Attiyah set for Oman rally, hopes for winning start
Qatar’s former world rally champion, a three-time Dakar winner and an Olympic shooting medallist, Nasser al Attiyah talks about his winning mentality and the upcoming Oman International Rally
His smile and humility belies his mammoth sporting achievements. A role model and a true ambassador of the region, Qatar's Nasser Saleh al Attiyah is no stranger to glory.
A former world rally champion, a three-time Dakar Rally winner, a record 15-time champion of the FIA-Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) and an Olympic shooting bronze medallist, the 49 year old Attiyah symbolises dedication and commitment.
The legendary rally driver arrived in Muscat on Tuesday ahead of his participation in the Oman International Rally, the opening round of the MERC, which will be held in Muscat from February 6-8.
In an exclusive chat with Muscat Daily at the Oman Automobile Association (OAA) on Tuesday, Attiyah said, “I like challenges in life and I love to challenge myself. It makes me enjoy my sports life.”
The ace rally driver, who finished runner-up at the 2020 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia last month, welcomed the return of the MERC round to Oman after a gap of four years.
Oman last hosted the MERC round in November, 2015, a rally that was won by Attiyah in a Ford Fiesta RRC.
Attiyah said, “I am really happy to see Oman make a return to the MERC calendar. The sultanate boasts of a terrific terrain, fast-paced gravel tracks and is ideally suitable for rallying. The terrain and landscape that Oman offers is unmatched and it really tests the skill of the drivers.
“I have a strong bond with Oman as it was way back in 1989 that I took part here for the first time. It was only my second race and I managed to claim a runner-up spot.”
‘Oman could host Dakar in future’
One of the world's toughest rallies, Dakar, made its debut in the region earlier this year with Saudi Arabia hosting it successfully.
“Saudi Arabia hosted the best Dakar Rally. It was a dream for me to see Dakar being organised in the Middle East. The success this year meant that the region can continue to host the prestigious rally in the years to come,” said Attiyah, the only Arab to win the Dakar Rally.
“There are plans to expand Dakar in the region and may be next year, it may go to Jordan. Oman has beautiful deserts and sand dunes and there is no reason why it can't be a venue for Dakar in the future. We may have a stage in Oman, another in Qatar and in the
UAE. It would be a great advertisement of the region.
Nearly 5,000 people are involved with the hosting of the prestigious event and it would have a huge economic benefit for the host venues.”
Have come to win, says Arab hero
A source of pride for the Arab region, Attiyah's long list of achievements are unmatched and makes it unique as he not only has won the world rallying title and Dakar crowns but also bagged a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics in shooting.
The forthcoming 2020 Tokyo Games will be his seventh participation in Olympics and the 2010 Asian Games gold medallist's hunger for success continues as he eyes a winning start to the MERC season.
“I have come to Muscat to win. We have everything needed to win. We need to be clever and try to grab maximum points. As defending champion, I have no pressure. I try to enjoy the race but in rally, there are other factors too. If we win, it will be great but if not, then we try in the next.
“With one of the world's best co-drivers, Matthew Baumel of France, alongside me, I think, we are in good shape to get off the mark in style,” said the Qatari.
‘Government support a must for success’
Attiyah attributed his success story to the strong support provided by the Qatari government.
“A lot of credit of my victories over the past two decades is due to the unflinching support of the Qatari government. Motor sports is a costly affair and without the backing from my country, it would not have been possible. So every win is for my country and I am proud to represent Qatar at the
2022 World Cup Ambassador
The Autotek Motorsport team driver will be driving a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 car with FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 painted across the vehicle and Attiyah said he was 'proud that the preparations for the World Cup are on track'. He said, “We had a successful Arabian Gulf Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in December last year. I am confident that Qatar will leave a lasting impression on the world by hosting the best-ever FIFA World Cup. “And Qatar will like to pursue its ambition of being a top sporting country as we eye hosting os Olympics in future.”
Attiyah said that his nomination as an ambassador of the 2022 World Cup is a matter of pride and believed that the region in general will benefit with the hosting of the World Cup.
Message to young drivers
Attiyah said that he was impressed with the young Omani talent Abdullah al Rawahi, who will be competing with him in the Oman International Rally.
“He is young and has switched from karting only three years back. I suggested him and his father to move to R5 from Group N for the upcoming rally. I am sure he will do well in this category. It is always nice to watch young rally
My advise to them is not to give up soon as only failures drive to future success.”
Sport promotes peace in region
Qatar's ongoing diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain was not an obstacle for Attiyah during the recent Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
“I had a great time in Saudi Arabia. We also witnessed beautiful moments when Bahrain won the Gulf Cup in Doha in December as football fans across countries shared the joy. Likewise, I was also welcomed across Saudi Arabia during the Dakar. In fact, sports help defuse political tensions. Hopefully, things will get better in the region,” he said.
Attiyah thanked all his fans across the world who are a source of ‘positive energy’ as he gears up for yet another rally with just one thing in mind - a victory. Champion stuff!
Nasser Saleh al Attiyah The service area of Nasser al Attiyah’s Autotek Motorsport team at the OAA premises in Muscat ahead of the Oman International Rally
A file photo of Nasser al Attiyah in action