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Sheikh Khalid takes MERC lead with Bahrain Rally victory

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

For immediate release
Friday, March 12th, 2004

AL-QASSIMI CLINCHES VICTORY AND MIDDLE
EAST RALLY SERIES LEAD IN BAHRAIN RALLY

UAE's Al-Ketbi robbed by engine problems; Oman's Al-Wahaibi suffers gearbox torment;
Bahrain's Al-Sadadi retires with engine oil overheating; Nearchos wins 1600 category

MANAMA (Bahrain): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr clinched victory in the Bahrain International Rally, the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which finished on the island of Muharraq today (Friday).

But the former regional Group N champion was forced to work hard for his eventual win and outright lead in the FIA regional series, after a fierce tussle with the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi for much of the second leg of the two-day event.

~I feel that I drove this rally in a mature way,~ said a delighted Sheikh Khalid at the wheel of the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX.. ~I did not push too hard early. I was prepared to let my rivals make mistakes. It is a major boost to take maximum points here, because Nasser decided to go to Mexico and he missed his chance here.~

After a Stewards' meeting on Thursday evening, Al-Ketbi began the final eight stages with a 51s advantage over the eventual winner. He and co-driver Khalid Al-Kendi retained a slender advantage until the end of the 11th stage, when Al-Qassimi - who had beaten the UAE driver on both SS9 and SS10 - edged a mere one second ahead Al-Ketbi's fate was determined in the 12th stage when his Mitsubishi's engine failed. Al-Qassimi eventually won by a margin of 2m 28s.

Andreas Tsouloftas had been awarded the outright lead by a timing error at the end of leg one and, when a three-minute penalty was imposed for a GPS infringement, the Cypriot slipped to fourth position behind Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh. But the multiple Cyprus champion fought back to take a top three position and became embroiled in a freectic tussle with Saleh and Lebanese co-driver Ziad Chehab for the runners-up spot. Saleh edged ahead after 14 stages, but Tsouloftas stormed to second position in the final thrilling stage.

Amjad Farrah and Khaled Zakaria finished their second successive Middle East event in the Team Jordan Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and gained five championship points for fourth position. They were fastest overall in the 15th stage and now hold joint second position in the championship. Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban and Irish co-driver Killian Duffy completed the top five.

Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi and Ulster co-driver Allan Harryman led after the opening stage on Thursday, only to fall foul of driveshaft and transmission problems. They began the second leg in 14th position and set a string of fastest stage times on Friday until they hit terminal gearbox trouble in the 13th stage.

~We had a problem with the gear linkage,~ said Al-Wahaibi. ~But I have learned a lot from this rally. The car needs to be set-up very differently in this part of the world. We were very fast at times and that gives me confidence for the rest of the season.~

The first notable retirement was defending Group N champion and top seed Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, who rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on the opening stage and damaged the radiator. Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi held ninth position at the start of leg one, but retired their Island Distribution-backed Subaru Impreza after the ninth stage with an excessive engine oil temperature.

Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi lost the outright lead of the Middle East 1600 championship when his Citroen Saxo was sidelined in the 12th stage. This handed victory to Cypriot former two-wheel drive champion Nearchos Nearchou in his Proton Wira. Britain's Raj Jutley retired his Opel Corsa after SS13.

The event was supported by Zayani Motors and the Power Horse energy drink. The third round of the eight-event FIA Middle East rally series takes place in Oman on April 21/23rd.

Bahrain Rally positions after SS16 (top 6 - unofficial 16.30 hrs):
1. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (UAE) Subaru Impreza WRX 2h 48m 11s
2. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 50m 39s
3. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL)(CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 50m 46s
4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 54m 16s
5. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 56m 07s
6. Essa Al-Dossary (KSA)/Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 3h 01m 23s

Overall championship positions after round 2 of 8
1. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 18 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10 pts
Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 10 pts
4. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 8 pts
5. Michel Saleh (UAE) 6 pts
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 6 pts
Essa El-Dossari (KSA) 6 pts
8. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) 4 pts
Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 4 pts

1600
1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) 10 pts
Nearchos Nearchou (CY) 10 pts
3. 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

Date issued: 12/03/2004

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