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Top drivers arrive in Bahrain for international rally

2004 Bahrain International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 2 of 8

For immediate release
Monday, March 8th, 2004

TOP CLASS INTERNATIONAL TEAMS ARRIVE
IN BAHRAIN FOR INTERNATIONAL RALLY

Michel Saleh debuts new Mitsubishi; Four-car Syrian Rally Team arrives in Bahrain

MANAMA (Bahrain): The region's leading rally drivers have arrived in Bahrain to make their final preparations for this weekend's Bahrain International Rally, the second round of the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship. The competitive action begins on Thursday morning and finishes at 5pm on Friday afternoon.

Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh is one of those drivers who has spent the last two days with co-driver Ziad Chehab painstakingly checking the revised route through the desert to ensure that he is fully prepared for the challenge of 16 timed special stages.

Dubai-based Saleh has disposed of his trusty Toyota Celica GT4 and will drive a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 for the first time in Bahrain to comply with new 2004 FIA regulations which govern the regional rally series.

~I think it is a major step forward for the championship to adopt this Group N policy,~ said Saleh. ~I have enjoyed many years driving powerful Group B and Group A cars in the desert, but the decision to allow only Group N cars to win the championship this season is a good one. I always enjoy rallying in Bahrain. I am pleased with my car and hopeful of a good result.~

Also lining up alongside Saleh at the official Movenpick Hotel start of the Power Horse and Zayani Motors-supported event on Thursday morning, will be a four-strong Syrian Rally Team, which also tackled the recent Qatar Rally.

Leading the team will be Haythem Al-Yousef and his Qatari driver Abdulrahman Al-Hajri in a Subaru Impreza. They are joined by Amir Arnaout/Yousif Al-Asmar and Khalifa Haifaa/Ata Al-Hamoud in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7s and Bashar Aboukhoura and Omar Al-Athim in an Evolution 6.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will host the fourth round of the regional series in May, but Jordanians Amjad Farrah and Khaled Zakaria are tackling all rounds of the championship this year in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, supported by the national airline and the Bank of Jordan. Farrah finished an excellent fourth overall in the opening Abu Dhabi round of the series and heads for the Bahrain deserts in determined mood.

~It was a good start to the year for Khaled and myself,~ said Amjad. ~Now I must make sure that I keep the momentum going with a good result in Bahrain.~

Multiple Cyprus champion Andreas Tsouloftas finished third overall in last year's championship in a Group A Mitsubishi, but was forced to miss the opening round of this year's series. He and co-driver Savvas Laos have also made the successful transition to a Group N Mitsubishi and Tsouloftas poses a serious threat to the leading GCC drivers this weekend.

~Bahrain is an excellent rally,~ said Andreas. ~The stages are twisty and technical and these suit my driving style. It should be one of the closest rallies of the year.~ Kuwait will also be represented in the Group N category by Meshri Al-Sabati and Bader Al-Baqsumi in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 3.

One late change to the original entry list involves Oman's former regional Group N champion Hamed Al-Wahaibi, who makes his return to the series after several years competing in the FIA World Rally Championship. Ulsterman Allan Harryman - a former co-driver for Qatar's Mubarak Al-Hajri and Syria's Ahmed Hamsho - replaces Britain's Nicky Beech in the co-driver's seat.

~What with all the plans for the Formula One race on April 4th and final preparations for the rally, these are hectic times for the Bahrain Motor Federation,~ said Clerk of the Course Elie Semaan. ~We have been delighted with the response to the rally.~

Ends

For further media information: Neil Perkins, 2004 Bahrain International Rally Press Office, NDP Publicity Services, Ground Floor Business Centre, Movenpick Hotel, Murharraq Town, Kingdom of Bahrain, Tel: + (973) 17460000, Fax: + (973) 17460001, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com www.ndp-publicity.com/press releases

Date issued: 08/03/2004

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