MERC Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah cruised ahead in Kuwait International Rally

FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round two

For immediate release
Thursday, March 11th, 2011


· Mufeed Mubarak leads Kuwaiti challenge in third position
· UAE’s Rashid Al-Ketbi and Abdullah Al-Qassimi in 2nd and 4th
· Early day one woe for Lebanon’s Saleh and Kuwait’s Al-Thafiri
· Jordan’s Tantash and Hijazi reach end of day one in fifth and sixth

KUWAIT CITY (Kuwait): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini cruised into a 2m 45.1s lead after six special stages of the 2011 Kuwait International Rally, the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, on Friday.

The Qatari won every stage in a Kuwait desert that had been subjected to heavy rainfall in recent days. The UAE’s Rashid Al-Ketbi and Khaled Al-Kendi were a comfortable second overall in their new Skoda Fabia S2000 and Mufeed Mubarak and Saad Al-Melaifi filled the final podium position for the host nation in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

“I wanted to push a little at the start and build up an advantage and then I hope to be able to adjust my pace over the next stages,” said Al-Attiyah, who is bidding to win his 40th MERC event and extend his lead in the regional rally series.

Sharjah’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Steve Lancaster finished day one in fourth place in their Ford Fiesta S2000. Jordan’s Mazan Tantash and Ammar Hijazi rounded off the top six.

The event is being organised by the Kuwait International Automobile Club (KIAC) in co-operation with the Kuwait Quarter Mile Club. It is running 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.

Day one

Heavy rain hampered pre-race preparations and delayed the ceremonial start, but failed to prevent Al-Attiyah leading the 18 starters into the punishing 35.26km of the Al-Salmi stage on time. The Qatari cruised into a 25.1s advantage over Al-Ketbi, using the same ‘push early’ strategy that he had used with so much success in Mexico last week.

Meshari Al-Thafiri and Mubarak settled into third and fourth places, but Michel Saleh and Kuwait’s Eid Falah (engine) failed to complete the opening stage and Kuwait’s Kholoud Abdulattif lost 37 minutes and stayed in the rally by the skin of his teeth. Saleh’s bonnet lifted during the stage and the Lebanese lost concentration and crashed his Subaru.

Al-Ketbi was no match for Al-Attiyah through Alatraff either and the Qatari reached the start of the third stage, near Kuwait Shooting Club, with an outright 1m 05.5s lead. Mubarak inherited third position when Al-Thafiri retired in the second stage with reported fuel sensor problems and joined Ibrahim Al-Mdhankah on the list of withdrawals.

Al-Attiyah reached the midday service by extending his advantage over Al-Ketbi to 1m 17.7s. “After all the heavy rain, the surface of the stages has become very hard,” admitted Al-Ketbi. “I am using a long ratio in my gearbox which suits the soft sandy stages.”

Mubarak maintained third overall to lead the home challenge, Al-Qassimi was fourth and Essam Al-Nejadi settled into fifth. Meshal Al-Nejadi struggled for the entire loop of three stages with no turbo.

Al-Attiyah extended his overall advantage over Al-Ketbi to 1m 45.6s through stage four and emphasised the one-sided nature of the event by beating Al-Ketbi by 46.3s in Alatraff. He headed into the final stage of the day with a comfortable 2m 31.9s lead.

Kuwait’s Essam Al-Nejadi and Abdullah Al-Hajri joined the growing list of retirements on the fourth stage. Half of the 18 starters were able to start the penultimate stage of the day.

Al-Attiyah completed the final stage without problems to seal a clean sweep of first day stage wins en route to a comfortable overnight advantage of 2m 45.1s. Qatar’s Jaber Al-Marri and Meshal Al-Nejadi retired late on as a decimated field returned to the overnight halt in Kuwait City.

Saturday’s action consists of six special stages and precedes the ceremonial finish at the Holiday Inn Salmiya Hotel at 16.00hrs. The on-stage competition gets underway with the 11.05km Jaber Al-Ahmad stage at 09.51hrs and continues with a run through Jahrah at 10.09hrs and the Shooting Club special from 10.57hrs.

The three timed special stages are repeated on Saturday afternoon at 12.30hrs, 12.48hrs and 13.36hrs, respectively.

Overall positions – end of day one (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000 1h 21m 18.2s
2. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Skoda Fabia S2000 1h 24m 03.3s
3. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer 1h 25m 14.8s
4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta S2000 1h 27m 37.2s
5. Mazan Tantash (HKJ)/Zeid Abu Zeid (HKJ) Subaru Impreza 1h 31m 45.2s
6. Ammar Hijazi (HKJ)/Joseph Matar (RL) Skoda Fabia S2000 1h 32m 11.7s


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: 11/03/2011

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