FINTAS, Kuwait City, March 26: A record sixth victory in the Kuwait International Rally was never really in doubt for Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. The 11-time FIA Middle East rally champion won all the 13 timed special stages at the second round of the regional series and reached the finish in Fintas on Saturday afternoon with a winning margin of 11min 24.9sec.
He and French navigator Matthieu Baumel controlled their pace at the three-day rally from start-to-finish to deliver yet another faultless team performance, a record 62nd MERC rally win for the driver and an 11th for his navigator.
“It was important that I won here and collected the maximum points, but I wasn’t really pushed on this rally,” said Al-Attiyah. “I would like to see my rivals come back on the next rallies. The car was fantastic and we managed to win every stage on an event that I enjoy very much.”
Newly-crowned Kuwaiti national champion Meshari Al-Thefiri, whose father Ahmed won the event before it became a round of the series way back in 1981, capped a memorable weekend with second overall and outright victory in the hard-fought MERC 2 category in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. His winning margin was 1min 28.2sec.
Partnered by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari on this occasion, he became only the second Kuwaiti in MERC history to reach the podium and the first to record a second-placed finish – the Kuwaiti duo of Mufeed Mubarak and Saad Al-Melaifi finished third in the MERC category at the Jordan WRC Rally in 2011.
“This is the icing on the cake of a fabulous weekend for me,“ said a delighted Al-Thefiri. “I confirmed the Kuwait Championship yesterday and decided to push hard today. Second place and the podium is a fantastic result for me and for motor sport in Kuwait.”
Qatar’s Rashed Al-Nuami and Italian navigator Nicola Arena struggled with the loss of third gear on their Subaru Impreza for two stages and retired from third position with ongoing gearbox issues with one stage to go, although they maintained the unofficial MERC 2 championship advantage after two rounds.
Yigit Timur lost his way in one stage for a time in a Tok Sport Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, but he and co-driver Ufuk Ulocak benefited from Al-Nuami’s misfortune to confirm third place and the runner-up spot in MERC 2.
The winner’s brother Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Cypriot navigator Savvas Laos finished the event in fourth, while the Lebanese duo of Rodolphe Asmar and experienced co-driver Joseph Matar dropped from fifth to seventh when they incurred a two-minute penalty after the finish.
Qatar’s Khaled Al-Suwaidi and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini benefited from the Rally 2 ruling to start the second day in eighth overall in their Ford Fiesta R5. But the Qatari was too far behind to make a real impression and, despite a string of second fastest times, he could only finish sixth and then climbed to fifth after Asmar’s penalty.
Saudi rookie Rakan Al-Rashed and Finnish navigator Jarkko Kalliolepo held seventh overall before being overhauled by Al-Suwaidi. Al-Rashed finished his second ever rally in sixth place, however, after Al-Nuami retired.
The Qatari pairing of Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Adel Hussein returned to action under Rally 2 and completed the event in eighth. Turkey’s Vidat Diker and the Kuwaiti duo of Saleh Ali and Elie Chachati rounded off the international finishers in ninth, 10th and 11th overall.
The event was organised by the Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) under the chairmanship of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and in conjunction with the General Authority for Sport.
Day 2 – as it happened
Al-Attiyah began the final day with a comfortable lead of 6min 27.3sec over Thefiri after Timur was handed a 30-second time penalty on Friday evening that dropped the Turk to fourth overall and third in the MERC 2 section and handed Al-Thefiri an MERC 2 lead over Al-Nuami of 24.8 seconds.
Only 10 of the 13 starters had completed the first day, but the three drivers who hit problems were re-classified in Rally 2 on Saturday morning. Khalid Al-Suwaidi rejoined in eighth overall, Abdullah Al-Kuwari was ninth and Vidat Diker was 13th.
The first of two runs through the 16.61km of the Bnaider stage, south of Kuwait City, was first on the agenda and Al-Attiyah set the benchmark with a time of 10min 45.3sec. It was over 13 seconds quicker than the time set by his returning R5 counterpart, Al-Suwaidi, but the real battle was taking place in MERC 2.
