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MERC Rally Oman 2007 gets underway on Wednesday afternoon in Muscat

Rally Oman 2007
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 2 of 7

For immediate release
Monday, March 12th, 2007

RALLY OMAN 2007 GETS UNDERWAY
ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON IN MUSCAT

• Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah set for showdown with UAE’s Al-Qassimi brothers
• Bumper MERC entry set to tackle 14 special stages between Muscat and Quriyat
• Soomar, Farrah and Mubarak head Omani, Jordanian and Kuwaiti entrants

MUSCAT (Oman): The two-day Rally Oman 2007, round two of the 2007 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, gets underway from the Intercontinental Hotel in Muscat at 16.00hrs on Wednesday afternoon and finishes at 16.00hrs on Friday afternoon after two legs of timed gravel special stages on Thursday, March 15th and Friday, March 16th.

The event is being supported and hosted by the Ministry of Tourism with assistance from the Ministry of Sports Affairs and is being organised by Intevents and the Oman Automobile Association.

Thirty-three drivers from nine countries have entered this year’s event including nine crews from the State of Qatar, eight from the UAE, five from Oman, four from Kuwait, two from Lebanon and single entrants from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Austria and Great Britain.

Several of the leading crews and members of the organising committee will attend the official pre-event press conference on Tuesday evening at the Intercontinental Hotel. Teams spent Monday and Tuesday this week carrying out an organised reconnaissance of the special stages.

Leading the international field is Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Atiiyah, the defending FIA regional champion and the winner of last year’s Rally Oman. Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson were able to carry out a reconnaissance of the gravel special stages between Muscat and Quriyat, after crashing out of the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Mexico. They had originally planned to arrive in Muscat on Tuesday evening, but the accident changed those original plans.

“It is going to be very tiring, after travelling all the way from Mexico, but Oman is a very nice rally and I am looking forward to it very much,” said Al-Attiyah. “There are only seven rounds in the Middle East championship this season, so it is important that we get off to a good start and follow up the win in Qatar last month with a repeat win in Oman.”

Al-Attiyah has won the regional title three times in the past four years and again lines up against his UAE arch rival Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in Oman. At the wheel of his Team Abu Dhabi Subaru Impreza WRX STi, the 2004 regional champion and British co-driver Nicky Beech currently lie second overall in the championship, a mere two points behind Al-Attiyah, after finishing second overall to the Qatari in Doha last month.

Sharjah’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and co-driver Steve Lancaster are third overall and will also be looking to add to their points’ tallies in Oman, over stages that have been referred to as some of the most challenging in the world. Al-Qassimi is a former regional Group N champion and Lancaster won the overall Middle East title alongside rival Al-Attiyah in 2003.

Other UAE drivers include Khalifa Al-Mehairi, Musaed Al-Murar, Yayha Al-Amri and Ron Oakeley in four Subarus and Sadiq Fadhel and Michael Ziegler in a pair of Mitsubishis. Former Jordan Rally winner Amjad Farrah flies the Jordanian flag and will be hoping to build upon his fourth position in the championship.

Oman’s leading rally star Hamed Al-Wahaibi has reverted to an organising role this year and, therefore, Omani drivers Khalid Soomar, Khalid Al-Minjii, Khalil Soomar Al-Zadjali, Hamoud Abdullah Al-Toqi and Ibrahim Salim Mohammed Al-Abri will represent the Sultanate of Oman in three Mitsubishis and a pair of Subarus.

Nicholai Georgiou hopes to follow in his father Tony’s footsteps and become a competitive force in the regional series – his father was a former Oman national champion. The British youngster, who runs under a Lebanese competition licence, made his debut in this event last year and finished a fine sixth overall. He was ninth in Qatar last month and is more than capable of taking a top five finish with Lebanese co-driver Joseph Mattar in the ex-Roger Feghali Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII backed by National Trading Co. LLC. This will be his fourth event.

Veteran Michel Saleh is a former Gulf champion and will also fly the Lebanese flag in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

Kuwait’s Mufeed Mubarak was seventh in Qatar and took a similar position in Oman last season. He is joined on the entry list by fellow Kuwaitis Essam Al-Nejadi, Meshari Al-Thafiri and Saleh Bin Eidan in three Mitsubishis. Majid Al-Ghamdi is the sole Saudi Arabian entrant at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza.

While Al-Attiyah is the Qatari favourite, he is joined in Oman by eight further Qatar entrants: Nasser Al-Suwaidi, Misfer Al-Marri, Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah, Khalid Al-Suwaidi, Mohammed Al-Mannai, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Ahmed Al-Kuwari are also more than capable of achieving top results in a fleet of Mitsubishis, with only Misfer Al-Marri choosing to use a Subaru.

Austrian driver Andreas Wimmer has been taking part in select Middle East rallies for three seasons in his Subaru and enjoyed the challenging Oman stages in 2006 to record a superb fifth place with co-driver Michael Kolbach. He heads a three-strong European continent, which includes Britain’s David Scialom and Italy’s Agostino Ontano.

“I would like to welcome all the FIA officials, competitors and members of the media to the Sultanate of Oman,” enthused His Excellency Mohammed bin Hamoud Al-Tobi, Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism. “We are delighted that the event has attracted such a strong entry and wish everyone a safe and enjoyable weekend’s motorsport.”

Crucial support for this year’s rally comes from Gulf Air, OEPNA, Precision Tune, Infocomm, Baabood LLC, Intercontinental Hotels, Muscat Municipality and Red Bull.

Thursday marks the opening leg of Rally Oman 2007 and teams will tackle seven special stages. Competitive action gets underway with the opening timed Sawaqim special stage at 08.23hrs on Thursday morning and there will be a further six specials on Thursday and the remaining seven on Friday, before the official podium finish at 17.21hrs.

2007 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Driver Championship - positions after round 1 of 7:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10 pts
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 8 pts
3. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 6 pts
4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 5 pts
5. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 4 pts
6, Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 3 pts
7. Nicholai Georgiou (RL) 2 pts
8. Ahmad Al-Kuwari (QA) 1 pt

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, Rally Oman 2007 International Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.omanrally.com
www.merc-fia.com

Date issued: 12/03/2007

For further information or assistance please contact:

NDP Publicity Services
Holly House, Station Road, Newport,
Shropshire TF10 7EN United Kingdom

Tel/Fax: +44 (0) 1952 825001
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