MERC Nasser Al-Attiyah heads bumper entry into Syrian Rally

2008 Syrian International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 7

For immediate release
Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Impressive Syrian entry boosts host nation's bid for maiden home success
Drivers from Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and UAE on track

SEDNAYA (Syria): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson lead an international field of 34 cars from 11 countries into the first stage of the 8th Syrian International Rally on Friday morning. The defending regional champions will drive the usual Autotek-run Subaru Impreza N14 and start as favourites to retain their Syrian Rally title.

The event is being run by the Syrian Automobile Club with support from Syria's Ministry of Tourism and has attracted impressive interest from the host nation, with six non-championship registered drivers set to tackle the 13 timed special stages. Mohammed and Ahmad Hamsho lead the way for the four-car Syrian Rally Team, with support from Haitham Al-Yousefi and Mirar Al-Homsi. Bashar Abu Khoura and Dubai-based Syrian Yazaj Rijleh complete the home line-up.

Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri currently lies second overall in the regional series and heads a further four Qatari entrants, including Khalifa Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Mubarak Al-Hajri. Salah Bin Eidan tops the Kuwaiti contingent with support from the likes of Essam Al-Nejadi and Meshari Al-Thafiri.

Syria marks the return of Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban to the series after missing the last round in Cyprus. Al-Sabban has replaced the gearbox in his Toyota S2000 after recent testing near Jeddah and lines up alongside Kuwait Rally winner Yazeed Al-Rajhi to represent the Kingdom. Al-Rajhi is confident that he has the pace to match Al-Attiyah and is planning to attack at all costs this weekend.

Amjad Farrah was unable to make the start after his car sustained heavy damage in Greece and the Jordanian will now head straight to the Rally of Turkey. Faris Bustami of the Damas Rally Team, Faris Hijazi and Ammar Hijazi represent the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh and Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum head a strong contingent from the UAE that also includes Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and his Lithuanian-Australian co-driver Fred Gocentas. Saleh lies fourth in the regional series after two rounds, while Al-Maktoum was the Group N leader for long periods in the WRC event in Jordan and is sure to be a top three pace-setter.

Bahraini drivers also return to the regional series for the first time this year with Hassan Al-Sadadi and Abdul Rahman Ghuloom representing the island. Muscat's Nizar Al-Shanfari is the sole representative from the Sultanate of Oman, 20-year-old Cyprus Rally winner Nicos Thomas will be looking for championship points to take back to Cyprus and London-based Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou is also capable of a top result. Both Georgiou and Thomas are strong contenders for the FIA Pirelli award.

The event also marks the first appearance of the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team's three Ford Fiesta drivers in the regional championship. Abu Dhabi-based candidates Mansour Al-Suwaidi, Majed Al-Shamsi and Bader Al-Jabri are taking part after Rashid Al-Shamsi was replaced at the 11th hour by 23-year-old Al-Jabri, who tackled the first of the two UAE national rallies earlier this year. "This will be a very useful test for all our drivers," enthused team principal and 2004 Syrian Rally winner Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.

Tomorrow (Friday) action will centre around seven timed special stages in the Syrian deserts to the north of Sednaya. The 12.5km Jupiter special gets the action underway at 9.39hrs and will be followed by runs through the Hafar and Baida stages before the midday regroup and service at Dair Ateyah. The three specials are repeated in the afternoon and Friday's competitive action is rounded off with a run through the 24.9km Sheraton stage at 15.11hrs.

Saturday's action featured six special stages and begins with a run through the 20.5km Honda special at 9.38hrs. Two more specials follow before service at Dair Ateyah, including a run through the Nabk stage, which is a shortened reverse of the Sheraton test. The second run through Nabk is the final special of the event at 15.11hrs and is followed by the ceremonial finish in front of the Sheraton in Sednaya from 16.48hrs.

"The stages are quite rough in places and challenging," admitted Al-Attiyah's co-driver Chris Patterson. "They are a different kind of rough to the ones we had on the Acropolis in Greece last week and will require caution. There is an obvious risk of punctures. Because our Subaru N14 is still in the development phase we will have to take extra care not to have problems."

The event has attracted support from Hamsho International, Jupeter rent-a-car, the Sheraton Ma'aret Sednaya, Honda, Nissan and Radio Syria Alghad.

Leading starters (in seeded order):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)   Subaru Impreza WRX STi
3. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Fred Gocentas (LT)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi 
4. Suhail Bin Khalifa (UAE)/Ahmad Ghaziri (RL)   Subaru Impreza WRX STi
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Stepeh McAuley (GB)   Subaru Impreza WRX STi
6. Ahmad Hamsho (SYR)/Yousef Al-Asmar (HKJ)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
7. Khalifa Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA)/Marwan Musabeh (QA)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
8. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Matthieu Baumel (F)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
9. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA)   Subaru Impreza WRX STi
10. Mohammed Hamsho (SYR)/Steve Lancaster (GB)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi
11. Nicos Thomas (CY)/Andreas Christodoulides (CY)  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

FIA Middle East Rally Championship - positions after round 2
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)  18 pts
2. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)  13 pts
3. Nicos Thomas (CY)  10 pts
4. Michel Saleh (RL)   7 pts
4. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)  7 pts
6. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)  6 pts
6. Nick Georgiou (RL)   6 pts
8. Salah Bin Eidan (KT)  5 pts
9. Faris Hijazi (HKJ)   2 pts
10. Ahmad Al-Kuwari (QA)  1 pt


For further media information:
Lutfi Estwani, Arabic Press Officer, Tel: + 963 11 232 3706, Fax: + 963 11 231 2785, Mobile: + 963 93234445
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, Syrian International Rally, Syria mobile: + 963 967 627862, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)



Date issued: 05/06/2008

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