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MERC Khalid Al Qassimi maintains FIA Middle East series lead after Troodos Rally

Troodos Rally 2007
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 8

For immediate release
Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

UAE'S SHEIKH KHALID AL-QASSIMI MAINTAINS MIDDLE EAST
CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD WITH CRUCIAL FINISH IN TROODOS RALLY

Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah claims fifth successive Troodos Rally win
Cypriot Andreas Peritikos takes second place; Tsouloftas rolls in SS14

NICOSIA (Cyprus): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and co-driver Nick Beech maintained their overall lead in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship by finishing fourth of the registered Middle East teams in the Troodos Rally, round three of the eight-event series, in Cyprus on Sunday.

The 2004 regional champion lost his chance of taking an outright victory on the fifth of 16 timed special stages on Saturday, when he sustained a puncture and lost around one minute and 50 seconds to the defending regional champions and eventual rally winners Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Chris Patterson.

With support from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and Italian tyre supplier Pirelli for his Team Abu Dhabi Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Al-Qassimi also suffered rear suspension troubles on the first day and front differential-related problems on Sunday morning, as he became embroiled in a fascinating tussle for third overall with multiple Cyprus Rally Champion Andreas Tsouloftas.

Al-Qassimi had held third overall at the start of the final leg of eight timed special stages, a mere three seconds ahead of Tsouloftas and 1m 23s adrift of second-placed Andreas Peritikos, before slipping eight seconds behind Tsouloftas after four of the final day's eight stages.

But both Tsouloftas and Al-Qassimi hit trouble on the 14th special stage between Vavatsinia and Mandra Kampiou, with the Cypriot forced to stop after rolling his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and Al-Qassimi badly delayed with engine overheating after holing his radiator.

The final two stages of the rally - the 18km of Agios Onoufrios and the 9.57km of Kofinou - confirmed Qatar's Al-Attiyah's and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson's fifth successive Troodos Rally win, with Peritikos and co-driver Nicos Panayides consolidating second overall.

But Al-Qassimi was forced to crawl through the 14th stage at a snail's pace to preserve his overheating engine and slipped from a potential third place to sixth overall. The UAE driver managed to coast through the final two stages to record fourth position of the registered contenders to earn five priceless championship points and maintain a three-point lead over Al-Attiyah in the 2007 FIA Middle East Drivers' Championship.

~This is always a long and difficult rally,~ said a relieved Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, who thanked Sheikh Sultan Tahnoun Al-Nahyan for his invaluable support for Team Abu Dhabi this season. ~We had some minor technical problems over the two days and then we had the engine overheating problems near the finish. I lost a lot of time on the last three stages.

~It was important to reach the end on these demanding, twisty stages, which are a feature of rallies in Cyprus. Several of the Cypriot drivers are not registered for the championship, so it was important to keep going to take five championship points. I still have a three-point lead in the series and that bodes well for the rest of the season.~

Several of the registered championship contenders made the trip to the eastern Mediterranean island for the Troodos Rally, but head gasket failure forced Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri into retirement on Saturday. Other Middle East drivers who made the trip included Lebanon's Michel Saleh, Jordan's Amjad Farrah, Qatar's Abdullah Al-Kuwari and British-based Lebanese driver Nicolai Georgiou. Farrah finished fourth overall and collected eight championship points, while Saleh was the pick of the rest of the bunch and finished as the third registered championship driver.

The fourth round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship will be the Jordan Rally - which will join the prestigious FIA World Rally Champoionship in 2008 - and that event takes place on May 10th-12th.

2007 FIA MERC Drivers' Championship - after round 3 of 8 (unofficial):

1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 23 pts
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 20 pts
3. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 19 pts
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 14 pts
5. Michel Saleh (RL) 11 pts, etc

Ends

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Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, NCH Building, Upper Bar, Newport, Shropshire TF10 7EH, United Kingdom, Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

Date issued: 22/04/2007

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