MERC Kuwait International Rally returns to FIA series on Thursday

FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round two

For immediate release
Wednesday, March 4th, 2009


·Qatar's Al-Attiyah tops bumper entry for 150th MERC event
·Strong line-up includes UAE's Al-Qassimi and Saudi's Al-Rajhi
·4pm start on Thursday afternoon at Kuwait Towers for new rally

JAHRA (Kuwait): The State of Kuwait roars back into the international motor sporting spotlight on Thursday afternoon (tomorrow) with the ceremonial start and opening super special stage of the Kuwait International Rally, the second round of the 2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).

Absent from the prestigious regional rally series since 1996, the new-look Kuwait event is based at the Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Olympic Shooting Complex in Jahra, near Kuwait City, and has attracted 30 teams, with 10 crews representing the host nation. The three-day, 14-special stage event is being organised by the Kuwait Motor Sports Club (KMSC) under the patronage of Faisal Al-Jazaf, chairman and general manager of the public authority for youth and sports in the State of Kuwait.

Competitors were able to carry out a low speed reconnaissance of the all-desert rally route on Tuesday and Wednesday (today), before teams cross the ceremonial start podium under the famed Kuwait Towers in Kuwait City from 4pm on Thursday afternoon. The competitive action will get underway with a timed spectator stage at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Circuit from 4.30pm.

Several of the leading drivers joined KMSC president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Dawood Al-Sabah at the official pre-event press conference on Wednesday evening at rally headquarters within the confines of the shooting complex. "We extend a warm welcome to all our international competitors and wish everyone a safe and successful rally," said Sheikh Ahmad.

Leading the international contingent of 20 drivers is the defending regional champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, a five-time winner of the regional series who will be chasing his 31st MERC victory on this event, which marks the 150th in the history of the championship.

Al-Attiyah teams up with the experienced Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini for the first time in a new Subaru Impreza, but is sure to be hard-pushed over the demanding Kuwait desert stages by the in-form Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and former champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.

The pair finished second and third overall on the opening round of the series in Qatar, behind Al-Attiyah, although Al-Rajhi's exciting new Kronos Peugeot 207 S2000 should be better suited to the smoother, sandier stages in Kuwait, as opposed to the rougher and rockier terrain he faced in January.

Punctures cost several drivers, including Al-Qassimi, valuable time in Qatar, but the UAE driver is anxious to close the four-point championship points' gap on Al-Attiyah at this early stage of the new season. The rapid Rashid Al-Ketbi could also spring a surprise for the Emirati contingent, but Sheikh Khalid's brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi withdrew at the last minute with an ear infection.

Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri was disappointed with his performance in Doha and last year's championship runner-up will need to be on the top of his game if he is to match Al-Attiyah on these fast desert stages. Mubarak Al-Hajri, 1993 regional champion Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani and Nasser Al-Suwaidi are three other rated Qatari drivers in the field.
Mufeed Mubarak, Salah Bin Eidan and Meshari Al-Sabti head the impressive 10-strong local contingent, with rookies Elie Chichati and Ebrahim Al-Modakha, joining Eid Falah, Meshal Al-Nejadi, Essam Al-Nejadi and  Meshari and Yousef Al-Thafiri on the entry list.

Both Jordan's Amjad Farrah and Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban return to action for the first time this season in their respective Mitsubishi Lancer and Toyota S2000 and London-based Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou will be hoping to put the disappointing last stage retirement in Qatar firmly to the back of his mind. Farrah failed to score a single point in last year's championship campaign and a last minute engine change before the start of this event was hardly the preparation the Jordanian needed for a successful weekend.

Other likely front-runners include Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh - the winner of the first Kuwait International round of the MERC in 1984 - and Jordan's Ammar Hijazi in his new Al-Mimari Subaru Impreza N15, while Abdulrahman Ghuloom and daughter Carina Ghuloom are the sole Bahraini entrants. Cheshire-based chemist David Scialom represents the United Kingdom in his venerable Subaru Impreza.

"The stages are sandy and very fast," admitted visiting Ulster co-driver Allan Harryman. "There are some long straights out there. You wouldn't want to get a line wrong on these tracks. It is going to be quite a fight between the top crews. The pace will not be for the faint-hearted."

Competitors' progress can be followed via live tracking over the course of the three days of competitive action using the following website: http://tracking.sporttraxx.com/races/kuwait-2009/

Top 20 starters:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Subaru Impreza
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F)  Peugeot 207 S2000
3. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB)  Subaru Impreza
4. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)   Subaru Impreza
5. Rashed Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE)  Subaru Impreza
6. Salah Bin Eidan (KT)/Craig Parry (GB)   Subaru Impreza
8. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA)  Subaru Impreza
9. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I)   Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
10. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL)   Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 
11. Michel Saleh (RL)/Nabil Njeim (RL)   Subaru Impreza
12. Khalid Al-Suwaidi/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA)  Subaru Impreza
14. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Dermot O'Gorman (IRL)  Toyota S2000
15. Eid Falah (KT)/Khalid Khalifa (KT)   Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII
16. Nasser Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Ramzi Al-Mansour (HKJ)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII
17. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT)/Ahmad Al-Khrass (KT)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
18. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ)/Ata Al-Hmoud (HKJ)  Subaru Impreza
19. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KT)/Fares Al-Thafiri (KT)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
20. Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Hamed Al-Marri (QA) Subaru Impreza
21. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/TBA    Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
22. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Wael Marjan (UAE)  Subaru Impreza

2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship - positions after round 1 of 7:
1.Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)   10 pts
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)   8 pts
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)   6 pts
4. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)   5 pts
5. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)   4 pts
6. Saleh Bin Eidan (KT)   3 pts
7. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)   2 pts
8. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA)   1 pts

1. Matthieu Baumel (F)   10 pts
2. Michael Orr (GB)    8 pts
3. Chris Patterson (GB)   6 pts
4. Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE)   5 pts
5. Steve Lancaster (GB)   4 pts
6. Ahmad Al-Khrass (KT)   3 pts
7. Anwar Al-Sharrah (KT)   2 pts


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, International Media Liaison Officer, 2009 Kuwait International Rally, NDP Publicity Services, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)






Date issued: 04/03/2009

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