MERC: Sulayem welcomes Cypriot's challenge

Ben Sulayem Welcomes Cypriot Star's Challenge To Ford Focus WRC's Middle East Supremacy It's What The Championship Needs, Says Arab World's Top Driver As Tsouloftas Tries To Keep Up DUBAI, UAE, 3 September, 2001 -- Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who ...

Ben Sulayem Welcomes Cypriot Star's Challenge To Ford Focus WRC's Middle East Supremacy

It's What The Championship Needs, Says Arab World's Top Driver As Tsouloftas Tries To Keep Up

DUBAI, UAE, 3 September, 2001 -- Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who could clinch the FIA Middle East Championship drivers' title for the 13th time in Syria next weekend, has welcomed the news that Cypriot champion Andreas Tsouloftas plans a major challenge next year to Ford's grip on the regional series.

Tsouloftas has already conceded that he is powerless to prevent Ben Sulayem from taking his Ford Focus WRC to victory in the two-day Syrian International Rally, sixth round of this year's championship, starting on Thursday morning.

But the Cypriot driver has also revealed that he is on the verge of wrapping up a deal with a World Rally Championship team that would see him launch a full assault on next year's Middle East series at the wheel of a World Rally Car.

"That's great news -- it's just what the championship needs," said Ben Sulayem, who arrived in Damascus on Saturday to prepare for Syria's debut in the Middle East series. "We need more World Rally Cars, and we need more manufacturers to follow Ford's example in supporting the championship."

Tsouloftas, who tested the World Rally Car in the UK recently, said: "It's a big surprise. I'm not going to say which car it is until the deal is completed, but I'm 90 per cent certain of getting it.

This is a big thing for me, and if it comes off, I'll be entering most of the rounds in the championship next year and trying to push Mohammed. In Syria, I'll just be going for second place behind Mohammed. The only way I can win is if he has some problems. Next year it could be different."

Victories in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan at the wheel of his Ford Focus WRC have seen Ben Sulayem cruise to within reach of another Middle East triumph, and he relishes the prospect of a World Rally Car showdown next year.

"This is what rallying is all about," said the Ford MERC Team star. "We all need to be put under pressure to bring out the best in us. I just hope that Andreas gets his WRC, and that one or two others arrive in the Middle East to make things more interesting."

Partnered by Jordanian co-driver, Khaled Zakaria, Ben Sulayem is also within reach of a fifth Middle East manufacturers' title. Tsouloftas's Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6, one of the cars that could mathematically delay Ford's championship party, was being shipped from Limassol to Beirut before being transported by road to Damascus for the start of the Syrian International Rally at 9.30am on Thursday.

Ben Sulayem's Ford Focus WRC is the first of 30 cars from 13 countries lined up for the 877-km event, which contains ten special stages amounting to 255km. The international line-up also features Qatar's Hamad Al Sowaidi, Mubarak Al Hajri and Abdullah Al Kuwari, Australian Ron Cremen, Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al Sabban and Farouk Al Gourab, Lebanon's Ziad Feghaly, Jordanian champion Faris Bustami, and Britain's Middle East Super 1600 champion, Amrik Sehmbi. There are also two lady drivers, Jordan's Nancy Al Majali and Germany's Edith Weiss

- duby miller

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