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Syrian challenge awaits leading Middle East runners

Syria International Rally
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 4 of 6

For immediate release
Sunday, August 31st, 2003

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH BIDS TO EXTEND
CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD IN SYRIA RALLY

Al-Qassimi favourite in Group N; Bakhashab misses event

DAMASCUS (Syria): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah will be bidding to extend his three-point lead in the FIA Middle East rally championship, when he tackles the two-day Syria International Rally, the fourth round of this year's six-event series, which starts in Damascus on Thursday, September 11th.

Al-Attiyah and British co-driver Steve Lancaster moved ahead of the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi in the points standings by winning July's Jordan International Rally. The Qatari again wheels out a powerful Subaru Impreza WRC, while Al-Qassimi perseveres with his Group N championship-leading Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

~It is possible to win the overall championship in a Group N car,~ said Al-Qassimi. ~I will keep pressing on and we will see what happens. The Group N title is the priority, but rallying always throws up a few surprises.~ Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari was the last driver to win a round of the Middle East regional series in a Group N car in Qatar in 1999.

Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab, the 1995 Middle East Rally Champion, has admitted that he cannot win this year's regional championship and will not take part in the Syria Rally.

Bakhashab and co-driver Bobby Willis began the year as favourites to win the series in their Grifone Peugeot 206 WRC, but the Saudi driver has failed to finish any of the opening three rallies in Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan and stood only a mathematical chance of taking his second regional title.

The third candidate for championship success is Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas, who finished second overall in Jordan at the wheel of a Group A Mitsubishi and has vowed to tackle the remaining three rounds of the series in Syria, Cyprus and Dubai. He lies 12 points behind Al-Attiyah, but enjoys competing in Syria and has promised to drive flat out from the start.

~Second place in Jordan was the best I could have expected,~ said Tsouloftas. ~Now I must hope for a similar result or better in Syria and then go on to win my home rally in Cyprus. That would make the final event in Dubai very interesting.~

Standing in their way are a strong entry of the region's top drivers, including the UAE's Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi, Kuwait's Mohammed Al-Sarraf, Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban and Farouk Ghurab and the Qatari quartet of Abdullah Al-Kuwari, Hamed Al-Sowaidi, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Misfer Al-Marri.

A strong Syrian contingent will be led by newcomers Mohammed Hamsho and Ahmad Hamsho in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancers, Bashar Abu Quora (Mitsubishi) and Ramez Al-Farra in his venerable Seat Ibiza.

~We are delighted to welcome our international competitors to Syria again this year,~ said Ammar Marouf Amourshed of Syroco, the organising committee. ~We have laid on an excellent route and introduced a couple of new stages between Damascus and the overnight halt in Palmyra.~

The Syria Rally ran for the first time in 2000 and entered the FIA Middle East rally championship in 2001. Fourteen-times regional champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem won the first three Syria rallies in a trio of Ford Focus rally cars, but is not taking part this year.

The all-desert event is based in Damascus and follows a trail of special stages on either side of the major highway link road between Iraq and Syria. The overnight halt will again be based at the Roman city of Palmyra, with service each day taking place at the renowned Baghdad Café on the desert highway.

2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship:
Overall drivers' positions after round 3 of 6
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 20
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 17
3. Roger Feghali (RL) 10
4. Abdo Feghali (RL) and Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 8, etc

Group N positions after round 3 of 6
1. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 20
2. Hamad Al-Sowaidi (QA) 12
3. Justin Dale (GB) 10
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) and Elan (RL) 8
6. Craig Johnson (GB), Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE) and Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 6, etc

FIA Super 1600 Cup
1. Ziad Karanouh (RL) 16
2. Ramez Al-Farra (SYR), Asem Aref (HKJ) and Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) 10
5. Lu'ay Abu Kaff (RL) 6

Manufacturers
1. Subaru 30
2. Mitsubishi 13
3. Ford and Toyota 8
5. Lancia 6

Ends

For further media information: Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, (Tel: + 44 1952 825078 and Fax: + 44 1952 825001), E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com

Date issued: 31/08/2003

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