At­tiyah is com­fort­able win­ner

Rawahi fin­ishes sec­ond on de­but in R5 class at the Oman In­ter­na­tional Rally; Aufi takes MERC 2 hon­ours

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

De­fend­ing cham­pion Nasser Saleh al At­tiyah's dom­i­na­tion in the FIA Mid­dle East Rally Cham­pi­onship (MERC) con­tin­ued as he got off to a win­ning start to the 2020 MERC sea­son with a com­fort­able vic­tory in the open­ing round at the Oman In­ter­na­tional Rally that con­cluded on Satur­day.

At­tiyah was on top in the R5 class on all the three days of the rally, which be­gan at the Oman Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion (OAA) head­quar­ters on Thurs­day.

It was a start-to-fin­ish vic­tory for the 15-time record MERC win­ner with the Qatari and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel claim­ing each of the 12 spe­cial stages (SS9 was can­celled) in their Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI R5. They romped to a de­serv­ing ti­tle with a win­ning mar­gin of 5min 04.01sec in the Oman rally that made its re­turn to the MERC cal­en­dar for the first time since 2015.

It was At­tiyah’s sixth ti­tle in Oman as he tries to break Mo­hammed Ben Su­layem’s record of seven wins in the sul­tanate. Baumel has now won the event twice (2015 and 2020).

Oman's 23 year old Abdullah al Rawahi, who was mak­ing his de­but in R5 class, im­pressed with a run­ner-up spot in his Ford Fiesta, edg­ing an­other Qatari driver Nasser Khal­ifa al At­tiyah to the third spot.

Af­ter the vic­tory, At­tiyah said, “Thanks to the Oman Au­to­mo­bile

As­so­ci­a­tion for or­gan­is­ing the first round of the Mid­dle East Cham­pi­onship. This is my sixth win here. I al­ways like what I see here. I love the stages and the peo­ple.”

Rawahi de­liv­ered a solid per­for­mance with Jor­da­nian co­driver Ata al Hmoud. He said, “It was a re­ally good re­sult for us as we fin­ished, de­spite a power steer­ing prob­lem on the last two stages. I would like to thank the team and every­one at the OAA for bring­ing this rally back.”

Qatar’s Nasser Khal­ifa al At­tiyah and Ital­ian co-driver Gio­vanni Ber­nac­chini rounded off the podium places in the third of the Ford Fiesta R5s.

The Omani pair­ing of Zakariya al Aufi and Am­mar al Balushi held the ad­van­tage in the MERC 2 cat­e­gory at the start of the day, but were over­hauled by Abdullah al Zubair and Emad Juma on the first stage of the open­ing loop – the 21.57km of the Khoud old vil­lage spe­cial.

Zubair slipped to third be­hind Kuwait’s de­fend­ing re­gional cham­pion Me­shari al The­firi and his Ir­ish nav­i­ga­tor Derek O’Brien af­ter drop­ping 1min 40sec on the spe­cial. Aufi moved ahead again and con­tin­ued to lead from The­firi through SS11, de­spite the Kuwaiti set­ting the fastest time in the cat­e­gory.

Both Zubair and Jarah al Tauqi re­tired on the sec­ond loop with tech­ni­cal is­sues and that paved the way for fourth-placed Aufi to pip The­firi, fifth, to claim MERC 2 hon­ours.

Omani driv­ers Khalid al Minji and Jas­sim al Muqahwi reached the fin­ish to end sixth and sev­enth over­all.

MERC 2 win­ner Aufi said, “It was a tough race. Yes­ter­day we started build­ing up the pace. That was our strat­egy. We opened the gap to two min­utes so the strat­egy worked quite well. I thank my team from Swab Per­for­mance for all their sup­port this weekend.”

The Le­banese duo of Henry Kahy and Rony Maroun re­joined un­der the Rally 2 reg­u­la­tion and reached the fin­ish in eighth to claim valu­able MERC 3 points.

Ghaith al Qasimi took a com­fort­able ad­van­tage of 6min 23.5sec in the fi­nal six stages of the Oman Na­tional Rally but the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo driver lost out on the Na­tional Rally win to Mo­hammed al Mazroui af­ter late prob­lems. Hamid al Qasimi and Haitham al Zad­jali were sec­ond and third re­spec­tively.

The FIA Mid­dle East Rally Cham­pi­onship re­sumes with the Manateq Qatar In­ter­na­tional Rally on April 9-11.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh al At­tiyah (third from right, back row) holds the tro­phy at the awards cer­e­mony held at the OAA head­quar­ters on Satur­day

Nasser Saleh al At­tiyah in ac­tion

Abdullah al Rawahi in ac­tion

Zakariya al Aufi in ac­tion

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