Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi came out on top of a fierce duel with Abdulaziz Al Kuwairi to finish second in the Cyprus Rally on Sunday, while another victory for Nasser Al Attiyah secured his ninth Middle East Rally Championship title.
Sheikh Khalid started the day in third, three seconds behind Al Kuwairi, but despite enduring a flat tyre, he was able to out-pace his Qatari rival by 4.7 seconds at the end of the 17-stage event.
Victory hopes had been extinguished on Saturday after mechanical and dust problems slowed him and cost him more than 90 seconds to Al Attiyah, but despite the result not being enough to preserve his title hopes, the Emirati was content with his weekend’s work as he finished runner-up for the third time in 2013.
“We started the first stage with good momentum, but then after 3km, we hit a rock on the side of the road and that left us with a flat front-right tyre,” he said. “I had to take it easy on the left corners to prevent the tyre sliding off the rim. But after yesterday’s problems, we made some changes overnight and started with the car feeling much better today.”
Sheikh Khalid said he had been forced to consider his own speed and tactics after seeing just how hard his rival, and Al Kuwairi, were pushing.
“I’m seeing a lot of lines from the two cars in front of me that look a bit dangerous to take,” he said. “But if I don’t take them, I lose a lot of time. The question is, do you take the risk?”
Al Attiyah prevailed by a margin of 2 minutes, 51.8 seconds over Sheikh Khalid, but his march to the title was not without its drama.
The Qatari had gone perilously close to going out of the rally on Saturday’s final stage when his car hit a rock that had been pulled out of the ground on the racing line.
The impact broke the sump guard, cross member and steering rack, and at one point retirement looked possible, but he survived to reach the service park, where the damaged parts were replaced, and he came through yesterday’s eight stages unscathed.
It was Al Attiyah’s fourth win of the season to follow up his victories in Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan.
Qatari Misfer Al Marri was fourth, almost 10 minutes behind Al Attiyah, with Cypriot Costas Georgiou completing the top five.
The final round of the season takes place in Dubai next month starting November 28, with the main question centering on who will take second place behind Al Attiyah in the overall championship.
Sheikh Khalid will take a 12-point lead over Al Kuwairi into the event, and if he finishes in the top three in his home event then he will be guaranteed the runner-up position, regardless of what his rival does.