After the dramas of the second day, when multiple regional champion Mohammed bin Sulayem witnessed his Ford Focus WRC destroyed by a freak fire on a road section, all eyes turned to the battle for outright victory between the Italian Piero Liatti...
After the dramas of the second day, when multiple regional champion Mohammed bin Sulayem witnessed his Ford Focus WRC destroyed by a freak fire on a road section, all eyes turned to the battle for outright victory between the Italian Piero Liatti and last year's winner Roger Feghali, the duo in a pair of Subaru WRCs.
Liatti maintained his advantage through the early tests on Sunday and the contest was settled in his favour on the first of the final loop of stages when Feghali was sidelined with engine failure. Twice former winner Jean-Pierre Nasrallah was second and Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab reclaimed the final podium place in his Toyota.
This was the fifth round of this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship and was being observed by the FIA as a candidate for future inclusion in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Australia's Ron Cremen and Qatar's Mubarak Al-Hajri survived the rigours of a gruelling 25th Rally of Lebanon and reached the finish in Jounieh in an excellent ninth and 12th places overall. This was Cremen's best ever finish on the event and Al-Hajri's first ever asphalt rally.
Cremen, a former regional Group N champion who intends to tackle the UAE national series in 2002, was driving his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 on an asphalt surface for the first time with South African co-driver Wayne Boshier and support from Ralliart and AAT.
As his rivals were delayed by problems, so Ron kept out of trouble and drove at a consistent pace throughout to eventually finish fourth in the Group N section, behind category winner Doumit Abu Doumit, Corsican former factory driver Yves Loubet and the newly-crowned Middle East Group N champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi.
"It was a tough rally," said Cremen, who is also supported by Silverstone Tyres and Mobil 1. "Congratulations to Abdullah for winning the Group N title here. It gives him the chance now to go for the overall crown on the final three rounds. For me it was great to reach the finish and get into the top 10 on a very difficult rally, where local knowledge gives you a massive advantage."
Al-Hajri, driving the EFG Hermes-supported Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6, set a steady and sensible pace throughout the daunting 22 special stages, which make this Lebanese motorsporting showpiece so unique. He clipped a kerb stone and damaged a wheel on the opening special stage in Beirut on Friday evening and then incurred time penalties repairing the rear differential. A flat tyre cost him further time at the end of the second day, but the Qatari and his Ulster co-driver Alan Harryman were delighted to reach the finish of the toughest round of the regional series.
"For me it was a steep learning curve," admitted Al-Hajri. "This was my first rally on tarmac and what an event to pick for your first time! The stages were very slippery and really demanding. To get to the finish was a bonus, but we have learned such a lot from this experience." The next round of the regional series will be the 2nd Syrian International Rally at the start of September. Based in Damascus, the event features an overnight halt at the Roman city of Palmyra.
Final results 1. Pierre Liatti (I)/Carlo Cassina (I) Subaru impreza WRC 2h 56m 13.2s 2. Jean-Pierre Nasrallah (RL)/Yusif Bassil (RL) Subaru Impreza WRC 3h 01m 15.1s 3. Abdullah Bakhashab (KSA)/Bobby Willis (GB) Toyota Corolla WRC 3h 05m 32.8s 4. Doumit Abu Doumit (RL)/Naji Njeim (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5 3h 08m 26.5s 5. Yves Loubet (F)/Jean Renucci Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 3h 10m 12.8s 6. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ahmad Ghaziri (RL) Toyota Celica GT4 3h 19m 25.8s 7. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Fred Gocentas (LT) Mitsubishi LancerEvo6 3h 21m 47.8s 8. Chris Thoma (CY)/C Christodoulides (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 3h 26m 31.0s 9. Ron Cremen (AUS)/Wayne Boshier (SA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 3h 27m 14.2s 10. Mohammed Al-Sarraf (KWT)/Waleed Al-Sarraf (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 3h 28m 36.1s
2001 FIA Middle East Championship points after round 5 of 8 (Tour of Cyprus cancelled): 1. Mohammed bin Sulayem (UAE) 40 2. Abdullah al Qassimi (UAE) 20 3. Piero Liatti (I) 10 3. Hamed al Sowaidi (QA) 10 3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 10 6. Jean-Pierre Nasrallah (RL) 6 6. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA) 6
2001 Group N positions: 1. Abdullah al Qassimi (UAE) 40 2. Hamed al Sowaidi (QA) 18 3. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA) 11
Manufacturers 1. Ford 40 2. Mitsubishi 27 1600 class:
1. Nearchos Nearchou 20 2. Amrik Sehmbi 16 3. Georges Tohme (RL) 10 4. Jaroslav Kernik (CZ) 6