x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Football World Cup bid fillip for Qatar rally drivers

Qatar's win in World Cup bid boosts morale of rally drivers as a field of 27 drivers from 12 Middle Eastern countries compete in the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.

DUBAI // Moments before the start of this weekend's 32nd Dubai International Rally, one driver received an unexpected incentive.

Nasser al Attiyah learned that his home country of Qatar had won its bid to host the Fifa 2022 football World Cup.

He said he was determined to mark the news with victory in a tournament that organisers hope will spur interest in motorsport as well as raise publicity for charities.

Today, 27 drivers from 12 Middle Eastern countries compete in the final round of the 2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which ends tomorrow.

The event is organised by the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, whose president, Mohammed ben Sulayem, aims to bring motorsport closer to the community.

The ceremonial start kicked off at Downtown Dubai last night with the cars promoting the Dubai Autism Centre and the UAE Down Syndrome Association.

"It is important that motorsport in the modern era branches out and delivers much more than competitive events," said Mr Sulayem, who is also the vice president of the FIA, motorsport's world governing body. "In our role as the national motorsport authority and rally organisers, we have to move with the times, recognise our responsibility to consider and embrace the local community when we stage events, and play our part in helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate."

Hundreds of spectators waited to catch a glimpse of the drivers as they left the Souk Al Bahar car park.

The honour of being first away went to the only lady driver in the rally, Jordan's Ahed Eid, who is partnered by Feras Allowh in a Group N Mitsubishi Evo 9. Just before she got into her vehicle, the 19-year-old driver said that racing was her biggest joy.

"This is my second year in the championship and I have loved this sport since I was much younger," said Ahed, who was also the youngest driver. "The fact I am a woman has not even been a challenge, I have received much support."

Al Attiyah followed in a Super 2000 Ford Fiesta alongside his Italian co-driver, Giovanni Bernacchini. Although the Qatari driver was determined to win, he has to face off serious local competition.

"I'm not here just to participate or settle for a place on the podium," said Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, the Team Abu Dhabi driver. "I want to win my home event on National Day weekend, not just for myself, but for all the people of the UAE."

Khalifa al Muhairi represented Dubai along with his co-driver, Ali Mirza. The rally was the first time al Muhairi has raced after a break of almost 15 years.

"This is my dream," he said. "The reason I stopped for so long is due to lack of sponsorship, this is a very expensive sport, but I am hopeful for 2011."

Where to rally round

Today’s Leg 1 can be followed in the Malaiha and Shawka area and can be located from the Sharjah-Kalba Road.

Stages on tomorrow’s Leg 2 are in the Al Dhaid area and can be located from the Sharjah-Kalba Road or the Al Dhaid Road. The rally finishes at Dubai’s Old Town Island around 4.30pm tomorrow.

melshoush@thenational.ae