KUWAIT CITY, March 24: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah produced a clinical display of car control on the tight confines of the Sirbb circuit to edge into a lead of 3.8 seconds after the opening special stage of the Kuwait International Rally on Thursday evening.
He and French navigator Matthieu Baumel are firm favourites to continue their 100 percent winning start to the 2016 FIA Middle East Rally Championship season and there was no disputing the Qatari’s mastery of the twists and turns of the narrow Sirbb track (Sirbb in the Arabic language means ‘flock’ or ‘group’).
Thirteen of the original 21 entrants were flagged away from the ceremonial start at the circuit by Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) chairman Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, in the presence of FIA vice-president Middle East and MENA Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah and several other VIPs from various regional motor sporting ASNs.
An additional 15 cars are eligible for the Kuwait national rally, running behind the main event over the weekend. This list includes Qatar’s 1993 regional champion Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani and no less than seven T3 Can-Ams, Arctic Cats and RZRs.
Situated in the Shuwaikh industrial area, the Sirbb go-karting facility was established in October 2013 and lies nestled between a couple of concrete flyovers to one side, several car dealerships to the other and in close proximity to Kuwait’s Historical, Vintage and Classical Car Museum. This venue was used to host the pre-event press conference.
An impressive crowd assembled to witness the ceremonial start and the opening floodlit action that was broadcast on Kuwait television. The innocuous-looking stage had brought about the demise of Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh two years earlier, but there were no major dramas on this occasion.
Qatar’s Khaled Al-Suwaidi and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini provide the fiercest threat to Al-Attiyah’s quest for a sixth win in Kuwait this weekend and the Culture and Sport Qatar Rally Team Ford Fiesta R5 duo clocked the second quickest time after two laps of the tarmac circuit.
The closest competition over the coming two days Is expected in the MERC 2 category and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri clocked the third fastest time of 1min 52.3sec and leads the section by six-tenths of a second from fourth-placed Turkish driver Yigit Timur, driving a Tok Sport Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Saudi Arabia’s Rakan Al-Rashed incurred a 10-second penalty and lost a potential ninth place.
Tomorrow (Friday), crews will tackle two loops of three desert special stages to the south of Kuwait City, starting with the 13.86km of the Nuwaiseeb special at 10.00hrs.
Timetable of events – Friday, March 25:
08.57 Service at Julai’a
10:00 SS2 Nuwaiseeb
10:43 SS3 Kheiran 1
11:21 SS4 Al-Zour 1
12.21 Service at Julai’a
13:39 SS5 Nuwaiseeb
14:22 SS6 Kheiran 1
15:00 SS7 Al-Zour 1
15.40 Service at Julai’a
2016 Kuwait International Rally – positions after SS1:
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Skoda Fabia R5 1min 45.8 sec; 2. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 1min 49.6 sec; 3. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 52.3 sec; 4. Yigit Timur (TUR)/Ufuk Uluocak (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 52.9 sec; 5. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Adel Hussein (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 54.1 sec; 6. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Subaru Impreza 1min 55.8 sec; 7. Rodolphe Asmar (LEB)/Joseph Matar (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1min 57.0 sec; 8. Rashed Al-Nuami (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Subaru Impreza 1min 58.3 sec; 9. Vedat Diker (TUR)/Erdal Oral (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 58.8 sec; 10. Saleh Ali (KWT)/Othman Hamdar (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 2min 02.4 sec; 11. Elie Chachati (KWT)/Naji Sfeir (LEB) Subaru Impreza 2min 02.7 sec; 12. Rakan Al-Rashed (SAU)/Jarkko Kalliolepo (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2min 08.7 sec; 13. Edith Weiss (DEU)/Anne Stein (DEU) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2min 09.1sec