MERC Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah claims 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
Saturday, February 5th, 2011


· Qatar’s Mubarak Al-Hajri takes career-best second overall
· Third position for UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi in new Ford
· Penultimate stage gearbox misery for Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
· QMMF carries out first ever anti-doping checks in MERC history

DOHA (Qatar): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah claimed a ninth successive victory in the 2011 Qatar International Rally, round one of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), on Saturday.

At the wheel of his new Ford Fiesta S2000, the Dakar Rally winner overcame a serious propshaft problem on Friday to force his way past overnight leader Mubarak Al-Hajri and eventually secure victory by the emphatic margin of 3m 38.8s. It was the six-time regional champion’s 39th MERC win and a 10th for Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.

“I always felt as though we could do it and I say a special thank you to my team for doing a tremendous job in keeping my car going,” said Al-Attiyah. “Winning in Qatar is always special for me and it is a great feeling to get the new championship off to a winning start.”

Al-Hajri’s dream was to become the first individual to win a round of the MERC as a driver and a co-driver, but it was not to be. The Qatari drove superbly over the closing stages with UAE navigator Aref Yousef Mohammed to claim a convincing second position in the overall standings and secure victory on round three of the Qatar national rally series in his Subaru Impreza.

The UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi became faster as the event progressed in his new Ford Fiesta – he was quickest on the final stage - and third overall was sufficient for the Emirati and his English co-driver Steve Lancaster to leap into second position in the MERC, where individuals have to be registered in advance to score points. Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari lost third on the penultimate stage with gearbox woes.

The winner’s brother Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah lost fourth overall on the final stage with differential failure. Kuwait’s Essam Al-Nejadi duly climbed to fourth, while Qatar’s young Sultan Al-Suwaidi, Jordan’s Ammar Hijazi and Qatar’s Jaber and Mohammed Al-Marri completed the top eight. After a high rate of attrition on the demanding gravel stages, south of Doha, Jordan’s Nancy Al-Majali and Kuwait’s Fahad Ashkanani were only other finishers in ninth and 10th.

The Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) carried out the first anti-doping checks in the history of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. Three drivers were chosen at random to take part in the checks with support from Dr. Mamoun Abba of the Qatar Olympic anti-doping committee, Hamad Hospital in Doha and EMS.

Senior officials from the various ASNs in FIA-sanctioned Middle East motor sport also met to discuss a wide range of topics in Doha on Friday evening. The meeting covered subjects as far ranging as future events, PR, television, attracting young drivers and the integration of the various zones in the region.

Day 2

Three of the original 22 cars failed to start day two. Six used SupeRally to rejoin the 13 survivors, but Qatar’s Jarallah Almei, Khalid Al-Suwaidi and Abdullah Al-Hajri were unable to continue.

Al-Attiyah began the day 47.2 seconds behind Al-Hajri, but his Autotek mechanics had not been able to replace the broken propshaft that cost him so much time on day one.

They attempted to fly in a spare part from England overnight and it got as far as Frankfurt, so a temporary repair and weld was carried out according to team manager Ken Skidmore. “It’s an expensive quick-fit component and we didn’t have a spare, so we managed to bolt the two pieces together and just hope that it would hold and not work out of balance.”

The repair seemed to do the trick and the Qatari was able to win the seventh Nabat Lusail stage and reduce Al-Hajri’s lead to 25.4 seconds. Lebanon’s Michel Saleh lost seventh place with engine woes.

Skidmore had warned that the repair and weld could be fragile and Al-Attiyah was unable to close the gap in Umm Al Hal. In fact, Al-Hajri beat the Ford driver by 12 seconds and extended his overall advantage to 37.3 seconds on a stage where Al-Kuwari set the fastest time to preserve third overall. Al-Qassimi managed to squeeze past Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah into fourth position, but Kuwait’s Mufeed Mubarak and Switzerland’s Edith Weiss retired.

A little more repair work at the Al-Wakra service paid dividends for Al-Attiyah and he set a stunning time through the ninth special. He beat Al-Hajri by 1m 10.3s and stormed back into a 33 second lead.

It was a bitter blow for Al-Hajri as the leaders returned to Al-Wakra for another service before the remaining three stages. “It is still very much on a knife-edge,” said Skidmore. “I will push on the next two and give it my best shot,” admitted Al-Hajri. “It would be a dream to win this rally.”

Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani and Abdullah Al-Rabban and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thafiri and Meshal Al-Nejadi retired in the Al-Wakra stage, leaving 12 cars still running.

Al-Attiyah continued to hammer home his advantage through the 10th stage and reached the start of Umm Al Hal 2 with a 1m 37.3s advantage over his fellow countryman. The contest was all but settled in the favourite’s favour on the 11th stage. Nasser arrived at the stage finish 19 seconds quicker than the overnight leader and headed into the final special with a 1m 56.3s lead.

Al-Kuwari was forced out of third position on the penultimate stage with gearbox problems, but Al-Attiyah held on to take what ultimately turned out to be a crushing victory and continue his remarkable winning streak in the regional rally series.

Final positions after SS12:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000 2h 25m 01.1s
2. Mubarak Al-Hajri (QA)/Aref Mohammed Yousef (UAE) Subaru Impreza 2h 28m 39.9s
3. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000 2h 29m 19.3s
4. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT)/Anwar Al-Sharrah (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer 2h 38m 41.3s
5. Sultan Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Basel Ghazzawi (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer 2h 43m 52.4s
6. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ)/Joseph Matar (RL) Skoda Fabia S2000 2h 45m 06.2s
7. Jaber Al-Marri (QA)/Jake Carlin (GB) Subaru Impreza 2h 48m 54.3s
8. Mohammed Al-Marri (QA)/Kamel Khoder (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer 2h 57m 05.0s
9. Nancy Al-Majali (HKJ)/Nadia Shnoudeh (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer 3h 13m 37.3s
10. Fahad Ashkanani (KT)/Husein Gadanfar (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer 4h 20m 51.7s

2011 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Positions after round 1 of 7 (*pending FIA clarification):

Drivers’ Championship *
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 25 pts
2. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 18 pts
3. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT) 15 pts
5. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ) 12 pts
6. Nancy Al-Majali (HKJ) 10 pts
7. Fahad Ashkanani (KT) 8 pts
Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 0 pt
Michel Saleh (RL) 0 pt
Meshari Al-Thafiri (KT) 0 pt
Mufeed Mubarak (KT) 0 pt
Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) 0 pt

Co-drivers’ Championship*
1. Giovanni Bernacchini (I) 25 pts
2. Steve Lancaster (GB) 18 pts
3. Anwar Al-Shraah (KT) 15 pts
5. Joseph Matar (RL) 12 pts
6. Nadia Shnoudeh (HKJ) 10 pts
7. Husein Gadanfar (KT) 8 pts
Ramy Menhem (RL) 0 pt
Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KT) 0 pt
Saad Al-Melaifi (KT) 0 pt
Ahmad Al-Khars (KT) 0 pt


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)

Facebook group – 2011 MERC


Date issued: 05/02/2011

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