Controversy mars Cypriot win in Syria

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

For immediate release
Saturday, September 13th, 2003


Top cars protest initial outcome by blockading finish ramp; Al-Qassimi wins Group N

DAMASCUS (Syria): Former Cyprus national champion Andreas Tsouloftas took his first ever win on the mainland in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, by winning a controversial Syrian International Rally.

The two-day desert event finished in Damascus on Friday, despite being disrupted by strong winds, poor visibility over the latter stages and late controversy.

The fourth round of this year's six-event regional series attracted 34 starters and Tsouloftas and co-driver Savvas Laos hit the front at the end of the fifth stage in their Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI, when early leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah suffered broken suspension in his Subaru Impreza WRC and slipped to eighth, his cause helped by the cancellation of the sixth stage.

Tsoloftas duly completed the first leg of five special stages between Damascus and the overnight halt at the Roman city of Palmyra, 32 seconds ahead of the leading Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI of defending showroom champion Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi.

But Al-Attiyah - who had chiselled away at Tsouloftas's advantage all afternoon - was seen to shortcut the televised super special stage and won the 2 kms section by an unprecedented 20s to take the initial outright victory by three seconds.

A disgusted Tsouloftas and the Al-Qassimi brothers protested by blocking the path to the finish ramp for the Qatari in front of a live television audience and a sizeable crowd. The finish festivities drifted into farce until order was restored. Tsouloftas was eventually allowed over the finish ramp, followed by the Al-Qassimi brothers and the Rally Stewards later added a penalty to Al-Attiyah's time, which dropped him to third position.

~It was an enjoyable rally,~ said Tsouloftas. ~But there were plenty of incidents. A couple of the stages were cancelled. One was definitely very fortunate for Nasser Al-Attiyah, because he had wrecked his suspension and there was no way that he could have continued. But the cancellation of the ninth stage was good for me, because his car is faster and he was closing fast.

~But then I heard that he had missed out a section of the 10th stage and then we had this incident on the final super special. He should have admitted defeat and accepted second place.~

Al-Qassimi and co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi lost second position in the overall standings on the 10th stage, when a resurgent Al-Attiyah swept back into the runner-up spot to keep ahead of his rivals in the chase for the Middle East championship title. But they were reinstated when the Stewards' penalty was imposed, although their engine was later protested by the Qatar Rally Team and awaits a routine technical inspection.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi followed his brother to the finish in fourth position to maintain his Group N championship lead and stay in contention for the outright title in a Ralliart UAE-entered Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII.

The event was based at the Cham Palace Hotel in Damascus and featured nine special stages between the city and the remote Roman town of Palmyra to the east. There were several innovations this year, including two runs through a live televised 'super special' stage on the outskirts of the capital, a new special stage through a forest and several amendments to existing stages.

The Syria International Rally first ran as a non-championship round in 2000 and was won on three successive occasions between 2000 and 2002 by the 14-times Middle East rally champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem in a Ford Focus WRC.

Syria International Rally (positions after final stage - top 6 only):
1 Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 50m 03.0s
2. Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 1h 51m 27.0s
3. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 1h 51m 31.0s
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 52m 27.0s
5. Ahmad Hamsho (SYR)/Allan Harryman (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 1h 55m 59.0s
6. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussain (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2h 00m 05.0s

Overall drivers' positions after round 4 of 6
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 26
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 22
3. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 18
4. Roger Feghali (RL) 10
5. Abdo Feghali (RL) 8, etc

Group N positions after round 4 of 6
1. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 28
2. Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE) 16
3. Hamad Al-Sowaidi (QA) 12
3. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 12, etc

FIA Super 1600 Cup
1. Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) 20
2. Ziad Karanouh (RL) 16
3. Ramez Al-Farra (SYR) 10
3. Asem Aref (HKJ) 10, etc

1. Subaru 38
2. Mitsubishi 33
3. Ford 8
4. Toyota 8
5. Lancia 6


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

Date issued: 13/09/2003

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