MERC Kuwait International Rally gets underway on Thursday afternoon
KUWAIT INTERNATIONAL RALLY, March 4th-6th, 2010
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round two
For immediate release
Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
THIRTY TEAMS SET TO TACKLE 2010 KUWAIT INTERNATIONAL RALLY
· Qatar’s Al-Marri heads top class international field in Kuwait
· Mufeed Mubarak, Al-Thafiri and Bin Eidan head local entrants
· UAE’s Al-Qassimi and Saudi’s Al-Rajhi set for desert showdown
JAHRA (Kuwait): Thirty of the leading rally teams in the Middle East will provisionally line-up at the start of the 2010 Kuwait International Rally, round two of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), on Thursday afternoon (tomorrow).
With the exception of defending regional champion, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah – who is taking part in the Rally Mexico this weekend – all the serious contenders for the 2010 regional title will tackle the three-day desert rally, which gets underway with a ceremonial start at the Kuwait Towers in Kuwait City from 15.00 hrs on Thursday afternoon.
The Kuwait Motor Sports Club (KMSC) will run 14 timed special stages under the patronage of His Excellency the Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and under the presidency of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Dawood Al-Sabah, President of the KMSC and chairman of the organising committee.
Clerk of the course Walid Mihyar has introduced several new stages and modified sections of other routes through the Kuwait desert. The competitive distance will total 252.24km in a total route of 816.17km and the stage action gets underway from 15.30hrs on Thursday afternoon with a 3.5km super special stage.
Qatar’s Misfer Al-Marri and Italian co-driver Nicola Arena will lead the 30-car field into the second Kuwait round of the regional series to be held since the event returned to the championship last season after an absence of 13 years.
Al-Marri has never won a round of the MERC, but has the pace and experience to challenge for honours in his QMMF-backed Subaru Impreza N15. “This is my big chance to take a first rally win at this level,” said Al-Marri. “I need to be clever and not take risks, but I know I will have to push hard at good times to have a chance of the win.”
Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi entered the series at the 11th hour and is perhaps the favourite to take his seventh regional rally victory with Ulster co-driver Michael Orr in his new Ford Fiesta S2000. The Abu Dhabi driver set several fastest stage times in Qatar in January and overcame early teething problems with the new Ford to show its potential in a desert rallying environment.
The Emirati starts at two, ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi - the winner of the Kuwait Rally when it ran as a candidate event in 2008. Al-Rajhi failed to finish the recent Qatar round of the series in his Peugeot 207 S2000, but arrived in Kuwait fresh from taking a superb victory in the Saudi Arabian Ha’il Baja with an ex-factory Mitsubishi Lancer.
The fourth of the expected pacesetters is Rashid Al-Ketbi. The Emirati and co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi proved in Dubai last December that their new Skoda Fabia S2000 has the pace to win stages and Al-Ketbi will be looking for his first ever MERC victory to rekindle his championship challenge.
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi is a multiple regional Group N champion and won one round of the series in Abu Dhabi in 2000. The Sharjah driver failed to finish in Qatar recently and needs points on the board if he is to challenge for the title this season.
Veteran Michel Saleh won the Kuwait Rally with Tony Samia way back in 1984 with a Toyota Celica GT and the Lebanese driver has tackled more rounds of the series than any other driver. He retains a competitive pace and an infectious enthusiasm for the sport and will be pushing for the top five again this weekend.
There are 10 Kuwaiti drivers on the entry list, headed by the eighth-seeded Mufeed Mubarak with his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Mubarak lies sixth in the regional series after round one and will be determined to add to his points’ tally at home. Sandwiched between Mubarak and Kuwait’s second major challenger, Meshari Al-Thafiri, is the rejuvenated Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani.
The Qatari won the regional title back in 1993, but a stunning podium finish on his home round in Doha in January has given Sheikh Hamed an unlikely third in the championship after round one. Al-Thafiri finished runner-up in last year’s Pirelli Star Driver competition in the Middle East region and will be looking to build upon that success this weekend.
Other Kuwaiti drivers on the entry list include Saleh Bin Eidan - who returns to international motor sport after serious injury - Meshal Al-Nejadi and Essam Al-Nejadi in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IXs, Abdullah Al-Hajri at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza and Elie Chichati in a Mitsubishi. The local contingent is completed by Fahad Askanani (Mitsubishi), Mubarak Al-Thafiri (Mitsubishi) and Dawood Al-Gharabally (Mitsubishi).
Qatar drivers also feature strongly further down the entry list: Mubarak Al-Hajri, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Jaber Al-Marri will be chasing championship points and Khalid Al-Suwaidi will be looking to put his Qatar Rally disappointment behind him. Other Qatari entrants include Mohammed Al-Mannai, Abdullah Al-Rabban and Mohammed Al-Marri.
In the absence of Amjad Farrah, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is represented by Faris Hijazi, Mazen Tantash, female driver Abir Al-Batikhi and Hani Al-Bast, while Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Sabban and Palestine’s Rami Jaber (Fiat Stilo) complete the provisional starting line-up.
“We would like to welcome all our officials and competitors to Jahra for the start of the 2010 Kuwait International Rally,” said Sheikh Ahmad Al-Dawood Al-Sabah, President of the KMSC and chairman of the organising committee.
“Our team has put together a challenging route and a revised format and we have been rewarded with a superb international entry. We wish everyone a safe and successful weekend’s motor sport.”
Top 10 starters
1. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Nicola Arena (I) Subaru Impreza N15
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) Peugeot 207 S2000
4. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Skoda Fabia S2000
5. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza
6. Michel Saleh (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Subaru Impreza
7. Saleh Bin Eidan (KT)/Abdulazes Abel (KT) Subaru Impreza N12
8. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/Saad Melaifi (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
9. Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Yousef Mohammed (QA) Subaru Impreza
10. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KT)/Fares Al-Thafiri (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – positions after round one
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10 pts
2. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 8 pts
3. Sheikh Hamad Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA) 6 pts
4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 5 pts
5. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 4 pts
6. Mufeed Mubarak (KT) 3 pts
7. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT) 2 pts
8. Mohammed Al-Marri (QA) 1 pt
1. Giovanni Bernacchini (I) 10 pts
2. Nicola Arena (I) 8 pts
3. Aref Yousef Mohammed (UAE) 6 pts
4. Denis Giraudet (F) 5 pts
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, International Media Liaison, 2010 Kuwait International Rally, NDP Publicity Services, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)