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MERC Dramatic last stage victory for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi in Jordan Rally

Jordan Rally 2007
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 4 of 8
FIA World Rally Championship, official round in 2008

For immediate release
Saturday, May 12th, 2007

UAE’S KHALID AL-QASSIMI EXTENDS MERC SERIES LEAD WITH LAST-GASP WIN IN JORDAN RALLY

Jordan’s Amjad Farrah leaps into title contention with a solid second place;
Jordanian newcomer Amir Najjar loses potential victory in last stage drama;
His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Al-Hussein II visits Dead Sea service park

DEAD SEA (Jordan): The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Nick Beech clinched a famous victory after 18 timed special stages of a pulsating Jordan Rally in the Dead Sea area of the Hashemite Kingdom on Saturday.

They entered the final stage 16.9 seconds behind Jordanian rallying newcomer Amir Najjar and co-driver Nicola Fanous, but the Jordanian dramatically crashed mid-way through the Dead Sea stage and Al-Qassimi was handed a dramatic win in thrilling circumstances.

Al-Qassimi duly took maximum FIA Middle East rally championship points in his Subaru Impreza WRX STi and extended his lead in the eight-round series to six points over second-placed Jordanians Amjad Farrah and Nicola Arena. Farrah has fallen away from a thrilling two-way battle for victory over the closing stages. Lebanon’s Michel Saleh was third.

Some of the day’s rallying action had royal approval and was witnessed by a visiting His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Al-Hussein II, his wife Queen Rania Al-Abdullah and His Royal Highness Prince Feisal Bin Al-Hussein, chairman of Jordan Motorsport.

“The priority for me was to finish the rally and take maximum points in the championship,” said an ecstatic Al-Qassimi. “That was the objective and we have fulfilled that in a fantastic way. Now I am in a very strong position to win the title for the second time. The outcome is in my own hands. The pressure will be on Nasser not to make a mistake on the next four rallies.”

“I thought that the best strategy was to push as hard as I could this morning and put my rivals under pressure,” said 31-year-old Najjar, who is a sprint and hillclimb champion tackling his third ever rally. “I was confident that a Jordanian would win this event and I wanted it to be me. I am so disappointed.”

Amjad Farrah and Nicola Arena began the day in third place and lost touch with the two-way battle for the lead as the day wore on. But the 2004 Jordan Rally winner moved up to second in the championship with his second overall.

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah was fastest on all eight special stages of leg two and climbed seven places in the overall standings, but his confidence-boosting drive failed to net any championship points.

Lebanon’s Michel Saleh and the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi completed the top four and there were top 10 finishes for Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas, Qatar’s Misfer Al-Marri, Saudi Arabia’s Majed Al-Ghamdi, Kuwait’s Salah Bin Eidan and Austria’s Andreas Wimmer. Jordan’s Ala Khalifeh crashed out of fourth place on the penultimate stage.

Jordanian rally newcomer Amir Najjar and Nicola Fanous began the final day 14.1 seconds behind Al-Qassimi. Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah made the decision to continue under SupeRally conditions on Saturday in a bid to restore his shattered confidence. He was classified 33rd overall, once all the time penalties were imposed, but was permitted to restart in fourth position on the road for safety reasons.

Predictably, Al-Attiyah cruised to the fastest stage time and beat Al-Qassimi by 34.9 seconds, although the UAE driver extended his overall lead to 16.2 seconds. Najjar hit back in the first Wadi Shueib special and reduced the advantage by 0.2 seconds, but Farrah was in flying form and moved to within 1.3 seconds of Najjar and second place. Al-Attiyah continued to set the fastest times, although he held little hope of climbing back into the championship points.

The outcome of the first Rumman stage added to the pressure on Al-Qassimi. Najjar crushed his rivals with a stunning time to take the overall lead by 2.7 seconds. Farrah matched his UAE championship rival to maintain his challenge in third place, although Al-Attiyah was again in a class of his own with a third fastest time.

The Qatari set the pace again through the second Kafrein stage, as Najjar edged a further 1.1 seconds ahead of the 2004 regional champion and Farrah slipped 25.3 seconds behind. Najjar had pledged the big attack over the midday stages and he was a man of his word. He edged into a 9.7-second lead over Al-Qassimi after the second Wadi Shueib special and returned to the final Dead Sea service after the second Rumman test with a 16.5 second overall advantage. Two stages stood between the rookie and a sensational win.

The Shuna and Dead Sea stages totalled 28.82km, but it started to rain quite heavily as teams left the final service point. Damp, slippery conditions were prevalent in the Shuna special and Al-Attiyah slithered to the fastest time. Al-Qassimi’s team manager Ron Cremen confirmed that the UAE driver had been prepared to play a wait-and-see game in the penultimate stage. “If Khalid was close enough to challenge Amir after SS17, he was going to go for it in the last one,” said the Australian.

The final 13.55km of the Dead Sea stage were critical and Najjar maintained his composure to take a 16.9-second lead into the final stage by setting the second fastest time. But he was slow at the first checkpoint, before leaving the road soon afterwards in a desperate bid to claw back the lost time. It was a thrilling end to a dramatic two days at the Dead Sea.

Sponsorship for the 37-car Jordan Rally came from Jordinvest, Chinese car brand Chery, Capital Bank, Marriott Hotels, the King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre, Fastlink, Sawt Al Ghad and Riyadah.

Both the Ministry of Housing and Public Works worked on the special stages and extra support from the Ministry of Tourism, Jordan Tourist Board and the Greater Amman Municipality and Higher Council of Youth has been crucial.

Final positions after SS18 (unofficial):
1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 3h 17m 44.7s
2. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 3h 18m 56.4s
3. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 3h 23m 41.3s
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 3h 24m 41.6s
5. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 3h 28m 22.5s
6. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 3h 30m 46.0s
7. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Hamad Al-Marri (QA) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 3h 31m 36.1s
8. Majed Al-Ghamdi (KSA)/Yousef Al-Asmar (HKJ) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 3h 36m 10.0s
9. Salah Bin-Eidan (KWT)/Abdulaziz Redhai (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 3h 38m 05.8s
10. Andreas Wimmer (AUT)/Michael Kolbach (D) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 3h 39m 27.6s

2007 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – positions after round 4 of 8:
1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 33 pts
2. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 27 pts
3. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 20 pts
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 19 pts
5. Michel Saleh (RL) 17 pts
6. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA) 8 pts
7. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 7 pts
8. Nicholai Georgiou (RL) 5 pts
9. Andreas Wimmer (AT) 4 pts
10. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 3 pts
11. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Mannai (QA) 2 pts
11. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 2 pts
13. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) 1 pt

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2007 Jordan Rally Media Office Manager, Media Centre, King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre, Dead Sea, Jordan, Tel: + (962) 7 95171401, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153 E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.jordanrally.com
www.merc-fia.com


Date issued: 12/05/2007

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