DUBAI // As 21 drivers and cars prepare to tackle today's opening stages of the two-day Dubai International Rally, Mohammed ben Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), has criticised the country's top drivers for failing to enter the final round of the seven-event Middle East Rally Championship.
"I'm happy with the quality of the field, but I am a little disappointed with some of the UAE drivers for not entering," said ben Sulayem, who is also the FIA's vice president for sport. "This is the final round of the regional series and, as always, I would like to see a UAE national winning it." With Qatari championship lea-der Nasser al Attiyah the heavy favourite to make it five consecutive wins in Dubai, ben Sulayem questioned why some of the country's top drivers, including BP Ford Abu Dhabi's World Rally Championship star Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, as well as Sheikh Suhail Khalifa al Maktoum, have not entered the rally - the UAE's oldest motor-sport event.
"Rally is the spinal chord of motorsport here," said ben Sulayem. "Both Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi and Sheikh Suhail Khalifa al Maktoum are eligible for this rally and could win. They've both won it before." Ben Sulayem pointed to the success of Mohammed al Balooshi, the UAE rider who won a GCC qualifying race to secure a place in today's fourth round of the Asian Supercross Championship in Saudi Arabia, as evidence that the country's best need to set an example.
"Local motorsport has been broadened with the arrival of new circuits, F1, drag and karting," said ben Sulayem. "Our national team won the 250CC series in Saudi today, we can do it. We can achieve the best positions, but we need the best to do it." Meanwhile, three drivers in Team Abu Dhabi, the capital's dedicated junior rally driver programme, have swerved the Dubai International Rally to contest the Fiesta Shoot-out - a one-off event which crowns the best driver in 20 of the Ford-only series running globally.
"The Dubai Rally is very high speed and there is nothing for our young guys to compete for," said Ron Cremen, the team's manager. Instead of chasing bottom- order positions in Dubai, Majed al Shamsi, Bader al Jabri and Ahmed al Mansoori, will travel to the headquarters of British-based M-Sport - the company who oversee Ford's rally programme - for the two-day event. @Email:email@example.com