The race for the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) crown is expected to touch a boiling point when the 31st edition of the Dubai International Rally gets underway from December 3 with just three points separating the top two contenders for this prestigious title in the 25th year of the championship.
President of the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE and Chairman of the Organizing Committee Mohammed Ben Sulayem said: “This has always been the case with Dubai International Rally; the rally has decided the FIA MERC champion over the years.”
Sulayem, who is also FIA Vice President, added: “This year in particular, the championship is still very wide open between the top two contenders – Al Attiyah and Al Marri with Al Rajhi waiting in the wings for either to make a mistake.
“It is going to be a great finish, very close and I am happy that such a fantastic contest is taking place in Dubai and at a time when the MERC is celebrating its 25th anniversary,” Sulayem, himself a 14 time Middle East Rally champion, added.
Five-time MERC champion Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar currently leads the championship having collected 40 points from four rounds against 37 points secured from five rounds by his Qatari counterpart Misfer Al Marri.
Yazeed Al Rajhi of Saudi Arabia is placed third with 32 points from four rounds.
Going into the Dubai International Rally, the final round of the MERC for the current season, Al Attiyah must finish among the top two to ensure that he retains his Dubai winning streak, having been undefeated in the Emirate since 2006, and secure his fifth MERC title in a row since 2005 and sixth overall since 2003.
On the other hand, Al Marri will look to top the podium in Dubai and hope that his Qatari counterpoint slips to below second spot, which would hand him the title by a mere one point.
But while the top two contenders will be involved in a straight battle for the first spot, Saudi Arabia’s
Al Rajhi is also expected to push his car to the limit in the hope of wresting the second position from Al Marri, with just five points separating the two.
The three drivers have diverse scoring records to speak of during the season – Al Attiyah has won in Qatar, Kuwait, Cyprus and Jordan; Al Marri has never topped the podium so far, but finished second in Kuwait, Syria, Cyprus and Jordan and collected another five points for finishing fourth in Qatar; and Al Rajhi has topped the podium in Syria and Lebanon, second in Qatar and a fifth place finish in Jordan last month.
Just going by the current season’s record, Al Attiyah emerges as the firm favorite to continue his winning streak in Dubai and lift his fifth consecutive and sixth overall MERC title next month.
In the overall co-drivers’ standings, Chris Patterson of Ireland has a clear five point lead over Frenchman Matthieu Baumel with 40 and 35 points to their credit respectively.
Nicola Irena (Italy – 20 points), Michael Orr (UK – 16 points) and Adel Abdullah (Qatar – 15 points) currently in third, fourth and fifth positions respectively in the co-drivers’ standings have decided to skip the final round, thus handing Steve Lancaster of Great Britain, joint fifth with Abdullah, the opportunity to climb up the table.
Lancaster will be co-driving the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi who is in joint seventh position with Michel Saleh of Lebanon from three outings in Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan, and may well finish among the top three going by his previous record on home soil.
The Dubai International Rally will start and finish amidst Downtown Burj Dubai, the world’s most prestigious square kilometre.
The 2009 Dubai International Rally, the 31st edition of the event, has garnered support from Emaar, The Address Hotels + Resorts, Emarat, Oasis and Explorer. The government support for the event comes from Dubai Ports & Dubai Customs, Dubai Police, Immigration, Road and Transport Authority, Ministry of Civil Defense. Ministry of Youth and Culture and Social Development also support the rally.
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