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1600 competitors face stiff Bahrain Rally challenge

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

For immediate release
Tuesday, March 9th, 2004

TWO-WHEEL DRIVE ENTRANTS FACE
STIFF CHALLENGE IN BAHRAIN RALLY

Kuwaiti regional 1600 champion Meshal Al-Nejadi all set for desert action;
Saudi Toyotas set for first event of 2004 campaign; Engine scare for Al-Sadadi

MANAMA (Bahrain): Among the 36 international competitors taking part in this weekend's Bahrain International Rally will be five two-wheel drive 1600cc cars, which also score points in the 1600 Championship.

These cars lack the power and traction of their four-wheel drive counterparts - the Subaru Impreza STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - but enable teams to compete in international events without requiring the large budgets to finance a competitive Group N four-wheel drive motorsport programme.

The most successful of the 1600 competitors in recent months has been the ever-improving Kuwaiti driver Meshal Al-Nejadi, who clinched last season's Middle East title in his high-revving and nimble little Citroen Saxo. Partnered by fellow Kuwaiti Shaker Al-Raets, Al-Nejadi won the opening round of the 1600 series in Abu Dhabi, despite suffering a broken exhaust and struggling in the many patches of soft sand which were prevalent on some of the special stages in the Sweihan region.

His closest rival was his brother Essam Al-Nejadi and co-driver Mishari Zayed in a Proton Wira. Both teams are putting together the finishing touches to their campaign for honours in Bahrain. Stages in the Kingdom are less sandy than in the southern Gulf region and 1600 teams have less of a disadvantage in terms of a lack of traction and risks associated with getting stuck in treacherous sand.

Former 1600 champion Nearchos Nearchou tackled the series for several seasons in a Skoda Favorit before graduating to a Proton Wira. The Cypriot has decided to bid for the title again this season and lines up against the Al-Nejadi brothers, Qatar's Mohammed Al-Marri in an Opel Corsa and British heart surgeon Raj Jutley in a similar car.

Jutley has been driving on international rallies since 1998. He has competed in the Kenyan Safari Rally three times and briefly led the Formula Two class in 2001. During the 2002 London-Athens Rally he was lying third in class when he was asked to operate on a fellow competitor's broken neck and was forced out of the race! His co-driver is Derby-based Zaffar Mughal, a former winner of the regional 1600 class with Amrik Sehmbi.

Also bolstering the entry on this event are a quartet of Toyota Rally Team RAV4s, which will run around 10 minutes behind the international field. Saudi Arabia's Majid Al-Gamdi lines up in defence of his title against Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Faisal, Sultan Hamdi and Ali Ak-Saiyari in the fourth car.

~This is the third season of the Toyota Rally Team's involvement in the FIA Middle East rally series with the RAV4s,~ said mentor and former Middle East rally champion Abdullah Bakhashab. ~The series is an ideal stepping stone for up-and-coming drivers to gain some experience in international rallies in the Middle East.~

Meanwhile, Bahrain's multiple national champion Hassan Al-Sadadi and co-driver Keith Wake have been burning the midnight oil to rebuild their Subaru in time for Thursday's start. A new engine was flown in from the UK earolier this week and Al-Sadadi finds himself in a race against time to ensure the car is in working order on time.

FIA Middle East 1600 Rally Championship - positions after round 1 of 8: 1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) 10 pts
2. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) 8 pts

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) 17460041, Mobile: + (973) 36481738, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com www.ndp-publicity.com/press releases

Date issued: 09/03/2004

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