Qataris hold top two places in thrilling Oman Rally

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

For immediate release
Thursday, April 22nd, 2004


Shanfari holds Oman's hopes after Al-Wahaibi blows engine;
UAE's Sheikh Khalid delayed; UAE's Sheikh Abdullah out

MUSCAT (Oman): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson led the Oman International Rally in their Subaru Impreza STi after seven timed special stages of the first leg through the Hajar mountains, today (Thursday).

The defending Middle East rally champion overcame the heat and the dust to take a four and a half minute advantage into Friday's final seven timed sections, but he had given second best to a flying Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi through the Yitti and Arqi stages.

Al-Wahaibi catapulted out of the starting blocks to take an emphatic 12-second lead over Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah through the Yitti stage. The pair were over a minute ahead of third-placed Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, as it became obvious that neither driver was prepared to wait for the other to make the first move. But there was disappointment at the end of the stage for Al-Qassimi, when he suffered terminal gearbox problems and was forced to retire on the road section before the third stage.

Al-Wahaibi extended his lead through the Arqi section, but failed to arrive at the finish of the Al-Hajer special. The shattered Omani had suffered the ignominy of a second engine failure in the space of three days. He has now failed to score a single championship point on his first two events this season.

~Hamed was very quick this morning,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~My co-driver kept telling me not to worry and just let him go. It was a wise decision. Now I must concentrate on the championship and just staying ahead of Khalid and the others.~

Qatar's Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari held second position in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, despite hitting a tree at the end of the seventh stage, and Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari found himself back in the spotlight as the leading Omani driver in fifth position until he lost five minutes in the final stage. ~I was sorry to see Hamed go out,~ said Nizar. ~There is certainly going to be more pressure on me now to reach the finish.~

There was an awesome battle for the third to 11th positions with Lebanon's Michel Saleh, Shanfari, Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas, the UAE's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum, Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban and Qatar's Abdullah Al-Kuwari among the pace-setters. Saleh held the third podium place after seven stages, as Suhail broke an exhaust manifold and Tsouloftas suffered a misfire.

~The manifold bolts worked loose on the first stage, but I found the nuts resting on the sumpguard and we were able to refit them,~ said Suhail. ~After each stage we had to do the same thing. I was surprised by the speed of Hamed and Nasser. They have taken their speed to another level. But it is great to be back.~

Series leader Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr began the day in 11th position in the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza STi, but suffered a broken driveshaft on SS2 and were forced to drive three stages before they could repair the damage. They began a superb fight back through the field in the afternoon and were second quickest in SS5 to move up five places in three stages to sixth overall.

~It was so frustrating,~ said Khalid. ~Because I could see Nasser and Hamed involved in a big battle at the front and I was not able to join in the party. The breakage happened about five kilometres into the stage. We were rallying in a two-wheel drive car all morning!~

First day retirements included Qatar's Mohammed Al-Marri, who was sidelined with a broken axle, and Oman's Ahmed Al-Obaidani with engine problems.

The Oman Automobile Association event is the third round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship and 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.

The second and final leg takes place on Friday with a further seven timed stages. The podium has been scheduled for 18.15 hrs on Friday evening.

Oman International Rally - positions at end of leg 1 (top 11 - unofficial at 16.30 hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza STi 1h 22m 00s
2. Abdullaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 26m 32s
3. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 28m 36s
4. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Andreas Achilleos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 28m 41s
5. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 29m 15s
6. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza STi 1h 29m 19s
7. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Aboulhayem Zayed (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 29m 46s
8. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 29m 52s
9. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 30m 52s
10. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QA)/Jassim Mohammed (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 32m 00s
11. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Naif Al-Obaidani (OM) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 34m 07s


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

Date issued: 22/04/2004

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