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MERC Nasser Al Attiyah takes emphatic lead in Qatar Rally

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

For immediate release
Friday, January 23rd 2008

DEFENDING CHAMPION AL-ATTIYAH ROMPS INTO
EMPHATIC QATAR RALLY LEAD IN NEW MITSUBISHI

· UAE's Khalid Al-Qassimi in second; Qatar's Al-Marri holds third
· Promising debut for Al-Rajhi's new Peugeot 207 S2000

DOHA (Qatar): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah overcame intense personal pressure to set a scintillating pace and hold the overall lead after the opening six special stages of the NBK Qatar International Rally, round one of the 2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), in the desert north of Doha on Friday.

The defending regional champion was in superb form from the outset in his new Austrian-built Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. He and Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner blitzed the opposition through the demanding Qatar desert stages and had opened up a 2m 05.5s lead over the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr at the end of day one. The Qatar Rally Team's Misfer Al-Marri and Chris Patterson were third overall, a mere 29.3s behind the 2004 regional champions.

"I have been very impressed with the chassis of the Mitsubishi and the way I can drive it at speed on these stages," said Al-Attiyah, who is bidding to win his home event for a seventh successive occasion. "It is not as powerful as the Subaru, but I felt confident from the start."

Al-Attiyah set the fastest time in chilly, overcast conditions through the opening Losail stage, after Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, President of the QMMF, had flagged the international 29-car field away from the start in the presence of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah, President of the Kuwait Motor Sport Club, and senior host for the second round of the series in March.

The defending champion was quick to compliment the 'awesome chassis on the Mitsubishi' and was a staggering 28.8 seconds in front of Al-Marri in his new mount, with Al-Qassimi a further six seconds behind in third. Several drivers, including Lebanon's Michel Saleh and Kuwait's Salah Bin Eidan, lost their way in the hanging dust and dropped between two and seven minutes to the leaders after taking a wrong junction.

Qatar's Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and the UAE's Khalil Al-Sheikh retired with mechanical problems in the opening stage and Kuwait's Meshari Al-Sabti was unable to start the second special after sustaining front suspension damage.

Al-Attiyah extended his advantage over Al-Qassimi to 36.5 seconds in the second Timbak special, as the 2004 regional champion displaced Al-Marri to hold second overall. Nasser extended his lead to 45 seconds through the 12.10km Heritage special and returned to service in a fine drizzle at Losail. Khalid Al-Qassimi, Al-Marri, Khalifa Khalifa Al-Attiyah and the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi completed the top five at the day one half-way point.

The event also saw the one-off return of former runner-up Hamed Al-Suwaidi, but the Qatari retired with a gear linkage problem at TC3, while Saleh lost further time with a loose alternator wire and the 1993 regional champion Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani broke a differential and lost over seven minutes. "I hope my luck is going to change," groaned Saleh. "It was a miserable start for me."

The sun had failed to break through heavy cloud for the re-run of the Losail stage, where the top five cars all reached the flying finish with flat tyres. Al-Attiyah changed a front puncture and limped to the chilly service park with a failing rear right tyre, Nick Georgiou sustained two flats, while Al-Marri and both Al-Qassimi brothers endured damaged rubber.

Al-Attiyah managed to match his previous time nonetheless and extended his overall advantage over Khalid Al-Qassimi to 1m 40s, although the UAE driver complained of a minor brake problem and was struggling to adjust to driving a Group N car after a full season in a works Ford Focus. Al-Marri retained third place and Al-Ketbi climbed to fourth when Khalifa Khalifa Al-Attiyah was delayed.

Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi was getting to grips with his new Peugeot 207 S2000 and set the third fastest time in the second Losail stage to maintain seventh position, behind Georgiou and Qatar's Khalid Al-Suwaidi. Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi dropped a further six minutes to the leading pack and slipped further down the rankings, but Britain's David Scialom and the UAE's Bader Al-Jabri succumbed to drive shaft woes and Jordan's Ammar Hijazi was also sidelined.

Al-Attiyah extended his advantage to 2m 02s through the fifth special and was again fastest in SS6 to take a 2m 05.5s lead into the overnight halt. Al-Qassimi held off the Al-Marri challenge to retain second position and Al-Ketbi, Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah and Khalid Al-Suwaidi completed the top six. Al-Rajhi slipped in front of Georgiou on the final stage of the day and into seventh position, but Saleh's misery was completed when he ran out of petrol near the end of the last stage!
 
Tomorrow (Saturday), teams will tackle the final eight special stages in the deserts to the north of Doha between 08.00hrs and 14.25hrs, with the ceremonial finish scheduled to take place at the Losail International Circuit from 15.30hrs. This will be followed by the official post-event press conference at 17.00hrs.

In a total route of 617.40km, 262.50km will be competitive in this year's NBK Qatar International Rally, with teams set to tackle a further 139.30 competitive kilometres on Saturday.

Positions at end of leg 1 (SS6):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Tina Thörner (S) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X  1h 07m 48.8s
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza N14   1h 09m 54.3s
3. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza N14    1h 10m 23.8s
4. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE) Subaru Impreza    1h 10m 39.9s
5. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Ramy Menham (RL) Subaru Impreza   1h 10m 41.6s
6. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Subaru Impreza N14   1h 11m 13.8s
7. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) Peugeot 207 S2000    1h 11m 17.9s
8. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX   1h 11m 27.6s
9. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza N14  1h 12m 17.7s
10. Salah Bin Eidan (KT)/Dermot O'Gorman (IRL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi  1h 13m 42.6s

Ends
 
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 3219417, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com  www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.qmmf.com
www.merc-fia.com

Date issued: 23/01/2009

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