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Qatar International Rally - 25-26 Jan 13

Posted: January 29, 2013 12:31 PM - 4941 Hits

Round 1 - 2013 Middle East Rally Championship

Podium for Duffy as Mayo Co-drivers make their mark on Qatar Rally

Posted: January 29, 2013 12:31 PM

The sand and heat may have made for an alien environment compared to the wintry wind and rain of home, but for the two Mayo & District Motorsport Club co-drivers who tackled the Qatar International Rally at the week-end, it was quickly a case of business as usual. Both Killian Duffy and John Higgins navigated their respective Middle East drivers Abdulaziz Al Kuwari and Majid Al Shamsi to challenge for overall and category wins on the difficult desert rally. While the Al Shamsi / Higgins pairing ultimately failed to reach the finish, it was podium joy for Al Kuwari and Duffy, bringing their Seashore Qatar Rally Team Ford Fiesta home in a superb third place overall.

Based in the Qatari capital of Doha, the Qatar International Rally was the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, and attracted all the top local drivers including current World Rally stars Nasser Al Attiyah competing on his home event, and the UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi. For Killian Duffy, it was a return to familiar haunts, the Crossmolina native having competed in the Middle East series for a number of years, and hoping for a strong result alongside last year’s rally winner Al Kuwari.

For reigning Irish National Rally Champion co-driver John Higgins though, this was a whole new ball-game, the Kiltimagh man making his desert rallying debut alongside Majid Al Shamsi as part of the same Abu Dhabi Racing team as former Ford works driver Khalid Al Qasimi, but competing in a more showroom specification Subaru Impreza. Speaking after the recce before the rally started, John was looking forward to his first Middle East event. “It [the recce] was quite different than what I’m used to, as in the navigation is quite challenging. Sometimes it can be difficult to see what track you should be on - or even see a track!”

From the start, the established World Rally stars of Al Attiyah and Al Qasimi set the pace, with the latter perhaps surprised to lead the event at the half-way point ahead of the multiple previous winner and former Dakar rally winner. Al Kuwari and Killian Duffy suffered from too stiff suspension on their Fiesta on the opening stages, and were effectively out of contention for overall honours by the second stage after going off track and losing one and a half minutes. Nontheless they still managed to hold on to third place overall by the end of the first day.

It was also a strong day for Al Shamsi and John Higgins, impressing observers to finish the first day in the lead of the Group N category.

Day two saw Nasser Al Attiyah come home to record his tenth Qatar International Rally success after Khalid Al Qasimi suffered a puncture, while after the dramas of the opening day, Al Kuwari and Killian Duffy consolidated their podium place to record an excellent result behind the two established World Rally drivers. Speaking at the finish, Killian was happy with the week-end’s actvities, noting that once they had sorted their suspension on day one, things had gone well, including a second overall fastest time on stage 5.

“We were too far behind the leaders to catch them and we had a comfortable advantage over 4th place, so we set a safe pace. Our times were still in touch with the leading drivers but the time loss on day 1 was impossible to make up. 3rd overall is a great start to the championship, the next round is Kuwait in March, but firstly we do a 1 day local rally in Kuwait in February, and WRC Mexico, so a busy few months ahead!”.

After their strong opening day performance, Al Shamsi and John Higgins were disappointed to have to retire on the opening stage of leg 2 with rear suspension failure on the Subaru Impreza.
“We didn't hit anything but the rough stages on day 1 took their toll I would say” said a philisophical John, after what was an eye-opening but encouraging Middle East Rally debut. “The rally was extremely challenging. I never concentrated so hard on stages before. You have to call the notes as normal, but the road might have completely different lines on it after a few cars pass, meaning some corners are more open and faster, and some will have disapeared altogether. You have to make sure that we stay on the rally route using the GPS at the same time. Then you can't always see the road! Tough going, but overall very enjoyable”.

Like his fellow Mayo co-driver, John will be seeing a lot more of the desert in 2013, as he has signed up to do the full seven round FIA Middle East Rally Championship with Majid Al Shamsi and the Abu Shabi Racing Team. His next event will be the Kuwait International Rally in March.

Video Reports

Posted: January 29, 2013 12:28 PM


Posted: January 28, 2013 7:52 PM

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini emerged triumphant after one of the closest battles in the history of the Qatar International Rally, the traditional opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which finished in Doha on Saturday afternoon.

