MERC Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari snatches surprise day one lead in Qatar International Rally

Qatar International Rally
2012 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Friday, January 27th, 2012


· Second position for Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou
· Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya storms into stunning third place
· Defending champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah retires after fifth stage

AL-WAKRA (Qatar): Abdulaziz and Nasser Al-Kuwari were the surprise leaders of a thrilling Qatar International Rally after six dramatic special stages in the Qatar desert on Friday.

Abdulaziz won two of the morning’s three specials in his new Tok Sport-run Mini S2000, but differential problems cost the Qatari valuable time and a three-minute penalty for a route violation pushed him down to fourth after stage four.

But he was fastest again in SS5 when leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah punctured and subsequently retired, handing the Mini driver the outright lead. Al-Kuwari won the sixth stage and will now take a 2m 38.1s advantage into the final six stages on Saturday.

“After the differential problem, the car worked perfectly,” said Al-Kuwari. “Now we have to be clever. Nasser is a long way behind and will push very hard. The win is there in the distance on the radar, but there is still a lot of rallying to go.”

Al-Attiyah, bidding for a 10th successive home victory at the wheel of a Kronos Peugeot 207 S2000, won two of the day’s gravel stages and held the half-way lead, but a front suspension strut punctured a top mounting on the first loop of stages and then he suffered a puncture and ongoing technical problems in stage five. He was unable to change the tyre and drove to the stage finish, further damaging the car, which forced him to miss stage six. The Qatari will now launch a fight back on Saturday using the SupeRally ruling.

“We had a flat tyre at the start of five and stopped to change it,” said Al-Attiyah’s Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini. “We undid all the nuts but the tyre rubber was stuck in the spring and, even with a hammer, we could not get the rubber out of the suspension. We wasted at least five minutes and decided to finish the stage with the puncture. Then we damaged the front of the car and the suspension.”

Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou and Nabil Njeim chipped away at their rivals during the course of the day in the Motortune Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and reached the end of the leg in a fine second position.

Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya held third place at the midday break and continued to mix it with her male rivals. With Cicek Guney reading the pace notes alongside her, Cetinkaya belied her lack of experience of the Qatar deserts to reach the overnight halt in the final podium position.

Qatar’s Khaled Al-Suwaidi and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thafiri rounded off the top five. Qatar’s Mubarak Al-Hajri held second place after two stages before a bent suspension arm and tyre problems cost him valuable time. He was eventually forced out on the fifth stage.

Several motor sporting dignitaries were evident during the course of the build-up to the rally. Prodrive founder and Aston Martin chairman David Richards visited the QMMF after an automotive presentation at the nearby Qatar Motor Show and former co-driver and event consultant Fred Gallagher was also in attendance as a guest of QMMF president Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah. Citroën Racing’s new team principal Yves Matton is also visiting the rally.

Day one – as it happened

Al-Attiyah led the 16-car field into the opening 15km Mekaines stage and laid down the gauntlet with a target time of 8m 14.7s, but Al-Kuwari nipped inside the defending champion’s time by just 0.3s in the flying Mini S2000. Al-Hajri slotted into third in front of Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah and Khalid Al-Suwaidi, as Qatari drivers filled the top five places.

Qatar’s Jaber Al-Marri succumbed to turbo-related engine problems in the stage and Kuwait’s Meshal Al-Nejadi, who had dropped over two minutes to the leaders in the special, retired on the road section to stage two with engine damage.

The 23.65km run through the Salwa stage was next on the agenda and Al-Attiyah upped his pace a little and pushed his new Peugeot 207 S2000 to a comfortable fastest time to take the initiative. He beat nearest rival Al-Hajri by 29.1s to storm into a 31.2s overall lead. Al-Kuwari was suffering from differential problems.

Burcu Cetinkaya was in superb form and the seventh fastest time catapulted the Turkish girl into a similar position in the overall standings, as Kuwait’s Fahad Ashknani broke his front suspension and Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah retired with damaged steering.

