MERC Baptism of fire for Abu Dhabi Juniors in Lebanon
2008 Rally of Lebanon
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 4 of 7
For immediate release
Sunday, June 29th, 2008
BAPTISM OF FIRE FOR TEAM ABU
DHABI'S THREE JUNIORS IN LEBANON
Majed Al-Shamsi rolls and continues; engine damage sidelines Mansour Al-Suwaidi
Lebanon's Roger Feghali seals sixth win in Lebanon; young Nick Georgiou takes second
JOUNIEH (Lebanon): The three members of Team Abu Dhabi's Junior Rally Team had endured mixed fortunes and gained priceless rallying experience when their first international asphalt rally challenge came to an end in Lebanon on Sunday.
Youngsters Majed Al-Shamsi, Mansour Al-Suwaidi and Khalil Sheikh took part in the 31st Rally of Lebanon, the fourth round of this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship, and gained vital competitive mileage as they bid to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and progress to the highest level in the exciting world of international rallying.
They are members of Team Abu Dhabi's Junior Rally Team, which 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 Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.
Majed Al-Shamsi and his Australian co-driver Dale Moscatt held a comfortable lead over Mansour Al-Suwaidi and Ulster co-driver Allan Harryman at the end of the first day's eight special stages to the north of Beirut. But Al-Suwaidi was struck by cruel luck at the end of the day. He had unintentionally over-revved the Fiesta's engine on the eighth Maifouk stage and the unit sustained internal damage. Crossing the finish ramp to enter Parc Ferme on Saturday evening in Jounieh it became apparent that the unit was not running efficiently and the team had no option but to withdraw a disappointed Al-Suwaidi from the event.
The third M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta of Khalil Sheikh and Irish co-driver Killian Duffy was forced to miss several timed specials on Saturday afternoon, because of windscreen damage but the duo, like Qatar's championship leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, restarted on Sunday morning under SupeRally conditions.
Four stages, repeated twice, were scheduled for Sunday to the east of Beirut in the areas around Bteghrine, Zandouka, Deir El Qamar and Kefraya. Fiesta front-runner Al-Shamsi was continuing to adjust to the driving technique required on slippery and specialised asphalt surfaces, but he misjudged a corner in the 11th Deir El Qamar stage and rolled his Fiesta. The Abu Dhabi driver managed to get back on his wheels again, completed the 12th stage and managed to return to the Jounieh service to assess the damage, although on-event team manager Ron Cremen admitted that every panel was damaged on the car except the driver's door and it took a sterling effort by the Abu Dhabi team mechanics to get the youngster on his way again for the final loop of four stages. Al-Shamsi duly slipped from 19th overall to 20th with the five-minute on-stage delay, while Khalil Sheikh headed into the final four specials in 25th position.
"Each of our drivers have shown promise over the two days and will learn such a lot from this experience," said a delighted Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi. "They have all had technical problems to deal with and that is part and parcel of rallying at this level. The Lebanese special stages should never be under-estimated. They are some of the most challenging in the Middle East, but all three drivers coped well with the challenge and can take away so many positives from this weekend."
Lebanon's Roger Feghali confirmed his sixth victory on his home event and his fifth successive win with a dominant final day's performance. Defending regional champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah restarted under SupeRally and set two competitive stage times before withdrawing with an ill-handling car following damaged sustained during Saturday morning's first stage accident.
London-based Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou and Lebanon's Gilbert Bannout were Feghali's closest challengers, but Al-Attiyah maintains the championship lead heading into the three-month summer break, courtesy of the fact that his closest challenger Misfer Al-Marri was prevented from starting by electronic problems on the eve of the event.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) Junior Development programme has been established to create opportunities for young Abu Dhabi citizens. The aim of the Abu Dhabi Junior Team is to provide a stepping-stone for talented local 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.
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