Qatar: Drivers head to Doha for first round of FIA Middle East Rally and regions 30th anniversary

Qatar: Drivers head to Doha for first round of FIA Middle East Rally and regions 30th anniversary

Saeed Al-Hajri on his way to winning the 1984 Qatar Rally - 30 years of the MERC....

Tuesday, Feb 11th, 2014-Doha, Qatar: The Middle East’s top rally drivers head to Doha this weekend to begin their preparations for next week’s QMMF Qatar International Rally, round one of the 2014 FIA Middle East Rally Championship. The event starts with a new super special stage on Doha Corniche from 6pm on Thursday, February 20th.

Topping the provisional entry list is Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the defending regional champion and the winner of his home event in 10 of the last 11 seasons. Nasser starts as the firm favourite to seal a 51st MERC round win but competition will be fierce; regular WRC stars Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari are likely to push the Ford Fiesta RRC driver to the limit on each of the 13 timed special stages.

Al-Attiyah will continue his build up to the rally on Friday in a very different way by taking part in the Qatar Open Shotgun Championships at the Losail Shooting Complex. The Olympic bronze medallist in the men’s skeet joins over 300 shooters and 13 Olympic medallists at the prestigious event.

Saudi’s Al-Rajhi is one of the most improved rally drivers in the region and followed up a convincing victory in Rally Jeddah two weeks ago by sealing fourth position in the WRC2 category in Rally Sweden last weekend. The Riyadh driver had led the category for long periods before rolling near the finish and eventually finishing fourth in his class and 14th overall.

Also at the helm of a Ford Fiesta RRC, the Saudi will be full of rally practice in readiness for his Qatar challenge; he headed straight from Sweden to Russia and will tackle this weekend’s Baja Russia Northern Forest ’14 at the helm of an Overdrive Toyota Hilux.

Khalid Al-Qassimi is hoping to become the first Emirati since 2002 to win the Qatar International Rally

Emirati Al-Qassimi is also a regular on the WRC scene and endured his own fair share of problems in Sweden, reaching the finish in 16th position. The Abu Dhabi Racing driver wheels out his Citroën DS3 in Qatar and would love to become the first UAE driver to win the event since 2002.

Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari won the Qatar International Rally two years ago and gave the Mini S2000 its first international success. Since then, the Qatari has achieved some stunning results in the WRC2 category of the FIA World Rally Championship and will be aiming for the podium next weekend in Doha in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII.

The event also marks the 30th anniversary of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship and the British car preparation company Prodrive that not only prepared the Mini that Al-Kuwari used to win in Doha in 2012, but also built the Group B Porsche 911 SC RS that Qatari legend Saeed Al-Hajri used to win the Qatar International Rally back in 1984.

“On the 30th anniversary of the regional rally championship, we are delighted to have received a strong entry for the traditional opening round of the series here in Qatar,” enthused Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, president of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) and FIA vice-president for sport in the Middle East. “It will be fascinating to see the leading drivers in the region taking each other on over their traditional desert-type terrain.”

Documentation will take place on Wednesday, February 19th and scrutineering of the cars will also take place at the QMMF in Doha on Thursday, February 20th. The meat of the off-road action then takes centre stage on Friday, February 21st and Saturday, February 22nd in the Qatar desert.

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