Qatar driver takes shock lead in Qatar Rally

Toyota Qatar International Rally
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1 of 6
Friday, February 28th, 2002


Bakhashab blows engine in last stage
Al-Qassimi brothers second and third

DOHA (Qatar): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah drew first blood over the damp and slippery opening special stages of this year's Toyota Qatar International Rally today (Thursday). After the first two tests he built up a lead of 15 seconds, but a 20-second time penalty dropped him briefly behind Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab, as the opening leg developed into a two-horse race.

But drama unfolded on the final section and the Qatari eventually completed the day's 10 stages 4m 22s ahead of last year's runner-up Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, when Bakhashab dramatically stopped with a blown engine.

~I haven't rallied as much as I would have liked in recent years,~ said Al-Attiyah, a two-times gold medallist in skeet shooting at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan. ~It's my first time in the car, my first Qatar Rally for four years and the first time with my new co-driver.

~We started well, but then we noticed a problem with a rear wheel scraper, so we took the decision to take a 20-second time penalty and carry out some welding in service. I pushed hard again and regained the lead from Abdullah and then it was a big battle between us this afternoon.~

Twenty Qatar Rally entrants and four Toyota RAV-4s were flagged away from the start at West Bay Lagoon in Doha this morning (Thursday) by Abdulrehman Abdulsaleel Abdulghani, the Managing Director of Qatar's main Toyota distributor and Sheikh Nawaf Bin Nasser Al-Thani, Chairman of the Qatar Motor Federation. The event is being held under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Tameem Bin Hamed Al-Thani, the Head of the Qatar Olympic Committee.

Defending Group N champion Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi became embroiled in an epic tussle with his brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi for third place behind Al-Attiyah and Bakhashab. At the end of the leg Al-Qassimi had slipped behind Abdullah into third overall, despite Sheikh Abdullah losing over a minute as a result of a blocked turbo intercooler.

Britain's Justin Dale held fourth on only his second event in the Middle East region and Qatar's Abdullah Al-Kuwari was fifth.

~My accident in Dubai last December was actually good experience,~ admitted Dale, the runner-up in last year's British Rally Championship. ~It was a lesson in how different rallying can be. The recent rain reminded me of Wales, but the stages here are very different to those even in Dubai. Carrying out a recce over desert stages is totally different to anything that I have been used to in the past.~

There was disappointment for Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban, who retired with a blown engine in the third stage and Qatari Group N front-runner Misfer Al-Marri. Last year's Group N runner-up succumbed to a broken rear differential in SS2.

Kuwait's Mohammed Al-Sarraf blew the engine in his new Mitsubishi in SS5, Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi lost his place in the top five after damaging his Mitsubishi's radiator after a heavy landing and Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi retired in SS7 with transmission problems.

Saudi Arabia's Majid Al-Ghamdi led the Toyota RAV-4 Junior Cup from Qatar's Rashid Saeed Al-Hajri.

This weekend's FIA Middle East championship opener marks the 20th Anniversary of the regional series. It was on the Qatar Rally 20 years ago that a new British company called David Richards Autosport (now Prodrive) took its first ever international rally victory with Qatar's Saeed Al-Hajri at the wheel of a Porsche 911 SC RS.

This year's Toyota Qatar International Rally is being supported by Doha Insurance, Doha Petrol Station and Michelin, through its Qatar outlet Nasser Bin Khaled and Sons.

Tomorrow (Friday) offers nine competitive stages in a total route of 362 kms, although several amendments have been made to the road book after recent heavy rains in the north of the State of Qatar. Servicing is centralised at Al-Taawoun and eight desert stages are followed by a 'Super Special' near Doha and the podium finish at the Admiral's Club, in the grounds of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, at 16.40.

Positions after SS10 (top 6 only) - unofficial:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 55m 00.3s
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Ford Focus WRC 59m 22.6s
3. Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Tariq Al-Warshaw (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1h 00m 18.5s
4. Justin Dale (GB)/Andrew Bargery (GB) Subaru Impreza 1h 02m 11.4s
5. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1h 02m 35.2s
6. Craig Johnson (GB)/Tim Line (GB) Subaru Impreza 1h 04m 51.3s


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2003 Toyota Qatar International Rally Press Officer, Media Centre, Admiral's Club, Ritz Carlton Hotel, West Bay Lagoon, Doha.
Tel: + (974) 4839596, Fax: + (974) 4839577, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com

Date issued: 27/02/2003

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