MERC Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari claims victory in Qatar Rally and first MERC success

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

For immediate release
Saturday, January 28th, 2012


· Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s fight back results in second overall
· Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou snatches final podium position in Qatar
· Turkish female crew of Burcu Cetinkaya and Cicek Guney in fourth

AL-WAKRA (Qatar): Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari held his nerve and drove in a cool and measured way to secure a stunning victory in the Qatar International Rally, the opening round of the 2012 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), in Doha on Saturday.

Despite fierce pressure from Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah over the second day’s six gravel stages in the Qatar desert, Al-Kuwari and his co-driving brother Nasser Al-Kuwari emerged victorious by the margin of 2m 24.9s and duly confirmed their first career MERC win and a debut success for the Prodrive-built and Tok Sport-run Mini S2000 in the Middle East.

“It is a fantastic feeling to win this rally,” said a delighted Al-Kuwari, who became the 32nd driver in history to win at least one round of the MERC. “I have achieved success in national rallies in Qatar, but this was the big one. This was the rally I wanted to win. It was a great battle with Nasser. The new car was fantastic. This is the biggest win of my career.”

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini produced a classic second day fight back in their Kronos Peugeot 207 S2000. Trailing by 5m 29.3s at the overnight halt after missing the final stage of day one, Al-Attiyah began Saturday’s action with two stunning stage times to move up from fifth overall to second position.

But overhauling Al-Kuwari was one bridge too far for the seven-time regional rally champion and he was unable to achieve a 10th successive Qatar Rally win in the Kronos Peugeot 207 S2000. It was the first time since 2002 that another driver had won the Qatar International Rally, but Al-Attiyah has produced a stunning challenge nonetheless.

“It was always going to be a big ask to come back and win, but I gave it my best shot,” said Al-Attiyah.

Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou and Nabil Njeim enjoyed their return to MERC action by confirming the final podium position in a Motortune Mitsubishi. Georgiou will now be hoping to kick-start his challenge for honours in a full programme of regional rallies.

The Turkish female crew of Burcu Cetinkaya and Cicek Guney stunned many of their male rivals on their Qatar debut. Lying third at the overnight halt, the talented Turkish duo retained a professional and cautious pace over the final day to seal fourth overall, beating the previous best fifth place in the MERC they had earned in Dubai last December.

Qatar’s Misfer Al-Marri, the 2010 regional champion, was forced to tackle day two with a fistful of time penalties under SupeRally. He started 11th but surged through the field to take fifth position.

The Kuwaiti Meshari Al-Thafiri finished sixth in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Jordan’s Hani Al-Bast, a troubled Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah of Qatar, Germany’s Edith Weiss and Jordanan Rasheed Alaa rounded off the top 10.

Qatar’s Khaled Al-Suwaidi and Kuwait’s Fahad Ashknani both retired on the first stage of the day with respective engine and front suspension problems. Mubarak Al-Hajri staged his own fight back over day two and managed to move up to sixth position after starting eighth. But the Qatari’s Subaru engine failed in the 10th stage and last year’s day one leader was sidelined.

There was also bitter disappointment for Kuwait’s Essam Al-Nejadi. He held fifth until the final stage before succumbing to mechanical problems.

Day two – as it happened

Fourteen of the original 16 starters began leg two with six of the cars running under SupeRally. Al-Attiyah was given the mandatory five-minute penalty for missing the final stage of the day and slotted into fifth position, a mere 5m 29.3s behind the leader. A battle royale was in prospect.

The Qatari had been clever with his retirement as well. Had he tackled the sixth stage the penalty may have been doubled. No one in the world had ever come back to win a rally from a SupeRally situation. Could Al-Attiyah re-write the history books?

Al-Attiyah put the pedal to the metal through the 17.1km of the seventh Nabat Lusail stage and stunned Al-Kuwari by reducing the deficit by 47.1s. The gap was down to 4m 42.2s and Al-Attiyah climbed to fourth at the expense of Khalid Al-Suwaidi, who stopped in the stage with mechanical problems. A resurgent Misfer Al-Marri set the second fastest time.

