MERC: Qatar prepares to kick-start 2003

Qatar prepares to kick-start 2003 regional rallying series. The Qatar Motor Federation announces today that the 28th Qatar International Rally will be the opening round of the 2003 FIA Middle East rally championship and will take place on...

Qatar prepares to kick-start 2003 regional rallying series.

The Qatar Motor Federation announces today that the 28th Qatar International Rally will be the opening round of the 2003 FIA Middle East rally championship and will take place on February 27th/28th. The loose surface special stage rally was the traditional opening round of the FIA Middle East regional series until 1993, when it was replaced by the Abu Dhabi-based UAE International Rally. It returned to its place at the start of the championship last year when the UAE Rally was cancelled.

The two-day Qatar event features 19 timed stages in the Qatar desert and begins at 09.15 on Thursday, February 27th. The finish is scheduled for 16.30 on Friday at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

The opening leg of the 2003 Qatar Rally will feature a 'super special' and a further nine timed desert stages, separated by several service breaks. Friday's action offers a further eight desert tests and a repeat of Thursday's short 'super special'.

The organising team at the Qatar Motor Federation are now putting the finishing touches to the route and timetable and are looking forward to welcoming the region's finest drivers.

"We have planned an excellent route for this year's rally," said Sadoon Al-Kuwari, the General Secretary of the Qatar Motor Federation. "Entries have been flooding in from Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Europe and Australia and we are proud to have been chosen to kick-start this year's Middle East rally championship. Qatar is always a difficult rally. The deserts are rocky and the risk of flat tyres is high. It is one of the most difficult events to predict."

Among theearly entries received by the QMF is one from the former regional champion Abdullah Bakhashab. The Saudi driver is expected to challenge for the overall title this season in his new Peugeot 206 WRC, the car which won last year's World Rally Championship crown for Manufacturers and gave Finland's Marcus Gronholm a second world title in the space of three years.The event marks the first time that a Peugeot 206 WRC will have been seen on a Middle East rally. Bakhashab teams up with Ulster's Bobby Willis and will also oversee the progress of a pair of Toyota Rav-4s running behind the field of international drivers. Willis took part in the recent Dakar Rally across North Africa and finished sixth overall with the Belgian driver Stephane Henrard.

Bakhashab faces competition from the likes of last year's series runner-up Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and his brother Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi, the winner of the 2003 Group N category . The Qatar Motor Federation has appointed Ulsterman Malcolm Neill as the new clerk of the course this year. Neill has worked on numerous rallying-related projects around the world and was an integral member of the team which has taken the Rally of Turkey into the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time this year. He was also clerk of the course of last September's Jordan International Rally.

-duby miller

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Series Other rally
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Bobby Willis