Al-Nuami reduced Al-Thefiri’s lead by 3.7 seconds, but Timur was in flying form and the fastest MERC 2 time saw the Turk overhaul Al-Nuami to snatch third overall and reduce Al-Thefiri’s lead to just 8.3 seconds.
The ninth special, near the military base at Arifjan, ran for 15.37km. Al-Attiyah was coasting and arrived at the stage start with an outright lead of 7min 28.3sec. His only R5 rival, Al-Suwaidi, was beginning to make a move back up the leader board from eighth position, but held little chance of reaching the podium.
Al-Thefiri moved a further 18 seconds ahead of Al-Nuami and he beat Timur by 1.8 seconds to increase his MERC 2 advantage to 10.1 seconds. Germany’s Edith Weiss did not start the stage after hitting a ditch that damaged the radiator in SS8. She tried to make emergency repairs, but her demise reduced the number of drivers still running to 12.
There were no dramas for Al-Attiyah on the Julai’a stage and he reached the regroup and service break with an overall lead of 8min 47sec. Al-Thefiri laid down the MERC 2 gauntlet with a time of 7min 57.5sec and he pulled a further 20.6 seconds away from Al-Nuami, who had lost third gear and was clearly struggling. It was also sufficient for the Kuwaiti to extend his MERC 2 lead over Timur to 32.4 seconds at the halfway point, after the Turk was reported to have lost his way in the special stage.
“I am extremely happy,” said Al-Thefiri at service. “Yesterday was the fourth round of the Kuwait national championship and I won the title. Today, I have nothing to lose and am pushing to the maximum. My lead is even more now when Yigit lost his way in the stage. It is a dream to be second. I has not happened for a Kuwaiti driver on this event before.”
“There is no competition, unfortunately, in my category here,” said leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. “With the new points system it was important that we finished both days, but I am taking it easy now. This is one of my favourite rallies.”
A repeat run through the three stages was on the agenda for the afternoon and both Al-Attiyah and Al-Suwaidi were markedly slower than in the morning.
Al-Thefiri closed in on history with a time of 11min 47.4sec and gained another 12.4 seconds on Al-Nuami. He just needed to stay clear of trouble to claim a career-best finish and his cause was made that much easier when Timur dropped a chunk of time and slipped to fourth overall.
Arifjan 2 provided no drama for Al-Attiyah either and the Qatari reached the start of the final stage safe in the knowledge that his lead was 10min 37.1sec. Al-Thefiri also stayed clear of trouble in the penultimate stage and his MERC 2 lead at the start of Julai’a 2 was 1min 03.2sec. Al-Suwaidi overhauled Al-Rashed and moved into seventh place.
Julai’a passed without issues for the leading duo and Al-Attiyah rounded off a clinical weekend’s work with the 13th consecutive fastest time to seal the win by a massive 11min 24.9sec. There was joy as well for Al-Thefiri and a first ever second-placed finish for a Kuwaiti on a round of the MERC. But gearbox problems thwarted Al-Nuami within sight of the finish and gifted the final podium place to Timur.
The regional series now moves on to demanding special stages near the Dead Sea in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at the start of May.
2016 Kuwait International Rally – positions after SS13 (unofficial @ 15.55hrs):
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Skoda Fabia R5 2hr 08min 06.1sec, 2. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 19min 31.0sec, 3. Yigit Timur (TUR)/Ufuk Uluocak (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 20min 59.2sec, 4. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Subaru Impreza 2hr 21min 59.5sec, 5. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 27min 25.3sec, 6. Rakan Al-Rashed (SAU)/Jarkko Kalliolepo (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 28min 40.6sec, 7. Rodolphe Asmar (LEB)/Joseph Matar (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 28min 56.2sec, 8. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Adel Hussein (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 33min 17.5sec, 9. Vedat Diker (TUR)/Erdal Oral (TUR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 48min 05.7sec, 10. Saleh Ali (KWT)/Othman Hamdar (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 2hr 54min 54.0sec, 11. Elie Chachati (KWT)/Naji Sfeir (LEB) Subaru Impreza 3hr 03min 43.7sec.