Rally: Top drivers Al Qassimi and Al Attiyah draw battle for Middle East title
Dubai, UAE, 27 November, 2014: Only two drivers in the last 11 years have found victory in the Dubai International Rally, and they face an intriguing battle for supremacy when the 36th edition of the event draws the 2014 FIA Middle East Rally Championship to its conclusion this weekend.
If Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is to emerge as FIA Middle East champion for the second time in his career, he will have to end one of the longest winning sequences in the 30-year history of the regional series.
Partnered by Chris Patterson in his Abu Dhabi Racing Citroen DS3, Al Qassimi is attempting to become the first UAE driver to achieve Dubai Rally success since he won it for the second year in a row in 2006.
Since then, the event has been dominated by Qatar’s nine-times Middle East champion Nasser Al Attiyah, who knows that his bid for a tenth regional crown, alongside Giovanni Bernacchini in a Ford Fiesta RRC, will be denied should Al Qassimi take the victory laurels on Saturday.
They are unlikely to have things all their own way, however, as Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al Kuwari could also emerge as Middle East champion should the top two seeds push too hard over the next two days and run into difficulty.
Any mistakes or misfortunes up ahead could also open the door for a serious challenge by two other Emirati drivers, Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi and Rashid Al Ketbi, both driving Ford Fiesta RRCs and equally keen to add a Dubai Rally win to their CVs.
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.
The event gets under way with a ceremonial start at Dubai World Trade Centre at 7.30pm tonight (Thursday) before two days of desert special stage action in the Al Dhaid, Kadra and Mileiha areas. The finish is at Dubai World Trade Centre at 4.30pm on Saturday.
For a fifth year, the rally is based at Dubai Men’s College, in the Higher Colleges of Technology campus at Academic City, Dubai, which hosts the Rally HQ and service park, as well as today’s official press conference.
As Al Attiayah looks to extend his seven-year winning sequence in Dubai, it is irresistible to compare his record with that of Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the 14-times former Middle East champion, now President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.
Sulayem, whose 15 career victories in his home event included six successive wins from 1997-2002, also won a single event – the Jordan International Rally – seven years in a row, starting in 1996.
“The records in rallying are there to be broken, as they are in all other sports, and this is the challenge that motivates people like Nasser,” said Sulayem. “I’m looking forward to the contest between him and Khalid, but it would be foolish to think of this is a two-car battle because there are some other very good drivers here and a single mistake or stroke of bad luck can decide the outcome.”
With much of the competitive stages taking place in the Emirate of Sharjah, the ATCUAE is grateful for the backing of Sharjah Sports Council, and the key logistical support from the Police, ambulance service, municipality and other Sharjah government departments
The Qatari challenge in Dubai is reinforced by Abdulla Al Kuwari and Khalid Al Suwaidi also entering Ford Fiestas and Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah, lying second in the production class championship, at the wheel of a Group N Mitsubishi Evo.
Already assured of the Middle East Group N title, Kuwait’s Mshari Althefiri wants to round off the season with a production class win in Dubai, but the men will not have things all their own way.
The sole lady driver in the event Edith Weiss, has in fact contested more 300 international events, including 17 World Rally Championship appearances, since 1992. The German-born driver, who was Bavaria’s Sportswoman of the year in 1996, is assured of at least third place overall in the Group N championship.
FIA Middle East Rally Championship standings after 5 of 6 rounds
1 Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT) 75pts
2 Khalid Al Qassimi (UAE) 69
3 Abdulaziz Al Kuwari (QAT) 66
4 Abdulla Al Kuwari (QAT) 39
5 Abdullah Al Qassimi (UAE) 27
= Yazeed Al Rajhi (KSA) 27
Group N standings
1 Meshari Al Thefiri (KWT) 89pts
2 Khalifa Al Attiyah (QAT) 58
3 Edith Weiss (QAT) 49
4 Nada Zaidan (QAT) 46
5 Nicolas Amiouni (LEB) 25
= Husam Salem (JOR) 25