MERC Mubarak Al-Hajri takes surprise day one lead in Qatar Rally

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

For immediate release
Friday, February 4th, 2011


· Transmission problems cost favourite Al-Attiyah his overall lead
· Third position for Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari; Khalifa-Saleh in fourth
· Engine woe for Qatar’s Khalid Al-Suwaidi; Kuwait’s Mubarak out

AL-WAKRA (Qatar): Qatar’s Mubarak Al-Hajri and UAE co-driver Aref Mohammed Yousef were the surprise leaders of the 2011 Qatar International Rally after the opening six timed special stages south of Doha on Friday.

Al-Hajri was the last Qatari to win a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship with the exception of the all-conquering Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah – Al-Hajri co-drive Khalifa Al-Mutaiwi to victory in Doha in 1995. He has never won an international rally as a driver before and the Subaru Impreza pilot duly won the day’s round of the Qatar national series and will now take a 47.2 second lead into the remaining six timed stages on Saturday.

Al-Attiyah, partnered by Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, is bidding to win the event for a ninth successive occasion and was fastest on the first three gravel stages in his Ford Fiesta S2000 and built up a lead of over one and a half minutes.

But he suffered serious transmission problems on the fourth stage, the car lapsed into two-wheel drive and he was forced to complete the fifth and sixth timed tests with transmission woes. “No risks, no real problems, I was just taking it easy,” said Al-Attiyah after three stages, before losing considerable time.

Three Qatari drivers fought a close tussle for the podium places. Al-Hajri, Al-Attiyah’s brother Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari were evenly matched through three stages until Al-Hajri edged clear with the fastest time in SS5. Al-Kuwari, driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, eventually finished the day in third overall when Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah dropped two minutes on the sixth stage and slipped to fourth.

“The important thing to me is to score points in the Qatar national championship,” admitted third-placed Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari. “I won the first round. There is strong competition, a good prize fund and a car for the overall winner.”

The UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and English co-driver Steve Lancaster completed day one in fifth position in the ex-Attiyah Ford Fiesta S2000. Kuwait’s Essam Al-Nejadi, Lebanon’s Michel Saleh, Qatar’s Abdullah Al-Rabban and Jaber Al-Marri and Sultan Al-Suwaidi rounded off the top 10. Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thafiri and Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Marri retired on the final stage.

QMMF president Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the regional FIA vice-president for sport, flagged cars away from the start outside the headquarters of the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) on Friday morning.

Day 1

Al-Attiyah edged into an 8.6 second lead over Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari through the opening 6.56km of the Mekaines stage on a day which also marked the second round of the increasingly-popular Qatar national rally series.

Al-Qassimi settled into 11th position. “It is not a case of pushing hard, talking risks and trying to win this time,” admitted Al-Qassimi. “This is a new car, a new toy and I want to finish the rally, enjoy the experience and score points.”

Al-Attiyah extended his advantage over Mubarak Al-Hajri to 41 seconds through Salwa, as Al-Hajri passed Al-Kuwari to snatch second overall. Khalid Al-Suwaidi had been lying third overall after the first stage, but ground to a halt in Salwa with terminal engine problems. Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Hajri also retired his Subaru Impreza.

Kuwait’s Mufeed Mubarak suffered technical issues on the third stage, as Al-Attiyah reached service adjacent to the Al-Wakra football stadium with a commanding 1m 32.3s lead over Al-Hajri.

Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah, Al-Kuwari, Kuwait’s Essam Al-Nejadi and Al-Qassimi completed the top six. “We had to slow for a camel on the first stage and then had a bit of a moment on the second one,” said Al-Qassimi’s co-driver Steve Lancaster.

Sixteen of the 22 starters reached the day’s half-way point, with 1993 regional champion Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani, Kuwait’s Meshal Al-Nejadi and Qatar’s Jaralla Al-Mei joining the list of retirements on the punishing third stage.

Al-Kuwari was the quickest through the re-run of Mekaines, but only managed to beat Al-Hajri by two seconds. Al-Attiyah suffered serious transmission problems and dropped nearly a minute, although he remained in front of the field of 15 remaining challengers.

But the Qatari was over 80 seconds slower through Salwa the second time around than he had been in the morning and headed towards the final stage of the day trailing a surprised Al-Hajri by 2.9 seconds.

His new Ford had lapsed into two-wheel drive and it was little surprise that he dropped more than a minute more in SS6 and finished the opening day in second overall, 47.2 seconds behind the leading Al-Hajri, who was fastest on the fifth stage and equal quickest in SS6 with Al-Kuwari. Al-Attiyah problems set up the prospect of a fascinating tussle for supremacy on day two.

Tomorrow (Saturday) crews will tackle a further six special stages in the Nabat Lusail, Umm Al-Hal and Al-Wakrah areas of Qatar to the south of Doha. There will be two loops of three special stages, starting with a run through the 21.62km of Nabat Lusail at 08.46hrs.

Positions after SS6 – end of day one:
1. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA)/Aref Mohammed Yousef (UAE) Subaru Impreza 1h 01m 59.3s
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000 1h 02m 46.5s
3. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Subaru Impreza 1h 02m 56.2s
4. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Ramy Menhem (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer 1h 04m 15.2s
5. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000 1h 04m 40.7s
6. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT)/Anwar Al-Sharrah (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer 1h 05m 29.2s
7. Michel Saleh (RL)/Yazan Rijleh (SYR) Subaru Impreza 1h 05m 49.4s
8. Abdullah Al-Rabban (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Subaru Impreza 1h 06m 59.3s
9. Jaber Al-Marri (QA)/Jake Carlin (GB) Subaru Impreza 1h 08m 47.4s
10. Sultan Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Basel Ghazzawi (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer 1h 08m 54.8s
11. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ)/Joseph Matar (RL) Skoda Fabia S2000 1h 11m 46.2s
12. Nancy Al-Majali (HKJ)/Nadia Shnoudeh (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer 1h 24m 13.8s
13. Fahad Ashkanani (KT)/Husein Gadanfar (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer 1h 33m 55.7s


Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2011 Qatar International Rally, Qatar Mobile: + 974 33981091, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@googlemail.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

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Date issued: 04/02/2011

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