MERC Abu Dhabi Juniors enjoy Syrian Rally experience
2008 Syrian International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 7
For immediate release
Saturday, June 7th, 2008
ABU DHABI JUNIORS ENJOY SYRIAN
INTERNATIONAL RALLY EXPERIENCE
Abu Dhabi's Al-Jabri heads Al-Suwaidi in Syria
Terminal engine problems sideline Majed Al-Shamsi
SEDNAYA (Syria): Two members of the new Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team tackled the two-day route of the punishing Syrian International Rally, which ran over some of the toughest desert terrain in the Levant region and reached a conclusion at Sednaya, in the hills north-west of Damascus, on Saturday afternoon.
Abu Dhabi drivers Bader Al-Jabri and Mansour Al-Suwaidi completed well over 200km of competitive action in what was priceless experience for them at the start of their fledgling rallying careers.
The event was the third round of the 2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship and the first chosen by Abu Dhabi team principal Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and technical director Ron Cremen as international experience for the rookie rally drivers outside of their native UAE.
The exciting new programme has been masterminded by Sheikh Khalid with support from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which is run under the chairmanship of His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al-Nahyan.
Al-Suwaidi had held a 31.5-second advantage over Al-Jabri at the end of the first day's seven special stages on Friday, although early pace setter Majed Al-Shamsi - in a third Ford Fiesta - was sidelined with a cracked sump after clouting the base of the car on rocky ground in the Syrian desert. The impact damaged the engine and the Emirati was unable to restart on Saturday.
"We were coming through a blind three-right turn and I was surprised by a big rock in the road," admitted a disappointed Al-Shamsi. "We tried to avoid it. It didn't seem that big. We were only two kilometres away from the finish line, but at the finish I saw the oil light flashing. We moved a few metres away from the time control, but I noticed oil everywhere and we also had a flat tyre. That was the end for us."
With both the surviving Ford Fiestas suitably refettled at the final service on Friday night, the objective for both Al-Suwaidi and Al-Jabri was to reach the finish and clock up as many competitive kilometres as possible. "It's actually been very enjoyable and the guys are driving quite sensibly," admitted Al-Jabri's experienced co-driver Michael Orr before the restart.
Al-Jabri overturned the deficit in the eighth 20.5km special stage: he beat Al-Suwaidi by 2m 26s when his Abu Dhabi team mate had tyre problems and headed into the ninth stage in 17th place overall and 1m 55.1s ahead of the second Fiesta. Al-Jabri continued to edge ahead through the Mrah stage and increased his lead over Al-Suwaidi to 2m 09.1s, as the Abu Dhabi pair held 17th and 18th overall from 32 starters.
Al-Suwaidi beat Al-Jabri in the Nabk stage, but the Fiesta front-runner headed to service at Deir Ateyah and on to the final three stages 1m 51.5s in front of his team mate. It was a case of both drivers gaining as much experience as possible over those closing stages as they bid to follow in the footsteps of mentor Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and, perhaps, reach the international stage in the future.
"I have been delighted by the attitude and professionalism shown by each of the drivers over the course of the weekend," said Abu Dhabi's WRC star driver Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi. "The Ford Fiesta is not the easiest of cars to drive over this rough and stony terrain, but all three drivers were focused and learned a lot from their experience."
The Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team have decided that rookie Khalil Al-Sheikh will join Mansour Al-Suwaidi and Majed Al-Shamsi to take part in the Rally of Lebanon, the all-tarmac fourth round of the regional series, at the end of this month.
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