PWRC: Al-Attiyah - 2006 PWRC champion

Al-Attiyah wins P-WRC title honours The 2006 P-WRC champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiya placed Qatar in the spotlight of the world motorsports when the Qatari driver caught the world unaware to clinch the FIA P-WRC ...

Al-Attiyah wins P-WRC title honours

The 2006 P-WRC champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiya placed Qatar in the spotlight of the world motorsports when the Qatari driver caught the world unaware to clinch the FIA P-WRC title in the 2006 New Zealand Rally, the sixth and last fixture in the P-WRC series for this year. The Qatari rally ace has become the first driver from the Arab countries to claim a world title in such a high-profile FIA championship.

Historical honours for Qatar and Middle East, First ever WRC title comes to Middle East with Qatar's sports Superman Nasser Bin Saleh Al-Attiyah clinch first ever World Rally Championship title in the history of Middle East motorsports.

Hot on the heels of a victory in Australia, Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN, Subaru) and co driver Miikka Anttila took another P-WRC win on a challenging and eventful Propecia Rally New Zealand, the final round of the 2006 FIA Production car World Rally Championship. Local driver Richard Mason (Subaru) brought his Subaru to the finish in second and P-WRC newcomer Alexander Dorosinskiy (RUS, Subaru) claimed the final podium spot.

Despite a good fight from title contender Fumio Nutahara (J), Nasser Al- Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) was handed a blessing after Nutahara crashed his Mitsubishi on leg two, and despite retiring with a damaged engine on the final day, Al-Attiyah recorded the debut victory of a world driver's title for a Qatari driver in the WRC.

Buoyed after his victory in Australia a few weeks ago, Latvala started confidently and set the pace from the outset, his only consistent competition being New Zealand debutant Mirco Baldacci (RSM, Mitsubishi), and the pair traded stage wins throughout the first two days. A mistake cost Latvala a one-minute speeding penalty on leg two, resulting in the Finn dropping to second behind Baldacci, but gearbox woes on leg three for the San Marino driver promoted Latvala back into the lead to take the win. The Finn also claims the Pacific Rim Challenge, an incentive conceived by organisers of the three WRC rallies on the Pacific Rim Japan, Australia and NZ.

With Al-Attiyah and Nutahara keeping the title at the forefront of their minds, both drove strategically allowing others to battle for New Zealand honours. Defending champion Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) reached second at best but a gearbox linkage problem early on leg two saw Arai leave service later than permitted, handing his third place to Yokohama-supported Nutahara, and sidelining himself in the process. Nutahara's rally started to steer off- course, however, when a puncture on SS6 cost three minutes, after he opted to complete the stage on the punctured tyre. Then disaster struck two stages later when he crashed off the road and all hopes of his P-WRC title chances went into the ditch with his Mitsubishi. The Japanese eventually finished sixth but he won three rallies season, more than any other P-WRC driver.

Nutahara's demise was good news for local competitor and recently-crowned NZ champion Mason, who adopted third and despite struggling to find a comfortable set-up with his unfamiliar Pirellis, he steadily upped his pace and leg three events saw him promoted to second.

Alexander Dorosinskiy (RUS, Subaru), who was new to the P-WRC for this event and driving for Subaru Rally Team Russia on his first ever WRC rally, struggled with tyres that were too hard throughout. Having only brought a small number of soft tyres to the rally, he was forced to make do after using them all on the first day. He had a small off-road excursion on leg one and a fuel pump problem saw him leave morning service on leg two 11 minutes late, but a steady drive rewarded him with a third place finish.

Takuma Kamada (J, Subaru), also on his debut outing in New Zealand, benefited from the events of leg three and the experience of co-driver Denis Giraudet. The Japanese finished a well-deserved fourth, recording his best P-WRC result to date, despite contending with punctures, broken shock absorbers and swerving for a cow!

Following Baldacci and Nutahara, whose penalties saw them drop to fifth and sixth respectively, was the new 2006 P-WRC champion Al-Attiyah. Engine troubles on leg three saw him sidelined but with Nutahara only finishing one place ahead, the Championship title was safely within his reach. The Qatari now prepares to head to the Asian Games in December where he has the honour of carrying the torch at the opening ceremony and will be defending his Gold medal of four years ago in the Skeet Shooting category.

Nigel Heath (GB) chose to contest the rally in a Mitsubishi, the first time he has driven one since '98, and he ran on Michelin tyres, also a first. But the self confessed 'gentleman driver' enjoyed his rally, despite being sidelined temporarily on leg two after a small accident and the Brit took the last available point for eighth.

Following his leg two problems, Arai struggled with a broken gearbox on the final road section and eventually came home ninth. He recorded a string of stage wins on the final day scoring the highest number of stage victories throughout the season and finished top of the P-WRC Sprinter Standings, handing over his P WRC title to Al-Attiyah in style.

Former New Zealand champion Chris West (NZ, Subaru) had a difficult rally experiencing punctures, a soft suspension and losing his place in his notes, and that was all on leg one. Unfortunately his rally came to a premature end after he rolled his Subaru on the tricky SS8. Natalie Barratt (GB, Mitsubishi) had a difficult rally with an electrical problem causing the car to stop mid-stage on leg one. Gearbox problems on the final day eventually saw her sidelined. Polish driver Leszek Kuzaj (Subaru) was also on his first outing in New Zealand, spending much of the event learning. He slipped off the road trying to pass West on leg two and after contesting the tricky Whaanga Coast (SS14) for experience, he opted to withdraw from the rally. Following big accidents in both previous rallies in Japan and Australia, Aki Teiskonen's (FIN) Subaru was not in a healthy enough state to tackle Rally New Zealand and the Finn chose to retire before the start of SS1.

2006 P-WRC Champion: Nasser Al-Attiyah, Subaru Impreza Sti Spec C "We Had a very strange day today as we stopped with problems and then we just had to sit and watch! Our plan was to score good points and to finish so it really didn't go according to plan, but Nutahara had problems too. I feel sorry for Nutahara - he's a good driver with a nice approach and we've had a good fight this year. But this was the third year of my three year plan and we achieved our goal - to become P-WRC champions!"

-credit: tak

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Series WRC
Drivers Jari-Matti Latvala , Denis Giraudet , Mirco Baldacci , Nasser Al-Attiyah , Miikka Anttila , Fumio Nutahara , Aki Teiskonen , Natalie Barratt , Takuma Kamada