MERC Al Attiyah wins thrilling UAE International Rally

2006 ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1 of 8

For immediate release
Friday, January 27th, 2006


Final stage agony for second-placed Khalid Al-Qassimi;
Third place for UAE's Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum

AL AIN (UAE): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson won a thrilling ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally, the opening round of the 2006 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, held under the patronage of His Highness Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Minister of Interior, which finished on Friday afternoon.

After 13 timed desert special stages in the Sweihan and Al-Ain areas of the Abu Dhabi emirate, Al-Attiyah emerged victorious by a tiny margin of seven seconds in a nailbiting finish, with the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and co-driver Nick Beech losing their overnight lead on the final corners of the last gravel stage of the event.

~Fantastic,~ said a jubilant Al-Attiyah. ~I must credit Khalid on making this an amazing rally. It was very exciting. I thought that I could do it, but it was very close and I needed to pull out all the reserves to push hard on the last stage.~

Al-Qassimi began the day with a 53-second lead over the defending champion, but Al-Attiyah whittled the advantage down to 48s after SS8 and to an ominous 31s after the 26 kms Dam stage. At the service point in Al-Ain, after the 10th special stage, the margin was a mere 22s and there was a genuine cause for concern in Al-Qassimi's service area after a thrilling morning's competition.

His team mechanics made minor suspension adjustments at the service point and, over the closing loop of three stages, the drama intensified. Al-Attiyah shaved two seconds off his morning's time and reduced Al-Qassimi's advantage to 18s ahead of the final run through the Dam stage. Al-Qassimi upped his pace and Al-Attiyah arrived at the start of the final stage 10s behind his rival.

It was a gripping finale to the opening round of the series. The 12.87 kms of the 13th Border stage settled the contest in Al-Attiyah's favour on the closest finale to a Middle East rally in many years. The Qatari set a sensation time of 6m 55s, beating his morning's run of 7m 12s to beat his Pirelli-backed UAE rival by a mere seven seconds.

~I had no option but to push hard today,~ said a distraught Al-Qassimi. ~But I also had to make sure that I made no mistakes. It was very exciting. I cannot remember a rally where I felt so focused and so determined. It was a great battle and this is fantastic for the rest of the championship.~

~I think that was probably the best performance that Khalid has driven in his career so far,~ said an impressed Mohammed Ben Sulayem, Chairman of the Automobile Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates, at the official finish at the Hilton Hotel in Al-Ain. ~It was a great way for us to kick-off the first round of the championship here in the UAE. I remember many close finishes during my time in the championship and it was fascinating to see this battle unfold today.~

The UAE's Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum and Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi played a bit part in the overall action on the second leg, but finished in solid third and fourth places overall to get their championship campaigns off to useful starts.

Jordanians Amjad Farrah and Khaled Zakaria became embroiled in a gripping tussle with Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri and Adel Hussein for much of the afternoon, with seconds separating the Mitsubishi duo over the closing leg. The difference was a mere five seconds after the 10th stage and Farrah moved a further three clear in SS11. But Al-Marri hit back on the closing two stages to move into fifth place, beating his troubled rival by 20s.

Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban finished seventh overall in his Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Kuwait's Mufeed Mubarak was eighth, while the UAE's Sadiq Fadhel and Britain's Simon Nutter completed the top 10, the latter edging out his friend Ron Oakeley on the closing stages.

Twenty of the original 27 starters began the final six stages on Friday, but there were several retirements among the SupeRally runners. Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al-Marri and the UAE's Yayha Al-Amri were both forced out of the running.

Additional support for the 2006 ADNOC Distribution UAE International Rally came from Finance House, the Abu Dhabi Travel Bureau, Sky Electronic Line, AMD for computers, Gulf Commercial Group for photocopiers, Emirates Computers for Nokia telephones and GTS Towing Services.

Positions after SS13 - end of leg 2 (unofficial @ 15.15 hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 18m 46s
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 18m 53s
3. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 23m 08s
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 25m 54s
5. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9 2h 27m 06s
6. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2h 27m 26s
7. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 28m 14s
8. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 2h 31m 31s
9. Sadiq Fadhel (UAE)/Imad Nabhan (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 2h 32m 57s
10. Simon Nutter (GB)/Sean Kukula (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 41m 10s
11. Ron Oakeley (UAE)/Jamie Turner (UAE) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2h 41m 31s

FIA Middle East Drivers' Championship
positions after round 1 of 8:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)10 pts
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 8 pts
3. Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE) 6 pts
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 5 pts
5. Misfer Al-Marri(QA) 4 pts
6. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 3 pts
7. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA) 2 pts
8. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 1 pt

FIA Middle East Co-Drivers' Championship
positions after round 1 of 8:
1. Chris Patterson (GB) 10 pts
2. Nick Beech (GB) 8 pts
3. Wael Marjan (UAE) 6 pts
4. Steve Lancaster (GB) 5 pts
5. Adel Hussein (QA) 4 pts
6. Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) 3 pts
7. Killian Duffy (IRL) 2 pts
8. Saad Al-Melaifi (KWT) 1 pt

1. Subaru 10 pts
2. Mitsubishi 8 pts


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, UAE International Rally Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Media Centre, Hilton Hotel, Al-Ain, UAE, Tel: + 971 3 7686396, Fax: + 971 3 7686323 and UAE mobile + 971 (050) 3616881 and e-mail: ndppublicity@compuserve.com.
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)
Atala Abusaleh, UAE International Rally, Arabic Press Officer, Mobile: + 971 50 6469853, e-mail: wisam_mm@emirates.net.ae

Date issued: 27/01/2006

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