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Tsouloftas and Farrah desperate for points in Oman Rally

2004 Oman International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 8

For immediate release
Monday, April 19th, 2004

TSOLOUFTAS, SALEH AND FARRAH
DESPERATE FOR CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS

Subaru duo set for epic battle with Mitsubishis

MUSCAT (Oman): This year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship is developing into the closest in history and all the championship contenders will tackle this weekend's Oman International Rally with the exception of Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi, who has decided to take a break from the sport despite collecting two points on the opening round in Abu Dhabi in January.

Held under the patronage of the Royal Oman Police and His Excellency Mohsin Al-Balushi, Under Secretary of Tourism, the 14-stage event is based at the Al-Araimi Complex in Qurum, although the competitive action takes place over two days along sinuous and dusty tracks in the Hajar mountains.

Only Group N or 'showroom specification' cars and 1600 two-wheel drive machines are permitted to score points in the regional series this season, but the eventual series winner is almost certain to be the driver of either a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or a Group N Subaru Impreza STi. The Japanese manufacturers have dominated this category of international rallying in recent seasons, but Subaru holds the upper hand in the Middle East after the opening two rallies of 2004.

According to FIA official Derek Ledger, there is not an official championship for Manufacturers this year, but that hasn't stopped Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi giving Subaru a pair of early season victories in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, with Prodrive-built Subaru Imprezas.

Mitsubishi is the dominant force in the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) and the UAE driver Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi won last year's Middle East Group N series in a Mitsubishi* ( Mitsu-bishi means Three Diamonds in Japanese). But Prodrive has persevered with ongoing development of the Subaru in Group N form and the improved car has shown a clean pair of heels to its rival in the desert this year.

Mitsubishi Ralliart has made several homologation improvements to the Lancer Evolution in recent weeks and three of the top five runners in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship will run derivatives of the Lancer this weekend.

Fourteen drivers have scored points in this year's series after two rounds and no less than 12 of them drive Mitsubishis. The two Subarus, however, currently lie first and second overall in the championship and this is a statistic which Mitsubishi Ralliart and its strong customer base will need to address in Oman and on the Marlboro-supported Jordan International Rally next month.

One of the favourites for a podium finish is the multiple Cyprus champion Andreas Tsouloftas. A regular in the Gulf region, Tsouloftas finished third overall in last year's championship at the wheel of a more powerful Group A Lancer. He missed the opening event in Abu Dhabi, but kick-started his season with second position in Bahrain. Andreas has eight championship points and holds joint third position in the series.

~I have heard that the stages in Oman are beautiful,~ said Andreas. ~I like fast and flowing gravel stages. They remind me of home in Cyprus. The difference is the long drops at home. In the Troodos mountains in Cyprus the stages are very technical, much slower and are a challenge for drivers. There are a lot of gearchanges needed, the roads are harder on the cars and there is more chance of a breakdown. I must make sure that I finish in Oman to keep the momentum going.~

Tsouloftas isn't the only driver badly in need of points this week in Oman. Both Jordan's Amjad Farrah and Lebanon's Michel Saleh achieved excellent finishes in Bahrain last month, but were excluded from the final results at post-event scrutineering. They had finished third and fourth overall, but were deemed to be running an illegal dump valve and a twisted turbo pipe fitted to their respective Lancer engines. The FIA's Scottish Technical Delegate Rab McDonald was left with no alternative but to dramatically exclude them from the results.

~I was gutted,~ said Saleh. ~It was my first time in the new car and I had taken a good finish. Now I must pick up the pieces this weekend and make sure that I get some points on the board.~

Competitive action in the Oman International Rally gets underway with a timed two-kilometre 'Super Special' stage in the wadi behind the Al-Araimi Complex in Qurum at 17.00 hrs on Wednesday evening. Teams and officials are based at the Grand Hyatt Muscat throughout the weekend.

Leading drivers will attend the official pre-event press conference at the Grand Hyatt Muscat at 19.30 hrs on Tuesday evening. This follows a press reception hosted by Hamed Al-Wahaibi's sponsor Coca-Cola at 18.00 hrs.

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2004 Oman International Rally Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services,
Tel: + 968 564325, Fax: + 968 564327, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153
E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com/press

Date issued: 19/04/2004

For further information or assistance please contact:

NDP Publicity Services
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Shropshire TF10 7EN United Kingdom

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