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MERC Al Attiyah holds comfortable lead in UAE International Rally

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

For immediate release
Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

QATAR'S NASSER AL-ATTIYAH HOLDS
COMFORTABLE LEAD IN UAE RALLY

UAE's defending champion Khalid Al-Qassimi in second place;
Disappointment for Saleh, Tsouloftas and Abdullah Al-Qassimi

AL-AIN (UAE): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson led the ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally after nine timed special stages in the Sweihan region of the Abu Dhabi emirate today (Thursday). The event is being run under the patronage of His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Minister of Interior, and finishes on Friday afternoon in Al-Ain.

Al-Attiyah had begun the day's eight special stages in the deserts around Sweihan a mere two seconds ahead of the defending FIA Middle East rally champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX, with the UAE's Rashid Al-Ketbi in third position in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8.

Over the opening dusty desert stages a furious battle waged between the leading Subarus and Mitsubishis, but the Qatari was in inspired form and opened up a commanding lead over the first two stages to hold a 48-second advantage over Al-Qassimi after SS3. He extended that lead over Al-Qassimi to 2m 05s at the end of the day. ~I pushed this morning to get a small lead,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~We had no problems with the car, but maybe it is time to take it a little more cautiously now.~

Al-Qassimi was content to settle for second position: ~I wanted to find a pace which kept me in the hunt without taking risks. This is a championship of nine long and difficult rallies and the person who goes out with all guns blazing is not necessarily going to be the winner. The plan is to collect points and make sure we reach the finish. We hit a bump on the fifth stage and we catapulted into the air. We landed on a rock and I was a bit worried because I heard a noise under the car. I thought it was damaged. I have been taking it easy - no risks, just a fast competitive pace which I hope will take me to the finish.~

Dubai's Rashid Al-Ketbi was driving in a mature and responsible manner to hold third place. ~Last year I was on the same pace as Nasser and was leading,~ said Al-Ketbi. ~This year I decided that pace was too risky and I decided to drive at only 50% of my ability, because I want to reach the finish and score some points.~ Al-Ketbi lost some time with a transmission oil leak.

Qatar's Khalifa Al-Attiyah held fourth position in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7, Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban was fifth, ahead of the UAE's Sadiq Fadhel, Jordan's Faris Bustami, Bahrain's Hassan A-Sadadi who was delayed near the end, Kuwaiti youngster Mashari Al-Dafari and Britain's David Scialom. Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri lost a top three position with mechanical problems in the seventh stage and slipped down the leaderboard.

Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas was tackling his first UAE Rally for three years, as he bids to win the series for the first time. But the Cypriot rolled his Mitsubishi in the fifth stage and was joined by Lebanon's Michel Saleh on the list of retirements. Saleh suffered engine problems.

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi had been confident of a top finish in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 after a successful test session before the rally, but the multiple regional Group N champion succumbed to engine problems in the second stage.

~I don't know when my luck is going to change,~ said Sheikh Abdullah. ~The engine just went bang in SS2 with no warning. We hoped to fix it and then ask the organisers if we could run as a course opening car on Friday so that I can get some more experience before the next rally. We have no points here and it will be difficult to come back from this position.~

The first retirement was Kuwait's Meshal Al-Nejadi. His Citroen Saxo suffered engine problems in the opening stage and he was forced to retire on Friday morning. The remaining two 1600 entrants were forced to retire in Sweihan. Kuwait's Essam Al-Nejadi snapped a driveshaft in his Proton in soft sand on the second special stage and fellow Kuwaiti Shakar Al-Raeis sustained engine problems in the second Citroen Saxo. Qatar's Nada Zaidan was also a first day retirement, although Jordan's Nancy Al-Majali was running at the back of the field.

A record number of regional media have covered this year's event, with no less than eight television networks sending film crews to report on the action from the opening round of the FIA Middle East series.

Friday's competitive action will take place over three brand new special stages near Al-Ain. They will be repeated twice, before the finish takes place in the grounds of the Al-Ain Hilton Hotel at 16.00 hrs.

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.

UAE International Rally - Positions after SS9 (unofficial top 9):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 32m 49s
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Michael Orr (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 34m 54s
3. Rashid Al-Kebti (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 39m 13s
4. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Rashid Al-Sulaiti (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 39m 39s
5. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 41m 29s
6. Sadiq Fadhel (UAE)/Imad Nabhan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 43m 57s
7. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Emad Juma (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 44m 27s
8. Hassan Al-Sadadi (BAH)/Keith Wake (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 45m 38s
9. Mashar Al-Dafari (KWT)/Ibrahim Al-Busmait (BAH) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 45m 58s

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

www.atcuae.org

Date issued: 03/02/2005

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