Dubai: Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah survived a powerful second leg charge by the UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi to retain the 35th Dubai International Rally, the final round of the FIA Middle East Championship, on Saturday. This is the seventh consecutive year that Al Attiyah has put his name on the roll of honour.
Trailing Al Attiyah by 29.7 seconds overnight, Al Qasimi produced a brilliant surge to win the first four of the day’s six special stages in his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total DS3 and pile the pressure on the nine-times Middle East champion. But with his advantage reduced to 15.4 seconds, Al Attiyah fought back to take the next two stages and Al Qasimi suffered a frustrating anti-climax when he was forced out of the event by a double puncture shortly after completing the final stage.
Al Attiyah, partnered by Giovanni Bernacchini in a Ford Fiesta RRC, won by 5 minutes 33.6 seconds from Qatar’s 2010 Middle East champion, Misfer Almarri. “I had a good strategy,” said Al Attiyah. “I was careful because I didn’t want to get any punctures. Khalid took the risks and I’m happy to win. It was a good fight and this is what we need for the championship to improve.”
Finishing third in another Ford Fiesta was the UAE’s Shaikh Abdullah Al Qasimi, brother of Shaikh Khalid and runner-up in Dubai last year.
After a 10-second time penalty on Friday’s first leg had presented him with a mountain to climb, Shaikh Khalid produced the perfect response over the second leg’s first loop of three stages, winning them all alongside Scott Martin in his Abu Dhabi Citroen to move within 19.8 seconds of the lead.
He reached the service halt to say: “I knew I had to go flat out, but I also had to be neat in places to avoid overshooting corners. There was a very fine balance. At very high speed you can maybe gain a second here or lose a second here on the corners. We still have a lot of hard work to do.”
The consolation for Al Qasimi was in seeing the four young Abu Dhabi Racing drivers he has guided into this year’s Middle East Championship all finishing in the top ten in Dubai’s traditional final round of the series.
With Jordanian driver Alaa Rasheed finishing fourth, Majed Al Shamsi produced a mature drive to take fifth place overall and win the Group N production class in partnership with John Higgins. The UAE’s Rashid Al Ketbi completed the top six.
It was a good day also for Al Shamsi’s three other Abu Dhabi Racing team-mates. Finishing seventh overall alongside Nicolas Klinger, Bader Al Jabri was runner-up in Group N and also finished third in the category in the Middle East Championship.
1. Nasser Al Attiyah / Giovanni Bernacchini (QAT / ITA) / Ford Fiesta RRC 2:01:11.9
2. Misfer Almarri / Nicola Arena (QAT / ITA) / Ford Fiesta RRC 2:06:45.5
3. Abdulla Al Qasimi / Steve Lancaster (UAE / UK) / Ford Fiesta RRC 2:07.40.3
4. Alaa Rasheed / Joseph Matar (JOR / LBN) / Ford Fiesta RRC 2:15:57.9
5. Majed Al Shamsi / John Higgins (UAE / IRL) / Suburu Impreza N15 2:16:09.5
6. Rashid Al Ketbi / Khalid Al Kendi (ARE / ARE) / Ford Fiesta RRC 2:16:29.6
7. Bader Al Jabri / Nicolas Klinger (UAE / France) / Suburu Impreza N15 2:18:04.7
8. Abdulla Al Kuwari / Khalid Al Kendi (Qatar/ UAE) Mitsubishi Evo 9 2:25:44.2
9. Mohammed Al Sahlawi / Allan Harryman (UAE / UK) / Citroen DS3 R3 2:26:29.2
10. Mohammed Al Mutawaa / Stephen McAuley (UAE / UK) / Citroen DS3 R3 2:29:14.7