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Al Attiyah leads strongest Middle East field in history in Oman Rally

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

For immediate release
Tuesday, April 20th, 2004 (embargoed until 19.30 hrs Oman time)

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH LEADS STRONGEST MIDDLE
EAST RALLY FIELD IN HISTORY INTO OMAN RALLY

Dubai's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum returns; Oman's Shanfari and Georgiou back in action

MUSCAT (Oman): Defending Middle East rally champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah jetted in from the Rally of New Zealand on Tuesday to take his place as the top seed for this weekend's Oman International Rally, the third round of the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, starting at 5pm on Wednesday evening.

The event has attracted the best entry in the history of the Oman Rally and probably the strongest in terms of big names in the 21-year history of the FIA regional series. With the exception of former champions Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Abdullah Bakhashab and Saeed Al-Hajri and the UAE's Khalifa Al-Motaiwi, almost every major name from the last two decades of Middle East rallying is present on the entry list for the 14-special stage gravel event through the Hajar mountains. It promises to be a classic event with around 10 drivers capable of taking outright victory.

Running immediately behind Al-Attiyah's Subaru Impreza STi will be the series leader Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in his Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza. The UAE's Sheikh Khalid takes an eight-point lead into the event, but faces the stiffest test of his career.

~I must keep up the momentum and make sure that I finish and continue to collect championship points,~ said Khalid. ~That is the priority rather than winning.~

Khalid will face fierce competition over the sinuous and demanding gravel stages in the Hajar mountains from Oman's former regional Group N champion Hamed Al-Wahaibi. The Mitsubishi driver set several fastest stage times in the Bahrain Rally last month and will be determined to make up lost ground on his rivals after retiring on the final morning.

~I led this rally last year and showed that I have the pace to win rallies by setting several fastest stage times in Bahrain last month,~ admitted Al-Wahaibi. ~Now I must put that into practice on my home event.~

Also hoping to bounce back from two disappointments is the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi, the winner of a national rally last weekend in Sharjah. Al-Ketbi led both the Abu Dhabi and Bahrain rallies for a short time, but has two non-finishes to show for his early season challenge. Khalid's brother Sheikh Abdullah is the defending Group N champion and he too needs to put an uncharacteristic Bahrain Rally accident behind him.

~This is going to be a very difficult rally,~ said Abdullah's Lebanese co-driver Gaby Khoury. ~The stages are deceptive and it is important that you have carried out a detailed recce.~

One of the other favourites for a podium finish is the multiple Cyprus champion Andreas Tsouloftas. He finished third overall in last year's championship at the wheel of a more powerful Group A Lancer and kick-started this season with second position in Bahrain. Andreas has eight championship points and holds joint third position in the series with Saudi Arabia's Essa Al-Dossari.

Both Jordan's Amjad Farrah and Lebanon's Michel Saleh achieved top four finishes in Bahrain last month, but were excluded from the final results at post-event scrutineering. Like Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban, they know full well the importance of a top finish this weekend.

The event will also mark the dramatic return of Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum to Middle East international rallying after a break of over seven years. Suhail was one of the original members of Dubai's Victory Rally Team alongside Khalifa Al-Motaiwi and wheels out a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6. He was one of only a handful of drivers able to match the pace of 14-times Middle East rally champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem. They enjoyed several memorable battles in the mid-1990s.

~It is great to be back,~ said Suhail. ~I don't think that I can win the first time out, but I will be trying hard. Now I would really like to see Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Abdullah Bakhashab back in the series. Then we would really have some great rally sport in the Middle East.~

Also making a comeback are Oman's former Qatar Rally winner Nizar Al-Shanfari and Muscat-based Lebanese veteran Tony Georgiou in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions.The duo are joined on the entry list by fellow Omanis Khalid Al-Manji (Subaru Impreza), Ahmed Al-Obaidani (Mitsubishi), Ibrahim Al-Abri (Subaru) and Faisal Al-Busad (Mitsubishi).

Bahrain will be represented by Hassan Al-Sadadi, Britain's David Scialom flies in from the UK and a quartet of 1600 cars will challenge for the two-wheel drive award. Qataris Abdullah Al-Kuwari, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Faisal Al-Attiyah play a supporting role to Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, while four Saudi Arabian Toyota Rav4s run behind the international field. The UAE's Saeed Al-Ketbi completes the impressive driver line-up.

The event is being held under the patronage of the Royal Oman Police and His Excellency Mohsin Al-Balushi, Under Secretary of Tourism, with support from Omantel, the Grand Hyatt and Quat Jabal. Competitive action gets underway with a timed two-kilometre 'Super Special' stage in the wadi behind the Al-Araimi Complex and rally headquarters in Qurum at 17.00 hrs on Wednesday evening.

The special stage action begins on Thursday morning when competitors head into the Hajar mountains for a further six timed sections in the Yitte, Arqi and Al-Hajer areas. Leg one draws to a close at the Al-Araimi Complex at 17.45 hrs. The second and final leg takes place on Friday, April 23rd with a further seven timed stages. The podium has been scheduled for 18.15 hrs on Friday evening.

In a route of 744.44 kms, 260.16 kms will be competitive.

2004 Oman International Rally - top 10 starters:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza STi
2. Hamed Al-Wahaibi (OM)/Allan Harryman (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
3. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza STi
4. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Naif Al-Obaidani (OM) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
5. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6
6. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/ Andreas Achileos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
7. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Gaby Khoury (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
8. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
9. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khalid Al-Ketbi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6
10. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7

2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship:
Positions after round 2 of 8 (Drivers):
1. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) - Subaru 18 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) - Subaru 10 pts
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) - Mitsubishi 8 pts
3. Essa El-Dossari (KSA) - Mitsubishi 8 pts
5. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) - Mitsubishi 6 pts
5. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) - Mitsubishi 6 pts
7. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) - Mitsubishi 5 pts
8. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) - Mitsubishi 4 pts
8. Ebrahim Busmait (BAH) - Mitsubishi 4 pts
10. Amir Arnaout (SYR) - Mitsubishi 3 pts
11. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QA) - Mitsubishi 2 pts
11. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA) - Mitsubishi 2 pts
13. Khalifa Haifaa (SYR) - Mitsubishi 1pt
13. Toufic Mitri (UAE) - Mitsubishi 1 pt

Positions after round 2 of 8 (Co-Drivers):
1.Michael Orr (GB) 18 pts
2. Steve Lancaster (GB) 12 pts
3. Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) 8 pts
3. Savvas Laos (CY) 8 pts
5. Killian Duffy (IRL) 6 pts
5. Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) 6 pts
7. Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) 5 pts
8. Gaby Khoury (UAE) 4 pts
8. Nadem Mohammed (BAH) 4 pts
10. Yousef Al-Asmar (HKJ) 3 pts
11. Michael Morrisey (QA) 2 pts
12. Jafar Al-Souhail (UAE) 1 pt
12. Burhan Abu Khoura (HKJ) 1 pt

1600 (2WD)
1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) - CitroŽn 10 pts
1. Nearchos Nearchou (CY) - Proton 10 pts
3. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) - Proton 8 pts

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, 2004 Oman International Rally Press Officer, Tel: + 968 571460 or 571484, Fax: + 968 571438, Mobile: + 968 9757255
E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com/press

Date issued: 20/04/2004

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