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MERC Syrian Rally has potential to be closest event in years

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

For immediate release
Saturday, June 6th, 2009

SYRIAN INTERNATIONAL RALLY IS WIDE
OPEN FOR A NEW WINNER THIS WEEKEND

Two former MERC rally winners on international entry list
Saudi duo of Al-Rajhi and Al-Sabban set for Syrian battle

SEDNAYA (Syria): The name of a brand new driver may well grace the FIA Middle East Rally Championship's hall of fame for previous event winners after the Syrian International Rally - the 151st event in the history of the regional series - this weekend (June 12th-13th).

In the absence of Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, the final entry list points to the fact that only Lebanon's Michel Saleh and Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi have won a round of the championship in the past.

Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi won both the Kuwait and Saudi Sharqia events when they ran as candidate rallies in 2008, but the Riyadh driver has never finished higher than second overall (Kuwait 2009) on an actual MERC round.

"It makes this weekend's event that much more wide open and exciting," insists clerk of the course, Hani Shaban, who has been putting the finishing touches to the special stages and the route format over recent days with his support team from the Syrian Automobile Club. "We have a date clash with the Acropolis Rally in Greece, but we have still received an impressive list of entrant and the competition will be no less intense."

A six-strong Syrian Rally Team dominates the competitors' list, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be represented by Al-Rajhi and the experienced Ahmed Al-Sabban. Al-Rajhi burst on to the rallying scene a couple of years ago and has made rapid improvements in a short space of time. He has already won the Ha'il Saudi Baja this season and finished second overall in Kuwait.

He teams up with French co-driver Matthieu Baumel in Syria at the wheel of his impressive Kronos Racing-run Peugeot 207 S2000 and is widely tipped as the favourite to become the first Saudi driver to win a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship since Abdullah Bakhashab in the 1990s.

Al-Sabban has been taking part in the championship since the early 1990s and is persevering with his own Toyota S2000 rally car. The powerful machine has lacked the reliability and development Al-Sabban has needed to be competitive in recent events, but he enjoys rallying in the deserts and the Syrian stages are likely to bring out the best in his Toyota. The UAE's Wael Marjan will co-drive for the Saudi driver.

The event will get underway in the centre of downtown Damascus on Thursday (June 11th) with the desert special stages taking place on Friday and Saturday.

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

Ends

For further media information:
Lutfi Estwani, Chief Press Officer, Tel: + 963 11 232 3706, Fax: + 963 11 231 2785, Mobile: + 963 93234445
or
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2009 Syrian International Rally, Tel/Fax: + (44) 1952 825001, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: ndppublicity@googlemail.com
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.syrianrally.com
www.merc-fia.com

Date issued: 06/06/2009

For further information or assistance please contact:

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Tel/Fax: +44 (0) 1952 825001
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