MERC Abu Dhabi Junior Team drivers face first punishing Lebanese stages
2008 Rally of Lebanon
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 4 of 7
For immediate release
Saturday, June 28th, 2008
ABU DHABI JUNIOR TEAM DRIVERS SURVIVE
FIRST PUNISHING LEBANESE TARMAC TESTS
Majed Al-Shamsi leads trio of Abu Dhabi Fiestas in Lebanon
Lebanon's Feghali holds rally lead after four stages; Qatar's Al-Attiyah crashes out
JOUNIEH (Lebanon): Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team drivers got their first experience of the slippery tarmac special stages of the 31st Rally of Lebanon on Saturday, when they tackled eight punishing section north of Beirut.
The new Abu Dhabi Junior Team has been put together with support from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), under the chairmanship of His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al-Nahyan, and is being overseen and nurtured by Abu Dhabi's WRC rally star Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.
After four of the day's timed tests, Majed Al-Shamsi led his two team mates at the wheel of the first of the three M-Sport Ford Fiestas, which are being run on the event under the technical expertise of Australian Ron Cremen and his team of mechanics.
Majed Al-Shamsi and his Australian co-driver Dale Moscatt were comfortably the quickest of the three drivers through the opening 11.45km of the Batroun stage, north of Jounieh. They extended their lead with the fastest time in the second Ain Aaya special, where Mansour Al-Suwaidi and Ulster co-driver Allan Harryman beat Khalil Sheikh and his Irish co-driver Killian Duffy by one minute 50 seconds. The three Fiestas held 24th, 26th and 31st overall after two specials.
Teams were then permitted to carry out a remote service at Barbara, but Khalil Sheikh's windscreen was damaged because of an unsecured bonnet pin on the road section to the third Blat stage. Al-Shamsi was again quickest through the sinuous 10.29km of the Blat special and extended his overall lead over Al-Suwaidi, with the three Abu Dhabi drivers climbing to 23rd, 25th and 27th places, despite Al-Sheikh's windscreen maladies.
Al-Shamsi was again the leading Fiesta driver through the Maifouk stage and headed back to Jounieh for the main service with a comfortable 2m 12s lead over Al-Suwaidi. The pair were 22nd and 24th in the overall classification, although Al-Sheikh had incurred a stage maximum penalty for the fourth stage when he was not permitted to start on safety grounds, although he will restart Sunday's eight special stages under SupeRally regulations.
"All three of our young drivers have now tasted their first experience of international tarmac rallying," said Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi. "They realise how very different it is compared to rallying in the desert or on gravel, but they have enjoyed the experience immensely. They have adapted to the slippery conditions very well and Majed, in particular, looks relaxed and at ease in this environment."
Thirty-three of the region's finest drivers began the tarmac classic and Lebanese driver Roger Feghali - a winner of the event on five occasions - led outright at the wheel of his new Prodrive-prepared Subaru Impreza N14 after four stages, with fellow countryman Gilbert Bannout and London-based Nick Georgiou his closest rivals in a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions.
Qatari championship leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah crashed out on the first stage, but Misfer al-Marri - his closest rival in the series - was unable to make the start when his Subaru's ECU failed before the ceremonial start on Friday evening and British company Prodrive were unable to fly in a spare part in time for the Doha driver to make the start of the first stage.
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 development plan. The aim of the Abu Dhabi Junior Team is to 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 UAE's commercial capital on an international scale.
Tomorrow (Sunday) there will be a further eight specials of the 31st Rally of Lebanon 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.
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153 E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com
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