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MERC Cypriot Tsouloftas returns in bid to win maiden Middle East title

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

For immediate release
Monday, January 31st, 2005

CYPRIOT TSOULOFTAS RETURNS IN
BID TO WIN MAIDEN MIDDLE EAST TITLE

Veteran Lebanese Saleh on track in a Mitsubishi;
Hassan Al-Sadadi flies Bahraini flag in UAE Rally;
Kuwait's Al-Nejadi leads two-wheel drive challenge

AL-AIN (UAE): Multiple Cyprus rally champion Andreas Tsouloftas arrived in Al-Ain this week to begin his preparations for the ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally, the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, being held under the patronage of His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Minister of Interior, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Tsouloftas won the Syrian International Rally in 2003 and finished third overall in last year's championship behind the winning Power Horse World Rally Team driver Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. He had been in contention for the overall title until the penultimate round of the series in his native Cyprus, when he was forced to retire on the first leg of the Nicosia-based Troodos Rally.

~It was not meant to be last year for me, but there are nine events this time and maybe this could be my year,~ said the Cypriot, who teams up with Savvas Laos and wheels out a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7. ~Once again there is a strong entry of all the regular drivers and it will not be easy, but the tracking system is working well in this championship now and everyone has a fair chance of taking a good result.~

Joining Tsouloftas at the official start of the event at the Hilton Hotel in Al-Ain on Wednesday afternoon will be the Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh, the former winner of the Gulf Rally Championship who tackled select rounds of the series in 2004 in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7. Saleh is the most experienced of all the drivers in the championship and is seeded at five for the 15 gravel special stages in the two-day route for this weekend's event.

Hassan Al-Sadadi is the sole representative of the Kingdom of Bahrain in his Subaru Impreza WRX. The multiple Bahrain national champion teams up with Manama-based British expatriate Keith Wake to try and put some championship points on the board before the regional series heads to his native Bahrain for round two at the end of February.

While the vast majority of the entry is made up of Group N cars, no less than four teams will take part in the event in two-wheel drive cars entered in the Super 1600 section. Leading the way is the 2003 1600 regional champion Meshal Al-Nejadi in his nimble Citroen Saxo. The Kuwaiti, partnered on this occasion by co-driver Jasem Jamal, missed out on the regional title last season on the final round in Dubai where he was beaten by the Cypriot Proton driver Nearchos Nearchou.

Al-Nejadi returns this season in a bid to set the record straight and lines up against his brother Essam in a Proton Wira. fellow Kuwaiti Shaker Al-Raeis in a Citroen Saxo and the UAE's Roger Thomas in a Peugeot 205. ~The stages in this part of the world are not ideally suited to two-wheel drive cars,~ said Al-Nejadi. ~But we have a good set-up with the Citroen and have worked hard to develop the car for the desert. We have achieved some good results in recent rallies and I am confident that we can do the same again this weekend.~

~We have made a few minor amendments to the route and the timetable in the last couple of weeks,~ admitted the event's Clerk of the Course Bengt Gustavsson. ~There has been some construction work in the area and we wanted to make sure that the stages we have chosen would run smoothly come race day.~

In a bid to promote the Al-Ain area, the organisers have arranged three new stages to run in close proximity to Al-Ain on Friday. They follow the timed super special on Wednesday afternoon and no less than eight special stages in the deserts around Sweihan on Thursday.

This weekend's 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

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, Press Officer, ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally Media Centre, Al-Ain Hilton Hotel, 1st Floor, Tel: + 971 3 7686396, Fax: + 971 3 7686394, Mobile + 971 50 3616881 and e-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com.
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)
and
Atala Abousaleh, Arabic Press Officer, ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally Media Centre, Al Ain Hilton Hotel, 1st Floor, Tel: + 971 3 7686394, Fax: + 971 3 7686394, Mobile: + 971 50 6469853 and e-mail: wisam_mm@emirates.net.ae

Date issued: 31/01/2005

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