Driving his Autotek-run Ford Fiesta RRC, the Qatari was made to work harder than ever before for his record-breaking 10th Qatar International Rally victory and his 46th career MERC win.

Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (Citroën DS3) and British navigator Scott Martin pushed him all the way until they suffered a flat tyre on the 10th stage. The Qatari then pushed home his advantage over the closing kilometres to seal victory by the margin of 55.7 seconds and a maximum points’ haul at the start of a new season of Middle East rallying.

“All credit to Khalid for the way he drove this week but it is fantastic for me to win,” said Al-Attiyah. “Winning in Qatar is always a special feeling and to take my 10th win here is superb.”

Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Khalid Al-Suwaidi traded stage times in their Ford Fiesta RRCs and last year’s winner Al-Kuwari managed to hold his overnight lead to the finish and take the final podium position.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi set consistent stage times during the course of the two days and reached the finish in fifth position with British co-driver Steve Lancaster.

Reinstated through the Super Rally ruling after his first day woes, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi began the day in seventh overall and climbed to an eventual sixth position.

Qatar’s Abdullah Al-Kuwari began the day leading the Group N section with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and, despite dropping four minutes on the first stage of the day, he and UAE co-driver Khalid Al-Kendi finished seventh and first in Group N. Abu Dhabi’s Bader Al-Jabri was eighth and Italy’s Michele de Nora finished ninth.

Rookie Emirati Mohamed Al-Mutawaa retired his R3 Citroën DS3 after a reported gentle roll on the seventh stage but young Abu Dhabi Junior colleague Mohamed Al-Sahlawi drove well on his first international rally to secure 10th place and win the two-wheel drive category with his Citroën DS3 R3.

Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri, Jordan’s Hani Al-Bast, Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya and Germany’s Edith Weiss were 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th.


Posted: January 28, 2013 7:50 PM

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta 2hr 16min 47.2sec
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Scott Martin (GBR) Citroën DS3 2hr 17min 42.9sec
3. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta 2hr 21min 02.2sec
4. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta 2hr 22min 36.2sec
5. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GBR) Ford Fiesta 2hr 32min 39.4sec
6. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta 2hr 38min 39.6sec
7. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer 2hr 54min 07.3sec
8. Bader Al-Jabri (UAE)/Nicolas Klinger (FRA) Subaru Impreza 2hr 55min 59.0sec
9. Michele de Nora (ITA)/Sergio Secchi (ITA) Subaru Impreza 3hr 02min 32.8sec
10. Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (UAE)/Allan Harryman (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3 3hr 13min 24.1sec
11. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Mubarak Al-Thefiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 14min 44.7sec
12 Hani Al-Bast (JOR)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 24min 43.9sec
13. Burcu Cetincaya (TUR)/Ozlem Akguc (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer 3hr 27min 25.2sec
14. Edith Weiss (GER)/Saeed Swarib (QAT) Subaru Impreza 3hr 42min 53.0sec


Posted: January 24, 2013 10:32 PM

The brand new Al-Shabhana desert special stage to the west of Doha will get proceedings underway in the 2013 Qatar International Rally on Friday morning.

The opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has strength in depth and top seed Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah will lead 17 other entrants into two days of rallying action in the stony Qatar deserts. A nine-time winner of his home event, Al-Attiyah will be chasing his 46th individual MERC event victory.

“I have won this rally nine times and each year I probably only win two or three stages only,” said Al-Attiyah. “That is the nature of this rally. It is very difficult and the fact that we have so many strong cars and fast drivers will make it even closer.”

This year’s regional series will be fought out over further rallies in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus and Dubai and the FIA have introduced new class categories for young drivers, Group N ‘showroom type’ cars and two-wheel drive machines, although seven RRCs (Regional Rally Cars) are being driven by the top seeds in Qatar.

“On behalf of the QMMF I welcome everyone to Qatar for the start of another season of rallying,” said Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation president Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah. “We have new stages, one of the strongest entries in terms of the quality of the cars and the performances of the drivers and I am sure it is going to be a fantastic start to the new rallying calendar.”

