x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Numbers all add up for title-chasing Al Attiyah

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, the defending champion, will be hoping that seven proves to be his lucky number when the Dubai International Rally starts tomorrow.

Rashid Al Ketbi, the UAE driver, lies 21 points behind championship leader Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah with 25 points on offer to the race winner of the Dubai Rally.
Rashid Al Ketbi, the UAE driver, lies 21 points behind championship leader Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah with 25 points on offer to the race winner of the Dubai Rally.

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, the defending champion, will be hoping that seven proves to be his lucky number when the Dubai International Rally starts tomorrow.

The Qatari driver is chasing his seventh Dubai Rally title and if he wins he will become FIA Middle East champion for the seventh time.

But his 21-point championship lead means he can afford to finish seventh and still clinch the regional title.

The rally is set to add another chapter to the UAE's sporting history as the nation celebrates its 40th anniversary.

"This rally is a special event for many and it has extra significance this time because it has traditionally been staged on UAE National Day weekend and goes back longer than any other international sports event staged in the Emirates during the last 40 years," Mohammed ben Sulayem, the president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, said.

The final round of the 2011 FIA regional series has its ceremonial start at 7.30pm today on Emaar Boulevard in Old Town Dubai.

Tomorrow, as residents across the country celebrate National Day, Al Attiyah, partnered by his Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini in a Ford Fiesta S2000, will lead the starters away from the Rally HQ at Dubai Men's College, en route to the first of the event's 12 special stages.

Appropriately named the "Spirit of the Union Stage", this 19km competitive section is the most technical in the rally and the driver who sets the fastest time will receive a special award.

The "Spirit of the Union Stage" is in a loop of three stages that will each be repeated in the afternoon in a route totalling 1,027kms.

The competitors will reach the finish back on Emaar Boulevard at 4.30pm on Saturday.

Although Al Attiyah only needs a relatively modest finishing position to take the regional title he will want to produce a champion's performance and add to his earlier championship wins this year in Qatar, Kuwait, Cyprus and Lebanon.

But he faces a difficult challenge as the two UAE drivers following him away from the start, Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi and Rashed Al Ketbi, would love to score a home win to mark the UAE's 40th anniversary.

Sheikh Abdullah drives a Ford Fiesta S2000 in partnership with Britain's Steve Lancaster, while Al Ketbi is joined by Khalid Al Kendi in a Skoda Fabia S2000, and should Al Attiyah fail to finish, victory for either of the Emiratis would make them the Middle East champion.

Mufeed Mubarak, accompanied by Saad Almelaifi, lies fourth in the championship standings, in a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, and he leads a three-car Kuwaiti challenge in Dubai.

Burcu Cetinkaya and Cicek Guney from Turkey form the only all-female crew on the starting line. Oman is represented by Hamed Al Wahaibi, the 1999 World Rally Championship Group N runner-up, who is joined by Allan Harryman in yet another Mitsubishi.

Ben Sulayem said at a press conference yesterday: "The UAE has achieved so much in such a relatively short period of time in many areas, including the sporting arena.

"This is a good time to put on record our thanks to the President and Vice President of the UAE, and to our Rulers, for the support and encouragement that they have given to rallying, and to sport in general, over the years."

Tomorrow's Leg 1 special stages are in the Malaiha and Shawka area and can be reached from the Sharjah-Kalba Road.

The special stages on Saturday's are in the Al Dhaid area, off the Sharjah-Kalba Road or the Al Dhaid Road.

* Agency