PSD Meshari Al Thafiri leads MERC Pirelli Star Driver section

2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship

For immediate release
Monday, March 9th, 2009


·Qatar's Suwaidi rolls out of contention; UAE's Mansoori stars
·Seven registrations so far for exciting Pirelli 'Star Driver' competition

JAHRA (Kuwait): Kuwait's Meshari Al-Thafiri is the early leader of the exciting Middle East section of the Pirelli 'Star Driver' competition, which is being run in conjunction with rounds of the 2009 Middle East Rally Championship.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX driver overcame intercooler and turbo boost problems to clinch the lead in the overall standings and the most points of the four of the Pirelli registered drivers who tackled the 14-special stage, second round of the regional series in Kuwait last weekend. The event is the first round in the Gulf zone of qualifying rallies with the non-championship Saudi Eastern Rally, scheduled for November, being the second.
The West zone of the 2009 Pirelli Star Driver competition will be fought out during the Jordan and Lebanon rounds of the regional series, with a shoot-out planned for the final round of the championship in Dubai in December.

"This year's Pirelli 'Star Driver' award was slow to take off, but we have now attracted a lot of interest," admitted Derek Ledger, FIA Vice-President and Middle East representative. "The prize is very attractive and I am sure that this competition will go from strength to strength."

Al-Thafiri and Qatar's Khalid Al-Suwaidi were closely matched throughout the opening leg of seven special stages in the deserts around Kuwait City, with the Kuwaiti holding a slender advantage heading into the final seven stages on Saturday. But Suwaidi - who is backed by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation - rolled his Subaru Impreza at high-speed, badly-damaged the car and failed to reach the finish. The Qatari set four fastest stage times and collected 36 Pirelli points.

The young Abu Dhabi duo of Khalil Al-Sheikh and Ahmad Al-Mansoori are also registered for the Pirelli 'Star Driver' award, in addition to trying to establish a rallying career in their native UAE. Both had the disadvantage over Kuwait's sandy special stages of running a pair of two-wheel drive Ford Fiestas. They lack the power and traction of the Group N Mitsubishis and Subarus, but it was a battery failure that cost Al-Shaikh his place on the leader board on the second special stage of leg one.

Al-Shaikh started again under the SupeRally ruling, but his performance was overshadowed by the 11th position overall that Mansoori achieved, in addition to collecting 45 Pirelli points.

London-based Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou, Lebanese driver Joe Ghanem and Abu Dhabi's Bader Al-Jabri are also hoping to score points on forthcoming rounds of the Pirelli 'Star Driver' Championship.

Points are awarded for each special stage completed, with five handed to the driver who sets the fastest time of the registered drivers on a stage, down to one point for fifth position. Drivers must have been under 27 years of age on New Year's Day this year to be eligible.

In Kuwait, Al-Thafiri set eight fastest times and now takes an unofficial 11-point Pirelli 'Star Driver' championship lead to the second round in May. The opening super special was stopped in Kuwait and does not count for championship points.

The Pirelli 'Star Driver' award is a worldwide search for the five best young rally drivers from the 2009 FIA regional championships in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Africa and European (including South America) zones.

Each region will hold qualifying events and a final shoot out. The successful drivers will be invited to contest a series of six rounds of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship in identical Group N cars supplied and serviced under an FIA agreement.

Further details about the Middle East Pirelli 'Star Driver' award are available from Derek Ledger, FIA Vice-President and Middle East regional representative, e-mail: dhledger@orange.jo

2009 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Pirelli 'Star Driver' award - positions after round 1:
1. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KT)  56 pts
2. Ahmad Al-Mansoori (UAE)  45 pts
3. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QA)  36 pts
4. Khalil Al-Shaikh (UAE)  22 pts


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

Date issued: 09/03/2009

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