UAE co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi has one of the busiest programmes of anyone in international rallying this season. Fresh from finishing 31st overall with Abdullah Al-Heraiz with a Toyota in the Dakar Rally, Al-Kendi is teaming up with Qatar’s Abdullah Al-Kuwari this weekend in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution before embarking on a hectic season of rallying.

“Dakar was fantastic,” said Al-Kendi. “Maybe a little easier than last year but we managed to reach the finish. Now we have the MERC and I am looking forward to teaming up with Abdullah this weekend. We will also race together in the national rallies in Qatar.

“I will also work with Abu Dhabi Racing in Sweden and then I have a programme of WRC events with Rashid (Al-Ketbi) in WRC2 with the Skoda and the cross-country rallies with Yayha (Al-Helai). Abdullah Al-Heraiz and I are also looking ahead to the Dakar again in 2013 and maybe some testing in France and a rally later in the year in Morocco. It’s a busy year, for sure.”

A selection of the leading drivers on the entry list joined QMMF president Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, QMMF general secretary Mohammed Saad Al-Muraiki and visiting FIA vice-president Mohammed Ben Sulayem at the official pre-event press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Several regional and local television networks are filming the event and international media are distributing news and images around the globe to as far afield as Argentina, Europe and Australia.

The sophisticated tracking system implemented by the Middle East’s regional rally series has completely eliminated any of the route violations that plagued the championship for many years. Drivers need to adhere to the desert route exactly or face on the spot time penalties. “It really is a level playing field out there now and fair for everyone,” said a leading European co-driver.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the first leg of the rally and competitors will tackle six special stages to the northwest of Doha. “These are completely new stages that we have found for this rally,” confirmed clerk of the course Elie Semaan.

“There has been some major development work to the south of the city and we would have lost one of our stages from 2012, so we have found these new areas. The rally did run close to part of this region many years ago, but these stages are new to the rally.”

Action gets underway with the first of two runs through the 21.81km Al-Shabhana stage at 09.33hrs and this is followed by Umm Wishah at 10.01hrs and Al-Karaana at 11.09hrs. Cars then return to a new service and regroup at Qatar Aqua Park from 12.09hrs and the three special stages are repeated at 13.42hrs, 14.10hrs and 15.18hrs.

The 2013 Qatar International Rally finishes outside the QMMF at 15.30hrs on Saturday afternoon after a total of 12 timed desert special stages and 264km of action.


Posted: January 23, 2013 12:24 PM

Reconnaissance of the special stages and the exciting new route in the northern Qatar desert is complete and a provisional 18 teams will tackle this weekend’s Qatar International Rally. The event is being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) under the presidency of Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah – himself a winner of the event as a driver in 1993.

International competitors from the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Northern Ireland, England, Lebanon and the Republic of Ireland have added global appeal to this year’s opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.

The entry list features two Middle East rally champions and six drivers who have won one or more round of the prestigious FIA regional series in their careers. The 2013 Qatar event is the 176th regional counting round since the championship was created in 1984. The Doha-based event has been an ever-present in the calendar since that date, although it did run as a non-championship candidate rally in 2004.

Both defending regional champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and the UAE’s multiple former champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem – now an FIA vice-president - have taken nine wins apiece and Al-Attiyah will be hoping to make it a magical 10th this weekend.

Qatar will be represented by four drivers: Al-Attiyah starts as top seed in his Ford Fiesta and last year’s event winner Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and QMMF-backed Khalid Al-Suwaidi drive similar M-Sport-built cars. Abdullah Al-Kuwari completes the home line-up in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

“The new stages are quite a challenge,” said Al-Suwaidi’s new Italian co-driver Nicola Arena – a former MERC-winning co-driver with Qatar’s Misfer Al-Marri. “The first two are nice, a bit like the stages on Dubai Rally, but the third one is rough in places and very challenging. We had three punctures on the recce so it could be interesting for the rally!”

Led by Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, the five-strong Abu Dhabi Racing Team dominates representation from the UAE, but the experienced Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi also returns for another season of desert rallying with British co-driver Steve Lancaster in a Ford Fiesta. A multiple former regional Group N champion, Sheikh Abdullah’s solitary MERC win came at the 2000 UAE International Rally.

Neither Mohammed Al-Sahlawi nor Mohamed Al-Mutawaa have ever done a rally before and Qatar is a baptism of fire for the two Abu Dhabi Racing Team rookies. Northern Ireland’s Allan Harryman and Stephen McAuley are responsible for keeping the newcomers out of trouble.

