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Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi sits in second place after the first day of Qatar Rally. The final six stages of the opening round of the Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) will be held Saturday.
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi sits in second place after the first day of Qatar Rally. The final six stages of the opening round of the Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) will be held Saturday.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi has two-time champion in sight

The opening round of the Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) on Friday had a busy first day with only 11 of the 18 cars completing the six stages, but Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is only four seconds off the lead.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi had forecast that his biggest challenger to victory at the Qatar Rally would be home favourite Nasser Al Attiyah and that is exactly how things panned out on Friday as the two engaged in a fierce duel.

The opening round of the Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) had a busy first day with only 11 of the 18 cars completing the six stages, but Sheikh Khalid and Al Attiyah only had eyes on each other at the front.

Both spent time at the front, but a fastest time on Friday's final stage saw Al Attiyah, a seven-time Merc champion, who has won the last two championships, take the lead. He holds a 4.8-second edge going into today's final run, which also consists of six stages.

Sheikh Khalid had been cautious on his prospects going into the rally, with it being the first time his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total Team DS3 car had competed in the MERC since the partnership between Abu Dhabi Racing and Citroen had been made last December.

Sheikh Khalid is chairman of Abu Dhabi Racing.

"Nasser took a few more risks than me and I just tried to drive with my head," he said. "You don't want push too hard on the first day, break the car and go out. It was rough out there and I had some damaged tyres and a few bumps here and there, but nothing serious.

"Overall, it was a good strategy today and we may look at something different tomorrow, but I'm pleased to be where I am at the moment."

It was a good day for ADR, who have five drivers in the event.

Majid Al Shamsi finished the leg in seventh place overall and was second to Qatari Abdulla Al Kuwari in the new Group N category in his Subaru Impreza.

Teammate Bader Al Jabri was in ninth overall and third in Group N.

Mohammed Al Mutawaa sits in 10th and also leads the new two-wheel category in his CitroŽn DS3 R3 in his first ever rally.

The other Abu Dhabi Racing rally newcomer, Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, was forced to retire after a series of punctures. He will take the super rally option to restart the rally today.

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