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

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

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

world stage.”

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

driv­ers.

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

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