Nasser Saleh al Attiyah emerged relatively unscathed from one of the most action-packed days in the recent history of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) to hold an outright lead of 8min 03.9sec in the 25th Kuwait International Rally on Friday.
The first loop of three of the day's six timed special stages in the deserts south of Kuwait City decimated the field and a mere four FIA cars and one entrant running in the National Rally completed the entire day's route.
"It was not easy today," said Attiyah.
"It was difficult to see the lines with the conditions and we missed the track a couple of times. There were no lines so I needed to concentrate hard. We had a flat tyre and a little scare when I thought the clutch was slipping, but I have a big lead to conserve on Saturday and it's looking good for the championship."
Kuwaiti driver Meshari al Thefiri remains firmly on course for a fourth MERC 2 or Group N showroom title. He and Qatari navigator Nasser al Kuwari overcame a minor scare before service and a drive shaft failure on the last stage to finish the day in second position.
Lebanon's Henry Kahy and Jordanian navigator Musa Djiyerian survived the carnage around them to hold an unlikely third overall in a two-wheel drive '8akoda Fabia. The points earned guaranteed the 2018 MERC 3 title for 'Henry the Third of Kuwait' and his delighted navigator.
Nasser Khalifa al Attiyah, the former QMMF President and FIA Vice-President, continued his impressive return to competitive action and looked to be heading for third overall at the end of the day. But the Qatari suffered a cruel mechanical issue on the last stage and slipped into Rally 2 territory.
The Kuwaiti pairing of Jassim al Muqahwi and Tamer al Mutairi were the only crew to complete the day's action in the National Rally category.
Vojtech Stajf's MERC title challenge was hanging by a thread after the Czech driver badly damaged his Skoda Fabia R5 on the fourth stage and slipped from second to fifth overall. His crew faced a race against time to repair the R5 in time to start Saturday's stages under Rally 2 after the Czech had stopped again after losing his way on the fifth special.
After SS4, Stajf said:"I don't know what happened. The visibility was not good and we hit this hole and the car rolled."
The rate of attrition was high on the first loop of three stages with all but six of the FIA entrants and two of the National Rally cars retiring prematurely. Drive shaft issues accounted for Rashed al Nuami and Ihad al Shorafa, engine woes plagued Shabi Shaban and electrical gremlins sidelined Abdullah al Ruwahi. Fuel feed issues caused by a blown fuse robbed Khaled Juma of a potential fourth place after the regroup.
This year's event is being 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 is the main sponsor.
The remaining six special stages take place in the southern deserts on Saturday. Two loops of three specials is again on the cards with crews tackling the 11.88km of Bnader from 10.00hrs and moving on to the 13.03km of the Julai'a test at 10.33hrs and the 17.42km of Arifjan from 11.11hrs.
After a return to Kuwait Motor Town for a midday regroup and service, the specials are repeated at 13.24hrs, 13.57hrs and 14.35hrs respectively. The podium finish at Kuwait Motor Town is scheduled for 16.30hrs.
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