Al-Attiyah clawed another 24.5s back in the 18.96km of Umm Al Hal and reduced Al-Kuwari’s lead to 4m 17.7s. In so doing, the Qatari overhauled Cetinkaya and Georgiou to take second overall. Al-Marri climbed to eighth with another second fastest time.

The daunting 30.93km of the ninth Al-Wakrah special would be decisive and Al-Attiyah knew this was his chance to make major in-roads into Al-Kuwari’s diminishing lead. But it was not to be. Al-Attiyah was clearly struggling with a technical issue and Al-Kuwari reached the stage finish with a faster time and extended his overall lead by 13.1s to 4m 30.8s. Further down the leader board, Mubarak Al-Hajri managed to climb into sixth position and pushed Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thafiri into seventh. Twelve cars were still running.

The three stages were repeated after another service in Al-Wakrah and Al-Kuwari was much faster the second time through the stage and Al-Attiyah was only able to trim 11.3s from the lead. Al-Attiyah was running out of time. Could Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari record the biggest win of his career and a debut success for the new Mini S2000 in the Middle East?

Al-Kuwari began the penultimate Umm Al Hal stage with a lead of 4m 19.5s. The outcome lay in his hands. Al-Hajri had been sidelined with engine problems in the previous stage and only 11 cars began the special.

Predictably, Al-Attiyah was quickest but the Qatari only shaved another 31.8s off his rival’s advantage and Al-Kuwari returned to Al-Wakrah to prepare for the nervous final 30.93km of the 12th stage with a comfortable lead of 3m 47.7s.

He drove sensibly to conserve the car in those nervous final kilometres and dropped 1m 02.8s to Al-Attiyah to reach the finish 2m 24.9s ahead of the outgoing champion. Essam Al-Nejadi was forced out of fifth position on the final stage, as Georgiou and Cetinkaya confirmed third and fourth.

2012 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS12 (unofficial @ 15.20hrs):
1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mini S2000 2h 24m 55.2s
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Peugeot 207 S2000 2h 27m 20.1s
3. Nicholai Georgiou (LBN)/Nabil Njeim (LBN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2h 34m 41.3s
4. Burcu Cetinkaya (TUR)/Cicek Guney (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2h 37m 04.3s
5. Misfer Al-Marri (QAT/Nicola Arena (ITA) Mitsubishi Lancer R4 2h 42m 50.7s
6. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KWT)/Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2h 51m 48.4s
7. Hani Al-Bast (HKJ)/Ata Al-Hmoud (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 2h 57m 50.6s
8. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Ramy Menhem (LBN) Subaru Impreza 2h 58m 24.4s
9. Edith Weiss (GER)/Vicky Psarall (GRE) Subaru Impreza 3h 07m 34.0s
10. Rasheed Alaa (HKJ)/Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3h 20m 54.5s

2012 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Positions after round 1 of 7
Drivers’ Championship

1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT) 25 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 18 pts
3. Nicholai Georgiou (LBN) 15 pts
4. Burcu Cetinkaya (TUR) 12 pts
5. Misfer Al-Marri QAT) 10 pts
6. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KWT) 8 pts
7. Hani Al-Bast (HKJ) 6 pts
8. Khalfa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 4 pts
9. Edith Weiss (GER) 2 pts
10. Rasheed Alaa (HKJ) 1 pt

Co-drivers’ Championship
1. Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) 25 pts
2. Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) 18 pts
3. Nabil Njeim (LBN) 15 pts
4. Cicek Guney (TUR) 12 pts
5. Nicola Arena (ITA) 10 pts
6. Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KWT) 8 pts
7. Ata Al-Hmoud (HKJ) 6 pts
8. Ramy Menhem (LBN) 4 pts
9. Victoria Psarali (GRE) 2 pts
10. Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) 1 pt


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: 28/01/2012

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