprus at the end of April on twisty gravel special stages in the Troodos Mountains. This event is not in Bin Sulayem's 2001 motorsport programme and Tsouloftas will, therefore, be looking for victory on home soil to rekindle his fading championship hopes.

-Duby Miller

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Andreas Tsouloftas , Faris Bustami , Khaled Zakaria