Nasser Al Attiyah won the Qatar International Rally yesterday after a fascinating battle with the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi who sounded a clear message that Abu Dhabi Racing has arrived as a major force in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
While defending Middle East champion Al-Attiyah secured victory on home territory to take an immediate lead in this year’s regional title race, he now knows the size of the threat he faces from Al-Qassimi in the impressive Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 RRC.
Only 15.2 seconds separated the top two seeds before the crucial turning point in the rally when a puncture effectively ended the UAE star’s hopes of victory on the tenth of the event’s 12 special stages.
Up until then, Al-Qassimi had been well in the hunt in the debut event for the new five-car Abu Dhabi Racing team, which he is leading in the 2013 FIA Middle East Championship.
Al-Attiyah eventually reached the finish in Doha with a winning margin of 55.7 seconds from Al-Qassimi, who had surprised the home favorite by leading the rally at the half way mark, having been out of action for most of last year as he recovered from injury.
Qatari Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari finished third, with fellow countryman Khalid Al-Suwaidi, the UAE’s Sheikh Abdulllah Al-Qassimi and Saudi Yazeed Al-Rajhi completing the top six.
Completing a fine debut for Abu Dhabi Racing, Bader Al-Jabri finished runner-up in the championship’s new Group N category and was placed eighth overall.
And there was instant success for another of Al-Jabri’s Emirati teammates, Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, a complete newcomer to rallying who topped the new two-wheel drive category in his Citroën DS3 R3, and secured a top ten finish in his first event.
There was disappointment for the two other members of the Abu Dhabi Racing team, Majid Al Shamsi and Mohammed Al Mutawaa, who had both impressed on Friday’s first leg.
On the second leg’s first special stage, first leg two-wheel drive leader Al-Mutawaa, went out after rolling his Citroën DS3 R3, although he was unhurt. Al-Shami, lying second overnight in Group N, suffered a premature exit because of mechanical problems on the same stage.
Initially, at the end of Friday’s first leg, Al-Attiyah had been credited with a 4.8 seconds advantage over Al-Qassimi. But later one of Al-Qassimi’s special stage times from the opening day was corrected, giving him a lead of 2.2 seconds.