FINTAS, Kuwait, March 23: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is the clear favourable to claim a record-breaking sixth victory in the Kuwait International Rally, round two of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. Three days of action gets underway with a timed super special stage at the Sirbb circuit on Thursday afternoon.
Already nine points clear of his nearest rival in the regional series after winning the Qatar Rally for a 13th time last month, the 11-time Middle East champion is chasing a 62nd victory in the series and his second in a Skoda Fabia R5 with French navigator Matthieu Baumel. Realistically only one other driver can prevent the Al-Attiyah steamroller from flattening down the dust in the deserts to the south of Kuwait City.
The second R5 car will be driven by Khaled Al-Suwaidi, another Qatari to fall foul of bad fortune in Mexico last month. Al-Suwaidi and Italian navigator Giovanni Bernacchini hold second place in the regional rally series in their Ford Fiesta R5 and realise the importance of reaching the finish if they are to have any chance of winning a maiden title. Al-Suwaidi won the Kuwait event outright in 2012 with British navigator Nick Beech.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari has endured a torrid start to his season in a second Skoda: a heavy crash in Qatar and a couple of mechanical breakages and a crash in Rally Mexico have left the Qatari empty-handed from his opening two events of the season, but he and Irish navigator Killian Duffy were due a run of better fortune, after the remains of their wrecked Skoda was returned to Europe after the Qatar Rally.
Abdulaziz had planned to use a brand new car in Kuwait and airfreight the new Skoda from Europe, but the plan hit an obstacle at the 11th hour and the crew will not start. Engine issues meant that Kuwait’s Masoud Al-Saleh was not able to join the final list in his Ford Fiesta S2000.
There is a new points-scoring system in this year’s championship. The FIA has revised the traditional 25 points for a win, 18 for second and 15 for third-style format for FIA Regional Rallies. In addition to these points, additional bonuses are to be awarded according to the classification of each leg on the scale of seven down to one.
Therefore, the winner of the rally will be awarded 25 points, plus an additional seven for winning the second day and up to a maximum of seven more points for leading after day one.
The R5 cars are more powerful and have better handling and body strength than their NR4 counterparts, although the remainder of the entry on the event being hosted by the Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) consists of an impressive array of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Imprezas in the hands of drivers from Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The popular Group N category has been re-branded as FIA MERC 2 this year and utilises the FIA’s new revised points format as well. Qatar’s Rashid Al-Naimi currently leads the secondary series on 38 points and has a seven-point advantage over fellow Qatari Abdullah Al-Kuwari. Both drivers are present in Kuwait and will be partnered by their respective Italian and Qatari navigators, Nicola Arena and Adel Hussein.
Meshari Al-Thafiri also has a fabulous opportunity to win MERC 2 and can even see the possibility of a podium finish on his home rally. “It promises to be a fantastic battle in our category with many drivers and the target for all of us now is a podium finish as well as winning MERC 2,” said the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X driver.
Young Rodolphe Asmar collected 20 valuable points on his first appearance in the MERC outside Lebanon in Qatar last month. He is tied for third place in the points’ standings with the Italian Stephano Marrini, although his rival is not present in Kuwait. Husam Salem retired before the second leg of the Qatar Rally, but the new points-scoring system enabled the Jordanian to amass five points for his leg one performance. He is not present in Kuwait either and that has opened the door for the likes of Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Jassim Al-Muqahwi, Yigit Timur, Mohammed Al-Thafiri, Vedat Diker, Saleh Ali, Rakan Al-Rashed and Elie Chachati to get their MERC 2 challenges off the ground.
“I really enjoyed the recce and the stages are nice, although the first one on Friday morning could be tricky,” said Saudi Arabian Rakan Al-Rashed. “This is only my second rally. I competed in Dubai in November last year and the plan is to do more rallies this season. I just want to gain more experience.”
The official pre-event press conference, ceremonial start and the opening 1.8km special stage take place at the Sirbb circuit from 15.30hrs, 16.30hrs and 18.00hrs, respectively, on Thursday afternoon.
The event is being held under the chairmanship of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah in conjunction with the General Authority for Sport. The meat of the action takes place on Friday and Saturday in the desert to the south of Kuwait City.
Timetable of events – Thursday, March 24:
15:30 Pre-event press conference, Sirbb
16:30 Ceremonial start, Sirbb
18:00 Sirbb Super Special Stage, 1.8km
2016 Kuwait International Rally – starters (unofficial):
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Skoda Fabia R5
- Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5
- Meshari Al-Thafiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Adel Hussein (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Subaru Impreza
- Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Subaru Impreza
- Rodolphe Asmar (LEB)/Joseph Matar (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Jassim Al-Muqahwi (KWT)/Salem Abdullah (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
- Yigit Timur (TUR)/Ufuk Uluocak (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Mohammed Al-Thafiri (KWT)/Fares Al-Thafiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
- Vedat Diker (TUR)/Erdal Oral (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Saleh Ali (KWT)/Othman Hamdar (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
- Rakan Al-Rashed (SAU)/Jarkko Kalliolepo (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Edith Weiss (DEU)/Anne Stein (DEU) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Elie Chachati (KWT)/Naji Sfeir (LEB) Subaru Impreza
2016 Middle East Rally Championship – drivers’ positions after round 1:
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 39 pts
- Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT) 30 pts
- Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT) 24 pts
- Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT) 21 pts
- Rodolphe Asmar (LEB) 13 pts
- Stephano Marrini (ITA) 12 pts
- Husam Salem (JOR) 3 pts
2016 FIA MERC 2 – after round 1:
- Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT) 38 pts
- Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT) 31 pts
- Rodolphe Asmar (LEB) 20 pts
- Stephano Marrini (ITA) 20 pts
- Husam Salem (JOR) 5 pts
For further information:
English: Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, international media officer, 2016 Kuwait International Rally, Kuwait mobile: +965 941 38049, UK mobile: +44 7831 123153, E-mail: email@example.com, Twitter: @LordPerkins
www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases).
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