Al-Kuwari pulled two seconds back on Al-Attiyah through the 26.15km third stage, but Al-Hajri suffered a flat tyre and dropped four vital minutes to the leaders. Al-Attiyah duly reached service at Al-Wakra with a 1m 42.4s advantage over Al-Kuwari in what was developing into a one-sided contest.

“I had to take it very easy because we pushed the left-front strut through the Peugeot’s body work just 5km into the first stage. I didn’t want to make a fuss about it in case the other drivers found out and tried to push even harder,” said Al-Attiyah. Unbeknown to the leader, Al-Kuwari had endured differential problems in any case.

Cetinkaya stormed into a sensational third place, but Misfer Al-Marri fell by the wayside in the third stage with reported suspension issues. Kuwait’s Essam Al-Nejadi and Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou rounded off the top five.

A repeat of the three stages was on the agenda on Friday afternoon. Al-Attiyah’s overall lead grew still further before the restart after Al-Kuwari was awarded a three-minute penalty for a morning route violation. The defending champion beat Al-Kuwari by 5.1s on the re-run of Mekaines and his overall lead over Khalid Al-Suwaidi grew to 4m 27.1s, with Georgiou, Al-Kuwari, Cetinkaya separated by just two seconds in third, fourth and fifth overall.

Al-Kuwari sensationally hit the front again after the fifth stage when Al-Attiyah was forced to stop and was unable to change a tyre with the resultant loss of five minutes. The Mini driver set his third fastest time and duly took a 29.3s lead into the last stage of the day. Georgiou held third by a mere 3.3s from Cetinkaya, but Al-Hajri was unable to complete the penultimate timed test.

Sensationally, Al-Attiyah was unable to make the start of the final stage of the day, where Al-Kuwari drove in a measured pace to confirm his overnight lead. Reported front suspension problems accounted for Essam Al-Nejadi. The day’s drama and high rate of attrition has guaranteed a fascinating showdown over Saturday’s remaining six special stages.

Tomorrow (Saturday)

Teams tackle a further three special stages on Saturday, repeated twice, in the Nabat Lusail, Umm Al Hal and Wakrah areas of Qatar, with servicing of the cars centralised at the Al-Wakrah football stadium.

The first 17.10km Nabat Lusail special kicks off at 08.48hrs and the event is scheduled to finish at the QMMF in Salwa Road, Doha, from 15.35hrs.

2012 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS6 (unofficial @ 16.45hrs):
1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mini S2000 1h 14m 54.9s
2. Nicholai Georgiou (LBN)/Nabil Njeim (LBN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1h 17m 33.0s
3. Burcu Cetinkaya (TUR)/Cicek Guney (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1h 18m 01.2s
4. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Abdullah Adel Hussein (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1h 19m 48.7s
5. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KWT)/Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1h 21m 44.6s
6. Hani Al-Bast (HKJ)/Ata Al-Hmoud (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 1h 28m 39.9s
7. Edith Weiss (GER)/Vicky Psarall (GRE) Subaru Impreza 1h 28m 54.0s
8. Rasheed Alaa (HKJ)/Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1h 36m 34.5s

2012 Qatar International Rally – timetable of events
Saturday, January 28

08.48hrs SS7 Nabat Lusail
09.19hrs SS8 Umm Al Hal
09.49hrs Regroup and Service D, Al Wakra football stadium
10.44hrs SS9 Wakrah
11.29hrs Service E, Al Wakra football stadium
12.14hrs SS10 Nabat Lusail 2
12.45hrs SS11 Umm Al Hal 2
13.15hrs Regroup and Service F, Al Wakra football stadium
14.10hrs SS12 Wakrah 2
15.35hrs Podium finish, QMMF, Salwa Road Doha
16.30hrs Qatar International Rally post-event press conference, QMMF


Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2012 Qatar International Rally, Qatar mobile: + 974 55485600, E-mail: NDPPublicity@googlemail.com
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)



Date issued: 27/01/2012

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