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MERC Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah vows to turn up the heat on rivals in Syria

2007 Syrian International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 5 of 8

For immediate release
Thursday, June 7th, 2007

QATAR'S AL-ATTIYAH SET TO TURN UP PRESSURE ON
CHAMPIONSHIP RIVALS IN TITANIC SYRIA RALLY CLASH

UAE's Khalid Al-Qassimi takes six-point lead over Jordan's Farrah into rally
Strong Syrian Rally Team lines-up; Syria marks return of three Irish co-drivers

SEDNAYA (Syria): The 7th Syrian International Rally got underway with the official ceremonial start in Damascus on Thursday evening. Lying ahead of international teams from nine countries are 13 timed special stages on Friday and Saturday to the north of the city. The event is the fifth round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship and has been organised by the Syrian Automobile Club (SAC) under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism.

This year's regional series - which has already crossed special stages in Qatar, Oman, Cyprus and Jordan - is developing into the most exciting on record with no less than five drivers in a position to take the title in Dubai at the end of November. The event in Syria will be followed by a potential rally in Lebanon, a second event in Cyprus and the finale in Dubai.

The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi currently holds a six-point lead in the series and is the favourite to win the title for the first time since 2004. He and co-driver Nicky Beech won thrilling rallies in Oman and Jordan, when arch rival Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah crashed out of contention. Al-Qassimi must now discipline himself not to push too hard in Syria, as Al-Attiyah is sure to be fired up and pressing hard for maximum points to put the defence of the title he has won three times in the last four seasons back on track.

The Qatari has suffered a catalogue of mishaps this season, but he set a string of fastest stage times on the final day of the Jordan Rally and was deprived of a P-WRC podium finish in Greece by a puncture. With only four rounds of the series left this year, Al-Attiyah needs to overturn a 13-point deficit if he is to regain the coveted trophy.

~I will try my best,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~But it will not be easy to take maximum points even if I am the fastest driver. There is always a risk of punctures and that could wreck the plans. I need 10 points, because I am beginning to run out of rallies.~

Jordan's Amjad Farrah has his own agenda. Partnered by Italian co-driver Nicola Arena, Farrah lies six points behind Al-Qassimi and is confident that he can beat the championship leader in Syria. Amjad is on a rapid learning curve, although he will need to be on top form to take points from his closest rivals over the rocky desert tracks in Syria, where time-consuming punctures are commonplace.

Two veterans of the regional series also have an outside chance of winning the title: former Group N champion and overall runner-up Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi has 19 points and is 14 behind brother Khalid. The Sharjah driver has achieved consistent finishes this season and takes a two-point advantage over Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh into Friday's opening special stage.

While this quintet concentrate on the strategy and pace required to outwit each other for championship points, London-based Lebanese driver Nicolai Georgiou, Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Kuwait's Mufeed Mubarak will be pushing hard for the podium.

Six Syrian teams, led by Mohammed Hamsho and Haitham Al-Yousefi, will use local knowledge to make a bid for the top five, while Saudi Arabia's challenge rests with Sheikh Yazeid Al-Rajhi and Majed Al-Ghamdi. Aside from Farrah, the likes of Faris Bustami, Mazen Tantash and Issa Abu Jamous lead the Jordanian challenge, while Austrian Andreas Wimmer bolsters the European challenge.

The event also sees the return of three well known co-drivers from the Emerald Isle to the Middle East fold. Killian Duffy partners Kuwaiti's Saleh Bin Eidan, Mickey Morrissey will read the notes for Mubarak and Allan Harryman joins Ron Cremen's operation to partner the UAE's Sultan Al-Ameri. Waterford-based Morrissey last tackled the UAE Rally in Al Ain in January 2006; Duffy, from County Mayo, last competed in Qatar the same year with Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban, while Ulsterman Harryman last appeared with Hamed Al-Wahaibi in the Omani's ill-fated 2004 Jordan Rally outing.

~It's great to be back,~ enthused Morrissey. ~I had some memorable times in this region with Hamed Al-Sowaidi from Qatar and David Scialom. I am looking forward to this rally. The stages are very different and certainly challenging. It's going to be a lot of fun.~

Syria first ran a candidate event for the regional rally series in 2000 and this was installed in the championship for the first time in 2001. The first four Syrian rallies started in Damascus and included a night stop at the ancient city of Palmyra, but officials switched the base to Sednaya in 2004 and a compact format has been maintained ever since, although last year's rally was cancelled because of the troubles across the border in Lebanon.

New clerk of the course Hani Shaban has laid on a revised and compact route this season, with competitors set to tackle new special stages to the north-east of Sednaya. Servicing is centralised at Nabk, 68km from the rally headquarters, although the Sheraton Ma'arat Sednaya has been retained as rally headquarters.

Tomorrow (Friday) teams will tackle seven timed special stages in the Sabkha, Hafar and Baida areas, before a further six specials on Saturday. The ceremonial finish will take place in Sednaya from 16.35 hrs on Saturday.

Major support for this year's Syrian International Rally comes from Hamsho International, with further sponsorship from the Sheraton Ma'aret Sednaya, the Syrian Insurance Company, Radio Syria Alghad,
and Kawalees.

Leading starters
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)Subaru Impreza WRX STi
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
3. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9
4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ahmad Ghaziri (RL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
6. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY)Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
7. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Hamad Al-Marri (QA)Subaru Impreza WRX STi
8. Mirar Al-Homsi (SYR)/TBA Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7
9. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT)/Saad Al-Melaifi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8
10. Haitham Al-Yousefi (SYR)/Yousef Al-Asmar (SYR)Subaru Impreza WRX STi

2007 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Driver 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 Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 8 pts
7. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 7 pts
8. Nicholai Georgiou (RL) 6 pts
9. Andreas Wimmer (A) 4 pts
10. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 3 pts
11. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 2 pts
11. Mohammed Al-Mannai (QA) 2 pts
11. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 2 pts
14. Essam Al-Nejadi (KWT) 1 pt

Ends

For further media information:
Lutfi Estwani, Arabic Press Officer, Tel: + 963 11 232 3706, Fax: + 963 11 231 2785, Mobile: + 963 93234445
or
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, Syrian International Rally, Syria mobile: + 963 947908502, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.syrianrally.com
www.merc-fia.com

Date issued: 07/06/2007

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