MERC Qatar Rally Team duo scent success in home rally

2009 NBK Qatar International Rally
2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Thursday, January 22nd 2008


·UAE's Al-Qassimi and Lebanon's Saleh head overseas challenge
·Kuwait's Al-Nejadi and Saudi's Al-Rajhi debut new rally cars

DOHA (Qatar): The Qatar Rally Team's Misfer Al-Marri and Khalid Al-Suwaidi sense they have a fantastic opportunity to take a maiden victory in this weekend's NBK Qatar International Rally, which gets the 2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) underway in the deserts north of Doha on Friday morning.

The Qatar deserts are unpredictable, fast and challenging, with punctures an obvious threat for the front-runners, despite the fact that officials at the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) have regraded the stages and made them as smooth and clean as possible.

While Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah starts as the top seed in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, the entry list has strength in depth, with Al-Marri and Al-Suwaidi keen to impress in a pair of Subaru Impreza N14s running under the QMMF banner. Al-Marri can call upon the experience of defending championship co-driver Chris Patterson for his challenge this season after the Ulsterman was retained by the QMMF for 2009.

The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi won the regional title in 2004 with Ulsterman Michael Orr and the pair return to the region to tackle this year's series in a Subaru. Al-Qassimi has never won the Qatar Rally, although he has set several top stage times in the past and may well be the leading non-Qatari challenger on this occasion. His brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi also returns to active competition with Steve Lancaster in another Subaru. Sheikh Abdullah is a multiple Group N regional champion and a series regular for many years.

Jordan's Amjad Farrah decided to miss the opening round of the series and Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari suffered a back injury in a recent national event in Oman, but Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh has lost none of his enthusiasm for a championship that he has been contesting for over 25 years. Likewise, young Nick Georgiou is relishing the opportunity to challenge for outright honours, before he tackles the first of six rounds of the WRC as a reward for winning last year's Pirelli Star Driver award. Saleh and Georgiou will be partnered by Lebanese co-drivers Ziad Chehab and Joseph Matar.

Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi won both candidate rallies in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia last season and is in the news again this week for his decision to run a new Peugeot 207 S2000 car for the first time in the MERC. The powerful Peugeot has been built by the Belgian Kronos Racing team that guided Frenchman Sébastien Loeb to the WRC title in 2006, but it will be an unknown quantity over the testing Qatar desert stages.

Kuwait's entry is headed by Salah Bin Eidan in a Subaru: Bin Eidan was fourth overall last year and will run ahead`of a group of promising Qatari drivers, including Mubarak Al-Hajri, Khalifa Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani and Nasser Al-Suwaidi. Young Faisal Al-Attiyah also makes his championship debut and has recruited the services of Gigi Galli's former Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini to assist his quest for success in a Subaru Impreza. Meanwhile, Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi debuts his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

Another driver to watch is the aggressive Rashid Al-Ketbi in his new Subaru. The UAE driver is one of the fastest in the region, but needs to curb his natural aggression and concentrate more on finishing the opening round of the championship. He was one of the pace-setters in Dubai last month, but doing well in the deserts of Qatar is a totally different proposition.

"I would like to welcome our international teams and local drivers to Losail and wish everyone a safe and successful rally," said Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, President of the QMMF and General Manager of the Losail International Circuit. "Local drivers have a good track record on this event, but there are several top visiting drivers this time and it will not be easy for our drivers to take a home win. We have laid on a challenging route and are confident it will be an exciting weekend."

Tomorrow (Friday) the NBK Qatar International Rally gets underway from the Losail circuit, north of Doha, at 9.00hrs and teams head straight into the first special stage (9.14hrs) in the desert adjacent to the service park.

Specials at Timbak and Heritage follow on Friday morning, before a regroup and second service at Losail from 11.50hrs. All three stages are repeated on Friday afternoon, with leg one action reaching a conclusion with the second Heritage special at 14.35hrs and a return to Parc Fermé from 15.57hrs. In a total leg one route of 256.70km, 123.20km are competitive.

Top 10 starters:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Tina Thörner (S)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
2. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)   Subaru Impreza N14
3. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL)   Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
4. Shk. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
5. Shk. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB)  Subaru Impreza N14
6. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL)   Subaru Impreza N14
7. Salah Bin Eidan (KT)/Dermot O'Gorman (IRL)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
8. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F)  Peugeot 207 S2000
9. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA)  Subaru Impreza N14
10. Khalifa Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Rashid Al-Sulaiti (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX

Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, Chief Press Officer, 2009 NBK Qatar International Rally, Losail International Circuit, Media Centre, Doha, Qatar, Tel: + 974 4728623, Fax: + 974 4728653, Qatar mobile: + 974 432 19417, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com  www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)


Date issued: 22/01/2009

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