Nasser and Subaru take stunning victory in Qatar Rally

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


Al-Qassimi second; Bakhashab blows engine

DOHA (Qatar): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah returned to international rallying in style by taking a convincing victory in the two-day Toyota Qatar International Rally, the opening round of this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which finished in windswept Doha today.

After a four-year absence from the sport, Al-Attiyah became the first Qatari to win his home event since his cousin Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah won the rain-soaked 1993 rally in a Toyota. Partnered by Yorkshireman Steve Lancaster, Nasser led from the opening 'super special' on Thursday morning in his Subaru Impreza WRC, although he lost the lead briefly on two occasions to Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab before the latter was sidelined with a blown engine, caused from damage sustained to his Peugeot 206 WRC during a heavy landing in the 10th stage.

Al-Attiyah began the second day's nine special stages with a 3m 22s lead over his nearest rival and noticeably eased his pace from then on to take the biggest win of his career and begin his first ever regional championship campaign in emphatic fashion.

~I had one final push this morning to extend my advantage and then I have slowed to around 50 or 60%,~ admitted Al-Attiyah. ~The car has been fantastic. On the bumps, over the fast straights it was superb. It feels great to win my home rally. Even when I was away from the sport representing Qatar in shooting competitions, I missed rallying and dreamt that one day I would win this rally.~

Last year's championship runner-up Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi finished second overall in his Ford Focus WRC after losing time during the opening leg with a blocked turbo intercooler and rear differential problems today. His brother Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi finished third in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI but was later excluded at post-event scrutineering and handed the Group N win to Britain's Justin Dale.

His Mitsubishi's engine was found to have by-passed the air pressure valve on the turbocharger and this contravened FIA Group N regulations.

~I had a few problems on this rally,~ said Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah. ~But second place is good for me, because it means that I have eight points on the board and a head start over Abdullah and Mohammed (Ben Sulayem) if he decides to come back to the championship.~

Britain's Justin Dale was locked in a gripping tussle with Qatar's Abdullah Al-Kuwari. The reigning British 1600 champion slipped behind his Qatari rival after the 11th stage and the pair traded times throughout the day. Dale set a second and third quickest time and eventually took third place. Al-Kuwari retired two stages from the end after a fire in his Mitsubishi.

~It has been quite a steep learning curve again,~ admitted Dale. ~I am pleased with my result, but it is so difficult to match the local boys on their own rally. They really know the desert and the best tracks to take.~

The majority of the retirements occurred during the opening leg. Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban retired with a blown engine, Qatari Group N front-runner Misfer Al-Marri succumbed to a broken rear differential and Kuwait's Mohammed Al-Sarraf blew the engine in his new Mitsubishi. Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi damaged his Mitsubishi's radiator after a heavy landing and Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi retired with transmission problems.

The Toyota Middle East Junior Cup ran behind the international field and Saudi Arabia's Majid Al-Ghamdi won the category in his RAV-4, from Qatar's Rashid Saeed Al-Hajri, the son of twice former FIA Middle East rally champion Saeed Al-Hajri making his debut in the championship.

The event was held under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Tameem Bin Hamed Al-Thani, the Head of the Qatar Olympic Committee and supported by Doha Insurance, Doha Petrol Station and Michelin, through its Qatar outlet Nasser Bin Khaled and Sons.

Revised Positions after SS19 (top 5) - official:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 1h 42m 15.6s
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Ford Focus WRC 1h 48m 46.1s
3. Justin Dale (GB)/Andrew Bargery (GB) Subaru Impreza 1h 53m 54.7s
4. Abdullaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Ahmed Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 1h 59m 25.9s
5. Craig Johnson (GB)/Tim Line (GB) Subaru Impreza 1h 59m 50.6s

FIA Middle East rally championship - overall positions after round 1 of 6 (revised)
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 8
3. Justin Dale (GB) 6
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 5
5. Craig Johnson (GB) 4
6. Abdullah Al-Rabban (QA) 3
7. Abdulrahman Ghuloom (BAH) 2
8. Wayne Boshier (UAE) 1

FIA Middle East rally championship - Group N positions after round 1 of 6 (revised)
1. Justin Dale (GB) 10
2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 8
3. Craig Johnson (GB) 6
4. Abdullah Al-Rabban (QA) 5
5. Abdulrahman Ghuloom (BAH) 4
6. Wayne Boshier (UAE) 3
7. Farouq Ghurab (KSA) 2


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 and E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
For full results classifications go to - www.ners.nildram.co.uk

Date issued: 28/02/2003

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