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Middle East title defence begins for QRT in Abu Dhabi

2004 UAE International Rallly
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1 of 8

For immediate release
Monday, January 26th, 2004

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH BEGINS DEFENCE
OF HIS MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

New regulations give series exciting new look; new Subaru for Qatari

ABU DHABI (UAE): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah begins the defence of his FIA Middle East Rally Championship this weekend in Abu Dhabi, when he tackles the three-day UAE International Rally as part of the Qatar Rally Team.

Fresh from completing the gruelling 11,050 kms Telefonica Dakar Rally across the remote deserts of North Africa, Nasser returns to the Middle East to take his place at the head of the field on the first of eight rounds of this year's regional series.

The 33-year-old teams up with British co-driver Steve Lancaster for the second season in an attempt to retain their special stage title. FIA regulations introduced at the end of last year dictate that powerful World Rally Cars will not be permitted to score championship points this year and Al-Attiyah has therefore arranged a sponsorship deal to run a Group N Subaru Impreza STi, prepared by Prodrive in the UK and run by Ken Skidmore's British-based satellite team.

~This looks like being an exciting and very busy year for me and the entire team,~ confessed the Qatari. ~I have already achieved the first goal of finishing the Dakar Rally in a top 10 position and phase two of the plan is to retain the Middle East title.

~Last year I worked with Ken Skidmore's team and we won the championship in a Subaru Impreza WRC. It was a fantastic season for me. I won six special stage rallies outright and clinched the title by crossing the start line in Dubai in December.

~This year will be very difficult. Group N cars don't have the power of World Rally Cars and all the teams will be very closely matched. The cars are strong and reliable and I am confident that I can win the series again, but it will not be easy.~

With support from the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF), Qatar Petroleum, the Qatar National Bank and the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006, Al-Attiyah starts as favourite to win this weekend's 13-special stage event in the deserts near Sweihan in the Abu Dhabi emirate. He won rallies in Qatar, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Oman and Dubai in 2003.

The 820 kms UAE event is based at the Inter Continental Hotel in Abu Dhabi and starts with a timed 2.1 kms super special stage on Wednesday afternoon (January 28th). The desert stage action begins at 08.30 on Thursday morning, with a further six special stages, and six additional timed tests bring proceedings to a close on Friday afternoon.

~Events in the Middle East will be more compact this year than they have been in the past,~ admitted Al-Attiyah. ~The super special stage has become a traditional opener in international rallies. There is nothing to be gained from pushing hard on such a short stage, but it is always good entertainment for the spectators.~

After tackling 16 marathon stages earlier this month across Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal, Al-Attiyah fully recognises the need to adjust his driving style for the UAE Rally.

~Traditionally the stages in the UAE are very fast,~ said the former Asian Games gold medallist in the skeet shooting discipline. ~There are many long straights and it is important to keep a smooth line racing through the corners. The organisers have imposed a tracking system this year and this will keep all competitors on an even keel and make competition very close.

~On the Dakar Rally, where you are sometimes driving on a stage for seven or eight hours a day, you are never driving flat out all the time. You would never finish the Dakar if you drove flat out. The UAE Rally is different. The special stages are much shorter. The entire event is only run over 270 competitive kilometres. This wouldn't even make a short stage on the Dakar. That means that you have to drive flat out from the start in the Middle East Championship.~

The Qatari faces stiff competition this season and a strong entry of regional drivers on this opening round of the series. Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi is a former winner of the UAE Rally and the defending Group N regional champion. Like his brother and former Group N champion Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi, Abdullah is determined to win the overall title for the first time. Nasser also faces competition from Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban and Farouk Ghurab, Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi and fellow Qatari Hamed Al-Sowaidi.

~Nasser did a fantastic job on the Dakar Rally,~ said Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, President of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF). ~It was one of the most difficult Dakar rallies for many years and he finished 10th at his first attempt. Now he faces a new challenge of retaining the Middle East Championship.

~He starts this year as the man to beat and that places an added pressure on him and the entire team. But we are confident that he can follow up that superb Dakar result with outright victory for the Qatar Rally Team in the UAE.~

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com,
www.ndp-publicity.com/press releases

Date issued: 26/01/2004

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