KUWAIT CITY, March 15: The Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) has announced an impressive entry list for next weekend’s Kuwait International Rally, round two of the 2016 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), taking place on March 24-26.
The three-day event, being held under the chairmanship of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and in conjunction with the General Authority for Sport and Kuwait International Automobile Club (KIAC), has attracted a provisional 21 cars, with drivers taking part from Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Co-drivers from Kuwait, Qatar, France, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, Iran, Finland and Germany will ensure 12 nations are represented at the ceremonial start next Thursday afternoon (March 24).
Record-breaking Qatari driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah will lead the field in his Skoda Fabia R5. The 11-time regional champion and five-time Kuwait Rally winner broke Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s long-standing record of 60 MERC wins last month in Qatar and returns to rallying after spending several weeks in Cyprus honing his skeet shooting skills in preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio this summer.
Competition in the R5 category will come from fellow Qatari Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari in a second Skoda and 2012 event winner Khalid Al-Suwaidi in a Ford Fiesta, while Kuwait’s Masoud Al-Saleh lines up in a Ford Fiesta S2000. Both Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi suffered disappointing retirements from the recent Rally Mexico and will be hoping to kick-start their seasons in Kuwait.
The remainder of the field is entered in the highly competitive NR4 class for Group N cars. Likely front-runners in this category include the Kuwaiti quintet of current national championship leader Meshari Al-Thafiri, Jassim Al-Muqahwi, Mohammed Al-Thafiri, Saleh Ali, Elie Chachati and rookie Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah, who hopes to benefit from recent rally training.
Both Meshari and Mohammed Al-Thafiri are the sons of legendary Kuwaiti driver Ahmed Al-Thafiri, a winner of the Kuwait event way back in 1981 before it became a round of the regional series.
Competition is likely to be fierce from the Qatari contingent of Abdullah Al-Kuwari, Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Rashid Al-Naimi and Edith Weiss, while the veteran Lebanese driver Michel Saleh returns to MERC action with navigator Ahmed Ghaziri in his Subaru Impreza N15. Saleh has taken part in the regional series since its inception and won the Kuwait Rally back in 1984 at the wheel of a Toyota Celica GT.
Other entrants in the NR4 class include the Iranian duo of Hassan Akbarnejadbaei and Laleh Seddigh, the two Turkish Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs of Yigit Timur and Vedat Diker and the Saudi Arabian driver Rakan Al-Rashed.
Lebanon’s Rodolphe Asmar completes the provisional line-up with experienced navigator Joseph Matar in another Mitsubishi. Both Asmar and Al-Sabah are also eligible for points in the regional Junior Championship.
After a timed super special at the Sirbb circuit on Thursday, March 24, competitors will tackle six gravel stages on Friday, March 25 and a further six in the same area on Saturday, March 26.
Rally headquarters will be based at the Safir Hotel and Residences in Fintas, while the Sea Shell Julai’a Hotel and Resort will host the rally control and offer amenities for the nearby service park.