MERC Nasser Al Attiyah leads Dubai International Rally

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

For immediate release
Thursday, December 2nd, 2004


UAE's Khalid Al-Qassimi closes in on maiden Middle East title;
Engine problems sideline Sheikh Suhail and Sheikh Abdullah

DUBAI (UAE): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah was the runaway leader of the Dubai International Rally after the opening leg of seven timed special stages, south of Dubai, on Thursday. The Qatari had dominated the day in his Prodrive-built Subaru Impreza WRX STi, but championship leader Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi held second position - 1m 39s behind the leader - and had moved to within seven stages of his first Middle East Championship title. The event finishes in Dubai on Friday afternoon.

~There was a slight noise at the back of the car from a damper, but nothing serious,~ said Nasser. ~We have a nice engine map in the car for this rally with plenty of power and I am quite happy at this stage. Now it all depends what happens on Friday.~

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. Thirty-six cars were flagged away from the start at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel on Thursday morning.

Al-Qassimi actually set the equal fastest time through the fifth stage in his Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Only needing to finish in the top eight to confirm the title, the UAE driver found himself involved in a close battle with Lebanon's Abdo Feghali, tackling his first desert rally in the Red Bull Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. ~I am just pacing myself and taking no risks,~ said Al-Qassimi, who had a 21s advantage over the Lebanese national champion.

Feghali was enjoying his first taste of desert rallying. ~People tell you about the desert, but you do not realise how difficult it can be until you are actually racing yourself,~ said Abdo. ~You can practice the stages one day and come back on the day of the race and the tracks have changed. There are cuts and grooves everywhere. Now I know what to expect and have been enjoying it alot.~

Jordan's Amjad Farrah was second fastest in the opening stage, but slipped down the leaderboard in the second stage when he misjudged a corner and rolled the Mitsubishi. ~We have damaged the windscreen and the car is not handling properly now,~ said Farrah. He later succumbed to mechanical problems, which resulted from the accident.

Also struggling to get into the podium places was Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban. He stopped in the opening stage to assist Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, when the latter's car caught fire, and lost around five minutes for his sportsmanship. Al-Qassimi was forced out on the spot, but the Saudi slipped to 10th at the overnight halt, behind fourth-placed Michel Saleh, Menelaos Melissas, Faris Bustami, Essa Al-Dossari, Sadiq Fazal and ninth-placed Rudi Stohl.

There was disappointment for Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum on the first Margham stage. The Dubai driver was forced to withdraw his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution from proceedings with engine problems. Early retirements also included Dubai-based dentist Mike Ziegler with engine problems, Roger Thomas with gearbox failure and Edith Weiss with mechanical problems.

The fascinating battle between Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Sheikh Khalid for the Middle East championship title has captured the imagination of the world's media. A record number have attended this year's event, with 90 journalists, photographers and PR personnel and television crew from eight regional networks issuing footage and information about the two days' action.

The 1992 Group N regional champion Ron Oakeley burned the midnight oil to make the start in his new Subaru Impreza and announced a renewed partnership with co-driver Jamie Turner. A veteran of numerous Middle East rallies, Oakeley teamed up with Kenyan Don Smith and co-driver Sony Smith to mount a new two-car Group N challenge this year in a pair of Subaru Imprezas.

~I had been to Dubai before on a two-hour transit stop,~ admitted the Kenyan, a veteran of 12 Kenyan Safari rallies. ~But this is my first time in the desert. I'm enjoying it and will be back.~ Oakeley and Smith were 13th and 14th overall after seven stages.

Fifty-seven-year old Austrian Rudi Stohl reckons he has tackled 20 Safari rallies, but this is his first trip to Dubai. ~We ran a competition in Austria to offer the winner a prize drive with me in the Dubai Rally and we had 800 responses,~ admitted the OMV-backed driver, who held ninth position after seven stages. ~Elizabeth Wittmann was the winner and she has settled into our team and her role as a co-driver very well this week.~

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.

Dubai International Rally - positions after SS7 (top 10 - unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subari Impreza WRX STi 1h 01m 55s
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 03m 34s
3. Abdo Feghali (RL)/Joseph Mattar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 03m 55s
4. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 05m 29s
5. Menelaos Melissas (CY)/Panayiotis Shialos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 07m 17s
6. Faris Bustami (HKJ)Imad Jumaa (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 08m 06s
7. Essa Al-Dossari (KSA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 08m 27s
8. Sadiq Fadhel (UAE)/Imad Nabhan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 09m 19s
9. Rudi Stohl (AT)/Elizabeth Wittmann (AT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 12m 40s
10. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 13m 04s


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)
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: 02/12/2004

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