MERC Khalid Al Qassimi begins defence of FIA Middle East title in Al Ain

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

For immediate release
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005


Qatar's Al-Attiyah determined to win back Middle East title;
Strong entry from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain;
UAE Rally gets underway with Al-Ain super special stage

AL-AIN (UAE): Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi begins the defence of his FIA Middle East Rally Championship, when he tackles 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.

At the wheel of his Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Al-Qassimi and his Ulster co-driver Michael Orr begin the three-day, Al Ain-based event as top seeds, although the 2003 champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has been in splendid form recently and is determined to win back the title he lost to Al-Qassimi in Dubai last December.

~It has been an exciting few weeks since I won the title in Dubai,~ said Al-Qassimi. ~But now the time has come to settle down and concentrate on the defence of the title. Nasser will be the main man to watch this weekend, but the entry has strength in depth and I will use my own game plan to make sure that we reach the finish and put some points on the board.~

Al-Attiyah won the Qatar Baja and Dubai rallies at the end of last season, but is still nursing a neck injury sustained in an accident in the Dakar Rally last month. He and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson again turn out in an Autotek Motorsport Subaru Impreza, in what promises to be another hectic season of Middle East and PWRC events for the Qatari team.

Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas won the Syria Rally two years ago and finished third in last year's championship after retiring from his home event in Cyprus. ~This year I hope to take part in all nine rallies,~ said Andreas. ~The stages here this weekend are quite nice. I am looking forward to the season ahead.~

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi won the regional Group N title on four occasions, but could never beat Dubai's Mohammed Ben Sulayem to the overall title. He and British co-driver Steve Lancaster reckon that this could be their year and Abdullah is determined to start the season with a podium finish and championship points on the board.

Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban enjoyed his most successful season to date in 2004 after bursting on to the regional rally scene in 1993. He finished fourth in last year's championship, but reckons that consistency could move him up to the top three this year. He will be co-driven by the young Irishman Killian Duffy.

Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi plans a full assault at as many rounds of the series as his budget permits and he lines up at the start of the 15 gravel special stages, alongside Jordan's Faris Bustami, Lebanon's Michel Saleh and the talented UAE driver Rashid Al-Ketbi.

There are an encouraging number of privateer drivers on the 28-strong entry list, including Britain's David Scialom, the UAE's Ron Oakeley, Mike Ziegler, Sadiq Fadhel and Chris Cargill, Kuwait's Mufeed Mubarak and Mashari Al-Dafari, Jordan's Asem Aref and the female duo of Qatar's Nada Zaidan and Jordan's Nancy Al-Majali in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions.

Four entrants will take part in the two-wheel drive category, with Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi being challenged by his brother Essam, fellow Kuwaiti Shaker Al-Raeis in a Citroen Saxo and the UAE's Roger Thomas in a Peugeot.

While Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi and Nizar Al-Shanfari are rumoured to be beginning their championship challenge on the next round of the series in Bahrain, Jordan's Amjad Farrah was forced to withdraw from the UAE Rally at the start of the week because of a serious family illness.

The weekend's activities get underway with the traditional podium start at the Hilton Hotel in Al-Ain at 15.30 hrs today (Wednesday) before teams tackle a four-kilometre super special stage near the garden city of Al-Ain. Cars were flagged away from the start on Wednesday afternoon by His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoun Al-Nahyan.

Based in Al-Ain for the first time, Thursday's opening desert leg of eight special stages is centred around the Al-Ashush, Farms and Al-Mishab areas of the Abu Dhabi emirate, with servicing in the town of Sweihan. The organisers have introduced three brand new special stages in Al-Ain, near the renowned Jebel Hafeet hillclimb area, for Friday's final leg. All three will be repeated twice, before the podium finish takes place at the Al-Ain Hilton Hotel at 16.00 hrs on Friday afternoon.

The ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally 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, Coca-Cola and Quwat Jabal.

~We are delighted to support the UAE International Rally again this year,~ said Ibrahim Al-Marzouki of ADNOC Distribution. ~It has become the traditional opening round of the regional championship and, once again, there is a first class entry of international teams on the event.~

UAE International Rally - Top 10 starters
1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
6. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
9. Hassan Al-Sadadi (BAH)/Keith Wake (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
10. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Emad Juma (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6
11. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adil Abdullah (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6
12. Rashid Al-Kebti (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8


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: 02/02/2005

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