Dubai: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah stamped his authority on the 33rd Dubai International Rally yesterday with a stunning second leg display which saw him win the event, and with it the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, for the seventh time.
A breathtaking surge by the dashing Qatari in his Ford Fiesta S2000 saw him set the fastest times on each of the day's six special stages to end Rashid Al Katbi's brave bid for a home victory over the UAE National Day weekend.
Overnight leader Al Katbi produced another immaculate drive in his Skoda Fabia S2000, but was ultimately powerless to prevent Al Attiyah from successfully defending his Dubai Rally title as he fought back from a difficult first leg which he had finished in fourth spot, 46.9 seconds off the lead.
He reached the finish holding a winning margin of 37.7 seconds from Al Katbi, with another UAE driver, Shaikh Abdullah Al Qasimi, just nine seconds further away in third place. Driving another Ford Fiesta S2000, Shaikh Abdullah had also given everything in an effort to produce an Emirati winner to mark his country's 40th anniversary celebrations.
Completing a wonderful international rallying comeback, six years after retiring from the sport, Oman's Hamed Al Wahaibi took his Group N Mitsubishi Evo X to fourth place ahead of five-times Turkish ladies rally champion, Burcu Cetinkaya, who was competing in her first Dubai Rally.
Partnered by Cicek Guney, the nine-time Turkish snowboard champion, Cetinkaya now plans to contest next year's FIA Middle East series, and this is certainly a combination worth watching. The top six was completed by Kuwait's Mshari Al Thefiri in another Mitsubishi Evo X.
Celebrating with his Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, at the finish, against a stunning backdrop provided by the Burj Khalifa, Al Attiyah said: "It's a really great feeling to win the rally, and the championship, and I'm very happy. Rashid and Abdullah did a good job and the pace was very high. Now I start planning for next year."
‘Only one aim'
Saying at the start of the second leg that he had "only one aim", Al Attiyah underlined that point in the most emphatic style, winning each of the day's first three stages to close to within 0.7 seconds of Al Katbi by the time the cars reached the service regrouping.
He took the lead on the next stage and gradually pulled away to complete a perfect year, which had begun so impressively with his brilliant victory in the Dakar Rally back in January, after a series of agonising setbacks in the event.
1. Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah / G.Bernacchini / Qat / ITA / Ford Fiesta / S2000 2:03:17.2
2. Rashid Al Katbi / Khalid Al Kendi / UAE / UAE / Skoda / Fabia / S2000 2:03:55.0
3. Abdullah Al Qasimi / Steve Lancaster / UAE / GBR / Ford Fiesta / S2000 2:04:04.0.
4. Hamed Al Wahaibi / Allan Harryman / OMN / GBR / Mitsubishi Evo X / N 2:07:37.1
5. Burcu Cetinkaya / Cicek Guney / TUR / TUR / Mitisubishi / Evo X / N 2:22:56.0
Final 2011 FIA Middle East Rally Championship standings
1. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT) 125pts
2. Rashid Al Katbi (UAE) 97pts
3. Shaikh Abdulla Al Qasimi (UAE) 93pts
4. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 54pts
5. Essam Al Nejadi (KWT) 27pts