Dubai: Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah continues to reign supreme in the Dubai International Rally and the FIA Middle East Championship following another emphatic win over UAE National Day weekend.
After an incident-packed first leg marked by torrential rain, the premature retirement of one of the leading challengers and ultimately a series of time penalties imposed on most of the field, the sun came out to shine on Al Attiyah’s sixth successive victory parade in Dubai.
Needing only a top-five finish to seal his eighth FIA Middle East title, the Qatari led from start to finish in his Ford Fiesta RRC partnered by Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.
He completed today’s (Saturday) second leg with a 3 minutes 38.9 seconds winning margin over the UAE’s Shaikh Abdullah Al Qasimi who moved into second place after Qatar’s Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari made an agonising exit with mechanical problems on the rally’s last special stage.
Partnered by Irish co-driver Killian Duffy in a Mini JWC RRC, Al Kuwari lost four minutes at the start of the stage and eventually came to a grinding halt as a result of a broken alternator. Despite the setback, he finished runner-up in the championship.
Giving the UAE another place on the podium, Rashid Al Ketbi took his Ford Fiesta RRC to third place, finishing another 5 mins 47.4 seconds adrift of Al Qasimi.
Fourth place in Dubai for 2010 Middle East champion Misfer Al Marri meant a Qatari 1-2-3 in this year’s FIA regional series.
The top six in Dubai was completed by another Qatari, Khalid Al Suwaidi, and the UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi, who had a much better day in his Ford Fiesta RRC. Forced to retire mid-way through the first leg after two punctures, the double Dubai Rally winner had the consolation of being one of only two drivers to beat Al Attiyah on a special stage.
Taking advantage of the super rally option to re-start on the second leg with heavy time penalties, Shaikh Khalid won the third of today’s (Saturday) stages. His brother, Shaikh Abdullah, was fastest on the last of event’s 12 stages.
Finishing eighth overall, the dashing Turkish all ladies crew of Burcu Cetinkaya and Cicek Guney were the leading Group N finishers in a Mitsubishi Evo IX.
Celebrating at the finish, Al Attiyah said: “It feels really great to win here again in Dubai and take the overall Middle East Rally Championship crown. I always love racing here and it’s a great way to end the season.”
Over the years the Dubai Rally has played a key role in the Middle East Championship as its deciding round, and this time the event set a new standard through the use of a sophisticated tracking system designed to carry the regional series forward.
It identifies any deviation of the route, and those competitors straying off line by more than the 10-metre legal limit are identified and penalised.
With a series of time penalties being imposed at the end of the first leg, Shaikh Abdullah and Al Ketbi were relegated one place each to third and fourth respectively at the start of the second leg.
Even Al Attiyah picked up a 30 second time penalty, although the new system, tested successfully in Dubai for the first time and to be used across the championship next season, has been widely welcomed by drivers as a positive step to ensure fairer and more equal competition.
“I think it works very well and is a great for the championship moving forward,” confirmed Al Attiyah. “It is important for all drivers to respect the system, and many are not entirely aware when they are cutting corners and what effect it has. Even I was guilty in this rally.”