MERC Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah takes useful Qatar lead in new Ford Fiesta S2000

Qtel Qatar International Rally
2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Friday, January 22nd, 2010




·         UAE’s Khalid Al-Qassimi and Rashid Al-Ketbi hold second and third overall

·         Saudi’s Al-Rajhi crashes out; Qatar Rally Team’s Al-Hajri and Al-Suwaidi sidelined


DOHA (Qatar): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini won six of the first eight gravel special stages of the Qtel Qatar International Rally and moved into a 32.6-second advantage at the end of day one of the opening round of the 2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship.


Al-Attiyah and arch-rival Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi had been the class of the 32-car field in the new Ford Fiesta S2000s and given both cars an impressive debut after a catalogue of pre-rally problems. Al-Qassimi won two stages to claim second position, but both M-Sport-built cars were well clear of third-placed Emirati Rashid Al-Ketbi in his Baumschlager-run Skoda Fabia S2000.


“I have enjoyed the day a lot,” said Al-Attiyah. “We had the issues before the start, but the car is great to drive. It is so nice to be in a real rally car. The top speed of 165 (km/h) is less than the Subaru, but you can hold a faster speed into the corner and the car is much quicker on the exit. I need to get the gearshift exact. That is important. But it has been so much easier to set fast times without taking risks.”


Qatar Rally Team’s Misfer Al-Marri held fourth position until the last stage of the day and had been running as the first of the conventional Group N drivers in his Subaru. But he lost six minutes on the eighth stage and the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi duly moved up to fourth place. Al-Marri slipped to fifth and an impressive showing by Qatar’s Jaralla Al-Marri earned him sixth overall in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. The 1993 regional champion, Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani, moved up to seventh place and Kuwait’s Mufeed Mubarak completed the top eight.


The rate of attrition was unusually high: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi crash landed over a jump and was forced out of the hunt, while the Qatar Rally Team’s Mubarak Al-Hajri and Khalid Al-Suwaidi also withdrew on the fateful fourth stage. Qatar’s Nada Zaidan, Mohammed Al-Mannai and Hamad Al-Marri were among several other retirements, who were joined by Lebanon’s Michel Saleh on the final stage.


Day one – as it happened


Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Khalid Al-Qassimi made the start by the skin of their teeth. Al-Attiyah had been able to cross the ceremonial start podium in his car on Thursday afternoon in Doha, but both of the new Ford Fiesta S2000s had been plagued with a niggling engine sensor problem. A Ford engineer flew into Qatar from the Monte Carlo Rally in the early hours of Friday morning and joined an M-Sport technician from the UK. They worked until just before dawn to ensure that both Fords were repaired and capable of reaching Al-Wakra.


The outcome of the first Nabat Lusail stage was critical and Al-Attiyah struck the first psychological blow - but only just. He beat Al-Qassimi by a mere 1.9s, as the pair crushed Al-Marri by over 40 seconds and Al-Ketbi by half a minute. Al-Rajhi punctured, lost 47s and slipped to fifth, but the Jordanian ladies’ team of Amanai Abu Al-Huda and Mirvay Bustami retired near the start start with mechanical issues.


This was a superb statement of intent for the new Fiestas and the duo were again quickest through SS2, with Al-Attiyah edging into a 6.5s lead over Al-Qassimi, with Al-Ketbi and Al-Marri in third and fourth. “It has been a good start, but I am still getting used to the gear shift and being in the best gear,” said Al-Qassimi. “In the softer stuff you feel the car crying out for another gear and that is costing me time. I just need to get used to everything.”


Jordan’s miserable day continued: Ammar Hijazi withdrew at the service point with engine problems and Amjad Farrah struggled with a misfiring engine, as Al-Attiyah extended his lead to 10.6s through the third Al-Waker stage and reached the second service after four stages with a 32s advantage over Al-Qassimi.


The main challenge to the leading Fords was coming off the rails: Yazeed Al-Rajhi crash-landed out of contention 400 metres from the end of the fourth stage and the Qatar Rally Team duo of Khalid Al-Suwaidi and Mubarak Al-Hajri stopped in the same special with mechanical issues. Front end and oil cooler damage to Al-Rajhi’s Peugeot prevented his Kronos Racing Team from repairing the car in time for SupeRally on Saturday. Eight of the 32 starters had already fallen by the wayside.


Al-Qassimi suffered a flat tyre and Attiyah added three seconds to his lead on the second run through Naber Lusail. Both Fords continued to pull away from the rest of the field and Al-Qassimi was quickest through SS6 to reduce the defending champion’s overall lead to 33.5s.


The Emirati was getting used to his Fiesta and beat Al-Attiyah by 6.4s through SS7 and headed to the last stage of the day a mere 27.1s behind the Qatari. But Al-Attiyah upped his pace a little in SS8 and reached the overnight halt with a 32.6-second overall lead. Turbocharger problems cost Lebanon’s Michel Saleh his eighth place on the last stage and Jordanian Ajmad Farrah was also badly delayed.


Tomorrow (Saturday) is the second and final day of the event and six stages are on offer, starting with the 25.73km Al-Wakrah special at 09.00hrs. Teams then tackle the QMMF stage and a run through the short Al-Neglain stage. A regroup and service at Al-Wakra precedes a repeat run through the three timed special stages in the afternoon. The finish podium is scheduled from 15.09hrs on the Doha Corniche.


Qtel Qatar International Rally - positions after day one (SS8 – 16.30hrs):

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000              1h 12m 21.8s

2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000                                       1h 12m 54.4s

3. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE) Skoda Fabia S2000                            1h 15m 33.0s

4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza                                   1h 19m 48.9s

5. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Nicola Arena (I) Subaru Impreza                                                           1h 21m 59.7s

6. Jaralla Al-Marri (QA/Jamal Fakhroo (QR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX                 1h 24m 53.5s

7. Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Yousef Mohammed (QA) Subaru Impreza            1h 25m 59.2s

8. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X                  1h 27m 54.1s

9. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Denis Giraudet (F) Subaru Impreza                                               1h 28m 23.6s

10. Ahmed Al-Mansoori (UAE)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Subaru Impreza                                               1h 29m 01.9s


Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2010 Qtel Qatar International Rally, Qatar Mobile: + 974 3682842, UK mobile + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: ndppublicity@googlemail.com
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Facebook group – 2010 MERC

Date issued: 22/01/2010

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