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MERC Al Attiyah on course for second FIA Middle East rally title in Syria

Syrian International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 6 of 8

For immediate release
Thursday, September 1st, 2005

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH ON TRACK TO
CLINCH REGIONAL TITLE IN SYRIA

UAE's Al-Qassimi brothers in contention for podium finishes;
Spirited run by Syria's Al-Yousifi; Disappointment for Feghali

SEDNAYA (Syria): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah remains firmly on course to enter the history books by becoming the first Arab driver ever to win two FIA rally titles in the same year. The Qatari completed the first eight special stages of the opening leg of the Syrian International Rally, 45 seconds ahead of second-placed Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi as he bids to clinch a second FIA Middle East Rally Championship title in three years.

But that will only be part one of his unique challenge completed, as Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson are also in strong contention to win this year's prestigious FIA Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) with a mere three events remaining in Wales, Japan and Australia.

The first Arab driver to win a non-Middle Eastern FIA international rally series was Dubai's Khalifa Al-Mutawei, who clinched the 2004 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup Drivers' Championship in Argentina last November.

~It was not a day to take risks,~ said Al-Attiyah, who had been a mere 14 seconds ahead of defending champion Khaled Al-Qassimi after five timed sections, but extended his advantage in the sixth and seventh stages.

~The tracks were rough, twisty and quite technical and the priority was to avoid a puncture and risk damaging the car,~ added the Qatari. ~Khaled drove well through the opening stages. I was sure I had something in reserve. I pushed a little harder this afternoon, but winning the championship has to be my priority.~

Behind Al-Qassimi, who tied with Al-Attiyah through the 29 kms Super Areeba stage this morning and beat him by a second in Maaloula despite a minor driveshaft problem, his brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi was running well in third overall in the leading Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8, 4m 49s behind the flying Al-Attiyah.

~I have been much happier with the Mitsubishi this week,~ said the multiple former Group N regional champion. ~My team in the UAE has worked hard on the engine and the transmission, but we still need to set the differentials to suit this terrain. I felt as though the car was trying to step out of line in tight corners and my shoulders have been aching all day as a result.~

One of the drives of the day came from Syria's Haitham Al-Yousifi and his Qatari co-driver Adel Hussein in their Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Despite confusion over his early stage times, the Syrian was on a competitive pace and running ahead of Syrian Rally Team members Mirar Al-Houmsi and Amir Arnaout. He was up to third position overall after the sixth stage, but slipped nine seconds behind Abdullah Al-Qassimi in the seventh Deir Atiyeh test and held fourth after SS8.

~There has been a little more pressure on me to do well on my home event,~ admitted Al-Yousifi. ~But I am pleased with the way I have started this rally.~ Jordan's Amjad Farrah held fifth position in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 and the Syrian driver Mirar Al-Houmsi was sixth. The UAE's Sadiq Fadhel, Jordan's Faris Bustami, Kuwait's Meshari Al-Dafari and Syria's Amir Arnaout completed the top 10, once Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi hit trouble in the seventh stage and slipped out of eighth place.

There was disappointment for Lebanon's Abdo Feghali and co-driver Jospeh Mattar, who had been second fastest through Wednesday's timed 'super special' in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Feghali was sidelined with mechanical problems during the first loop of four stages, where he joined the luckless Kuwaiti Shaker Al-Raies, the Citroen Saxo driver forced out with a broken gearbox on the first desert stage this morning.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the final leg of the Syrian International Rally with eight timed special stages bringing crews to the finish at the Sheraton Ma'aret Saydnaya on Friday afternoon. Additional support for the sixth round of the regional series comes from Areeba, Almadina FM and Hamsho International.

Positions after SS7 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 13m 51s
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nicky Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 14m 35s
3. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 18m 23s
4, Haitham Al-Yousifi (SYR)/Adel Hussein (QA) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 18m 32s
5. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 19m 17s
6. Mirar Al-Houmsi (SYR)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 21m 36s
7. Sadiq Fadhel (UAE)/Yazan Rizla (SYR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 25m 32s
8. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Imad Juma'a (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 27m 33s
9. Meshari Al-Dafari (KWT)/Faris Al-Dafari (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 31m 33s
10. Amir Arnaout (SYR)/Youssif Al-Asmar (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 31m 51s

Ends

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Neil Perkins, English Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, NCH Building, Upper Bar, Newport, Shropshire, TF10 7EH, United Kingdom, Tel: + 44 1952 825078, Fax: + 44 1952 825001, Mobile + 44 7831 121353, E-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases) www.syrianrally.com

Date issued: 01/09/2005

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