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Al Attiyah and Al Wahaibi hold joint lead in Oman Rally

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

For immediate release
Wednesday, April 21st, 2004

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH AND OMAN'S AL-WAHAIBI
SHARE LEAD IN THRILLING OMAN INTERNATIONAL RALLY

Series leader Al-Qassimi starts in joint 11th place; Oman Rally underway in searing heat

MUSCAT (Oman): Defending Middle East rally champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and arch rival Hamed Al-Wahaibi were the joint early leaders of the Oman International Rally, after a two-kilometre timed super special stage in Al Qurum on Wednesday evening. The event is making its return to the FIA Middle East Rally Championship for the first time since 1998, after running as a candidate round last October.

Twenty-five cars eventually crossed the start line and were flagged away by Lieutenant-General Malik bin Suleiman Al-Maamari, Inspector General of Police and Customs. In front of a massive crowd, who endured humidity and temperatures in excess of 40 Centigrade, Qatar's Al-Attiyah and Oman's Al-Wahaibi crossed the bumpy special, three seconds ahead of third-placed Saudi Arabian driver Ahmed Al-Sabban.

Al-Wahaibi's mechanics were forced to burn the midnight oil to refettle the former Group N regional champion's new Mitsubishi. ~The new engine shredded a timing belt on Tuesday,~ said Hamed. ~All the parts were brand new, but we decided to refit the old engine we used on the Bahrain Rally. This is not the start I needed.~

Al-Attiyah, the joint leader, is a travel-weary defending champion, who arrived in Muscat directly from New Zealand and managed to carry out only one day's official recce of the special stages. ~I was given special dispensation by the organisers to use Wednesday morning to have an extra look at the stages,~ said Nasser, who won last year's candidate event in Oman. ~I just hope that it will not be a disadvantage over the weekend.~

Middle East series leader Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr held joint 11th position in the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza STi. ~I am not looking to win this event,~ said Khalid. ~That would be nice, of course, but taking a top five finish is the priority. There are several drivers who will push very hard and maybe take the lead, but I must ask myself whether I think they will finish. I am competing in a championship of eight rallies and there are five more after this one. The priority for me is winning the title.~

Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum and his co-driver Wael Marjan enjoyed their return to international rallying and held joint sixth after the first stage. ~I took part in a national rally in Sharjah last week to get back into things,~ said Suhail. ~I don't expect to win this weekend. I need to get to know my car better. I suppose a top five finish would be a bonus. After driving Group A cars for many years I think that these new Group N cars are fragile and I need to find the right speed not to break them.~

Defending Middle East Group N champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi was disgruntled to originally be seeded at seven in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, but finished the 'super special' stage in joint ninth position after moving up to fourth in the seeding list.

Saudi Arabia's Essa Al-Dossari held equal third overall in the regional series before the Oman Rally, but a family illness forced him to withdraw his Mitsubishi before the start. ~Essa is disappointed, but is sure to be back in Jordan,~ said Irish team manager Garry Emmett. Other non-starters included the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi, Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi and Syria's Haitham Al-Yousifi.

The Oman Automobile Association 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 Intevents, Omantel, the Grand Hyatt and Quat Jabal.

Special stage action in the Hajar mountains begins on Thursday morning when competitors tackle six timed sections in the Yitte, Arqi and Al-Hajer areas. Leg one draws to a close at the Al-Araimi Complex in Al Qurum at 17.45 hrs.

2004 Oman International Rally - positions after SS1 (unofficial at 18.00 hrs):
1=. Hamed Al-Wahaibi (OM)/Allan Harryman (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 21s
1=. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza STi 2m 21s
3. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 24s
4=. Abdullaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 25s
4=. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 25s
6=. Tony Georgiou (OM)/George Aletraris (OM) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2m 28s
6=. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Naif Al-Obaidani (OM) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 28s
6=. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2m 28s
9=. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Gaby Khoury (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 30s
9=. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Andreas Achilleos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 30s
11=. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza STi 2m 32s
11=. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QA)/Jassim Mohammed (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2m 32s
11=. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 32s

Ends

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

Date issued: 21/04/2004

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