Sheikh Khalid wins Dubai International Rally and captures Merc title
In a spectacular finish to the regional championship, Sheikh Khalid held on to the lead by just 0.3 seconds after a start-to-finish duel with Al Attiyah to deny his great rival an eighth successive win in Dubai and a 10th Merc title.
It all came down to the final special stage of the season, a 25.92-kilometre section that started with the Emirati driver in front by 0.4 seconds after he had taken the lead by winning the previous stage by 6.1 seconds. Sheikh Khalid, partnered by Chris Patterson in his Abu Dhabi Racing Citroen DS3, held his nerve to record his third win in Dubai and record his second Merc triumph.
“We pushed to the limit and it was very difficult,” said an emotional Al Qassimi, who had been determined to produce a home victory ahead of UAE National Day. “On the last stage I had a flat tyre but I got through it.”
Victory had looked to be Al Attiyah’s after he took an 11-second advantage midway through Day 2. The Qatari, who ends a hugely successful six-year partnership with Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini after this event, said: “We are quite happy we did a really good job here. We are not slow but were really surprised about [Sheikh] Khalid’s times in the afternoon. I knew it would not be easy and that we really needed to concentrate all the time.”
Finishing third in the rally, and in the championship, was Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, with countryman Khalid Al Suwaidi, the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi and another Qatari, Abdullah Al Kuwari, completing the top six in Dubai.
Leading by 6.8 seconds overnight, Al Attiyah increased his advantage to 12.2 seconds over the first of Saturday’s six stages to begin a sequence that meant the outcome was in doubt up to the last kilometre. Immediately, Sheikh Khalid reduced the deficit to 10.3 seconds, before it became 11.8 and then just 5.7 seconds as their cars were pushed to the limit, especially over a frantic final stage, which Al Attiyah took by 0.1 seconds to fall agonisingly short.
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