Rashid Al Ketbi is on target to win the Dubai International Rally for the first time in his career after Nasser Al Attiyah suffered a scare as he looks to secure his seventh Middle East Rally Championship [MERC] title.
Al Ketbi had spoken beforehand of his determination to provide a home victory in Dubai, to add to the 40th anniversary National Day celebrations, and the Emirati completed the first part of the job yesterday as he led after the first five stages of the event.
He holds a 20.4-second lead going into today's final six stages, but faces a tough challenge to remain in top spot.
His compatriot, Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, is second, with Oman's Hamed Al Wahaibi in third.
Al Attiyah, who was the pre-event favourite, is fourth, just 46.9 seconds behind Al Ketbi after suffering a dramatic opening day.
Needing only seventh place to seal the title, the Qatari driver hit a tree on the opening stage of the scheduled six after getting lost trying to complete the first stage due to the finish to the stage being in the wrong position.
The incident damaged the suspension on his Ford Fiesta and he took a two-minute time penalty to ensure it was fixed properly during a service area break midway through the day.
Despite these setbacks he finished the day strongly, winning the last three stages, and he remains hopeful of triumphing today to take the title in style.
"I want to win the rally," he said. "We have had problems but we have shown good pace. We are thinking of the championship, but if can go for the win we will."
Of his problems, he added: "We were coming to the end of the first stage and found the finish had moved and was different to our recce notes. As we tried to change direction, I struck a tree and it damaged the suspension. We took a penalty in the service area and we had good speed after that.
"It will be an interesting day as you have four people at the front who are all quick and capable of winning and it should be close."
Following the completion of the day's action, the stewards chose to cancel the first stage, deleting the times from the standings, as a consequence of the confusion on where the finish line was supposed to be.
Among the first-leg casualties was the UAE's Sheikh Suhail Al Maktoum, a former Dubai Rally winner, whose Subaru Impreza blew its engine. Also going out was former Middle East Group N champion Ron Oakeley with a blown head gasket on the first stage and Germany's Edith Weiss suffered mechanical problems.
Today's opening stage begins at 9.06am and the event finishes at 4.30pm at Emaar Boulevard in Old Town Dubai.