MERC Al Attiyah takes commanding lead in Rally Oman 2006

Rally Oman 2006
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 8

For immediate release
Thursday, April 6th, 2006


UAE's Suhail bin Khalifa in second place; Georgiou Jnr. in superb sixth;
Misery for UAE's Al-Qassimi brothers; Oman's Soomar and Al-Abri out

MUSCAT (Oman): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson held the outright lead in Rally Oman 2006 after nine timed special stages of the opening leg in Muscat, today (Thursday). The defending regional champions will take a commanding 1m 30s advantage over the second-placed UAE crew of Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum and Wael Marjan into the final eight special stages on Friday.

The event is being organised by Intevents, under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism, with assistance from the Oman Automobile Association, Ministry of Sports Affairs, the Royal Oman Police, Ministry of Interior, the MOD and Muscat Municipality.

~I will stay on the same pace tomorrow,~ said a relaxed Al-Attiyah. ~The stages could be more difficult, so I wanted to put myself in a position to take less risks. I had a puncture today, but nothing too serious. It is a matter now of being patient.~

Twenty-one cars emerged unscathed from the dusty spectator stage on Wednesday evening and headed into two loops of four stages in the Hajar mountains on Thursday. Al-Attiyah was rapidly into a stage-winning pace and opened up a 35s lead over Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum in the 23.68 km Al-Hajir special. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi punctured a front left tyre six kilometres from the finish, while his brother Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi suffered terminal engine problems and was forced out of the event.

Khalid Al-Qassimi clawed four seconds back in the somewhat rougher Al-Amrat special, as Al-Attiyah extended his lead over Al-Maktoum to 48s. But Al-Qassimi incurred a 10s penalty when his mechanics were forced to repair a damaged suspension arm on his Pirelli-backed Subaru and he was late leaving the service point. Al-Qassimi was again fastest in SS5, when Al-Attiyah punctured and the defending champion took a 57s lead into the final four stages of the day.

~It was so frustrating,~ said Al-Qassimi. ~I was on a good pace and then I could sense the seconds I had gained slipping away. I knew it was going to be one of those luckless days.~

But the day became gradually worse for the 2004 champion. Fuel feed problems persisted in the Jifnain stage and the UAE driver lost 6m 12s to the leader and slipped to eighth overall, as Suhail bin Khalifa and Misfer Al-Marri shadowed Al-Attiyah. The fuel problems continued in the seventh stage, as Al-Attiyah beat Bin Khalifa by a mere two seconds to extend his lead to 1m 07s. Despite repairing the fuel pump at the afternoon service point, Al-Qassimi again trailed Al-Attiyah through the eighth special and headed into the overnight halt, a distant 9m 37s behind his arch rival and in a lowly 11th overall.

Suhail Bin Khalifa finished the day in a solid second position, despite losing a further 1m 18s to Al-Attiyah in the second Jifnain test. Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari was the leading local driver and up to a fine third place and Qatar's Khalifa Al-Attiyah clung on to fourth, despite a pair of flat tyres early on.

Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri was quickly adapting to life in his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9 and held third position before losing over two minutes in the eighth stage. He duly slipped to fifth and is now a mere 27s behind his Qatari team mate.

In the lower reaches of the top 10, Oman's Nicholi Georgiou was running strongly, the 23-year-old enjoying his first ever international rally in father Tony's Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. He was involved in a frenetic tussle with Austria's Andreas Wimmer and Britain's David Scialom for sixth place and held the position at the end of the day. The UAE's Yayha Al-Amri and Sadiq Fadhel and Kuwait's Mufeed Mubarak were not too far behind.

Lebanon's Michel Saleh lost considerable time during the day with turbo-related problems. Opening leg retirements included Oman's Ibrahim Salim Mohammed Al-Abri over a crash helmet technicality and local favourite Khalid Soomar with engine problems. Jordanian hope Mazan Tantash and Qatar's Mohammed Al-Mannai suffered mechanical failures on the second loop of stages.

The opening spectator stage on Wednesday evening had been stopped for safety reasons after four cars had taken to the track. The stage had been watered that afternoon, but the choking dust was worse than organisers had anticipated and the special was stopped. The Stewards deliberated about the situation and decided to give each driver a notional time of 3m 13s - the time that had been set by Lebanon's Michel Saleh during the second heat.

Friday's action centres around seven special stages in the Sawaqim, Arqi and Titti areas and reaches what promises to be a thrilling climax with a repeat run through the now heavily-watered Maidan Al-Fateh 'spectator' stage at 16.50 hrs. Shortly after the final three-kilometre loop test, the official podium celebrations and prize giving will take place adjacent to the parade ground.

The Sultanate of Oman's premier motorsport event has attracted major support from Bank Muscat, Gulf Air and Intercontinental Hotels. Further sponsorship comes from official communications partner Oman Mobile, leading energy drink producer Red Bull, Precision Tune Autocare, Automan magazine, Infocomm (the official WAP Provider) and Baabood Computers.

Positions after SS9 - end of leg 1 (unofficial @ 18.00 hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 10m 21s
2. Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE)/Wael Marjan (UAE) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 11m 51s
3. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/George Alcetrias (CY) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 14m 58s
4. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Rashid Al-Sulaiti (QA) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 15h 45s
5. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9 1h 16m 12s
6. Nicholi Georgiou (OM)/Njeim Nabil (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 18m 17s
7. Andreas Wimmer (AUT)/Michael Kolbach (D) Subaru Impreza 1h 18m 31s
8. David Scialom (GB)/Andy Tatham (GB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 5 1h 18m 50s
9. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 19m 21s
10. Yayha Al-Amri (UAE)/Craig Parry (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 19m 28s
11. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 19m 58s
12. Sadiq Fadhel (UAE)/ Yazan Rijleh (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 1h 20m 04s


For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2006 Rally Oman Press Officer, Media Centre, Maidan Al Fateh, Wattayah, Muscat. Tel: + (968) 2456 8039, Fax: + (968) 2456 8093, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153 or Dubai Mobile: + 971 50 361 6881, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

Date issued: 06/04/2006

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