MERC Rampant Al Attiyah cruises into Syrian Rally lead

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

For immediate release
Friday, June 6th, 2008

Sharjah's Abdullah Al-Qassimi holds second place; third for Qatar's Al-Marri
Mechanical woes for Saudi Arabia's Al-Sabban and UAE's Al-Maktoum

SEDNAYA (Syria): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson held an emphatic 3m 55.8s lead after seven timed special stages at the end of day one of the 8th Syrian International Rally in Sednaya on Friday.

The pair had been fastest on all but one of the desert stages in a quest to extend their five-point overall lead in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri held second position until he fell behind Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi on the last stage of the day. Cypriot rookie Nicos Thomas - winner of the recent Cyprus Rally - was a sensational third overall on his first ever desert rally until he was awarded a dubious time penalty for early arrival at a stage start and slipped to an eventual fourth place.

The UAE's Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum held second for four stages, before suffering suspension problems that cost him his place on the leader board.

"The objective was to push hard from the start and try and build up a lead," said four-times regional champion Al-Attiyah. "I am still not altogether happy with the new car, but it served us well today and I am quite pleased with the lead we have at the end of the day."

The pre-event hype was soon forgotten after the 12.5km opening Jupiter stage, as a flying Al-Attiyah headed straight into a 6.9 second outright lead over Suhail Bin Khalifa. Al-Rajhi had promised to match the Qatari, but he was down in fifth behind Sharjah's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Syria's Haitham Al-Yousefi. A puncture hampered rookie Nicos Thomas's progress.

Thirty-two cars eventually made the start, but there were problems for Lebanon's Michel Saleh. He opted to use his older N12 version of the Subaru Impreza, rather than risk the relatively untested N14, which has been plagued by engine unreliability problems in the early stages of its development. Saleh dropped 25s to the leader in the first stage and slipped to seventh overall. Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban broke his gearbox a mere four kilometres into the stage and was forced to retire his Toyota S2000.

Al-Attiyah extended his advantage to 35.3s through the 24km Hafar stage where Al-Maktoum was a clear second overall, with Al-Qassimi, Nick Georgiou and Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri hanging on to their coat tails. Al-Rajhi lost three minutes with transmission woes and plummeted down the leader board to 15th. Al-Yousefi, Syrian colleague Mirar Al-Homsi and Qatar's Mubarak Al-Hajri were badly delayed.

Al-Maktoum duly won the third Baida stage to reduce Al-Attiyah's lead to 25.8s at the Dair Ateyah service stop where Al-Rajhi's transmission maladies had continued and the Saudi was forced to change the gearbox. Al-Marri, Georgiou, Thomas, Al-Qassimi, Saleh, Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari, Kuwait's Salah Bin Eidan and Syria's Mohammed Hamsho completed the top 10.

Al-Attiyah was again fastest in the fourth test and headed to Hafar with a 48.1 second lead over Al-Maktoum, although a resurgent Al-Rajhi set the second fastest time in his repaired Subaru. Al-Marri held third and there was a sensational fight for fourth place between Georgiou and Thomas, with the Lebanese driver holding a 0.8 second advantage.

Al-Maktoum's cruel luck continued in SS5: he managed to struggle to the finish after a nut worked loose on the front ball joint as Al-Attiyah extended his overall lead over main championship rival Al-Marri to 2m 12s. The battle for third edged in Thomas's favour, when Georgiou lost three and a half minutes and slipped out of the top six. Al-Qassimi, Al-Shanfari and Saleh were handily-placed to challenge for the podium.

Al-Attiyah continued to pull away from Al-Marri through the re-run of the Baida stage and headed into the final Sheraton special 2m 13s ahead, but there were more woes for Al-Rajhi. He lost 25 minutes in the stage and catapulted down to the foot of the general classification, as Al-Shanfari also lost six minutes. Thomas was awarded a dubious time penalty for arriving at the stage two minutes early and slipped from third to sixth as Al-Qassimi re-entered the top three and Saleh climbed back to fifth.

The Qatari consolidated his outright lead in the final stage of the day as the leading five drivers all reached the finish over the dry and dusty desert terrain.

Syria also hosted the first international appearance of the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team, with Mansour Al-Suwaidi, Bader Al-Jabri and Majed Al-Shamsi tackling the event in three M-Sport Ford Fiestas. Al-Shamsi was the early pace setter, but suffered a troublesome oil leak in the third stage where Al-Jabri headed Al-Suwaidi by just 1.2 seconds. Al-Shamsi was eventually sidelined with a cracked sump, but the team was hopeful that he could restart under SupeRally on Saturday. Al-Suwaidi duly moved into a 17.5 second lead over Al-Jabri after five stages and held 20th overall.

Saturday's action will feature six special stages and begins with a run through the 20.5km Honda test at 9.38hrs. Two more specials follow before service at Dair Ateyah, including a run through the Nabk stage. 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 Hotel in Sednaya from 16.48hrs.

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

Positions after SS7 - end of day one (unofficial @ 16.15hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB)  Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 24m 58.9s
2. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Fred Gocentas (LT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 1h 28m 54.7s
3. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Subaru Impreza WRX STi   1h 29m 26.2s
4. Nicos Thomas (CY)/Andreas Christodoulides (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  1h 30m 41.2s
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Stephen McAuley (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi   1h 31m 04.6s
6. Salah Bin Eidan (KWT)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 31m 19.2s
7. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX  1h 32m 48.0s
8. Mohammed Hamsho (SYR)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 33m 42.1s
9. Haitham Al-Yousefi (SYR)/Rashid Al-Sulaiti (QA) Subaru Impreza  1h 35m 22.0s


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: 06/06/2008

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