Doha: Nasser Al Attiyah won the Qatar International Rally on Saturday after a fascinating battle with the UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi, who sounded a clear message that Abu Dhabi Racing has arrived as a major force in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
While defending Middle East champion Al Attiyah secured victory on home territory to take an immediate lead in this year’s regional title race, he now knows the size of the threat he faces from Al Qasimi in the impressive Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 RRC.
Only 15.2 seconds separated the top two seeds before the crucial turning point in the rally when a puncture effectively ended the UAE star’s hopes of victory on the tenth of the event’s 12 special stages.
Up until then, Al Qasimi had been well in the hunt in the debut event for the new five-car Abu Dhabi Racing team, which he is leading in the 2013 FIA Middle East Championship.
Al Attiyah eventually reached the finish in Doha with a winning margin of 55.7 seconds from Al Qassimi, who had surprised the home favourite by leading the rally at the half-way point, having been out of action for most of last year as he recovered from injury.
Qatari Abdulaziz Al Kuwari finished third, with fellow countryman Khalid Al Suwaidi, the UAE’s Shaikh Abdulllah Al Qassimi and Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi completing the top six.
Completing a fine debut for Abu Dhabi Racing, Bader Al Jabri finished runner-up in the championship’s new Group N category and was placed eighth overall.
And there was instant success for another of Al Jabri’s Emirati team-mates, Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, a complete newcomer to rallying, who topped the new two-wheel drive category in his Citroën DS3 R3, and secured a top-ten finish in his first event.
There was disappointment for the two other members of the Abu Dhabi Racing team, Majid Al Shamsi and Mohammed Al Mutawaa, who had both impressed on Friday’s first leg.
On the second leg’s first special stage, first leg two-wheel drive leader Al Mutawaa, went out after rolling his Citroën DS3 R3, although he was unhurt. Al Shami, lying second overnight in Group N, suffered a premature exit because of mechanical problems on the same stage.
Initially, at the end of Friday’s first leg, Al Attiyah had been credited with a 4.8 seconds advantage over Al Qassimi. But later one of Al Qassimi’s special stage times from the opening day was corrected, giving him a lead of 2.2 seconds.
Qatar International Rally provisional leading results
1. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC 2:16:47.2
2. Khalid Al Qssimi (UAE)/Scott Martin (GB) Citroën DS3 RRC 2:17:42.9
3. Abdulaziz Al Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC 2:21:02.2
4. Khalid Al Suwaidi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC 2:22.36.2
5. Adullah Al Qassimi(UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta RRC 2:32:39.4
6. Yazeed Al Rajhi (KSA)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Fiesta RRC 2:38:39.6
7. Abdulla Al Kuwari (QAT)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Mitsubisi Evo IX 2:54:07.3
8. Bader Al Jabri (UAE /Nicholas Clinger (FRA) Subaru Impreza N15 2:55:59.0
9. Michele De Nora (ITA)/Sergio Secchi (ITA) Subaru Impreza R4 3:02:32.8
10. Mohammed Al Sahlawi (UAE)/Allan Harryman (GB) Citroen DS3 R3 3:13:24.1
FIA Middle East Rally Championship positions
1. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT) 25pts
2. Khalid Al Qassimi (UAE) 18pts
3. Abdulaziz Al Kuwari (QAT) 15pts
4. Khalid Al Suwaidi (QAT) 12pts
5. Adullah Al Qassimi(UAE) 10pts
6. Yazeed Al Rajhi (KSA) 8pts
7. Abdulla Al Kuwari (QAT) 6pts
8. Bader Al Jabri (UAE) 4pts
9. Michele De Nora (ITA) 2pts
10. Mohammed Al Sahlawi (UAE) 1pt
Group N Championship
1. Abdulla Al Kuwari (QAT) 25pts
2. Bader Al Jabri (UAE) 18pts
3. Mishari Al Theferi (KWT) 15pts
1. Mohammed Al Sahlawi (UAE) 25pts