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MERC Defending champion Al Qassimi launches bid to retain title

2005 ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1 of 9

For immediate release
Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

SHEIKH KHALID AL-QASSIMI LAUNCHES BID TO
DEFEND FIA MIDDLE EAST RALLY SERIES TITLE

UAE-based Power Horse star confident of repeat Middle East Championship success

ABU DHABI (UAE): Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will kick-start the defence of his FIA Middle East Rally Championship title on the ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally, the opening round of the 2005 series to be held under the patronage of His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Minister of Interior, on February 2nd-4th.

The Power Horse World Rally Team star and his Ulster co-driver Michael Orr clinched the regional title for the first time on the final round of last year's championship in Dubai in December and head for the deserts of Al-Ain and the surrounding region next weekend in determined mood.

Orr completed a successful season of international competition in 2004 by adding the FIA Middle East Co-Drivers' Championship crown in December to the prestigious Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) Co-Drivers' title he had secured with Northern Ireland's Niall McShea in Australia the previous month.

This season both Sheikh Khalid and Orr will team up in a new Power Horse-backed Subaru Impreza WRX STi, built by Prodrive in England and run on events by Australia's Ron Cremen. They have additional backing for their Middle East rally challenge from Pirelli tyres.

~I don't think this year will be any easier than last year at all,~ said Khalid, contemplating the challenge he expects to receive from the likes of the in-form 2003 champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and his brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi. ~People will see us as the crew to beat as reigning champions. However, we don't feel under any pressure. Last year we had a completely new team, a new car and a new partnership between myself and Michael. This year we're starting off much stronger than we were 12 months ago, which should give us good early-season momentum towards retaining the title.~

Orr admits that the pair have already discussed a team strategy for the coming season of a record-breaking nine rounds of the regional series in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Dubai. ~Our approach is always to focus on our own performance rather than that of our rivals,~ said Orr. ~The nature of rallying in the Middle East means that you need to pace yourself to ensure you finish the events and collect as many points as possible. This paid off for us last year and I can't see it being any different this year.~

~Our plan is to make as strong a start to the season as possible and aim for a podium position. We will have the new specification Subaru for the rally, as will Nasser, so this should give us the best opportunity to challenge for the lead. I know there will be new stages on one day of the rally, but I haven't heard anything about these. Hopefully they will be a more defined track rather than the open desert stages we had last year. We'll find out when we start the recce next week!~

Last season the Power Horse World Rally Team pairing clinched the series by nine points, but the large winning margin hid the fact that the series was only decided on the final round and developed into a fascinating four-horse race in the early stages. Al-Attiyah had raced into an early lead after winning the UAE Rally 12 months ago, but Sheikh Khalid redressed the balance in Bahrain, only to suffer a set-back near the finish of the Oman Rally when his engine failed.

Jordan's Amjad Farrah swept into contention by becoming the first Jordanian driver in history to win his home event and the Lebanese dominated their home rally last July to keep the series wide open. Al-Qassimi took his second win of the season in Syria and shadowed Al-Attiyah to the finish in Cyprus to set up the grandstand conclusion to the season in Dubai. Needing only to finish eighth overall to be assured of the title for the first time, the UAE driver finished second behind Al-Attiyah to allow the celebrations to commence.

Angela Colley, Corporate Affairs Manager for Power Horse Middle East, said: ~We were delighted with the successful outcome of the 2004 season and the crowning of the Power Horse World Rally Team as the 2004 FIA Middle East Champions. Reaffirming the commitment of Power Horse for 2005, we are hoping to work even more closely with Khalid and Michael this year, not only with the motor sport programme but also in our efforts to encourage safe driving throughout the region.~

Next weekend's Al-Ain-based event is being organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE with additional support from Etihad Airways, the official airline of the rally, Gulf Commercial Group for copiers, Sky Electronics for computers, GTS Recovery for Towing Services, Nissan Motors and the Hilton Hotel Al-Ain.

Ends

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Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, Mobile + 971 50 3616881 or Mobile + 44 7831 123153 and e-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com.
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)
and
Atala Abousaleh, Arabic Press Officer, Mobile: + 971 50 6469853, e-mail: wisam_mm@emirates.net.ae

Date issued: 25/01/2005

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