“I have some experience racing in various disciplines on circuits but rallying is complete new to me,” said Mutawaa. “Both of us are learning as much as possible. We had a test two days ago and sat in a rally car in Sharjah, but this is all new to us.” The pair drive a pair of brand new R3 2WD Citroën DS3s from Citroën Sport.

Yazeed Al-Rajhi is the flag bearer for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Al-Rajhi is rated as one of the fastest Arab drivers on the planet and he and co-driver Michael Orr would dearly love to beat the Qataris over their own desert stages

There are three representative drivers from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The talented Alaa Rasheed teams up with Lebanese co-driver Joseph Matar in a Motortune Ford Fiesta. Hani Al-Bast (Mitsubishi) and co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud and Zaid Dahshan (Mitsubishi) and Ramzi Mansour complete the Jordanian line-up.

Rasheed is using the ex-Roger Feghali 2012 Rally of Lebanon-winning Ford in which he and Matar won a recent national rally in Qatar. “The Fiesta is fantastic to drive,” said Rasheed, who is tackling a full MERC programme in addition to six European rounds of the WRC in Portugal, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and the UK. “The car gives you confidence, even on the rougher stages. You can push a lot harder and drive faster. I am really looking forward to this rally.”

Meshari Al-Thafiri represents Kuwait in his Mitsubishi Lancer, top lady competitor Burcu Cetinkaya holds the Turkish flag aloft and there are single entries from Germany and Italy for Edith Weiss (Subaru) and Michele de Nora (Subaru).

Tomorrow (Thursday), competition cars will need to pass through the obligatory FIA scrutineering checks at the QMMF before a selection of the leading drivers join senior QMMF officials at the pre-event press conference at 3pm.

The 2013 Qatar International Rally gets underway from the QMMF at 08.00hrs on Friday and finishes at 16.20hrs on Saturday afternoon after 12 timed desert special stages.


Posted: January 22, 2013 9:39 AM

The Middle East’s finest rally drivers have completed day one of their reconnaissance of the new special stages in the Qatar desert that will become the battleground for this weekend’s Qatar International Rally, round one of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF).

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is now back from his recent foray on the Dakar Rally in South America and keen to continue his tremendous run of form in the MERC that has seen him win the regional title eight times in the last 10 seasons and the Qatar Rally nine times in the same period.

Al-Attiyah will run one of a fleet of Ford Fiesta RRCs looked after on the event by Autotek Motorsport and several of the rally technicians who supported him for those nine thrilling stages of the recent Dakar where he pushed Mini’s Stéphane Peterhansel all the way and secured three stage wins in a virtually new Californian-built-Buggy.

“The Dakar was a fantastic experience for me and I am proud of what we achieved in such a short space of time,” said Al-Attiyah. “But now it’s back to the business of the Middle East Championship and making sure that I start the season with a win here. The entry is strong and it will not be easy.”

The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi won the regional rally series in 2004 and has won seven MERC rallies but never the event in Qatar. At the helm of a new Abu Dhabi Racing Team this season, and with the experienced Scott Martin as his new co-driver, Khalid is relishing the start of his 2013 season and his new association with the Citroën team. Al-Qassimi will drive one of three Citroën DS3s entered in the Qatar International Rally.

The other two cars from the French manufacturers’ stable will be in the hands of other members of the Abu Dhabi Racing Team. Young Emiratis Mohammed Al-Matawaa and Mohamed Al-Sahlawai drive the new machines and have the experienced Ulster co-drivers Stephen McAuley and Allan Harryman alongside.

Former Abu Dhabi Junior Team members Majid Al-Shamsi and Bader Al-Jabri complete the new team line-up in a pair of Subaru Imprezas. John Higgins and Nicolas Klinger debut as co-drivers in Qatar.

Burcu Cetinkaya burst on to the regional rallying scene two years ago and stunned the local fraternity last season with a fine fourth overall in the Qatar Rally with co-driver Cicek Guney in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Ranked in the top three female rally drivers in the world in a recent survey, Cetinkaya will be hard-pushed to better last season’s tremendous finish, but she returns to Qatar action with a Mitsubishi and new co-driver Ozlem Akguc on the notes.

