MERC Al-Attiyah equals Ben Sulayem's MERC record with victory in Oman
2015 Oman International Rally
November 5-7, 2015
2015 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 7
For immediate release
Saturday, November 7th, 2015
QATAR’S AL-ATTIYAH EQUALS BEN SULAYEM’S LONG-
STANDING MERC RECORD WITH VICTORY IN OMAN
· Qatar’s Al-Kuwari finishes second; Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi in third
· Kuwait’s Salah bin Eidan confirms regional Group N Championship title
· Saif Al-Harthy and Hamid Al-Qasmi reach finish for the host nation
MUSCAT (Oman): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has equalled one of the longest standing records in world motor sport. A comfortable victory in the 23rd Oman International Rally on Saturday earned the Qatari a 60th rally win in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship and meant that he drew level with the number of wins set by Dubai’s Mohammed Ben Sulayem between 1984 and 2002.
Al-Attiyah, partnered by French co-driver Matthieu Baumel and driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, eased his pace over the final six gravel special stages to record victory by the margin of 48.5 seconds. But it was a comprehensive fifth win in Oman nonetheless for the recently crowned 11-time regional champion and topped an extraordinary season where he has also won the Dakar Rally, the WRC 2 Championship and the FIA World Cup.
“I made a big gap yesterday and decided to ease my pace today to avoid taking any risks,” said Al-Attiyah. “The stages today were much rougher and one puncture could have been very costly. It’s fantastic to win here over such testing and scenic special stages. The win is certainly a milestone and what a perfect finish to the season it could be if I could go to Dubai and set a new record of 61 wins.”
Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and British navigator Marshall Clarke pushed on over the final day and managed to overhaul Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi to take second overall and give Qatar a 1-2 finish. The result also makes Al-Kuwari the strong favourite to finish as runner-up in the championship.
“One of the targets for the season was to finish in the top two in the championship for the sake of my sponsors and supporters and we are on track to achieve that goal,” said Al-Kuwari. “It was a good day today for me with four stage wins and second place is fantastic.”
Al-Qassimi complained about suspension issues and was not able to push his Citroën DS3 RRC to the limit, but he and Ulster’s Chris Patterson rounded off the podium places. Khalid Al-Suwaidi and Giovanni Bernacchini are preparing for a full assault at next year’s ERC and MERC and they bonded well to finish fourth in their Ford Fiesta RRC.
Kuwaiti Salah Bin Eidan confirmed the Group N Championship in Oman with Slovenian co-driver Vili Oslaj. With the non-appearance of Edith Weiss and the early retirement of Meshari Al-Thafiri, it was a formality for the delighted Kuwaiti driver, who reached the finish in fifth overall, despite losing several minutes on the penultimate stage.
Emirati driver Mansoor Bel Helai headed Abu Dhabi Racing team-mate Saeed Bintowq in the two-wheel drive contest. The Citroën DS3 R3T drivers reached the finish ramp in sixth and seventh overall.
Saif Al-Harthy and Salim Al-Abri were the leading Omani duo in eighth, despite losing over 24 minutes two stages from the end. Qatar’s Rashid Al-Naimi and Italian co-driver Nicola Arena finished ninth and the second local team of Hamid Al-Qasmi and Mohammed Al-Mazroi rounded off the top 10 after losing ninth place on the penultimate stage.
Saturday – as it happened
Al-Attiyah headed into the eighth stage, near the old village of Khoud, with an overnight lead of 1min 18.6sec over Al-Qassimi. He ceded the first stage win to an inspired Al-Kuwari and 12 of the 15 starters completed the timed test, with two (Hamid Al-Qasmi and Rashid Al-Naimi) running under Rally2. Al-Kuwari’s stage win also pushed him above Al-Qassimi and into second overall. Al-Naimi had replaced his damaged gearbox with a standard one to enable him to return to action for the final day.
Al-Kuwari continued to push on through Murayat as well and a second fastest time reduced Al-Attiyah’s overall lead to 1min 18.2sec and gave Abdulaziz a 14-second cushion over Al-Qassimi. Omani driver Zakariah Al-Ofi was sidelined with gearbox issues and the number of survivors was reduced to 11.
Al-Attiyah had clearly eased off on hard compound tyres and Al-Qassimi set his first quickest time in Misfah North and reduced Al-Kuwari’s hold on second place to just over 11 seconds. Further down the field, Al-Suwaidi reached the service point in fourth, Bin Eidan held fifth and the Group N lead and Saif Al-Harthy retained sixth and the honour of being the top Omani driver on the stages. Local driver Zakariah Said Ahmed fell by the wayside, as 10 cars reached the midday break.
Al-Kuwari was quickest again on the re-run of Khoud to reduce Al-Attiyah’s lead to 61.1 seconds, but his rival was playing a canny game and slowing to avoid problems heading into the final two stages. Saif Al-Harthy lost over 24 minutes and slipped from sixth to eighth.
Al-Attiyah curtailed Al-Kuwari’s charge though with the quickest time in Murayat and he headed for the final 16.98km stage at Misfah North with a lead of 1min 02.2sec. There were no late dramas for the Qatari and he crossed the finish line to claim the win and equal one of the most notable records in motor sport. Al-Kuwari set the quickest time to confirm second place.
2015 Oman International Rally – position after SS13 (unofficial @14.47hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 28min 00.5sec
2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Marshall Clarke (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 28min 49.0sec
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC 2hr 29min 24.6sec
4. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 35min 07.2sec
5. Salah bin Eidan (KWT)/Vili Oslaj (SVN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3hr 03min 21.5sec
6. Mansoor Bel Helai (ARE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (ARE) Citroën DS3 R3T 3hr 05min 48.0sec
7. Saeed Bintowq (ARE)/Allan Harryman (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3T 3hr 08min 31.8sec
8. Saif Al-Harthy (OMN)/Salim Al-Abry (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3hr 26min 12.9sec
9. Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3hr 29min 20.9sec
10. Hamid Al-Qasmi (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Mazroi (OMN) Mitsubishi Evo VIII 3hr 39min 01.0sec
2015 Middle East Rally Championship – positions after round 7 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 150 pts
2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT) 84 pts
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE) 66 pts
4. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT) 44 pts
5. Salah bin Eidan (KWT) 36 pts, etc
For further media information:
English: Neil Perkins, Oman International Rally, International Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases). Twitter: @LordPerkins. Facebook group: MERC
Arabic: Firas Nimri, Oman International Rally, National and Arabic Press Officer, Mobile: + 962 777 282000, E-mail: email@example.com.