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Al Attiyah wins Oman Rally and leads MERC

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

For immediate release
Friday, April 23rd, 2004

NASSER SALEH AL-ATTIYAH WINS
OMAN RALLY IN EMPHATIC STYLE

UAE's Al-Qassimi robbed by late engine failure; Saleh finishes second; Omani drivers all retire

MUSCAT (Oman): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and co-driver Chris Patterson leapt back into contention for a second successive FIA Middle East rally title by crushing the opposition in a thrilling Oman International Rally, which finished in Qurum, today (Friday).

Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi had shown a clean pair of heels to the Subaru driver over the first two special stages through the Hajar mountains on Thursday, but once he had been sidelined with a blown engine, Al-Attiyah coasted to an emphatic victory. The Qatari eventually reached the podium over seven minutes ahead of the second-placed Lebanese pairing of Michel Saleh and co-driver Ziad Chehab.

~It was a bit boring for me over the final stages today,~ said Al-Attiyah.. ~I had a big lead and there was no need to push. I slowed down to make sure that I took maximum points and stayed in the hunt to retain my title.~

One of the most exciting battles in Middle East rallying history waged over the 14 special stages for second to ninth positions. Two minutes separated seven cars at the start of the second leg, as drivers jostled for the podium over the seven timed sections in the Hajar mountains on Friday. Drivers from nine countries filled the final nine places and Subaru beat Mitsubishi to earn a third consecutive championship victory.

Al-Qassimi and his Ulster co-driver Michael Orr lost the lead of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship on the 12th stage, after climbing to second position in their Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza STi. They had been embroiled in a frenetic battle with Saleh and Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas throughout the final leg.

~It was time for the big push today,~ said a distraught Sheikh Khalid. ~I started sixth and knew that I could get back to second place. I was four seconds behind Michel Saleh with one loop to go. I went ahead on the 11th stage and then I thought I had a fuel feed problem. But we discovered that the engine was finished.~

Saleh duly finished second overall in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, despite complaining of engine overheating when he tried to push that little harder. ~It was like taking part in two rallies over two days,~ said the Lebanese driver. ~It was a fantastic fight. Great sportsmanship and a really exciting two days. But after about five kilometres of each stage today I had to slow down, because the engine was running too hot.~

Dubai's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum made a solid return to the Middle East series for the first time in seven years and finished third overall in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6. Tsouloftas finished fourth after being overhauled by Suhail in the 12th stage. ~It was a great rally,~ said Tsouloftas. ~The competition was tough. This championship just gets better.~

Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban, Jordan's Amjad Farrah, Britain's David Scialom, Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi and Oman-based Lebanese Tony Georgiou completed the list of nine finishers from 21 starters. Saudi Arabia's Majid Al-Ghamdi led home three of the four Toyotas Rav4s, running at the rear of the international field.

Qatar's Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari held second position at the start of the day in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, but was forced out after the eighth stage with fuel pump failure. His uncle Abdullah Al-Kuwari broke the steering column at the start of the day.

Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi retired with a broken engine on the fourth stage after setting the early pace and the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi succumbed to gearbox failure. Oman's Ibrahim Al-Abri rolled on the 10th stage, clutch problems sidelined Khalid Al-Minji and Nizar Al-Shanfari never recovered from a time-consuming flat tyre and retired near the end.

Al-Nejadi now leads the 1600 Championship by 10 points at the wheel of a CitroŽn Saxo, after rivals Nearchos Neachou and Essam Al-Nejadi retired with engine problems on the first day.

The FIA Middle East Rally Championship resumes with the Marlboro-supported Jordan International Rally in May.

Oman International Rally (unofficial final positions after SS14 - 17.45 hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza STi 2h 35m 40s
2. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 43m 13s
3. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2h 43m 35s
4. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Andreas Achilleos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 44m 07s
5. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 45m 57s
6. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 46m 16s
7. David Scialom (GB)/Kevin Clark (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 5 3h 03m 09s
8. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT)/Shaker Al-Raies (KT) CitroŽn Saxo 4h 08m 23s
9. Tony Georgiou (OM)/George Aletraris (OM) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 4h 28m 13s

2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship:
Positions after round 3 of 8 (Drivers):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) - Subaru* 20 pts
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) - Subaru* 18 pts
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 13 pts
4. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) 10 pts
5. Essa El-Dossari (KSA) 8 pts
5. Michel Saleh (RL) 8 pts
5. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 8 pts
8. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 6 pts
8. Suhail Khalifa (UAE) 6 pts
10. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 4 pts
10. Ebrahim Busmait (BAH) 4 pts
12. Amir Arnaout (SYR) 3 pts
13. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QA) 2 pts
13. David Scialom (GB) 2 pts
13. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA) 2 pts
16. Khalifa Haifaa (SYR) 1pt
16. Toufic Mitri (UAE) 1 pt
16. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) 1 pts
(* Mitsubishi unless stated)

Positions after round 3 of 8 (Co-Drivers):
1.Michael Orr (GB) 18 pts
2. Steve Lancaster (GB) 12 pts
3. Chris Patterson (GB) 10 pts
3. Killian Duffy (IRL) 10 pts
5. Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) 8 pts
5. Savvas Laos (CY) 8 pts
5. Ziad Chehab (RL) 8 pts
5. Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) 8 pts
9. Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) 6 pts,
9. Wael Marjan (UAE) 6 pts
11. Andreas Achilleos (CY) 5 pts
12. Gaby Khoury (UAE) 4 pts
12. Nadem Mohammed (BAH) 4 pts
14. Yousef Al-Asmar (HKJ) 3 pts
15. Kevin Clark (GB) 2
15. Michael Morrissey (QA) 2 pts
17. Jafar Al-Souhail (UAE) 1 pt
17. Burhan Abu Khoura (HKJ) 1 pt
17. George Aletraris (OM) 1

1600 (2WD)
1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) - CitroŽn 20 pts
1. Nearchos Nearchou (CY) - Proton 10 pts
3. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) - Proton 8 pts

Ends

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

Date issued: 23/04/2004

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