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After 2nd place at Dakar 2010: Nasser Al Attiya wins Qatar Rally

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini overcame a potentially costly puncture on the ninth special stage to clinch an eighth successive victory in the Qtel Qatar International Rally and take the early season initiative in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.

Al-Attiyah pedalled the new Ford Fiesta S2000 to a debut victory over 14 demanding gravel stages in the Qatar desert, but the crew were pressed all the way by the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr in a similar car.

Both teams overcame niggling pre-rally teething problems to usher in a new era of S2000 rallying in the Middle East, but a series of punctures cost Al-Qassimi his deserved finish on the penultimate stage and duly confirmed Al-Attiyah’s 35th MERC win by the flattering margin of 11m 26s.

“It has been three weeks of highs and lows with the second place on the Dakar and now this fantastic victory in Qatar,� said Al-Attiyah. “I knew it would not be easy today. It was impossible to push hard. It was a matter of making no mistakes and hoping you did not lose too much time with tyre problems. I have a busy programme this year and will not be able to take part in all the Middle East rallies, so it was important that I got the 10 points here.�

The UAE’s Rashid Al-Ketbi and Khaled Kendi held third position for long periods in their Skoda Fabia S2000, but a serious gearbox oil leak sidelined the Czech-built car on SS12 and the Qatar Rally Team’s Misfer Al-Marri and Nicola Arena were able to benefit and ultimately claim second position in a Subaru Impreza. They had also lost over five minutes with a puncture on the last stage of day one.

A jubilant Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani benefited from all the carnage around him to seal a stunning third overall and record his best finish on an MERC rally since the early 1990s. The remainder of the top six had an unlikely look to it: Team Abu Dhabi’s Ahmed Al-Mansoori and Majed Al-Shamsi achieved career-best finishes of fourth and fifth overall, but neither drivers is registered for Middle East championship points. Britain’s David Scialom avoided most of the trouble to claim sixth position in his Subaru Impreza.

Jordanian Amjad Farrah had his own fair share of mechanical problems and punctures. He finished seventh and was the fourth championship-registered finisher. Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and French co-driver Denis Giraudet claimed eighth, while Kuwait’s Mufeed Mubarak and Essam Al-Nejadi completed the top 10.

Day two – as it happened

Twenty-five of the original 32 starters were granted permission to start day two, including seven cars running under SupeRally. Of those, Michel Saleh and Amjad Farrah were reinstated in the top 12 after their eighth stage problems and Qatar’s Jaber Al-Marri moved back into his rightful sixth position once a timing error has been corrected on Friday evening.

Al-Attiyah set out into the 25km Al-Wakrah stage with a 32.6s advantage over Al-Qassimi. Al-Ketbi was a distant third and an eighth stage puncture had pushed Al-Marri behind Abdullah Al-Qassimi into fifth position. But the battle for the overall lead was thrown upside down through the treacherous Al-Wakrah stage when Al-Attiyah stopped for over three minutes with a puncture and Al-Qassimi coasted though to take the stage win and an outright lead of 2m 49.1s.

Jaralla Al-Marri’s brave run also ended with mechanical problems, Al-Ketbi lost his chance to overtake Al-Attiyah for second position when he punctured and Jaber Al-Marri also suffered a flat tyre and damaged his rear bumper on the rocky surface.

Al-Attiyah could not afford to hold back through the 10th stage and ran the risk of punctures trying to reduce Al-Qassimi’s overall lead. But Al-Qassimi also sustained a flat tyre on SS10 and the flailing tyre and damage broke the caliper and the disc. He finished the stage with three brakes and had to survive the
11th stage with limited stopping power before returning to service.

Team Abu Dhabi’s rally manager Ron Cremen confirmed that neither his team nor Ken Skidmore’s operation, who are running Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, had the spare parts needed in Qatar to fully repair the Ford Fiesta S2000 and Al-Qassimi was running on a wing and a prayer through SS11.

Somehow the Emirati managed to keep going and recorded the fastest time in the Al-Negian stage when Al-Attiyah dropped 15.6s. Al-Qassimi headed into service at Al-Wakra with a 59.8s overall lead. Al-Ketbi held third and Al-Marri moved up to fourth when Abdullah Al-Qassimi hit trouble. Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Sabban and Qatar’s Jaber Al-Marri and Abdullah Al-Rabban all retired before the end of the first loop and Sheikh Hamed Bin Eid Al-Thani found himself up in fifth position of the 19 surviving cars.

The final runs through the three deteriorating stages promised to be fascinating and lady luck was shining on Al-Attiyah after last week’s Dakar Rally disappointment. Al-Qassimi’s mechanics had blocked off his offending brake line in service, but he was forced to stop and change a puncture that took just over four minutes and the Qatari regained a 3m 05s lead heading into the final two stages. Al-Ketbi stopped on the road section after the stage with oil leaking from the gearbox and Al-Marri was promoted to third.

But the broken stage surface eventually claimed Michel Saleh and Al-Qassimi and ended the fight for the overall win. The Emirati was carrying two spare tyres after the service, but he punctured again on two occasions in unlucky SS13 and was unable to continue without a third spare wheel. His demise handed second position to Al-Marri and ensured that Al-Attiyah began the final stage with an overall lead of 10m 21s. “There was no way that stage should have been run again,� reflected a disappointed Al-Qassimi.

There were no late dramas for Al-Attiyah and he held on to take a convincing victory, with Al-Marri and Al-Thani completing unlikely Qatar 1-2-3 finishes on the sun-drenched Corniche in Doha. Team Abu Dhabi’s Bader Al-Jabri was not so fortunate and a drive shaft failed on his Fiesta through the 13th stage and he hobbled out of the rally within sight of the finish.

Qtel Qatar International Rally – final positions after day two (SS14 – 14.30hrs):

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Ford Fiesta S2000 2h 24m 38.5s
2. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Nicola Arena (I) Subaru Impreza 2h 36m 04.5s
3. Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QA)/Yousef Mohammed (QA) Subaru Impreza 2h 42m 45.5s
4. Ahmed Al-Mansoori (UAE)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Subaru Impreza 2h 47m 40.7s
5. Majed Al-Shamsi (UAE)/Allan Harryman (GB) Subaru Impreza 2h 47m 45.3s
6. David Scialom (GB)/Thomas Mathias (GB) Subaru Impreza 2h 55m 05.3s
7. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nancy Al-Majali (HKJ) Subaru Impreza 2h 56m 33.4s
8. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Denis Giraudet (F) Subaru Impreza 2h 56m 46.6s
9. Mufeed Mubarak (KT)/Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X 2h 57m 38.6s
10. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT)/Anwar Al-Shraa (KT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 2h 58m 03.0s
11. Mohammed Al-Marri (QA)/Bazel Ghazzawi (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 3h 04m 19.0s



2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – positions after round one:

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 10 pts
2. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 8 pts
3. Sheikh Hamad Bin Eid Al-Thani (QA) 6 pts
4. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 5 pts
5. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) 4 pts
6. Mufeed Mubarak (KT) 3 pts
7. Essam Al-Nejadi (KT) 2 pts

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