MERC Al Attiyah and Al Qassimi set to miss Syrian Rally

2009 Syrian International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3

For immediate release
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009


Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah leaves door open for rivals because of date clash
UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi also looks set to miss crucial MERC round
Syrian Automobile Club puts finishing touches to MERC's youngest rally

SEDNAYA (Syria): Defending FIA Middle East rally champion, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, will not be able to become the first driver in history to claim four outright wins in the Syrian International Rally, when the third round of the regional series gets underway in Sednaya on June 11th-13th.

The Qatari is also tackling the FIA Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) and the recent date change for the Syrian event has caused a direct date clash with the Acropolis Rally in Greece.

Al-Attiyah would be penalised for missing the crucial Greek round of the production series and that has left the door wide open for a potential new winner of the Syrian event. Of the other registered championship contenders, only Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi has won the event in the past and the date clash has enabled several of Al-Attiyah's other closest challengers to move back into title contention. Al-Qassimi is also planning to tackle the Greek event in a factory Ford Focus WRC and will miss the Syrian action.

The Qatari would have been bidding for a third successive victory in the newest round of the regional series, which ran for the first time as a candidate event in 2000 and joined the championship in 2001. "There's nothing he can do," said Ken Skidmore of Autotek Motorsport, who will also run Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri and Khalid Al-Suwaidi on the event and lend service support to the Jordanian drivers, Ammar and Faris Hijazi.

"Nasser would have been penalised by the FIA for missing the rally. He has to take part in an agreed number of rounds of the Production Championship."

Al-Attiyah and the retired multiple regional champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem currently have three wins apiece in the all-desert rally, which is being organised by the Syrian Automobile Club and will be based at the Sheraton Ma'aret Sednaya for the five time.

Ben Sulayem is now a vice-president of the FIA and the president of the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE. He won the candidate round in 2000 with Irish co-driver Ronan Morgan and went on to claim two further wins in 2001 and 2002 with Jordan's Khaled Zakaria and England's John Spiller reading the notes.

The 2003 running of the event was marred by controversy on the final super special stage and victory eventually fell to Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas. The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi won the following year on his way to the regional title with the Power Horse World Rally Team and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr.

Al-Attiyah's winning streak began in 2005 and he repeated the feat with Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson in 2007 and 2008. The event was cancelled in 2006. "It's always a nice rally and one which I enjoy very much," enthused Al-Attiyah, who has claimed a maximum 20 championship points from the two rounds of the series so far in Qatar and Kuwait.

"We have a short history in terms of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship," admitted clerk of the course Hani Shaban. "But we have made many improvements and revisions to the event over the last few years and we are now regarded as one of the most popular rounds of the championship. Nasser would have been one of the favourites to win the event for a fourth time, but we hope to have a strong Syrian contingent taking part and we are sure to attract most of the regional championship's registered drivers."

This year's rally will run under the patronage of the Syrian Ministry of Tourism and has initial support from the Sheraton Ma'aret Sednaya, Orient TV, Europcar and Nissan.

Regulations and further information about entries and concessions are available from the Syrian Automobile Club, PO Box 36256, Damascus, Syria, Tel: 963 11 2323706, Fax: + 963 11 2312785, Website: www.syrianrally.com.

Syrian International Rally - previous winners
*2000 Mohammed Ben Sulayem (UAE)/Ronan Morgan (GB)  Ford Focus WRC
2001 Mohammed Ben Sulayem (UAE)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Ford Focus WRC
2002 Mohammed Ben Sulayem (UAE)/John Spiller (GB)  Ford Focus WRC
2003 Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI
2004 Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB)   Subaru Impreza WRX STi
2005 Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
2006 no rally - cancelled
2007  Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
2008  Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
*MERC candidate event and not a round of the MERC

For further media information:
Lutfi Estwani, Arabic Press Officer, Tel: + 963 11 232 3706, Fax: + 963 11 231 2785, Mobile: + 963 93234445

Date issued: 13/05/2009

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