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FROM LEFT: Alaa Rasheed, Khalid Al Suwaidi, Mohammed Saad Al Muraiki, Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation General Secretary, Bercu Cetinkaya, Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, Khalid Al Qassimi and Yazeed Al Rajhi pose for a picture after a press conference yesterday. The 2013 Qatar International Rally begins today. This year’s event consists of new stages and challenges for the 18 drivers. PICTURE BY: AHMED FEISAL
DOHA: The brand new Al-Shabhana desert special stage to the west of Doha will get proceedings under way in the 2013 Qatar International Rally today.
The opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has strength in depth and top seed Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will lead 17 other entrants into two days of rallying action in the stony Qatar deserts.
A nine-time winner of his home event, Al Attiyah will be chasing his 46th individual MERC event victory.
“I have won this rally nine times and each year I probably only win two or three stages only,” said Al Attiyah during a press conference yesterday.
The Qatari, who recently competed at the Dakar Rally in Peru earlier this month said this year’s event will be difficult to win.
He said: “It is very difficult and the fact that we have so many strong cars and fast drivers will make it even closer.”
He added: “The driver should use the mind to get a good result for this race. There will be a lot of competition here. The competition makes this event very strong.”
Speaking on his experience at the Dakar Rally, which saw an early exit due to mechanical problems, the Qatari said he was happy with the project and will continue with the Red Bull team next year.
This year’s regional series will be fought out over further rallies in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus and Dubai.
The FIA have introduced new class categories for young drivers, Group N ‘showroom type’ cars and two-wheel drive machines, although seven RRCs (Regional Rally Cars) are being driven by the top seeds in Qatar.
“On behalf of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) I welcome everyone to Qatar for the start of another season of rallying,” said the QMMF President Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah.
“We have new stages, one of the strongest entries in terms of the quality of the cars and the performances of the drivers and I am sure it is going to be a fantastic start to the new rallying calendar,” he added, who won this event as a rally driver in the 1993 edition.
UAE co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi has one of the busiest programmes of anyone in international rallying this season. Fresh from finishing 31st overall with Abdullah Al-Heraiz with a Toyota in the Dakar Rally, Al-Kendi is teaming up with Qatar’s Abdullah Al Kuwari this weekend in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution before embarking on a hectic season of rallying.
“Dakar was fantastic,” said Al Kendi.
“Maybe a little easier than last year but we managed to reach the finish. Now we have the MERC and I am looking forward to teaming up with Abdullah this weekend. We will also race together in the national rallies in Qatar,” he added.
He said: “I will also work with Abu Dhabi Racing in Sweden and then I have a programme of WRC events with Rashid (Al-Ketbi) in WRC2 with the Skoda and the cross-country rallies with Yayha (Al-Helai).”
He added: “Abdullah Al-Heraiz and I are also looking ahead to the Dakar again in 2013 and maybe some testing in France and a rally later in the year in Morocco. It’s a busy year, for sure.”
Rally drivers Alaa Rasheed, Khalid Al Suwaidi, Bercu Cetinkaya, Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, Khalid Al Qassimi and Yazeed Al Rajhi were joined by QMMF president Al Attiyah, QMMF general secretary Mohammed Saad Al Muraiki and visiting FIA vice-president Mohammed Ben Sulayem at the official pre-event press conference yesterday afternoon.
Several regional and local television networks are filming the event and international media will be distributing news and images around the globe to as far afield as Argentina, Europe and Australia.
The sophisticated tracking system implemented by the Middle East’s regional rally series has completely eliminated any of the route violations that plagued the championship for many years.
Drivers need to adhere to the desert route exactly or face on the spot time penalties. “It really is a level playing field out there now and fair for everyone,” said a leading European co-driver.
Today is the first leg of the rally and competitors will tackle six special stages to the northwest of Doha.
“These are completely new stages that we have found for this rally,” confirmed clerk of the course Elie Semaan.
She added: “There has been some major development work to the south of the city and we would have lost one of our stages from 2012, so we have found these new areas. The rally did run close to part of this region many years ago, but these stages are new to the rally.”
Today’s action gets under way with the first of two runs through the 21.81km Al Shabhana stage at 09.33hrs.
This will then be followed Umm Wishah at 10.01hrs and Al-Karaana at 11.09hrs.
Cars then return to a new service and regroup at Qatar Aqua Park from 12.09hrs and the three special stages are repeated at 13.42hrs, 14.10hrs and 15.18hrs.
The 2013 Qatar International Rally finishes outside the QMMF headquarters at 15.30hrs tomorrow afternoon after a total of 12 timed desert special stages and 264km of action.