MERC Al Attiyah snatches lead after day one of Qatar Rally

2008 NBK Qatar International Rally
2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Friday, January 25th, 2008





Second place for Qatar’s Khalifa Saleh; Jordan’s Farrah in fourth place

Saudi’s Al-Rajhi and Ghamdi, Qatar’s Al-Hajri and Jordan’s Hijazi retire

DOHA (Qatar): Defending FIA Middle East rally champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson held a 2m 41.1s overall advantage after eight timed special stages of the NBK Qatar International Rally, round one of the 2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, on Friday.


Qatari drivers dominated the opening desert stages in cool and dry conditions, with Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel snatching second place from Misfer Al-Marri and Irish co-driver Stephen McAuley on the eighth stage.


“This event is as much a first test for our new Subaru as it is important to claim maximum points on the opening round of the championship,” admitted leader Al-Attiyah. “I am very happy. The car feels stronger and handles better than the older car, even though it is slightly heavier with the stronger roll cage fitted.”


Al-Attiyah posted the fastest time in chilly morning conditions through the first Losail stage, although both Nick Georgiou and Amjad Farrah sustained flat tyres, with Georgiou suffering a nine-minute time loss when he sustained further problems with the jack. Khalid Al-Suwaidi, Al-Marri and Saudi’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi started brightly with top four times.


Al-Attiyah was again quickest in the Heritage special to hold a 42.8 second lead over Al-Suwaidi, with Al-Marri, Al-Rajhi and Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah filling the top five places on the return to Losail for first service. Farrah’s puncture dropped him to eighth place, but there was disappointment for Saudi Arabia’s Majid Ghamdi, who succumbed to suspension and turbo-related problems and will be unable to restart under SupeRally on Saturday. Jordan’s Ammar Hijazi retired his Mitsubishi with mechanical problems.


Al-Suwaidi pipped Al-Attiyah to the fastest time in SS3, but the regional champion retained a 42.3 second lead as Qatari drivers filled the top four overall positions. The four-times regional champion headed into the main service of the day with a one minute lead courtesy of a third fastest time. His three Qatari rivals filled second, third and fourth positions, but Al-Rajhi slipped to eighth with a puncture and brake problems, before withdrawing from the leg after the service point with ongoing trouble.


A resurgent Farrah climbed to fourth despite anti-lag problems, as the leading Qatari trio held station over the last stage on Friday afternoon. Al-Suwaidi lost second overall to Al-Marri on the sixth stage and slipped to sixth, behind Kuwait’s Saleh Bin Eidan in his Mitsubishi Lancer.


Lebanon’s Michel Saleh – who had been given a lifetime achievement award for services to Middle East rallying by the QMMF’s Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah at the pre-event press conference – held seventh place at the end of the day. Oman’s Nizar Al-Shanfari was a cautious eighth with co-driver Ieuan Thomas after seven stages, but retired on the final special of the day with a broken ball joint, although he maintained 10th place under SupeRally conditions.


Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Sabban teamed up with Irish co-driver Dermot O’Gorman and handed a debut appearance to his exciting new Toyota Corolla S2000, although the car suffered crankcase sensor problems on the eve of the event and Irish team chief Garry Emmett was a relieved man when the car eventually survived a crucial shakedown test on Thursday evening. Al-Sabban held 10th before losing 14 minutes with mechanical problems on the seventh stage and then retired soon afterwards.


Jordan’s Faris Bustami celebrated his birthday on Thursday and switched to his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution to enable Abdulrahman Al-Hajri to use his usual Subaru Impreza, although the Qatari stopped on the first stage with mechanical problems. Bustami climbed into the top 10 at the end of the leg behind Jordanian rival Faris Hijazi and benefited from the retirement of Ahmed Al-Kuwari on the eighth stage.


The event is being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) under the presidency of Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah. “We are supporting nine drivers in this year’s rally and want to focus our strategy around creating future world rated drivers for Qatar,” enthused Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah. “Nasser Saleh has taken on the world and become a world champion, but we want our younger drivers to follow in Nasser’s path. The Federation is giving its full support to this as we aim to reach our goal in the future.”


Tomorrow (Saturday) teams will tackle the remaining eight special stages, starting at 10.00 hrs with the first of two runs through the Thakira test. Two passes follow through the Laffan, QMMF and Al-Khor specials before teams return to the Losail International Circuit for the official podium ceremony at 15.30hrs.


Positions after SS8 – end of leg 1 (unofficial):

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)            Subaru Impreza WRX N14                 1h 17m 42.9s

2. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Matthieu Baumel (F) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX            1h 20m 24.0s

3. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Stephen McAuley (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 20071                  1h 20m 31.0s

4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX                            1h 22m 52.9s

5. Salah Bin Eidan (KT)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9                 1h 23m 03.6s

6. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QA)/Rashid Al-Sulaiti (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX                1h 24m 31.1s

7. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ahmed Ghaziri (RL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 2006                                1h 24m 50.5s

8. Faris Hijazi (HKJ)/Emad Juma (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX                            1h 29m 56.5s

9. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Burhan Abu Khoura (HKJ) Subaru Impreza WRX STi                  1h 30m 20.7s

10. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Ieuan Thomas (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi                              1h 32m 54.4s



Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, Chief Press Officer, 2008 Qatar International Rally, Losail International Circuit, Media Centre, Doha, Qatar, Tel: + 974 4729620, Fax: + 974 4729621, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
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Date issued: 25/01/2008

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