The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is set for another battle with Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah in the Kuwait International Rally on Saturday to decide the second round of this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).
At the end of Friday's racing, with five special stages completed, Al Attiyah in his Ford Fiesta RRC led by 41.3 seconds over Al Qassmi in the Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team DS3 RRC.
Spearheading a four-car Abu Dhabi Racing Challenge effort, Al Qassimi was trailed by the WRC2 winners from the last two World Rally Championship events this season, Qatar's Abdulaziz Al Kuwari and Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al Rajhi, who held third and fourth places, respectively, in Fiestas.
While Al Attiyah was happy to carry his advantage into the second leg, he could not ignore the threat from Al Qassimi over the remaining six stages.
Returning to Kuwait for the first time since winning the event three years ago, the UAE driver has been looking for a repeat of the opening day in the Qatar Rally, where he started the first round of the FIA Middle East series by claiming the overnight lead from Al Attiyah.
A second-day puncture cost him his chance of victory on that occasion, but a similar misfortune for Al Attiyah on the second leg could see Al Qassimi secure a first MERC win for Abu Dhabi Racing.
"We got a little lost in the middle of the first stage when we hesitated at one of the corners, which cost us time," said Al Qassimi, who is partnered by British co-driver Scott Martin.
"Stage two was better, and we fought back in stage three to take second overall, which was nice. We needed better traction going forward, so at service we made a change. After that, I was much happier with the way things went, so we are in a good position to make the most of it tomorrow."
While Al Qassimi fought to keep the pressure on Al Attiyah, the three young Emirati drivers also competing for Abu Dhabi Racing each gave a good account of themselves on a day when stage five was cancelled because of camels wandering close to the rally route.
Mohammed Al Mutawaa led teammate Mohammed Al Sahlawi in the 2WD Class, and both did well to finish the day ahead of a cluster of Group N cars in 15th and 16th positions, respectively, out of 24 starters.
Lying second in Group N after the opening round of the championship, Bader Al Jabri, accompanied by French co-driver Nicolas Klinger in a Subaru Imprezza, was holding 12th place overall and fourth in the production class before a mechanical problem forced him out on the final stage of the day.
He was looking to take advantage of the super rally regulation to re-start the second leg..
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