saleh boosts middle east challenge
Michel Saleh, whose latest rally outing was halted by Lebanon’s internal fighting, has quickly switched his attention to Syria as he chases his best finish for 14 years in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
Saleh is eager to build on his hard-earned third position in the Jordan Rally earlier this month, and his sponsors Ilyas and Mostafa Galadari are flying in a new engine from the UK to boost the performance of his City of Arabia Subaru Impreza.
The car had developed turbo problems in Jordan which meant it was not running at full power, and Saleh has taken immediate action to boost his challenge for the Syrian International Rally on 7-9 June.
Saleh warmed up for Syria by contesting the recent all-tarmac Cedar Rally in Lebanon, and was lying fourth when the event was halted due to the outbreak of internal fighting.
“The rally is staged up in the mountains and we could hear shooting,” said Saleh. “We weren’t in any danger, but it was decided to stop the event on the army’s advice.”
He added: “The car is a big improvement on the one I had last year, and I’ve been 40 seconds to a minute faster on stages this year. But in Jordan I just didn’t have enough power on the uphill sections and that cost me time, so my sponsors have ordered a new engine to make sure we don’t have any more problems.”
Saleh was delighted to see his City of Arabia team-mates in Jordan, Nancy Majali and co-driver Nadia Shnoudeh, capture the ladies title in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. He has now set his sights on a top three finish in the FIA Middle East series, and believes he could yet challenge for the title that he came closest to winning in 1993.
Mechanical problems during the final round in Dubai that year dashed his hopes. While he is currently fifth in the series, Saleh aims to close the gap on championship leader Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, winner in Jordan, and at least grab a top-three final place.
“You have to remember that only seven out of eight events in the championship count, and some of the drivers, including Khalid, will lose points when they discard one of their events at the end of the season,” he said.
“I’ve already discarded Qatar where I didn’t score points, so I’m going to make up some ground, and I’m looking for another good finish in Syria.”
2007 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – leading positions after round 4 of 8:
1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE) 33 pts
2. Amjad Farrah (HKJ) 27 pts
3. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 20 pts
4. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 19 pts
5. Michel Saleh (RL) 17 pts
6. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QA) 8 pts