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Khalid Al Qassimi leads through opening Syria Rally stages

2004 Syria International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 6 of 8

For immediate release
Thursday, September 2nd, 2004

KHALED AL-QASSIMI LEADS THROUGH
OPENING LEG OF GRUELLING SYRIA RALLY

Power Horse star out in front; Dubai's Rashid Al-Ketbi in contention
Cypriot Tsouloftas loses three minutes; Rollercoaster day for Qatar's Al-Attiyah

SAYDNEYA (Syria): UAE driver Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr led the 5th Syrian International Rally, round six of the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, after five timed special stages of the opening leg, near Damascus, on Thursday.

Al-Qassimi, who currently leads the regional series by a single point in the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi with Ulster co-driver Michael Orr, had gained the lead as early as the second special stage, when arch rival Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah sustained a flat tyre and slipped to 11th position.

Despite a fight back by Al-Attiyah over the subsequent stages through the mountains to the north of Damascus, a poor tyre compound choice over the opening two specials was a costly one for the Qatari driver, although the defending regional champion moved back to third overall after four stages before slipping behind again.

~I have my plan of attack for this weekend,~ admitted Al-Qassimi. ~The stages are fast and quite rough in places and it is easy to damage the car. I drove in two WRC rallies recently in Greece and Turkey and the stages there were smoother than these, so I know what pace I need to find here to remain safe and competitive.

~It is not going to be easy at all. Rashid al-Ketbi is a very quick driver and has been fast out of the starting blocks on two rallies this year. He started well today. My brother Sheikh Abdullah won last year's Group N Championship and has nothing to lose here. He is not chasing the championship and will be able to push hard for the win without worrying about championship points. At the end of the day points are my absolute priority.

~I made a great start here and my position is much stronger, because of the tyre problems which Nasser had early on. But this is a long and difficult rally and he is sure to press on full attack now in a bid to regain the time he has lost. He has been closing all the time.~

Behind the leading Power Horse driver there was a frantic battle for the podium positions, with Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas running well in second position in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution until he too lost over three minutes with tyre problems in the third stage and initially slipped to ninth place.

Al-Ketbi and Jordan's Amjad Farrah speeded up as the opening leg progressed, with the Dubai driver up to second overall in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Farrah held fourth position in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 and Abdullah Al-Qassimi was classified fifth overall. But the main news was the resurgent form of Al-Attiyah, who had moved back into third position, a mere two stages after losing four minutes with a flat tyre, only to slip back again in the fifth stage when he lost another 2m 30s.

Dubai's Shekh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum was forced to withdraw during the official recce period after twisting knee ligaments. Syria's Haitham Al-Yousifi (gearbox), Saudi Arabia's Farouk Ghurab (engine) and Lebanon's Michel Saleh (suspension) were early first leg retirements, with Syrian drivers Bashar Aboukhoura and Abir Fudail also out of the rally. Of 27 cars which started the three-day gravel event, 22 were classified after five stages.

This year the event has switched location from stages along the eastern highway towards Palmyra to a mountaineous route in the direction of Homs in the Lebanese border region. The route is new to all competitors, but recce was restricted to two passes per car at a maximum speed of 60 km/h.

Tomorrow (Friday) the event is scheduled to finish in the small town of Saydneya after a further six timed special stages in the mountaineous areas around Deir Atiyaeh, Al-Qastal and Hala.

Ends

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Date issued: 02/09/2004

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