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MERC Rally Oman 2005 gets underway in Muscat on Wednesday

Rally Oman 2005
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 9

For immediate release
Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

RALLY OMAN GETS UNDERWAY
IN MUSCAT ON WEDNESDAY

Oman's Al-Wahaibi faces fierce challenge
from Qatar's Al-Attiyah and UAE's Al-Qassimi

MUSCAT (Oman): Rally Oman 2005 gets underway from the Jawharat Al-Shatti complex, near Muscat, on Wednesday afternoon and kick-starts the Sultanate of Oman's counting round towards the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, being held under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism, with support from the Oman Automobile Association and Intevents.

The three-day, all-gravel rally will be fought out over 14 timed special stages in the scenic Hajar mountains over a route of 740.91 kms and has attracted the Middle East's finest rally drivers. The event was reinstated in the regional series in 2004 after a five-year absence and is renowned for having some of the finest special stages anywhere in the world.

The pre-event favourite is Oman's Hamed Al-Wahaibi, a non-championship contender who is using his home event as a vital shakedown test with new co-driver David Senior and his new Subaru Impreza WRX STI before the start of the 2005 Production World Rally Championship.

~Obviously the plan is to go out and try and win this race,~ said Hamed. ~I will not have the latest specification car for this race, but I am looking forward to taking on Nasser (Al-Attiyah) and Khalid (Al-Qassimi) again and am sure that I have the speed to win my home rally.~

He faces fierce resistance from Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster's Chris Patterson and the defending champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in his Power Horse-supported Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Al-Qassimi will be partnered by young Welshman Craig Parry for the first time, as usual co-driver Michael Orr has WRC commitments in Mexico.

~Nasser won the first two rallies, but I showed in Bahrain that I can drive on the same pace as him,~ said a determined Al-Qassimi. ~I had a transmission problem for three stages and this potentially cost me the win. Michael could not make this rally, but Craig comes highly-recommended and I am sure that we will work well together.~

While this trio are expected to be the pace-setters in Rally Oman 2005, Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari is keen to make up for the disappointment of retiring prematurely from the Bahrain International Rally at the end of February. The former Group N regional champion is determined to put himself among the championship contenders this season, but arrives at the start in Muscat in a similar position to Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi.

Neither driver has scored a single point in this year's series and Al-Qassimi has suffered two cruel mechanical failures, as he bids to stop a run of cruel luck in the regional series. Jordan's Amjad Farrah was forced to miss the opening round in Al-Ain and was also a non-finisher in Bahrain. All three drivers know the importance of a points-scoring finish in Oman.

The UAE's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum finished third overall in Oman last year and took a similar position in Bahrain last month. He now has six points under his belt, as he bids to close in on Al-Attiyah's championship-leading car.

Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri has quietly leapt into contention for this year's championship in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. He has taken nine points from the opening two rallies and holds third place in the drivers' points standings, three points ahead of Qatar team mate Khalifa Al-Attiyah. He clinched the final podium position in Al-Ain, but rolled out of the Bahrain Rally on the very first stage.

Driveshaft problems ruined Ahmed Al-Sabban's progress in Bahrain and the Saudi driver arrives in Oman 15 points adrift of Al-Attiyah's Subaru. The UAE's Rashid Al-Kebti collected his first points in Bahrain and will be keen to build upon the form he showed on the opening two rounds, while the Kuwaiti trio of Mufeed Mubarak, Mashari Al-Daffari and Super 1600n leader Meshal Al-Nejadi have all begun the season in spirited fashion.

Hassan Al-Sadadi is the sole championship entrant from Bahrain and achieved an excellent finish in Al-Ain, only to fall foul of mechanical problems on his home event. He lines up in a strong international field, which also includes the likes of Oman's Khalid Soomar and Tony Georgiou, the UAE's Ron Oakeley, Kenya's Don Smith and Britain's David Scialom. Other Omani entrants include Ibrahim Al-Abri, Ahmed Al-Obaidani and Khalid Al-Minji.

Rally Oman 2005 is based at the Muscat Intercontinental Hotel and finishes in Muscat on Friday afternoon.

FIA Middle East Drivers' Championship
positions after round 2 of 9:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 20 pts
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 16 pts
3. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 9 pts
4. Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE) 6 pts
4. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA) 6 pts
6. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) 5 pts
7. Rashid Al-Ketbi (UAE) 4 pts
7. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 4 pts
9. Hassan Al-Sadadi (BAH) 3 pts
9. Mashari Al-Daffari (KWT) 3 pts
11. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) 1 pt
11. Asem Aref (HKJ) 1 pt

FIA Middle East Co-Drivers' Championship
positions after round 2 of 9:
1. Chris Patterson (GB) 20 pts
2. Michael Orr (GB) 16 pts
3. Adel Hussein (QA) 9 pts
4. Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) 6 pts
4. Rashid Al-Sulaiti (QA) 6 pts
6. Killian Duffy (IRL) 5 pts
7. Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) 4 pts
7. Saad Al-Melaifa (KWT) 4 pts
9. Keith Wake (GB) 3 pts
9. Abdullah Al-Hajer (RL) 3 pts
11. Jassim Jamal (KWT) 1pt
11. Burhan Abu Qura (HKJ) 1 pt

Super 1600
1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KWT) 10 pts
2. Shaker Al-Raei (KWT) 8 pts

Manufacturers
1. Subaru 20 pts
2. Mitsubishi 16 pts

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, Rally Oman 2005 Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com , www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.omanrally.com

Date issued: 15/03/2005

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