MERC Lebanese tarmac debut for Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team
2008 Rally of Lebanon
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 4 of 7
For immediate release
Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
FIRST TARMAC TEST AWAITS ABU DHABI
JUNIOR RALLY TEAM IN RALLY OF LEBANON
Khalil Sheikh joins Mansoor Al-Suwaidi and Majed Al-Shamsi in Lebanon
Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi impressed with professionalism of Abu Dhabi juniors
JOUNIEH (Lebanon): The new Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team is in Lebanon this weekend, where three up and coming Abu Dhabi drivers will take part in the 31st Rally of Lebanon, the fourth round of the prestigious FIA Middle East Rally Championship. The programme has been put together with support from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which is run under the chairmanship of His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al-Nahyan.
The Middle East's only asphalt surface special stage rally will be the first test of its kind for Khalil Sheikh, Majed Al-Shamsi and Mansoor Al-Suwaidi, who will line up at the start of the two-day event in a trio of Ford Fiestas alongside a provisional 33 other drivers from all over the Levant and GCC regions. The competitive action on twisty and slippery tarmac stages in the mountains to the north and east of Beirut takes place on Saturday, June 28th and Sunday, June 29th.
"We were impressed with the focus and professionalism shown by the three nominated drivers in Syria on their first international gravel event," said Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, Abu Dhabi's FIA World Rally Championship star, who is an integral member of the team behind the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team. "I know from personal experience that the Rally of Lebanon is a totally different type of rally.
"It is specialised, technical and the tarmac surfaces can become very slippery in hot weather. The asphalt is better suited to the two-wheel drive Ford Fiestas than the rough desert, but this will be a new and exciting experience for all three drivers. It is important that they are patient and try and reach the finish to gain as much experience as possible."
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) Junior Development programme has been established to create opportunities for young Abu Dhabi citizens and to set-up a world class and professionally-run development programme. The Abu Dhabi Junior Team will provide a stepping-stone for talented Abu Dhabi drivers to compete at the highest level and to develop strong support and interest in the sport of rallying in Abu Dhabi, in addition to promoting the destination of Abu Dhabi on an international scale.
Both Al-Suwaidi and Al-Shamsi took part in the recent Syrian International Rally. Al-Shamsi retired from leading the category when he damaged his engine's sump on a rock and the Ford shed its oil, but 22-year-old Al-Suwaidi went on to finish 18th overall.
In Lebanon, Al-Suwaidi again lines up with Ulster co-driver Allan Harryman and Australian Dale Moscatt sits alongside Al-Shamsi. But Ireland's Killian Duffy replaces Ulsterman Michael Orr in the navigator's seat with Khalil Sheikh. Duffy has been a regular competitor in the region for several years, while the majority of Orr's time this year is taken up with commitments for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team and Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in the FIA World Rally Championship. Orr finished 17th overall with the leading Abu Dhabi junior, Bader Al-Jabri, in Syria recently.
"I wasn't able to finish the event in Syria, but it was fantastic experience for me to compete against the best rally drivers in the area," enthused Al-Shamsi. "We are all really looking forward to Lebanon. We have heard how challenging the stages can be, but we all want to give our best performance and try and reach the finish."
The M-Sport prepared Ford Fiestas are fitted with two-litre engines and will be run in Lebanon under the management of Australian technical director Ron Cremen and his team of rally mechanics. Cremen is a former Formula Two regional champion and has taken part in the Rally of Lebanon himself on several occasions.
The Rally of Lebanon is being organised by the Automobile Touring Club of Lebanon (ATCL). Teams were permitted to carry out a monitored reconnaissance of the special stages today (Wednesday) and Thursday, June 26th, prior to the ceremonial start at the town hall square in Jounieh at 21.00hrs on Friday evening.
The competitive action gets underway from 07.48hrs on Saturday morning with the popular Batroun stage to the north of Jounieh and teams will tackle a variety of sealed surface sections over a further seven special stages throughout the day. There will be a further eight specials on Sunday in the Bteghrine, Zandouka and Kefraya areas before the finish ceremony and prize giving take place adjacent to the ATCL in Jounieh from 18.30hrs. In a total route of 950.81km, 282.02km will be competitive.
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