Toyota set to sponsor Qatar International Rally
Toyota Qatar International Rally
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1 of 6
Saturday, February 22nd, 2002
REGIONAL DRIVERS AIM TO WIN IN QATAR IN ABSENCE OF BEN SULAYEM
Toyota set to sponsor bumper Qatar International Rally
DOHA (Qatar): The Qatar International Rally, the opening round of the 2003 FIA Middle East rally championship, has attracted over 25 international entries and will be sponsored by Qatar's main Toyota distributor Abdullah Abdulghani Bros. It will be known as the Toyota Qatar International Rally and takes place this weekend (February 27-28th).
The event is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Tameem Bin Hamed Al-Thani, the Head of the Qatar Olympic Committee and has attracted further support from Doha Insurance, Doha Petrol Station and Michelin, through its Qatar outlet Nasser Bin Khaled and Sons.
~We are delighted to be associated with Qatar's flagship motorsport event,~ said Abdulrehman Abdulsaleel Abdulghani, the Managing Director of Qatar's main Toyota distributor. ~The event has attracted a strong entry and should be a fitting opening round of this year's Middle East rally championship.~
With the shock news that multiple regional champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem will not be tackling the event due to a shortfall in his sponsorship budget, the way is paved for a new driver to win the two-day, 19 timed special stage event for the first time.
Ben Sulayem has dominated the regional series in recent years and has taken 14 titles. He hopes to return to the championship in time for the next round in Jordan in May at the wheel of a Ford Focus WRC, but his absence places greater pressure on the Saudi Arabian pre-event favourite Abdullah Bakhashab at the wheel of his new Peugeot 206 WRC.
Bakhashab won the regional series on one occasion before switching to a programme of WRC events in the FIA Teams' Cup. He returned to the Middle East rallying scene for a full programme of events with a Toyota Corolla WRC in 2002, but the season was a disappointment for the Jeddah driver and his Czech-run team.
After winning the 'super special' stage on last year's Qatar International Rally, Bakhashab and co-driver Bobby Willis were sidelined with clutch failure on the second desert stage. They rolled their Corolla in Bahrain, duly slipped to second overall and were never able to regain the championship momentum from Ben Sulayem and co-driver John Spiller.
A sudden fire destroyed the rear end of Bakhashab's Toyota in Lebanon last July and the championship contest was finally settled in Ben Sulayem's favour in Syria last September. Bakhashab even decided to miss the final event in Dubai to prepare for a new championship assault in 2003.
No driver has wheeled out one of the latest Peugeot 206 World Rally Cars in the Middle East before, but Bakhashab has taken advantage of a sponsorship deal with Marlboro to finalise a programme of events with a Grifone-prepared car for the Middle East series.
~The problem with the Toyota Corolla we used last year was car development,~ insists Bakhashab. ~The car had not been used by the factory for several years and I suppose we were carrying out the development work on events at our own expense. The Peugeot 206 has taken the world of rallying by storm in the last three years and is definitely the car to beat on gravel rallies. It has a proven pedigree on tarmac as well and I am excited about the prospect of using it in the Middle East this year.~
The event is based at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Doha for the first time and starts on Thursday.
For further information about the 2003 Qatar International Rally, contact the Qatar Motor Federation (Tel: + 974 4434895, Fax: + 974 4454205 and Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2003 Qatar International Rally Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services,
Tel: + (44) 1952 825078, Fax: + (44) 1952 825001