MERC Favourite Al-Attiyah fends off fierce Al-Kuwari challenge to lead in Qatar
2014 QMMF Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1
For immediate release
Friday, February 21st, 2014
FAVOURITE AL-ATTIYAH FENDS OFF FIERCE AL-KUWARI
CHALLENGE AND THEN DROPS TO SECOND IN QATAR
· UAE’s Al-Qassimi and Kuwait’s Al-Saleh in third and fourth
· Mechanical problems thwart Al-Rajhi, Bin Eidan and Al-Mouri
DOHA (Qatar): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah fended off a fierce first day challenge from fellow countryman Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari to lead the 2014 QMMF Qatar International Rally on Friday evening.
Partnered by the diminutive Italian navigator Giovanni Bernacchini, Al-Attiyah won three of the day’s six gravel special stages and reached the overnight halt just 5.5 seconds ahead of rival Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and his Irish co-driver Killian Duffy. Al-Kuwari also won three specials to set up the prospect of a thrilling Saturday showdown across the Qatar deserts.
But Al-Attiyah deliberately left the day's final service one minute late and incurred a 10-second penalty that put him behind Al-Kuwari in the overall rankings and, more importantly, behind him in the running order for Saturday.
“Yes, I am happy with my performance, especially since this is my first event since WRC in Spain,” said Al-Kuwari. “But there is a long way to go. One rock, one corner and it could all change so quickly.”
The Ford Fiesta duo had been in a class of their own from the start of a day where only 10 of the 19 starters reached the finish and the list of retirements included the Saudi drivers Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Saeed Al-Mouri, Kuwaiti Saleh bin Eidan and Jordanian Ala’a Rasheed.
Tyre issues plagues the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson and the pair finished the day in a distant third place in a Citroën DS3 RRC, 2min 17.3sec behind Al-Attiyah.
Kuwaiti Masoud Al-Saleh climbed to fourth near the end when Rasheed stopped his Ford Fiesta. A gearbox change and a resultant time penalty pushed Abdullah Al-Kuwari down to fifth position, while sixth-placed Mohamed Al-Mutawaa was the best of three surviving Abu Dhabi Racing-entered juniors running in their Citroën DS3s.
Nada Zeidan was the last of the runners to complete all six stages and held 10th position and first place in the Ladies’ category.
Al-Qassimi took a lead of just seven-tenths of a second over Al-Attiyah into the first 21.93km Umm Wishah stage on Friday morning. A real risk of punctures was on everyone’s minds, although Al-Attiyah set the target time of 10min 48.6sec and beat Al-Qassimi by 10.9sec to take the outright lead.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari had spun on Thursday night’s super special and lost around six seconds, but the 2012 rally winner began the gravel stages well and only dropped a second to Al-Attiyah in Umm Wishah. Al-Rajhi was third quickest and closed to within four seconds of Al-Qassimi, who slipped to third overall.
Predictably, the leading quartet had already pulled away; Saleh bin Eidan was over one and a half minutes adrift of the WRC regulars in fifth. Abu Dhabi junior Mansoor Bel Helai lost time near the end of the stage changing a tyre and Saeed Al-Mouri was forced out with a steering arm failure on his Skoda after just 1.5km of the special. Qatar’s Hitmi Khalifa Al-Hitmi also hit clutch trouble and retired.
Edith Weiss completed the special, but returned to service with suspension damage. “We will fix it now and then I will push Nasser tomorrow,” joked Weiss. “But I am not sure from which direction..!”
Al-Attiyah was quickest by half a second through the 19.47km of Al-Shabana to extend his lead over Al-Kuwari, but bin Eidan lost his hold on fifth place after overheating issues forced him to shut down his Ford’s engine. Al-Qassimi dropped 24 seconds to the front-running Qataris with tyre-related issues and Al-Rajhi stopped on the road section to the stage after breaking a drive shaft.
Al-Kuwari continued his impressive form through Al-Kharsaah and the quickest time reduced Al-Attiyah’s lead to 1.5sec at the midday service, where Al-Qassimi again complained of tyre problems and Abdullah Al-Kuwari’s Motortune mechanics began to prepare to change the Qatari’s gearbox. “Abdulaziz is driving well, but I am not too bothered,” said Al-Attiyah. “I have my strategy. You will see tomorrow.”
Mohamed Al-Mutawaa was the best of the Citroën juniors and held a 48.9sec lead over Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. Nada Zeidan rounded off the surviving teams in 14th place, although Abu Dhabi Racing’s rookie Juma Al-Falaisi did not start the fourth stage.
Al-Kuwari continued his impressive form and a second successive stage win was enough for the Qatari to take a 2.4-second outright lead in SS4, but his advantage was short lived and Al-Attiyah regained a 19.2-second advantage with his second fastest time in the re-run of Al-Shabana. Abdullah Al-Kuwari retained sixth behind Ala’a Rasheed and Masoud Al-Saleh, despite incurring a one-minute time penalty after the gearbox issue.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari was not to be denied and a stunning time through the last stage of the day ensured that he reduced Al-Attiyah’s overall advantage to just 5.5 seconds to set up the prospect of a thrilling showdown through the final day. Al-Qassimi held on to third and Al-Saleh climbed to fourth when Rasheed stopped in the stage.
Tomorrow (Saturday), crews the remaining three gravel special stages twice, starting with the first run through the Mekaines stage at 09.38hrs. The three specials are split by a service and regroup at the Qatar Aqua Park from 11.39hrs and the event draws to a conclusion with the podium celebrations at the QMMF from 15.30hrs onwards.
Positions after leg 1:
1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 06min 48.2sec
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 06min 52.7sec
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 1hr 09min 09.5sec
4. Masoud Al-Saleh (KWT)/Sulaiman Al-Helal (KWT) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 20min 50.3sec
5. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 21min 23.3sec
6. Mohamed Al-Mutawaa (ARE)/Stephen McAuley (GBR) Citroën DS3 1hr 26min 10.1sec
7. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (ARE)/Craig Parry (GBR) Citroën DS3 1hr 29min 11.8sec
8. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Fahad Al-Mutairi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 33min 57.3sec
9. Saeed Bintowq (ARE)/Allan Harryman (GBR) Citroën DS3 1hr 41min 56.6sec
10. Nada Zaidan (QAT)/Maja Loncar (CRO) Subaru Impreza N12 2hr 17min 22.3sec
2014 QMMF Qatar International Rally – timetable of events
Saturday, February 22
09.00hrs Service D, Qatar Aqua Park
09.38hrs SS7 Mekaines 1
10.11hrs SS8 Salwa 1
10.49hrs SS9 QMMF 1
11.39hrs Regroup and Service E, Qatar Aqua Park
12.52hrs SS10 Mekaines 2
13.25hrs SS11 Salwa 2
14.03hrs SS12 QMMF 2
14.53hrs Service F, Qatar Aqua Park
15.30hrs approx Finish podium and prizegiving, QMMF, Salwa Road
For live results and tracking:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2014 Qatar International Rally, Qatar Mobile: + 974 55292739, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases), Twitter: @LordPerkins