MERC Al-Attiyah starts as favourite to win Kuwait International Rally

2011 KUWAIT INTERNATIONAL RALLY, March 10-12, 2011
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round two

For immediate release
Thursday, March 10th, 2011


· Essam Al-Nejadi bids to re-write MERC history books for Kuwait
· UAE’s Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Rashid Al-Ketbi aim for victory

KUWAIT CITY (Kuwait): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini head a provisional entry of 23 teams in this weekend’s Kuwait International Rally, the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which takes place on Friday and Saturday.

The Kuwait International Rally returned to the regional calendar in 2009 for the first time since 1996 and was the 150th event in the history of the regional rally series.

Al-Attiyah won that historic event for the first time on that landmark occasion and will be bidding for his 40th career MERC win this weekend, as he hopes to put last weekend’s exclusion from victory in the SWRC category in Mexico firmly behind him.

“Mexico was bitterly disappointing,” said Al-Attiyah. “We drove a great rally and had a perfect strategy. It is something that we have to take on the chin and bounce back from quickly. What better way to do that than to win the rally in Kuwait and extend my lead in the Middle East Championship?”

The Qatari has a seven-point advantage over Sharjah’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi in the regional rally series after the opening round in Qatar and is the firm favourite to claim a fourth outright event victory of the season.

Al-Qassimi teams up with British co-driver Steve Lancaster in a second Ford Fiesta S2000. The Briton won the Kuwait Rally in 2008 alongside Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi when it ran as a candidate for inclusion in the championship.

The UAE’s Rashid Al-Ketbi could well be Al-Attiyah’s closest rival over the 12 timed gravel special stages that make up the two-day event being organised by the Kuwait International Automobile Club (KIAC) in co-operation with the Kuwait Quarter Mile Club.

Al-Ketbi is one of the fastest drivers in the Middle East, but his pace seldom brings the rewards it deserves. He has never won a round of the regional rally series, despite leading several events, and will have one eye on a finish as well as the top three when he and co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi wheel out a brand new Fazza-backed Skoda Fabia S2000 at the ceremonial start outside the Holiday Inn Salmiya Hotel from 6pm on Thursday afternoon.

Thirteen Kuwaiti teams offer fierce resistance on their local event. No Kuwaiti has ever won a round of the regional championship and Essam Al-Nejadi, seeded at four, would dearly like to be the individual to erase that statistic. He and co-driver Anwar Al-Sharrah currently hold third position in the championship points’ standings.

The top 10 contains two of the most experienced rally drivers in the Middle East. Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani won the regional championship in 1993 and won the Jordan Rally the same year. The Qatari has entered his Subaru Impreza at number five, three places in front of Michel Saleh, the most experienced driver in the history of the 164 rallies that have constituted the championship to date.

Saleh was a regular on entry lists back in 1984 and was one of the individuals who brought rallying to Kuwait. He teamed up with Tony Samia to win the event in a Toyota Celica GT that year and drives a Subaru Impreza on this occasion.

This year’s rally runs under the chairmanship of Sheikh Duaj Fahad Al-Duaj Al-Sabah, chairman of the higher organising committee of the KIAC, and the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the deputy prime minister for development affairs and chairman of the Kuwait Olympic Committee.

Friday’s competitive action gets underway with the punishing 35.26km Al-Salmi special stage at 09.03hrs. Teams then tackle the 33.64km of Alatraff (10.26hrs) and a shorter 12.40km special at Kuwait shooting club (11.59hrs) before the main service and regrouping. The three special stages are repeated on Friday afternoon at 13.37hrs, 15.00hrs and 16.33hrs, respectively.

Top 12 starters
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000
2. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000
3. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Skoda Fabia S2000
4. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT)/Anwar Al-Sharrah (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
5. Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/TBA Subaru Impreza
6. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT)/Ahmed Al-Khraas (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
7. Fahad Ashkanani (KT)/Husein Gadanfar (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
8. Michel Saleh (RL)/TBA Subaru Impreza
9. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KT)/Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer
10. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ)/Joseph Matar (RL) Skoda Fabia S2000
11. Mazan Tantash (HKJ)/Zeid Abu Zeid (HKJ) Subaru Impreza
12. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer

2011 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Positions after round 1 of 7

Drivers’ Championship
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 25 pts
2. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 18 pts
3. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT) 15 pts
4. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ) 12 pts
5. Nancy Al-Majali (HKJ) 10 pts
6. Fahad Ashkanani (KT) 8 pts

Co-drivers’ Championship
1. Giovanni Bernacchini (I) 25 pts
2. Steve Lancaster (GB) 18 pts
3. Anwar Al-Shraah (KT) 15 pts
4. Joseph Matar (RL) 12 pts
5. Nadia Shnoudeh (HKJ) 10 pts
6. Husein Gadanfar (KT) 8 pts


For further information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Media Liaison, 2011 Kuwait International Rally, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: ndppublicity@googlemail.com,
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases).



Date issued: 10/03/2011

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