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MERC Slender lead for Nasser Al Attiyah after day one of Syrian International Rally

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

For immediate release
Friday, June 8th, 2007

QATAR'S NASSER AL-ATTIYAH EDGES AHEAD IN
DRAMATIC SYRIAN INTERNATIONAL RALLY

UAE's Khalid Al-Qassimi shadows his rival in second place;
Jordan's Farrah spoils title challenge in second stage drama;
A distant third for UAE's Sheikh Abdullah; fourth for Qatar's Al-Marri

SEDNAYA (Syria): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson will start the final day of the 7th Syrian International Rally with a 32.7 second lead over the UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Nicky Beech, after winning the first leg of seven special stages on Friday.

Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi held a distant third overall in his Subaru Impreza, while Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri and Lebanon's Michel Saleh completed the top five. 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.

~Khalid was driving very well this morning and it was so close after three stages,~ said Al-Attiyah. ~I was not prepared to take risks. I speeded up through the fifth and sixth stages and managed to edge into a small lead, but I hit the car hard on a rock and damaged one tyre. It showed me the fine line between being quick and taking risks. Now it is all to play for on Saturday.~

The five main championship protagonists tackled the opening Sabkha stage alongside 22 other entrants from nine countries. The permutations were fascinating with Al-Attiyah, Khalid Al-Qassimi, Amjad Farrah, Michel Saleh and Abdullah Al-Qassimi all hoping to pick up valuable championship points following the postponement and potential cancellation of the next round of the series in Lebanon. This would mean the title would be decided on the final two rounds in Cyprus and Dubai.

Al-Attiyah edged 0.4 seconds ahead of Khalid Al-Qassimi in the 12.6km Sabkha special, as the pair powered ahead of Farrah and a troubled Abdullah Al-Qassimi, who lost two minutes to the leaders with overheating problems. Both Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri and Syria's Mirar Al-Homsi started well with top four times.

It was a different story in the longer Hafar stage; Farrah had initially been awarded the fastest time in error, only to see his result adjusted when it came to light that he had taken a wrong track in the special and reached a dead end and got stuck in a ditch - the resultant delay cost him around 20 minutes and he plummeted down the leader board. Khalid Al-Qassimi edged into a 5.1-second overall lead when Al-Attiyah could only manage the third fastest time. Syrian Haitham Al-Youssefi stopped with mechanical problems.

~It was a disaster for me,~ said Farrah. ~We went down this track, there was some tape across the road and we just came to a dead end and got stuck in a ditch. I have placed an enquiry with the organisers, but it has cost me a lot of time and may even spoil my chances of taking the Middle East title.~

The pace was repeated in the 24.60km Baida special, with Al-Attiyah setting his second fastest time to edge into a tiny 0.1 second advantage over the championship leader. Al-Homsi was the Syrian in form and set the third fastest time to hold a top five position. Qatar's Khalifa Al-Attiyah was sidelined with a broken driveshaft, although he planned to restart on Saturday under SupeRally conditions.

The fourth stage was cancelled, but Al-Attiyah edged into a 5.5-second lead in SS5 and had extended that advantage to 25.5 seconds when teams returned to service near Nabk. Two punctures and an intercooler pipe problem cost Al-Homsi several minutes and he slipped to seventh, but a resurgent Saleh began his climb up the leaderboard to fifth after losing two minutes in the first stage stopping to replace a clogged air filter. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Misfer Al-Marri were third and fourth.

Al-Attiyah set the fastest time in the seventh stage of the leg to take a 32.7 second overall lead into the final day. Abdullah Al-Qassimi, Al-Marri, Saleh and the young Nicolai Georgiou completed the top six. Kuwaiti driver Ahmed Al-Khrass stopped with fuel pump problems and fellow countryman Mufeed Mubarak was also sidelined with mechanical woes. Jordan's Faris Bustami was running on three cylinders down the field.

Tomorrow (Saturday) teams will tackle the final six special stages before the ceremonial podium finish at the Sheraton Ma'aret Sednaya from 16.35 hrs. Two runs through the Deir Atteyah, Mirah and Nabk stage are planned, with competitive action getting underway at Deir Atteyah at 09.43hrs.

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.

Positions after SS7 - end of leg one (unofficial @ 16.00hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 13m 12.6s
2. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 13m 45.3s
3. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 18m 14.2s
4. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Hamad Al-Marri (QA) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 19m 26.3s
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ahmad Ghaziri (RL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 19m 38.7s
6. Nicolai Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Mattar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 1h 20m 33.3s
7. Mirar Al-Homsi (SYR)/Ata Al Hmoud (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 1h 21m 31.5s
8. Salah Bin Eidan (KWT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 1h 23m 03.8s, etc

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: 08/06/2007

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