MERC New-look Qatar International Rally gives green light to rallying season

Qatar International Rally
2013 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013


· Nasser Al-Attiyah and Khalid Al-Suwaidi head home challenge
· Visiting teams give international flavour to opening MERC round
· Baptism of fire for two rally rookies from Abu Dhabi Racing Team
· Jordanian driver Alaa Rasheed announces six WRC rally programme

DOHA (Qatar): Reconnaissance of the special stages and the exciting new route in the northern Qatar desert is complete and a provisional 18 teams will tackle this weekend’s Qatar International Rally. The event is being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) under the presidency of Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah – himself a winner of the event as a driver in 1993.

International competitors from the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Northern Ireland, England, Lebanon and the Republic of Ireland have added global appeal to this year’s opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.

The entry list features two Middle East rally champions and six drivers who have won one or more round of the prestigious FIA regional series in their careers. The 2013 Qatar event is the 176th regional counting round since the championship was created in 1984. The Doha-based event has been an ever-present in the calendar since that date, although it did run as a non-championship candidate rally in 2004.

Both defending regional champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and the UAE’s multiple former champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem – now an FIA vice-president - have taken nine wins apiece and Al-Attiyah will be hoping to make it a magical 10th this weekend.

Qatar will be represented by four drivers: Al-Attiyah starts as top seed in his Ford Fiesta and last year’s event winner Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and QMMF-backed Khalid Al-Suwaidi drive similar M-Sport-built cars. Abdullah Al-Kuwari completes the home line-up in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

“The new stages are quite a challenge,” said Al-Suwaidi’s new Italian co-driver Nicola Arena – a former MERC-winning co-driver with Qatar’s Misfer Al-Marri. “The first two are nice, a bit like the stages on Dubai Rally, but the third one is rough in places and very challenging. We had three punctures on the recce so it could be interesting for the rally!”

Led by Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, the five-strong Abu Dhabi Racing Team dominates representation from the UAE, but the experienced Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi also returns for another season of desert rallying with British co-driver Steve Lancaster in a Ford Fiesta. A multiple former regional Group N champion, Sheikh Abdullah’s solitary MERC win came at the 2000 UAE International Rally.
Neither Mohammed Al-Sahlawi nor Mohamed Al-Mutawaa have ever done a rally before and Qatar is a baptism of fire for the two Abu Dhabi Racing Team rookies. Northern Ireland’s Allan Harryman and Stephen McAuley are responsible for keeping the newcomers out of trouble.

“I have some experience racing in various disciplines on circuits but rallying is complete new to me,” said Mutawaa. “Both of us are learning as much as possible. We had a test two days ago and sat in a rally car in Sharjah, but this is all new to us.” The pair drive a pair of brand new R3 2WD Citroën DS3s from Citroën Sport.

Yazeed Al-Rajhi is the flag bearer for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Al-Rajhi is rated as one of the fastest Arab drivers on the planet and he and co-driver Michael Orr would dearly love to beat the Qataris over their own desert stages

There are three representative drivers from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The talented Alaa Rasheed teams up with Lebanese co-driver Joseph Matar in a Motortune Ford Fiesta. Hani Al-Bast (Mitsubishi) and co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud and Zaid Dahshan (Mitsubishi) and Ramzi Mansour complete the Jordanian line-up.

Rasheed is using the ex-Roger Feghali 2012 Rally of Lebanon-winning Ford in which he and Matar won a recent national rally in Qatar. “The Fiesta is fantastic to drive,” said Rasheed, who is tackling a full MERC programme in addition to six European rounds of the WRC in Portugal, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and the UK. “The car gives you confidence, even on the rougher stages. You can push a lot harder and drive faster. I am really looking forward to this rally.”

Meshari Al-Thafiri represents Kuwait in his Mitsubishi Lancer, top lady competitor Burcu Cetinkaya holds the Turkish flag aloft and there are single entries from Germany and Italy for Edith Weiss (Subaru) and Michele de Nora (Subaru).

Tomorrow (Thursday), competition cars will need to pass through the obligatory FIA scrutineering checks at the QMMF before a selection of the leading drivers join senior QMMF officials at the pre-event press conference at 3pm.

The 2013 Qatar International Rally gets underway from the QMMF at 08.00hrs on Friday and finishes at 16.20hrs on Saturday afternoon after 12 timed desert special stages.

Leading starters:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Scott Martin (GBR) Citroën DS3
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta
5. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta
6. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GBR) Ford Fiesta
7. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta
8. Alaa Rasheed (JOR)/Joseph Matar (LEB) Ford Fiesta
9. Mishari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Mubarak Al-Thefiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer
10. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer
12. Burcu Cetincaya (TUR)/Ozlem Akguc (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer
14. Michele de Nora (ITA)/Sergio Secchi (ITA) Subaru Impreza


Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, chief media officer, 2013 Qatar International Rally, Qatar Mobile: + 974 55485581, E-mail: ndppublicity@googlemail.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)



Date issued: 23/01/2013

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