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Cypriot Tsouloftas leads thrilling Bahrain Rally after leg one

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

For immediate release
Thursday, March 11th, 2004

CYPRIOT TSOULOFTAS EDGES AHEAD IN
THRILLING OPENING LEG OF BAHRAIN RALLY

UAE's Sheikh Abdullah rolls out in opening stage; Early leader Oman's Al-Wahaibi delayed; UAE's Sheikh Khalid slips to third; UAE's Al-Ketbi up to second position

MANAMA (Bahrain): Cypriot driver Andreas Tsouloftas and co-driver Savvas Laos held the outright lead after a thrilling opening leg of the Bahrain International Rally, the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, today (Thursday).

The lead changed no less than four times over the first eight stages, as Tsouloftas went into the overnight halt with a 38s advantage over the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi and Khalid Al-Kendi in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6.

The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr held third position at the wheel of the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX. ~I didn't want to drive flat out on the early stages,~ admitted Khalid. ~I have been driving at only 50%-70% so far. I will let the other drivers take the risks at this stage.~

The experienced Lebanese driver Michel Saleh was fourth in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, Jordan's Ajjad Farrah and co-driver Khaled Zakaria were fifth and Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban and Irish co-driver Killian Duffy were sixth overall.

At the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi had returned in style to the regional series for the first time since the 1998 Oman Rally by setting the fastest time through the opening timed stage. But he suffered from a broken driveshaft, differential problems and a jammed gear linkage which dropped him to 18th place after five stages. He held a lowly 14th position at the end of day one.

~I started well, then I broke a driveshaft in SS2 and things went from bad to worse,~ groaned Al-Wahaibi. ~The gearbox jammed in gear and I couldn't go quickly at all. I was pleased to reach service where we could fix the problem. I need points now and will sit back a little to make sure I finish.~

The Bahraini trio of Abdulrahman Ghuloom, Hassan Al-Sadadi and Ebrahim Al-Busmait had a successful first day. Al-Sadadi started well in the Island Distribution-backed Subaru Impreza and held seventh place after stage eight. Ghuloom and Busmait were eighth and ninth.

Defending Middle East Group N champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi blotted his copybook by rolling on the very first Salmabad stage. The UAE driver - who has won the Group N Championship four times in the last six seasons - was able to continue to the end of the stage before retiring with a damaged radiator.

Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari endured a miserable start. The Qatari lost four minutes in the opening stage and then a further four in the second section when he collected a puncture and damaged the Mitsubishi's bodywork. He then missed a braking point in the third stage and was helped back on to the stage by over 20 spectators.

~What a disaster. I had flat tyres on all five stages,~ said the 13th-placed Qatari. ~I even had two flat tyres on one stage and was forced to change three more.~

In the 1600 category, Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi was the early pace-setter in his nimble Citroen Saxo. Cypriot Nearchos Nearchou was his nearest challenger in a Proton Wira.

The event is based at the Movenpick Hotel on the island of Murharraq and is supported by Zayani Motors and the Power Horse energy drink.

Tomorrow's (Friday) timetable offers a further eight special stages, starting with a 15 kms run through the Wadi Wadi section at 10.53 hrs. A section near the landmark 'Tree of Life' takes crews towards Jaww and the service point north of Sakhir.

After a stage near the new Bahrain International Circuit at 12.42 hrs, competitors head into a gruelling 32.65 kms stage at Mamtalla, followed by a repeat of the Wadi Wadi and 'Tree of Life' sections and a final run through Jaww. The podium is scheduled for 17.15 hrs in the grounds of the Movenpick Hotel.

Leading Bahrain Rally positions at end of leg 1 (top 10 - unofficial): 1. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 25m 58s
2. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 26m 36s
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (UAE) Subaru Impreza WRX 1h 26m 42s
4. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 28m 48s
5. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 30m 38s
6. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 31m 20s
7. Hassan Al-Sadadi (BAH)/Keith Wake (GB) Subaru Impreza 1h 36m 57s 8. Abdulrahman Ghuloom (BAH)/Esther Ghuloom (BAH) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 5 1h 37m 26s
9. Ebrahim Al-Busmait (BAH)/Nadeem Mohammed (BAH) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 37m 27s
10. Amir Arnaout (SYR)/Yousif Al-Asmar (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 37m 49s

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: 11/03/2004

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