x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Attiyah rallies to a seventh Middle East Rally Championship title

A little thing like hitting a tree didn't slow down Nassser Saleh Al Attiyah. Nor did he let a couple of flat tyres hold him back as he rallied to win the Dubai International Rally and take the Middle East Rally title.

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, right, with co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini of Italy, overcame several problems, including striking a tree and tyre punctures, to win the Dubai International Rally and ensure Al Attiyah of a seventh Middle East Rally Championship title
Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, right, with co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini of Italy, overcame several problems, including striking a tree and tyre punctures, to win the Dubai International Rally and ensure Al Attiyah of a seventh Middle East Rally Championship title

DUBAI // After a season of dominance in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship it was fitting that Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah sealed his seventh championship with a superb display to win the Dubai International Rally on Saturday.

Nothing seemed capable of stopping the Qatari driver.

A collision with a tree on the opening stage of the event on Friday?

Not a problem.

A two-minute time penalty for checking in late to parc ferme on stage three on Friday after having to spend time repairing his damaged Ford Fiesta after the aforementioned incident with a tree?

Just a mild irritation.

Two flat tyres?

A simple shrug of the shoulders.

"We tried to make it hard for ourselves," the 40 year old grinned as he stood by his car. "But we dealt with every setback and our pace was strong, and we were good enough to come back and win."

Seventh place would have been enough to secure the title but Al Attiyah had pledged before the start of Saturday's six stages that he would drive for the victory, and he kept to his word.

He was the fastest man on each stage to triumph for the seventh time in Dubai, with Rashid Al Ketbi, the Emirati driver, finishing 37.7 seconds behind in second.

The result ensured that Al Attiyah, who missed out on the 2010 title by four points, won the championship by 28 points from Al Ketbi, and he said that winning the event made becoming champion again even sweeter.

"If you win the rally and the championship on the same day it is a fantastic feeling," he said.

The result did not look so assured on Friday when Al Attiyah's car suffered suspension damage after he struck a tree as he tried to find the finish to the first stage, which had been placed in the wrong position by organisers, consequently causing the stage to be later annulled by stewards.

The time penalty meant he began yesterday in fourth place, 46.9 seconds behind Al Ketbi, but stage times often 10 seconds faster than anyone else ensured that Al Attiyah had the lead by stage 10 of the 12-stage event, and extended his advantage further in the final two runs.

Even two punctures during the first three stages of the day could not slow him down as both were changed rapidly.

Al Attiyah's co-driver, Giovanni Bernacchini, said that a positive attitude had been key to their fightback to the top of the order.

"The time penalty did not make things easy for us but we did not want to give up," he said.

"We knew the performance was there from our times on the first day, and I am happy for Nasser that he was able to get the seventh title."

The result caps a great year for Al Attiyah as he won the Dakar Rally in January and is close to securing a deal to drive a Citroen in next season's World Rally Championship alongside Sebastien Loeb, the eight-time world champion.

"It has been a brilliant year," Al Attiyah said. "Winning Dakar was a dream come true and to get the Middle East [title] back just completes things."

Al Ketbi had the consolation of being the highest-placed Emirati as he held off a strong challenge from Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi to take second.

He finished nine seconds ahead of his compatriot, and he said: "It was a really fantastic fight. Nasser was very quick. I did everything I could to win."

Sheikh Abdullah said there was nothing more he could have done in his push to be runner-up.

"It was very tight," he said. "I pushed like crazy in places and it was a good rally, so I am happy with how I have done."

Hamed Al Wahaibi, the Omani driver, finished fourth, with Burcu Cetinkaya, the Turkish driver, completing the top five.

 

gcaygill@thenational.ae

 

Final results


Finish, Driver, Time

1 N Al Attiyah (QAT), 2h03m17.2s

2 R Al Ketabi (UAE), +37.7s

3 Sheikh Abdullah (UAE),+46.7

4 H Al Wahaibi (OMN), 4m.19.8s

5 B Cetinkaya (TUR), ?19m.38.7s



Final championship standings


Finish, Driver, Points

1 Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT), 125

2 Rashid Al Ketbi (UAE), 97

3 Sheikh Abdullah (UAE), 93

4 Mufeed Mubarak (KWT), 54

5 Essam Al Nejadi (KWT), 27