Record-breaking Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah confirmed a 14th FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) title with a dominant victory in the 25th Kuwait International Rally at Kuwait Motor Town yesterday afternoon.
The Qatari’s seventh win in Kuwait and his 69th career MERC win secured the record-breaking 14th regional title by the margin of 12min 19.2sec.
Al-Attiyah now has the record for the number of MERC titles to himself after FIA official Jerome Roussel examined the archives recently and confirmed that the 1989 regional series had been cancelled because only three rallies had taken place and Dubai driver Mohamed Ben Sulayem had actually won 13 official championship titles.
Al-Attiyah’s French co-driver Matthieu Baumel secured his third regional title and his 17th MERC event win to move ahead of John Spiller and into third in the regional Hall of Fame behind Ronan Morgan, Chris Patterson and Giovanni Bernacchini. The success also marked an astonishing 15th regional title in 16 seasons for Ken Skidmore’s Autotek Motorsport operation, which also guided the late Misfer al-Marri to the title in 2010.
“This a fantastic result for me and the whole team after another excellent season,” said al-Attiyah. “To break the long-standing record is very satisfying. There have been many memories along the way and many battles with some great drivers. Now we can look to the future and push ahead with more records of our own.”
Kuwaiti driver Meshari al-Thefiri and Qatari co-driver Nasser al-Kuwari began the day in second overall and the local star drove at a measured pace to confirm his fourth MERC 2/Group N title in the regional series. Victory in his home event continues to elude the Mitsubishi driver, however. His father Ahmed al-Thefiri remains the only Kuwaiti national ever to win the event – at the wheel of a Datsun Violet before the MERC was formed back in 1981.
Lebanon’s Henry Kahy and Jordanian navigator Musa Djiyerian celebrated the driver’s first MERC 3 title success in a two-wheel drive Skoda Fabia, although the category win secured a second successive series triumph for his navigator – Djiyerian had co-driven fellow Jordanian Asem Aref to the title in 2017. The duo reached the finish in seventh overall.
Nasser Khalifa al-Attiyah hadn’t taken part in an MERC event since the 2007 Dubai International Rally, but the former QMMF president and FIA vice-president acclimatised to the tricky conditions with aplomb. Despite missing out on points for finishing the opening leg because of a differential issue, he and Italian navigator Nicola Arena bounced back to round off the podium positions.
Vojtech Stajf missed out on the regional title, but the Czech has enjoyed an impressive debut season in the regional series and pushed al-Attiyah hard on some stages. He has already secured the runner-up spot in the championship and rewarded his mechanics’ hard work on Friday afternoon with a solid fourth-placed finish in his Skoda Fabia R5.
Friday’s stages decimated the field and all but three teams returned to action under the Rally 2 ruling. Jordanian driver Khaled Juma reached the finish in fifth position and Oman’s Abdullah al-Rawahi overcame his misfire issues to finish sixth in the sole Subaru Impreza.
This year’s event was organised by the Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) under the chairmanship of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah and in conjunction with the General Authority for Sport and the Kuwait International Automobile Club (KIAC). Zain Kuwait was the main sponsor.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019