The 2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar gets underway with a brand new ceremonial start with the backdrop of the hustle and bustle of Souq Waqif in downtown Doha on Thursday evening.
All three regional rally titles were decided in Kuwait two weeks ago and that means that individual pride and outright wins are at stake on this weekend’s revised final round in the northern Qatar deserts.
The Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) is delighted to have attracted 15 potential teams on the FIA starting list, plus National Rally entrants, and competitors from eight nations to the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC). This is despite the conclusion of the respective category battles.
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is still celebrating his record-breaking 14th regional title and the Qatari will also be bidding to break his own record of 13 wins in the Qatar round of the regional series. Mechanical issues cost him and French navigator Matthieu Baumel the chance to shine in 2017 and opened the door for Rashed Al-Nuami to take his solitary MERC win.
Resistance in the R5 category comes from Czech rival Vojtĕch Štajf in a Škoda Fabia and fellow Qatari Adel Abdulla, who makes his debut in a Ford Fiesta R5 run by Motortune.
The MERC 2 or Group N category will see the closest competition with eight Mitsubishi Lancers and three Subaru Imprezas set for battle through Qatar’s northern deserts. Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri has already clinched the title, but Jordan’s Khaled Juma is heading for the runners-up spot in the absence of both he and rival Ihab Al-Shorafa.
Abdullah Al-Kuwari returns to the hot seat in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. The Qatari’s standout performance so far in the regional rally series was first in Group N and third overall in Jordan in 2016.
Khaled Al-Suwaidi is a non-starter but there are further local entries for Mohammed Al-Meer and Rashed Al-Mohannadi, the latter taking the wheel of Khaled Juma’s Mitsubishi.
Abdullah Al-Rawahi heads a six-car entry from the Sultanate of Oman that also includes entries for Zakaria Al-Shanfari, Saif Abdullah Al-Harthy, Shaun McGonigal, Jarah Al-Tauqi and Humaid Al-Waili.
Saleh bin Eidan returns to the championship and boosts the entry from Kuwait in a car that was being refettled against the clock with spare parts commandeered from Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah’s Kuwait Rally car to ensure that it was ready for FIA scrutineering checks.
There is a further entry for Lebanon’s MERC 3 champion Henry Kahy in a two-wheel drive Škoda Fabia 1.6.
QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai said: “We are delighted with the number of cars on the entry list. I set the target to the team and they came up with the goods. I have lived in Qatar a long time but, after the recent weather, this is the first time I have my fingers crossed for no more rain!”
Route changes forced on rally officials by the weather have reduced the competitive distance from 203.40km to 153.82km, but the event still remains within the 75% required by the FIA to make it eligible for full championship points.
Friday’s Eraida stage has been reduced from 17.02km to 15.87km and Al-Dhakira has gone from 18.13km to 12.46km. Saturday’s opener at Al-Khor has been trimmed from 18.37km to 13.20km, Al-Ghariyah remains unchanged and the Al-Ruwais special is now 14.22km, as opposed to 27.02km in the original itinerary.
Thursday’s timetable features technical scrutineering in the morning and this precedes over two hours of live footage on the Al-Rayyan television network of the official pre-event press conference and the ceremonial start at Souq Waqif in downtown Doha.
The press conference will take place on the start ramp between 17.45hrs and 18.15hrs and the ceremonial start takes centre stage from 19.05hrs.
2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar – list of starters (*unofficial):
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5
- Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Saffah Al-Thefiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Adel Hussein (QAT)/Ziad Chehab (LEB) Ford Fiesta R5
- Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE)/Veronica Havelkova (CZE) Škoda Fabia R5
- Saif Abdullah Al-Harthy (OMN)/Salim Al-Abri (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Mohammed Al-Meer (QAT)/Ahmad Al-Fares (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Rashid Al-Mohannadi (QAT)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Saleh bin Eidan (KWT)/ Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
- Humaid Al-Waili (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Mazruii (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
- Zakariya Al-Shanfari (OMN)/Saif Al-Hinai (OMN) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
- Jarah Al-Tauqi (OMN)/Issa Al-Wardi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lamcer Evo VII
- Shaun McGonigal (OMN)/Nathan Marriott (OMN) Subaru Impreza WRX STi
- Henry Kahy (LBN)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) Škoda Fabia 1.6
(*subject to FIA technical scrutineering on Thursday morning)
2018 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – positions after round 4:
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 146pts
- Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE) 93pts
- Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT) 59pts
- Roger Feghali (LBN) 38pts
- Khaled Juma (JOR) 32pts
- Christos Demostheous (CYP) 25pts
- Rodolphe Asmar (LBN) 24pts
- Henry Kahy (LBN) 21pts
- Eddy Karam (LBN) 19pts
- Alexandros Tsouloftas (CYP) 19pts
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT) 19pts
- Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR) 17pts
- Ahmed Shaban (JOR) 16pts
- Savvas Savva (CYP) 15pts
- Costas Zenonos (CYP) 12pts
- Rony Kanaan (LBN) 11pts
- Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN) 11pts, etc
2018 FIA MERC 2 – positions after round 4:
- Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT) 117pts
- Khaled Juma (JOR) 49pts
- Savvas Savva (CYP) 37pts
- Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR) 33pts
- Costas Zenonos (CYP) 30pts
- Ahmed Shaban (JOR) 25pts
- George Englezou (CYP) 25pts
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT) 24pts
- Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN) 23pts, etc
2018 FIA MERC 3 – positions after round 4:
- Henry Kahy (LBN) 127pts
- Rony Kanaan (LBN) 39pts
- Panayiotis Xenophontos (CYP) 37pts
- Asem Aref (JOR) 30pts
- Matthias Njeim (LBN) 30pts
- Constantinos Televantos (CYP) 30pts
- Zacharias Manoli (CYP) 23pts
2018 FIA MERC Junior Championship for Drivers – positions after round 4:
- Matthias Njeim (LBN) 39pts