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Qatar International Rally official preview

Toyota Qatar International Rally
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1 of 6
Thursday, February 27th, 2002

AL-ATTIYAH FACES SHOWDOWN WITH
AL-QASSIMI AND BAKHASHAB IN QATAR RALLY

Al-Marri bids to win Group N category; Britain's Dale returns to the desert

DOHA (Qatar): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah faces the sternest test of his rallying career if he is to give Qatar a first home win since 1993, when the two-day Toyota Qatar International Rally gets underway from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Doha tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

The event is being held under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Tameem Bin Hamed Al-Thani, the Head of the Qatar Olympic Committee, and has attracted the cream of the regions drivers with the exception of 14-times champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the Dubai driver missing the opening round because of delays with the sponsorship package for his new Ford Focus WRC.

Al-Attiyah and British co-driver Steve Lancaster face a showdown across the rain-soaked Qatar desert stages with former champion Abdullah Bakhashab and last year's championship runner-up Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi. All three drivers wheel out the latest World Rally Cars from the Subaru, Peugeot and Ford stables as the three top line WRC manufacturers go head-to-head in the deserts of the Middle East for the first time.

Bakhashab and co-driver Bobby Willis were fastest through the super special stage last year before retiring with clutch problems. Al-Qassimi, on the other hand, was the most consistent of the duo last season and has the pace to take his first outright win since the UAE Rally two years ago.

Al-Attiyah spends most of his time taking part in international shooting competitions for Qatar nowadays, but is determined to win the rally. His cousin Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah was the last Qatari to do so in 1993 at the wheel of a Toyota Celica GT4.

While this trio are expected to set the pace over the 19 timed special stages, which have become waterlogged in several places by several heavy rain showers, British 1600 rally champion Justin Dale and co-driver Andrew Bargery will be hoping that they can win the Group N category in a Protrak Subaru Impreza.

Dale's introduction to desert rallying landed him in a Dubai hospital last December, but he will be hoping to set the record straight against a plethora of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions in the hands of defending champion Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi, 2002 runner-up Misfer Al-Marri, Kuwait's Mohammed Al-Sarraf, Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi and Abdullah Al-Kuwari, Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban and Bahrain's Hassan Al-Sadadi and Abdulrahmen Ghuloom.

Al-Qassimi pipped Al-Marri to the regional title in Dubai and is all set to defend his title, although local knowledge should stand Misfer in good stead on his home rally. Newly-wed Al-Sowaidi set several fastest times in Qatar last year, but has reverted from a Subaru Impreza WRC to a showroom Mitsubishi Evolution VII this season.

With the cancellation of January's UAE Rally in Abu Dhabi and the shock cancellation of the Bahrain Rally last month, the Middle East series has been reduced to six counting rounds in Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Dubai. The FIA has also introduced a new points-scoring system, placing an even greater emphasis on a good start to the season for the leading championship contenders.

This year's Toyota Qatar International Rally is supported by Doha Insurance, Doha Petrol Station and Michelin, through its Qatar outlet Nasser Bin Khaled and Sons.

Action kicks off at 09.28 this morning (Thursday) with a 3.56 kms Super Special stage in Doha. From there teams head into a further nine timed special stages in the Lagoun, Samisma, Al-Wosail and Tinbak regions. Servicing for the cars will be in the Al-Taawoun area throughout the day. A further nine special stages are planned for Friday.

Leading starters (top 10 only):
1. Abdullah Bakhashab (KSA)/Bobby Willis (GB) Peugeot 206 WRC
2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Ford Focus WRC
3. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC
5. Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Tariq Al-Warshaw (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
6. Justin Dale (GB)/Andrew Bargery (GB) Subaru Impreza
7. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussain (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
8. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
9. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
11. Ahmed Al-Sabban (KSA)/Damien Connolly (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
12. Mohammed Al-Sarraf (KWT)/Waleed Al-Sarraf (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo

Ends

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2003 Toyota Qatar International Rally Press Officer, Media Centre, Admirals Club, Ritz Carlton Hotel, West Bay Lagoon, Doha.
Tel: + (974) 4839596, Fax: + (974) 4839577, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com

Date issued: 26/02/2003

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