Dubai, UAE, 28 November, 2014: The 2014 FIA Middle East Rally Championship is set for a dramatic climax, with Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah and the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi locked in a tense fight to the finish in the 36th Dubai International Rally.
At the end of the first leg tonight (Friday) after six special stages, Al Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini in a Ford Fiesta RRC led by 6.8 seconds over Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson in their Citroen DS3 following a fascinating day long duel between the two great rivals.
The Emirati driver must now produce one of the best drives of his career on the second leg if he is to beat defending champion Al Attiyah into second place in Dubai and snatch away his Middle East title by a single championship point.
Lying third in the championship, Qatari Abdulaziz Al Kuwari had also started the day with his sights still on the Middle East crown, but his hopes faded as he fell another 1:45.7 seconds adrift of in third place on the day. At the end of the leg Qatar’s Khalid Al Suwaidi, the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi and another Qatari, Abdulla Al Kuwari, completed the top six.
It was a classic Dubai International Rally day as the top two seeds fought out a great battle. Al Qassimi made his intentions clear from the start by winning the first two stages, before sharing the fastest time on the next with Al Attiyah who went on to win the last three.
In the end Al Qassimi, who is hoping to start UAE National Day celebrations early with a double title success, was left regretting the ten seconds penalty he collected for a jump start on the day’s opening stage.
He reached the service halt after the first loop of three stages leading Al Attiyah by 5.5 seconds. “I was sure that I didn’t jump start because I was penalised last year and when you have been bitten before you will always be careful,” he said. “Apart from that everything is going fine for me.”
Looking calm and relaxed, Al Attiyah said: “I cleared the road on the first three stages and didn’t take any risks. We’re ok, and in the second loop we will know all the lines and it will be easier for us.”
And so it proved as the Qatari, chasing an eighth Dubai Rally victory in a row and a tenth Middle East title forced his way into the lead.
It is unheard of for the championship to reach the final round in Dubai with three drivers still in the title race, although it would take major problems for the top two on the final leg to now let in Abdulaziz Al Kuwari.
His prospects had already dwindled over the first three stages. “The first stage was a shock for me because Khaled and Nasser were very fast,” he said. “I don’t where I left anything out on this stage. The second stage I overshot one corner and lost at least ten seconds. Then the last stage I was driving with front wheel (drive) when we broke the rear drive shaft after four or five kms.”
Taking place under the patronage of H.H Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE National Olympic Committee, the Dubai International Rally is one of the main attractions of the 2nd edition of Dubai Motor Festival.
Among the casualties on the day were the UAE’s Rashid Al Ketbi who retired when his Ford Fiesta RRCs lost a wheel mid way through the day’s third special stage, and Nishad Kochumohamed who went out when his Ford rolled on the first stage. Driver and co-driver Sajiin Gangadhran were unhurt.
Veteran German lady driver Edith Weiss also retired early following a succession of mechanical problems in her Mitsubishi Evo IX, but will take advantage of the Rally 2 option to restart the event on the second leg.
Dubai International Rally, first leg provisional results:
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Giovanni Bernacchini (QAT / POL) / Ford Fiesta RRC 59:10.3
2. Khalid Al Qassimi / Chris Patterson (UAE / GBR) / Citroen DS3 / RC2 59:17.1
3. Abdulaziz Al Kuwari / Killian Duffy (QAT / IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC / RC2 1:01:02.8
4. Khalid Al Suwaidi / John Higgins (QTR / IRL) / Ford Fiesta RRC / RC2 1:02:21.6
5. Abdullah Al Qassimi / Gaby Khoury (UAE / LEB) / Ford Fiesta RRC / GP2 1:02:42.9
6. Abdulla Al Kuwari / Enda Sherry (Qatar/ IRE) Ford Fiesta RRC / RC2 1:05:13.8
7. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah / Adhil H. Abdulla (QAT / QAT) / Mitsubishi EVO 1:06:26.5
8. Mohammed Al Mutawaa / Stephen McAuley (UAE / GBR) / Citroen DS3 R3 1:08:51.8
9. Mohamed Al Sahlawi / Craig Parry (UAE / GBR) / Citroen DS3 R3 / RC3 1:09:30.5
10. Saeed Bintowq / Allan Harryman (UAE / GBR) / Citroen DS3 R3 / RC3 1:10:47.3
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