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MERC 2004 Dubai International Rally official preview

2004 Dubai International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 8 of 8

For immediate release
Wednesday, December 1st, 2004 (embargoed until 12.00 hrs)

MIDDLE EAST CHAMPIONSHIP HEADS FOR
THRILLING CLIMAX IN DUBAI RALLY

Qatar's Al-Attiyah takes on UAE's Al-Qassimi in Dubai title showdown;
Kuwait's Al-Nejadi lines up against Cypriot Nearchou in 1600

DUBAI (UAE): This weekend's Dubai International Rally will decide the outcome of both the FIA Middle East Drivers' and 1600 Championships. The competitive action will start from the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel tomorrow morning (Thursday) and the event finishes at 15.15 hrs on Friday in Dubai.

The climax to the prestigious regional championship is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Department. The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will set out into the 14 timed special stages as the firm favourite to clinch the Drivers' Championship for the first time.

His co-driver Michael Orr has already clinched the Middle East Co-Drivers' title and a similar award in the FIA Production World Rally Championship with Ulster driver Niall McShea. Al-Qassimi knows that eighth place or better in the Dubai Rally will give his Power Horse World Rally Team the regional title and he will become the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Champion.

Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is the defending champion and starts the desert stages around Margham and Fossil Rock, nine points behind his rival. There are 10 points available to the winner of the Dubai Rally and Al-Attiyah and his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson can afford no mistakes. They have to take an outright win and hope that Al-Qassimi fails in what appears to be a straightforward quest for at least one championship point.

~I have to drive flat out and win the rally,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~It is as simple as that and then it all depends what happens to Khalid.~

But this year's event - which was dominated by Dubai's Mohammed Ben Sulayem for so many years - is by no means a two-horse race. Outgoing regional Group N champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi is one of the fastest drivers in the series and knows the desert areas around Dhaid and Fossil Rock very well indeed. He finished second overall in September's Syrian International and admits that not tackling mid-season rounds of the series was a costly mistake after early-season disappointments.

~It is pleasing that the outcome of two championships will be decided on the final round in Dubai,~ said Mohammed Juma Bin-Bakheit, Chairman of the Organising Committee. ~The Middle East Championship in going through one of the strongest phases in its history and next year's series already looks as if it will follow on from the successes of 2004.~

Dubai's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum is one of the most talented drivers ever to come out of the Middle East. A winner of the Dubai Rally in 1990 and the Qatar event four years later, Sheikh Suhail returned at the start of the season after several years in the rallying wilderness. He made the podium in Oman and is quite capable of repeating that success in Dubai.

Lebanon's Abdo Feghali finished second overall in July's Rally of Lebanon and is tackling his first ever all-desert rally in the Red Bull Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 which his brother Roger used to win the only tarmac round of the series in the summer. Abdo admits that he is still on a learning curve, but he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh, who also tackles the Dubai event in a Mitsubishi.

Amjad Farrah became the first Jordanian driver in history to win his home event in May and he lines up alongside Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban, as both drivers look ahead to the slim chance of clinching third position in the Drivers' Championship.

Other GCC countries are represented in this season's finale, with multiple Bahrain champion Hassan Al-Sadadi driving a Subaru Impreza and Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi bidding to retain his 1600 title. The Citroen driver suffered a set-back in Cyprus in October, when his car failed to make a ship from Beirut bound for Larnaca. He was forced to rent a Peugeot 106 just to reach the start, but retired near the finish.

With his main rival Nearchos Nearchou capitalising to full effect in Cyprus by taking second overall in the 1600 section, Al-Nejadi finds himself at the start of the Dubai Rally trailing the Cypriot by four points. The Dubai Rally will decide who becomes the Middle East 1600 champion.

A number of European teams will also take part in the Dubai Rally. Austrian veteran Rudi Stohl flew in from Vienna to take part in a desert rally with co-driver Elizabeth Wittman - an Austrian competition winner - and regular British visitors Howard Paterson and Raj Jutley are keen to benefit from the last opportunity to drive their cars in the UAE.

Qatar's Nada Zaidan becomes the first GCC woman to take the start of the Dubai Rally in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and she is joined by Germany's Edith Weiss in a Skoda Octavia. Jordan's Nadia Shnoudeh co-drives for Zaidan.

The first car will leave the official start in Dubai at 09.30 hrs on Thursday for seven timed stages. The 25.9 kms Margham test gets the competitive action underway at 10.00 hrs and this will be followed by two stages in each of the Fossil Rock, Maleiha and Fili areas. Friday's second leg is centred around stonier deserts to the south. After repeating Thursday's Margham stage there are repeat passes for the surviving crews through stages at Al Rowda, Seih Madam and Masfut.

Additional support for the event comes from GTS Recovery, the Gulf Commercial Group, Space Imaging Middle East, Sky Electronics and AMD.

Leading starters (top 10):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subari Impreza WRX STi
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
3. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
4. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6
5. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Ahmed Ghaziri (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
6. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
8. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
9. Menelaos Melissas (CY)/Panayiotis Shialos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6
10. Abdo Feghali (RL)/Joseph Mattar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8
11. Hassan Al-Sadadi (BAH)/Keith Wake (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi

2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Positions after round 7 of 8 (Drivers):
1. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 43 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 34 pts
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 26 pts
4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 18 pts
4. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)18 pts
6. Issa Al-Dossari (KSA) 12 pts
6. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 12 pts
8. Roger Feghali (RL) 10 pts
9. Suhail Khalifa (UAE) 8 pts
9. Michel Saleh (RL) 8 pts
9. Abdo Feghali (RL) 8 pts, etc

Positions after round 7 of 8 (Co-Drivers):
1.Michael Orr (GB) 43 pts
2. Chris Patterson (GB) 24 pts
3. Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) 18 pts
2. Killian Duffy (IRL) 18 pts
5. Steve Lancaster (GB) 17 pts
6. Savvas Laos (CY) 13 pts
7. Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) 12 pts
7. Gaby Khoury (UAE) 12 pts
9. Nabil Njeim (RL) 10 pts, etc

1600 (2WD)
1. Nearchos Nearchou (CY) - Proton 42 pts
2. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) - Citroen 38 pts
3. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) - Proton 18 pts
4. Abir Batikhi (HKJ) - Opel 12 pts, etc

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, Dubai International Rally Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Tel: + 9714 7054610, Mobile + 971 50 3616881, Fax: + 9714 7054599 and e-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com.
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)
and
Atala Abousaleh, Dubai International Rally, Arabic Press Officer, Tel: + 9714 7054182, Mobile: + 971 50 6469853, Fax: + 9714 7054599, e-mail: wisam_mm@emirates.net.ae


Date issued: 01/12/2004

For further information or assistance please contact:

NDP Publicity Services
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