Dubai: The FIA Middle East Rally Championship has been given a major boost ahead of the 2013 season starting in Qatar next month, with the regional series taking in four additional title races to attract young driving talent and boost entries overall.
The World Motorsport Council has approved plans to introduce three new parallel championships within the series — for Group N production cars, young drivers and two-wheel-drive vehicles — and launch a T3 category for the first time for 2WD and 4WD buggies.
The proposals, aimed at rebuilding the popularity of the Middle East Championship, were initiated by Dr. Mohammad Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and Vice President of the FIA, motorsport’s world governing body.
Sulayem, the first Arab member of the World Motorsport Council, was at the body’s meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday which ratified the plans and he said afterwards: “This is an important step for the future of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
“In recent years, the championship has been in sharp decline and urgent action was needed to ensure its survival and give it a healthy future. I’m delighted that we are taking positive steps to increase the overall appeal of the championship to attract more entries and create a new generation of young rally drivers.”
The new Group N championship, replacing the existing Group N cup category, will create a more competitive and stand out title race for competitors in production cars who will still be able to compete alongside drivers in more powerful S2000 cars.
The reintroduction of the FIA Middle East Championship for Young Drivers, open for competitors born after 1 November, 1987, is designed to attract a new generation of talent and give greater recognition to the region’s young drivers. The FIA Middle East Championship for 2WD vehicles will similarly recognise and encourage competitors with 2WD cars to compete in their own separate championship.
One of the most exciting developments will be the arrival in the Middle East championship of the T3 class of FIA Cross Country homologated vehicles, including 2WD and 4WD buggies up to 2000cc, some examples of which have been designed and built in the UAE.
“This is going to make championship rallying much more accessible for many people, especially young drivers, because of the comparatively low cost of buggies,” said Sulayem. Drivers competing in this category will be able to contest each round of the largely desert stages championship, with the exception of the Rally of Lebanon which is run on tarmac.
In another move to reverse the trend of falling entries in recent years, the homologation period of some older rally cars has being extended, giving a new lease of life to vehicles — and their drivers — which fell out of the series but can now continue until 2016.
The World Motorsport Council also approved next year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship calendar. The events and dates are:
25-26 January, Qatar International Rally
21-23 March, Kuwait International Rally
6-8 September, 36th Rally of Lebanon
3-5 October, Syrian International Rally (candidate event for inclusion in 2014)
1-3 November, Cyprus Rally
28-30 November, Dubai International Rally