With the 37th running of Rally of Lebanon – scheduled to run between August 28-31 – inching closer, we’re taking you back to some memorable moments in previous editions of the famous Middle East rally, including the different winners and notable foreign participations.
Rally of Lebanon has been a long-standing event in Lebanese Motorsport history. The Automobile Touring Club of Lebanon (ATCL) first organized it in 1952 as “Rally of Lebanon and Syria”, which returned in years 1955 after a 3-year hiatus and in 1959 after a 4-year hiatus.
The first official “Rally of Lebanon” inaugurated in 1968. Known as “Marlboro Rallye de Montagne” back then, it witnessed the participation of 57 drivers among whom 14 had foreign nationalities, including Italian rally driver 1977 World Rally Champion Sandro Munari. The rally covered more than 1,000 kilometers of Lebanese roads.
It didn’t take long for “Rallye de Montagne” to become an international stop, with drivers from different parts of the globe aiming to get a taste of victory, but it took 20 years for a non-Lebanese driver to claim the overall triumph, and it was UAE’s 14-times Middle East Rally Champion Mohammad Bin Sulayem who first did it in 1987 when the Rallye de Montagne became a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in what was a huge feat for local motorsport.
In 1993, “Rallye de Montagne” was officially renamed “Rally of Lebanon”. French rally drivers Jean Ragnotti and Alain Oreille took part in the event, and it was the latter that claimed the overall win that year ahead of his fellow countryman Ragnotti. Four-times World Rally Champion Tommi Makkinen made a short appearance, contesting the Super Special Stage only.
In later years, several other international drivers contested the ever-growing event. 1993 European Rally Champion Pierre-César Baroni entered the 1995 edition of Rally of Lebanon but failed to beat the locals, while Petter Solberg competed in the 1998 edition, finishing second place overall behind Mohammad Bin Sulayem who scored his third win in the event.
Of the local drivers, only Roger Feghali and Jean-Pierre Nasrallah managed to triumph more than once, with the former holding the record of 11 victories after last year’s win, while Nasrallah has three, just one victory behind Mohammad Bin Sulayem’s four.
Rally of Lebanon was never trouble-free, however. Wars, conflicts and tensions have lead to the cancellation of several editions of the rally, the most recent of which was in 2005. Despite the tensions this year and Abu Dhabi Racing team’s absence, ATCL is adamant to make the 37th Rally of Lebanon a success.