Germany’s Edith Weiss has been competing in the MERC since 1992 and fondly recalls her first Qatar outing 21 years ago. This year she teams up with Rony Maroun in a Subaru Impreza.
“I always enjoy the rallying in Qatar. I have many fond memories of my time here,” said Edith, who finished ninth last season with Greek co-driver Vicky Psarall.

Top Run Racing has also sent a car to the opening round of the MERC. The well known Italian car preparation company rose to prominence in the days of the Lancia Delta Integrale in the 1980s and will be running Qatar debutants Michele de Nora and Sergio Secchi in Doha. De Nora has considerable experience in European rallying and in select rally-raid events and will drive a Subaru this week.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) teams will carry out a second full day of reconnaissance in the desert before the customary administration checks are finalised at the QMMF.

The 2013 Qatar International Rally gets underway from the QMMF at 08.00hrs on Friday and finishes at 16.20hrs on Saturday afternoon after 12 timed desert special stages.

Seeded Entry List

Posted: January 19, 2013 4:14 PM


Posted: January 17, 2013 9:03 PM

Qatari rally driver Khalid Al-Suwaidi, the winner of last year’s Kuwait International Rally, has receiving ongoing support from the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) and will tackle all rounds of this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship, starting with next weekend’s Qatar International Rally.

Al-Suwaidi is one of a group of young Qatari rally drivers who is beginning to make his mark on the international scene after gaining experience in the QMMF’s flourishing national rally series. He has been a regular face on rounds of the MERC in recent years and tackled rallies last year with British co-driver Nicky Beech.

In 2013, he teams up with the experienced Italian navigator Nicola Arena, who finished first overall in the regional series with Misfer Al-Marri in 2010 and ended last season in third position in the co-drivers’ standings.

Al-Suwaidi and Arena will crew a Ford Fiesta RRC on the two-day Qatar International Rally, which features a new route to the north of Doha and a new service area at Qatar Aqua Park.

“Khalid and Nicola will use the original Fiesta WRC-winning car from Sweden 2011, the first ever Fiesta to win a WRC event,” said team manager Ken Skidmore. “It is a famous vehicle and it’s not for sale! When Khalid finishes his programme the car is going into a museum. It’s a priceless piece of motor sport history.”

It was in this car that Al-Suwaidi claimed his one and only MERC victory in Kuwait last season and he will be looking to continue the good form he showed in Dubai last December against a formidable line-up of rivals in Qatar.

Skidmore also confirmed that his UK-based Autotek Motorsport operation would run the M-Sport Qatar Team car for defending regional champions, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini.

A cruel water pump failure robbed Al-Attiyah of a potential podium finish in the Dakar Rally that finishes on Saturday in Chile and Al-Attiyah’s focus has now switched to the home event that he has won nine times in the past 10 years.

The 2013 Qatar International Rally gets underway from the QMMF at 08.00hrs on Friday, January 25th and finishes at 16.20hrs on Saturday afternoon (January 26th) after 12 timed desert special stages.


Posted: January 4, 2013 12:01 PM

The 2013 Qatar International Rally will use new stages, a brand new service park and a revised route, when it gets an exciting new era of FIA Middle East Rally Championship underway on January 24th-26th.

Officials at the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) have been piecing together a new format and route for the event under the presidency of Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah. Clerk of the course Elie Semaan has now issued the first details of the changes.

Rally headquarters and operations will continue to be based at the QMMF, but the event will now use a brand new service area in Qatar’s Aqua Park at Abu Nakhla on the Salwa Road. This water theme park was opened in September 2010.

Semaan has also confirmed that three stages will be completely new and other sections of the desert route have been modified.

“This year we have three completely new stages with undulating, twisty and challenging terrain,” enthused Semaan. “The other three stages feature changes. Two have been modified up to 70% of their total distance and the approximate total length of the stages is 260km. The whole rally is concentrated off the Salwa Road to the north of Doha.”

Last year, the QMMF used the Al-Wakra sports complex for the headquarters and service park and ran special stages to the south of the capital.

The QMMF is offering an assistance package to international entrants. Crews will be offered six nights’ free accommodation for the driver and co-driver (room and breakfast) at the Swiss Bel hotel, Old Salata - the event’s new headquarters Doha.

Website / Details

Posted: January 4, 2013 11:55 AM

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