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MERC Al Qassimi heads for Bahrain showdown with Al Attiyah

2005 Bahrain International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 2 of 9

For immediate release
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

UAE's KHALID AL-QASSIMI HEADS FOR BAHRAIN
RALLY SHOWDOWN WITH QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH

Oman's Shanfari returns to regional series;
Saudi's Sabban and Jordan's Farrah all set

SAKHIR (Bahrain): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will rejoin a battle with his main rival Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in this weekend's Bahrain International Rally, which is based at the Bahrain International Circuit and takes place on Thursday and Friday. The event is the second of nine rounds of the 2005 FIA Middle East Rally Championship and has attracted many of the region's finest rally drivers.

Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr won last year's regional championship by nine clear points at the wheel of their Power Horse-sponsored Subaru Impreza WRX STi, but head into the weekend's action over twisty and technical gravel stages in Bahrain, two points behind Qatar's Al-Attiyah and co-driver Chris Patterson. Al-Attiyah won the opening round of the series in Al-Ain and is confident that he can continue his winning streak, which also saw him take victories in Cyprus and Dubai at the end of last season.

~It will not be easy to win the event for a second successive season,~ admitted Al-Qassimi, who clinched his first ever outright regional triumph on Bahraini soil last March. ~Nasser is sure to be fired up and ready to attack, but this is a championship of nine rallies and I proved last year that I had the pace and consistency to win the championship. I like the stages here in Bahrain. They are shorter and more technical than traditional desert stages, but it is easy to make a mistake and I will not be taking any risks.~ Co-driver Orr is also looking forward to the challenge. ~I enjoyed Bahrain last year, but of course winning the rally might have had something to do with that.~

While Al-Qassimi and Al-Attiyah start as favourites to take the outright win, the event also marks the dramatic return to competition of Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7. The former regional Group N champion missed the opening round of the series in Al-Ain earlier this month, but has finalised a programme of eight rallies, as he bids to challenge the leading duo for the overall title.

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi has endured a miserable run of luck in recent months and the multiple regional Group N champion begins this weekend's event in Bahrain already 10 points adrift of Al-Attiyah, following a sudden and dramatic engine failure in Al-Ain. He will be hoping for better fortune this weekend.

Dubai-based Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum will also be looking to get his championship campaign off to a winning start, as he lines up at the start with a new Power Horse-backed Subaru Impreza WRX STi, entered by the SBK Group.

Jordan's Amjad Farrah was forced to miss the opening round because of a family bereavement, but last year's Jordan Rally winner returns to special stage action, alongside fellow Jordanian Faris Bustami, who was robbed of a useful result in Al-Ain by late mechanical problems.

Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban enjoyed his best season in 2004, since he burst on to the regional scene in 1993. He wheels out his usual Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution to compete against a quality field, which also includes a pair of Bahraini drivers.

Bahraini Hassan Al-Sadadi made a good start to the season with a points-scoring finish in Al-Ain and his new Subaru Impreza is joined on the entry list by the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution of Abdulrahman Ghuloom. Qatar will also be represented by Khalifa Al-Attiyah, while the UAE's Ron Oakeley and Sadiq Fadhel and Lebanon's Michel Saleh bolster the entry.

This year's the Bahrain International Rally is based at the Bahrain International race circuit for the first time in Sakhir and the start and finish of the event will take place at the venue which will host its second Formula One race in April. The two days of competitive action will take place over repeats of eight timed special stages at the BIC venue and at Zayed Town, Awali, Riffa and near the Tree of Life landmark.

Ends

2005 FIA Middle East Drivers' Championship
Positions after round 1 of 9:

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10 pts
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 8 pts
3. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA) 6 pts
4. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) 5 pts
5. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 4 pts
6. Hassan Al-Sadadi (BAH) 3 pts
7. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 2 pts
8. Asem Aref (HKJ) 1 pt

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, 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: 22/02/2005

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