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Al Attiyah opens up first leg lead in UAE Rally

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

For immediate release
Thursday, January 29th, 2004

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH LEADS
UAE RALLY AT MID-WAY POINT

UAE's Sheikh Khalid in second place; Engine trouble for Al-Ketbi; Sowaidi third

ABU DHABI (UAE): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah held a 1m 44s overall lead at the end of the first desert leg of the UAE International Rally, the opening round of the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, in Abu Dhabi, today (Thursday).

After seven timed special stages across the fast, sandy tracks in the Sweihan region of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, a fierce tussle had developed between the Subarus of reigning champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and the Mitsubishi Lancers of defending Group N champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi and the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi.

Both Ketbi and Al-Attiyah had won the super special stage by a mere second from Abdullah Al-Qassimi on Wednesday, but it was a different story when the action headed out into the deserts this morning.

Al-Attiyah moved straight into a 10-second lead over the opening Farms special, near Sweihan, as Al-Ketbi was second quickest and Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi was third, a further five seconds adrift. But Al-Attiyah moved ahead on the next two stages, as an engine problem delayed Al-Ketbi and Abdullah Al-Qassimi lost his way and nearly 50 seconds.

Over the closing kilometres, Al-Attiyah extended his advantage and he and co-driver Steve Lancaster will start the final day's action on Friday with a 1m 44s advantage over Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi. Qatar's Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari - the runner-up in last year's Group N championship - held fourth, ahead of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi. Al-Ketbi eventually retired with engine failure in the seventh stage.

~I need to win this rally to get the defence of my title off to the best of starts,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~I planned to attack this morning to see what the situation was at the head of the field. If my pace was competitive then I planned to push even harder. Winning is obviously the plan, but it will not be easy. I need to make sure that I finish at all costs.

~I only had about 20 minutes to test the car before the start of the rally. That is never enough time and it felt a little strange to be back in a conventional rally car after spending three weeks this month in a Mitsubishi Pajero. The driving style is totally different.

~It has been so busy since I returned from Africa. I went to an official reception laid on by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation and I even found time for some shooting. As soon as I landed in Doha I went to the shooting range and wound down by taking a few shots. It was my way of switching off before I went to sleep. Now I am focused on this week's rally and what promises to be a truly exciting year.~

Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi tackled his first ever desert special stage at the wheel of the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza this morning and was fourth fastest, despite nursing a back injury sustained in a Dubai Rally accident in December. Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr were on the pace of the leaders and a mere four seconds behind third-placed Sowaidi. They held third place after SS4 and finished the leg in second position.

~I was pleased to set a competitive time on Wednesday's short stage,~ insisted Power Horse-supported Sheikh Khalid. ~Reaching the finish of this rally is important, but I am learning all the time and feel that I am continuously gaining experience. It is going to be a very exciting season with the new rules for Group N cars and there is no point pushing too quickly early on and taking any risks.

~It has been good so far today. The partnership with Michael is working well. He is very experienced and is making a difference.~

Nasser's Qatar Rally Team programme has support from the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF), Qatar Petroleum, the Qatar National Bank and the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006.

Tomorrow (Friday) marks the final leg of the UAE International Rally, with a further six special stages in the Sweihan region of the Abu Dhabi emirate. For the first time for several years the official podium at the Marina Mall will also host the event's prizegiving from 16.30.

UAE Rally - positions after SS7 (end of leg 1):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza 63m 55s
2. Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza 65m 44s 3. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 66m 15s
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 66m 52s
5. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Gaby Khoury (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 68m 44s

Ends

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

Date issued: 29/01/2004

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