A record sixth victory in the Kuwait International Rally was never really in doubt for Qatar’s Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah. The 11-time FIA Middle East rally champion won all the 13 timed special stages at the second round of the regional series and reached the finish in Fintas yesterday afternoon with a winning margin of 11min 24.9sec.
He and French navigator Matthieu Baumel controlled their pace at the three-day rally from start-to-finish to deliver yet another faultless team performance, a record 62nd MERC rally win for the driver and an 11th for his navigator.
“It was important that I won here and collected the maximum points, but I wasn’t really pushed on this rally,” said al-Attiyah.
“I would like to see my rivals come back on the next rallies. The car was fantastic and we managed to win every stage on an event that I enjoy very much.”
Newly-crowned Kuwaiti national champion Meshari al-Thefiri, whose father Ahmed won the event before it became a round of the series way back in 1981, capped a memorable weekend with second overall and outright victory in the hard-fought MERC 2 category in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. His winning margin was 1min 28.2sec.
Partnered by Qatar’s Nasser al-Kuwari on this occasion, he became only the second Kuwaiti in MERC history to reach the podium and the first to record a second-placed finish – the Kuwaiti duo of Mufeed Mubarak and Saad al-Melaifi finished third in the MERC category at the Jordan WRC Rally in 2011.
“This is the icing on the cake of a fabulous weekend for me,” said a delighted al-Thefiri. “I confirmed the Kuwait Championship yesterday and decided to push hard today. Second place and the podium is a fantastic result for me and for motor sport in Kuwait.”
Qatar’s Rashed al-Nuami and Italian navigator Nicola Arena struggled with the loss of third gear on their Subaru Impreza for two stages and retired from third position with ongoing gearbox issues with one stage to go, although they maintained the unofficial MERC 2 championship advantage after two rounds.
Yigit Timur lost his way in one stage for a time in a Tok Sport Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, but he and co-driver Ufuk Ulocak benefited from al-Nuami’s misfortune to confirm third place and the runner-up spot in MERC 2.
The winner’s brother Khalifa al-Attiyah and Cypriot navigator Savvas Laos finished the event in fourth, while the Lebanese duo of Rodolphe Asmar and experienced co-driver Joseph Matar dropped from fifth to seventh when they incurred a two-minute penalty after the finish.
Qatar’s Khaled al-Suwaidi and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini benefited from the Rally 2 ruling to start the second day in eighth overall in their Ford Fiesta R5. But the Qatari was too far behind to make a real impression and, despite a string of second fastest times, he could only finish sixth and then climbed to fifth after Asmar’s penalty.
Saudi rookie Rakan al-Rashed and Finnish navigator Jarkko Kalliolepo held seventh overall before being overhauled by al-Suwaidi. Al-Rashed finished his second ever rally in sixth place, however, after al-Nuami retired. The Qatari pairing of Abdullah al-Kuwari and Adel Hussein returned to action under Rally 2 and completed the event in eighth. Turkey’s Vidat Diker and the Kuwaiti duo of Saleh Ali and Elie Chachati rounded off the international finishers in ninth, 10th and 11th overall.
The 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.
Rally positions (top 5)
1. Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Skoda Fabia R5 2hr 08min 06.1sec
2. Meshari al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 19min 31.0sec
3. Yigit Timur (TUR)/Ufuk Uluocak (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 20min 59.2sec
4. Khalifa al-Attiyah (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Subaru Impreza 2hr 21min 59.5sec
5. Khalid al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 27min 25.3sec
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019