MERC Former Group N champion Abdullah Al Qassimi aims to win 2005 title

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

For immediate release
Tuesday, February 1st, 2005


Family illness forces Jordan's Farrah to withdraw from UAE Rally;
Jordan's Al-Mejali enters UAE event with co-driver Shnoudeh; 21-year-old Kuwaiti on track

AL-AIN (UAE): Four-times FIA Middle East Group N Rally Champion Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi kick-starts his campaign to win the overall title for the first time, when he and co-driver Steve Lancaster tackle the ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally, being held under the patronage of His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Minister of Interior, this weekend.

Al-Qassimi was one of the most consistent performers in the Middle East championship for a number of years, but only tackled select rounds of the series last year after making a disappointing start to his challenge for a first outright title. He fell behind his front-running brother Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru and Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and reached the decision to miss the mid-season rounds of the championship, hence spoiling his title aspirations.

But Abdullah bounced back with second position in Syria last September and reckons that his level of consistent performances will stand him in good stead this season in a new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Navigator Lancaster won the FIA regional co-drivers' championship in 2003 with Al-Attiyah and enjoys competing in the region.

~I know that I have the pace and the consistency to win the championship,~ said Sheikh Abdullah. ~Last year I suffered some bad luck and lost my chance early on. I won this event outright a couple of years ago. The stages this year are different, but it would be nice to make a winning start to the year.~

The UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi is one of the quickest drivers in the Middle East and set several fastest times last year. He has been unable to turn an obvious talent into points-scoring finishes thus far, but reckons that he can win the UAE International Rally outright at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Khaled Al-Kendi will co-drive.

Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh, meanwhile, has been fighting against the clock to ensure that he makes the start on Wednesday. He dislocated a shoulder in a freak quad biking accident in Dubai and travelled to Lebanon to receive medical attention. Missing the event would be a major set-back for Michel, who starts as one of the favourites to take a podium finish on Friday.

Kuwait's Mashari Al-Dafari is the youngest competitor in the rally and is the current leader of the Kuwaiti National Championship. The 21-year-old Mitsubishi driver teams up with Bahrain's Ibrahim Al-Busmait for only his third event outside his native Kuwait. Mashari finished 11th overall in the 2004 Syrian Rally and was seventh in Dubai in December. He is planning to tackle all rounds of the championship. ~I am looking forward to the weekend,~ said Al-Dafari. ~I have been driving well in Kuwait and hope that I can continue this form in the UAE.~

There was disappointment for Jordan's brightest hope Amjad Farrah, the winner of last year's Jordan International Rally. He had been hoping to kick-start his 2005 championship campaign in the UAE with co-driver Khaled Zakaria, but was forced to return to Amman after his father was taken seriously ill before the start of the official two-day recce period.

This has handed the responsibility of the leading Jordanian entrant to the former national champion Faris Bustami in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6. Faris has been a regular competitor in the championship for several seasons and teams up with co-driver Emad Juma this weekend.

His friend and team mate Asem Aref drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6, while Nancy Al-Majali is a late entrant in her Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 and will be the second female to take part in the UAE International Rally. She renews her partnership with co-driver Nadia Shnoudeh, who tackled several events last season with Qatar's Nada Zaidan. Zaidan will be partnered by Jordan's Tala Al-Shawa in Al-Ain.

On Monday and Tuesday, all competitors were permitted to carry out a full recce of the route for this weekend's event, which 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 and Nissan Motors.

Competitive action gets underway with a timed super special stage in Al-Ain at 16.00 hrs on Wednesday afternoon. Leading competitors and officials will attend the official FIA pre-event press conference at the Al-Ain Hilton Hotel at 13.00 hrs on Wednesday afternoon.


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)
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: 01/02/2005

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