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Khalid Al Qassimi bids to extend series lead in Syria Rally

2004 Syrian International Rally, September 1-3
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 6 of 8

For immediate release
Sunday, August 29th, 2004

UAE'S KHALID AL-QASSIMI BIDS TO
EXTEND SERIES LEAD IN SYRIA RALLY

Qatar's Al-Attiyah plans victory campaign; Saudi duo on track;
Cypriot Tsouloftas in good form; strong Syrian challenge

DAMASCUS (Syria): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will be bidding to extend his narrow advantage in the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, when he and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr head to the Syrian Arab Republic this week to tackle the sixth round of this year's series in their Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi.

Al-Qassimi currently leads the eight-round regional series by a solitary point from the defending Qatari regional champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and both drivers will go head-to-head over a revised route in the mountains to the north of Damascus. Al-Attiyah returns to motorsport action fresh from finishing fourth in the Skeet Shooting discipline at the Athens Olympics.

~I managed to sneak a valuable championship point against strong local opposition in Lebanon last month,~ admitted Al-Qassimi. ~That was sufficient to keep me ahead of Nasser in the championship and give me a major boost for this weekend. It will be very tight and exciting in Syria. Nasser was very quick here last year in his Subaru World Rally Car, but had some mechanical and technical problems.

~The new team of Syrian organisers have totally revised the rally and the route this year. We will no longer head out towards Palmyra to the east of the capital. The stages will be more compact and centred around the hills to the north of the country. They will be new to us all and everyone will have a fair chance. There will be no more of the lon road liaison sections used in the past.~

Co-driver Orr, meanwhile, has a seven-point lead in the FIA Middle East Co-Drivers' Championship, courtesy of the fact that Al-Attiyah has used both Steve Lancaster and Chris Patterson as his navigator so far this season. Orr's nearest rival is the former champion co-driver Khaled Zakaria from Jordan, who lies seven points adrift.

All the main championship protagonists will be present in Syria, when special stage action gets underway on Thursday and Friday in Damascus. Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas clinched his first mainland Middle East Rally Championship victory in Syria last season in a Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and lies third in the championship this year in a Group N version, a mere four points behind Al-Qassimi's Power Horse Subaru.

Andreas lacks the outright speed of his two Gulf rivals, but Andreas is a consistent performer and can never be discounted. He knows that a podium finish in Syria will set him up for a serious challenge for honours in his home Troodos Rally at the start of October.

Jordan's main hope is Amjad Farrah, the winner of his home event in May this year, at the wheel of the Team Jordan Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. He lies fourth in the regional series and lines up alongside the Saudi Arabian pairing of Ahmed Al-Sabban and Issa Al-Dossari in a pair of Mitsubishis. They are also enjoying an excellent season in the Middle East Championship.

Syrian hopes lie in the hands of a fleet of drivers, including Khalifa Haifaa, Amir Arnaout, Haitham Al-Yousifi and Bashar Aboukhoura, while Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh and the Bahraini duo of Hassan Al-Sadadi and Ibrahim Al-Busmait are likely to feature alongside the front-runners. Qatari hopes will be bolstered by the presence of Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions.

The Syria International Rally first ran as a candidate event for the Middle East Rally Championship in 2000 and was won by Dubai's Mohammed Bin Sulayem. It entered the full series for the first time in 2001, with the names of Bin Sulayem (2001 and 2002) and Tsouloftas (2003) so far the only winners of the newest round of the regional series.

2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship:
Positions after round 5 of 8 (Drivers):
1. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) - Subaru* 25 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) - Subaru* 24 pts
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 21 pts
4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 18 pts
5. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) 12 pts
5. Issa Al-Dossari (KSA) 12 pts
7. Roger Feghali (RL) 10 pts
9. Suhail Khalifa (UAE) 8 pts
9. Michel Saleh (RL) 8 pts
9. Abdo Feghali (RL) 8 pts, etc
(* Mitsubishi unless stated)

Positions after round 5 of 8 (Co-Drivers):
1.Michael Orr (GB) 25 pts
2. Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) 18 pts
3. Steve Lancaster (GB) 17 pts
4. Chris Patterson (GB) 14 pts
5. Killian Duffy (IRL) 12 pts
5. Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) 12 pts
7. Nabil Njeim (RL) 10 pts
8. Savvas Laos (CY) 8 pts
8. Ziad Chehab (RL) 8 pts
8. Costas Laos (CY) 8 pts
8. Marc Haddad (RL) 8 pts, etc

Ends

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Date issued: 29/08/2004

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