MERC Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah bids for ninth successive Qatar Rally win

Qatar International Rally, February 3-5, 2011
2011 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), round 1 of 7

For immediate release
Thursday, February 3rd, 2011


· Qatar’s Al-Kuwari, Al-Suwaidi and Al-Hajri eye home success
· Italy’s Bernacchini chases 10th MERC victory as a co-driver
· Friday’s route offers six special stages and 113.20 km of action

DOHA (Qatar): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah starts as the firm favourite to claim a ninth successive victory in the Qatar International Rally this weekend, in the absence of defending regional champion Misfer Al-Marri and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.

Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini head a 22-car entry from 10 countries in the 12-stage rally to the south of Doha. From the official podium start outside the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) in Salwa Road, Doha, at 09.00hrs on Friday morning, crews will tackle six special stages on Friday in the Salwa and Mekaines areas of the country.

While Al-Attiyah – a winner of 38 regional championship rallies - continues to re-write motor sport record books, co-driver Bernacchini is also achieving his own success. The diminutive Italian only started accompanying Al-Attiyah two seasons ago and has already notched up nine rally wins, making him the fourth most successful co-driver in the 163-event history of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.

“I really feel as though I am part of history and part of a special thing at the moment,” admitted Bernacchini. “Nasser and I communicate very well in the car. He is a most talented driver.”

Al-Attiyah, the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Jordan’s Ammar Hijazi are the only three drivers to enter the 2011 season opener in S2000 cars. The Qatari and his Sharjah-based rival wheel out a pair of Ford Fiesta S2000s and Hijazi drives the ex-Feghali Skoda Fabia S2000 for the first time.

It is 11 years since Al-Qassimi claimed his sole MERC victory in the UAE International Rally in Abu Dhabi and the championship regular would love to add to his tally with British co-driver Steve Lancaster.

Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (Jordan 1993) and QMMF president Nasser Khalifa Al-Atiyah (Qatar 1993) were the last Qatari drivers to win a round of the championship other than Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. The Qatar Rally Team trio of Khalid Al-Suwaidi, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Mubarak Al-Hajri would dearly like to erase that unwanted statistic, although Al-Hajri did win the Qatar Rally as a co-driver with the UAE’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwi in 1995.

Qatari drivers dominate the entry on an event where each of the two days also count as a separate round of the Qatar national rally series. Kuwaiti drivers also feature strongly on the entry list: Essam Al-Nejadi, Mufeed Mubarak, Meshari Al-Thafiri and Meshal Al-Nejadi wheel out four variants of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Abdullah Al-Hajri and Fahad Ashkanani also represent the nation that will host round two of the regional series in March.

Lebanon is represented by Michel Saleh, an ever present in Middle East rallying since the late 1970s, while the Jordanian all-female crew of Nancy Al-Majali and Nadia Shnoudeh drive a second Saleh-prepared car. Switzerland’s Edith Weiss and her German navigator Claudia Harloff bolster the international appeal of the starting list.

Friday’s opening leg offers 113.20 competitive kilometres divided into two loops of three special stages, the longest being the 25.59km QMMF test in the desert to the south of Mekaines.

The short 6.56km Mekaines special gets the day’s on-stage action underway at 09.53hrs, with the event’s logistical operation, service park and media centre based at the Al-Wakra stadium on Friday and Saturday.

Top 15 starters
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000
2. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000
3. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Subaru Impreza
5. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT)/Anwar Al-Sharrah (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
6. Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Faris Allouh (QA) Subaru Impreza
7. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA)/Arek Yousef Mohammed (UAE) Subaru Impreza
8. Michel Saleh (RL)/Yazan Rijleh (SYR) Subaru Impreza
9. Jaber Al-Marri (QA)/Jake Carlin (GB) Subaru Impreza
10. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
11. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KT)/Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
12. Abdullah Al-Rabban (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Subaru Impreza
14. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT)/Ahmad Al-Khrass (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
15. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ)/Joseph Matar (RL) Skoda Fabia S2000
16. Mohammed Al-Marri (QA)/Kamel Khoder (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer
17. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Ramy Menhem (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer


Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2011 Qatar International Rally, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@googlemail.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)



Date issued: 03/02/2011

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