MERC Top drivers carry out recce for Qtel Qatar International Rally
Qtel Qatar International Rally
2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1
For immediate release
Tuesday, January 19th, 2010
MIDDLE EAST’S TOP DRIVERS CARRY OUT QTEL
QATAR INTERNATIONAL RALLY ROUTE CHECKS
· S2000 cars set to make their mark in regional rally series
· UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi wheel out new Ford Fiesta
DOHA (Qatar): The Middle East’s leading rally drivers carried out a full recce of the first day’s special stages of the Qtel Qatar International Rally on Tuesday and they will completed their crucial checks of the second day’s route on Wednesday. The three-day event gets underway with a ceremonial start on the Doha Corniche from 15.30hrs on Thursday (January 21st).
The Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) has gone against recent tradition by introducing new special stages to the south of Doha and this has levelled the playing field for non-Qatari drivers who cannot benefit from the knowledge of previous rounds of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in Qatar.
Since 2004, Group N versions of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru Impreza have dominated Middle East rallying, with Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi winning one title in a Subaru and Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah taking a clean sweep of the next five championship titles with various Group N Subarus.
But the applecart may have been upset in recent months. Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi became the first regional driver to win a round of the championship in a new S2000 car - when he and co-driver Matthieu Baumel were victorious in Syria last summer - and he eventually finished third in the title race behind Al-Attiyah and the QMMF-backed Misfer Al-Marri. Al-Rajhi returns this weekend with Baumel and their Kronos Racing-built Peugeot S2000.
“We showed last season that the Peugeot is a very competitive car in the deserts and I am sure that we will be fast again this year,” said Al-Rajhi. “Punctures have been a problem in Qatar in the past, so we have to make sure we do not drive too fast and take risks.”
The UAE’s Rashid Al-Kebti announced that he would tackle the final round of last year’s championship in Dubai at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia S2000. There was scepticism in the region as to whether the Czech-built car could survive the rigours and temperatures associated with Middle Eastern deserts, but Al-Ketbi became the unlikely star of the rally.
Save for an overheating problem on the opening stage, the Emirati was the class of the field and set a string of fastest stage times in the agile Fabia. He now has backing from the UAE government under a new Fazza 3 Team banner and could well spring a major surprise in Qatar this weekend.
It was hardly surprising that the shift across to the S2000 category would accelerate before the start of the 2010 season. M-Sport in England recently confirmed that they have sold 22 Ford Fiesta S2000 cars for various regional and international rally series’ and two of those cars will make their debuts in Qatar this week.
Al-Attiyah will be bidding for an eighth successive victory on his home event when he wheels out a Ford Fiesta for the first time. The Qatari arrived in Doha from Argentina on Tuesday morning - directly from finishing a fine second overall in the 32nd Dakar Rally with the Volkswagen team - and will have little time to test his new Ford before the opening special stage roars into life on Friday morning.
His Fiesta was prepared at M-Sport’s workshops in England, with support from Autotek’s mechanics and Ken Skidmore’s Autotek operation will run the car in Qatar. “It’s a new car but I have every confidence that it will be competitive out of the box,” insisted Al-Attiyah.
The second Ford Fiesta S2000 will be driven by the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi. Ford’s third official factory driver in last year’s FIA World Rally Championship won the Middle East rally series back in 2004 and has been an integral part of Team Abu Dhabi’s rise through the ranks to being a potent force in international motor sport. As well as overseeing the progress of junior Emirati drivers, Al-Qassimi continues to enjoy his own rallying programme and his partnership with Ulster co-driver Michael Orr has made him the most successful Arab rally driver in history in terms of WRC points amassed.
Al-Qassimi has never beaten Al-Attiyah in the latter’s native Qatar and the appearance of a pair of Ford Fiestas this week is likely to lead to a furious tussle for supremacy. The cocktail is enhanced by the potential of Al-Ketbi’s Skoda and Al-Rajhi’s Peugeot and means that the customary Subaru and Mitsubishi drivers on the 34-car entry list for the Qtel Qatar International Rally will have a tough challenge to maintain the status quo in the points’ tables.
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2010 Qtel Qatar International Rally, Qatar Mobile: + 974 3682842, UK mobile + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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