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MERC Al Qassimi takes commanding lead in Dubai Rally

2005 Dubai International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 8 of 8

For immediate release
Thursday, December 1st, 2005

UAE'S KHALID AL-QASSIMI TAKES
COMMANDING LEAD IN DUBAI RALLY

Qatar's Al-Attiyah's record dream ends with broken engine;
Lebanon's Saleh holds second place; Jordan's Bustami in third

DUBAI (UAE): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Nicky Beech held a convincing lead of 6m 33s over the second-placed Lebanese pairing of Michel Saleh and Ziad Chehab, after seven timed special stages of the Dubai International Rally, today (Thursday).

Last year's FIA Middle East Rally Champion is now firmly on course to become the only UAE driver to win the Dubai International Rally since 1991, other than Mohammed Ben Sulayem who took a staggering 15 outright wins in his career. Jordan's recently-crowned national champion Faris Bustami and his co-driver Imad Juma'a hold third overall in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7.

The event is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Department. Twenty-eight cars were flagged away from the official start on Thursday morning by Mohammed Juma Bin Bakhheit, President of the Organising Committee, and it was only minutes before two retirements rocked the event.

Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson were attempting to win all eight rounds of the series in the same year, after clinching the title in Syria in September. The Qatari started positively but, mid-way through the punishing Margham stage, sand found its way into the engine via the air filter and the car began to lose power. He posted a time of 17m 17s, 2m 27s behind stage winner Al-Qassimi, but the car was destined to go no further.

~I knew something was wrong straight away,~ said Nasser. ~There was a blockage in the air filter and we had no power. It got gradually worse. The engine was seriously damaged. There is no way that it can be repaired, so we will be unable to restart on Friday under the SupeRally rule.~

Al-Qassimi has a vice-like grip on the event after seven special stages. ~I decided to have a really good attack this morning,~ said Al-Qassimi. ~I knew that was a way to put pressure on Nasser. He would have seen my tracks on the corners. I thought that he would either set a fast time or break the car. My strategy worked.~

Al-Qassimi had sped into a 61-second advantage over Jordan's Amjad Farrah after the opening stage, with the UAE's Sadiq Fadhel and Jordan's Faris Bustami completing the top four. But the rate of attrition was to get far worse, as Al-Qassimi headed off into the distance and Farrah consolidated second place, despite getting lost for 50 seconds.

The hunt for the podium places became a battleground between a resurgent Bustami, Saleh and the Italian Domenico Caldarolo. But Farrah's dream of hanging on to a podium finish hung in the balance after he was forced out of the opening leg at the end of the fifth stage and Saleh and Bustami completed the leg in second and third overall, 27 seconds apart and setting up the prospect of a thrilling final day.

~I had been up there fighting for the podium when I saw Mufeed's (Mubarak) car coming at me from the side,~ said Saleh. ~It was quite scary. He had got lost, seen my dust and realised that I was on the correct track. I swerved to miss him and lost a little time and damaged the intercooler, but otherwise it is all okay. My new Mitsubishi is the best I can have at the moment, but it cannot cope with the Subarus.~

Bustami was in buoyant mood. ~My new car is fantastic,~ said the Jordanian. ~It is the first time that I have been able to push hard this season. I got lost on the fourth stage, which was really annoying, but I am up there in contention for the podium with nothing to lose.~

Caldarola held fourth place before suffering mechanical problems in the sixth stage, while the UAE's Yahya Al-Amri and Ron Oakeley hit late problems and handed fourth and fifth places to the Kuwaiti drivers Mishari Al-Thafiri and Mufeed Mubarak. Britain's Simon Nutter and David Scialom were an excellent sixth and eighth overall, sandwiching Farrah, who slipped down the leaderboard with increasing time penalties. Caldarolo holds 10th.

Hassan Al-Sadadi was Bahrain's sole representative on the event, but the Subaru driver broke the rear differential a mere two hundred metres into the first stage. He faced a race against time to repair the car to restart under SupeRally on Friday. Oil pressure problems sidelined Edith Weiss, a broken fuel pipe put Menelaos Melissas out of contention, engine failure put paid to Chris Cargill's chances and Jordan's Mazan Tantash also failed to complete the leg. A mere fourteen of the 28 starters completed the seven stages on leg one.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the second and final leg of the event, which consists of six timed special stages in the Hatta region of the Dubai emirate. After completing the competitive section, the surviving crews will reach the official podium finish at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel at 15.00 hrs.

This weekend's Dubai International Rally has further support from Emirates Petroleum Production Company (Tasjeel), the Rehab Rotana Hotel and Al-Jumeira Rotana Hotel, Gulf Commercial Group, Emirates Computers, Sky Electronics, AMD and GTS, the recovery and towing company.

Positions after SS7:
1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nicky Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 17m 21s
2. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 23m 54s
3. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Imad Juma'a (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 24m 21s
4. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 27m 40s
5. Meshari Al-Thafari (KWT)/Faris Al-Thafiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 28m 05s
6. Simon Nutter (GB)/Sean Kukula (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 29m 42s
7. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 29m 51s
8. David Scialom (GB)/Andy Tatham (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 5 1h 30m 26s
9. Ron Oakeley (UAE)/Jamie Turner (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 30m 28s
10. Domenico Caldarola (I)/Paolo Cecchini (I) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 31m 39s

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Media Centre, Salsabeel Room, Lower Ground Floor, Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, Dubai, UAE, Tel: + 971 50 6459647, Fax: + 971 4 7054182, Dubai mobile + (971 50) 3616881 and e-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com.
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

Atala Abousaleh, 2005 Dubai International Rally, Arabic Press Officer, Dubai mobile: + (971 50) 6469853, e-mail: wisam_mm@emirates.net.ae

www.dubairally.com

Date issued: 01/12/2005

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