Freak weather conditions and heavy rain have inundated parts of northern Qatar and forced officials at the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) to make last minute changes to the route for this weekend’s Manateq International Rally of Qatar, the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).

Twenty cars and 40 competitors from nine nations are making their final preparations for the three-day event, which gets underway with a ceremonial start at Souq Waqif on Thursday (November 15) afternoon. They will carry out their reconnaissance of the revised route on Wednesday.

Clerk of the course Pedro Almeida and his Portuguese assistant Jaime Santos have been out in the northern deserts checking the condition of the tracks and making any necessary changes to enable the event to run smoothly.

Speaking from the QMMF’s new offices at the Qatar Handball Sports Arena, Almeida said: “We have had exceptional weather conditions in Qatar and this resulted in flooding and damage to the stages. We were obliged to modify the route in order to avoid any difficult situations. We did that to avoid any possible cancellation of stages.

“If the rain continues, then we may have to do more changes. In fact, we have now done two rallies. We had rally A and now we have rally B. The rally still has five different stages and four of them have been modified. That has resulted in shorter stages, but safer stages. We have made short cuts to avoid muddy sections and areas where the cars would get stuck. There are lakes in the desert. Some tracks disappeared into the water. It would have been impossible, even for a 4×4 vehicle, to cross them.

“We have done a big job to prepare a second rally in one week. Competitors will receive a bulletin with the changes when they complete their registration.”

Rally officials had hoped to run 203.40 competitive kilometres in a total route of 832.75km before the late modifications. Friday’s action is scheduled to be fought out over two runs through the Eraida and Al-Dhakira stages, while Saturday’s timetable included two runs through a new northerly Al-Khor special, Al-Ghariyah and the Al-Ruwais timed test.

Rain and adverse weather have affected the event in the past and route modifications have taken place on several occasions. The worst weather in the history of the event occurred back in 1993 when the area was inundated when the event ran out of the former Ramada Renaissance Hotel in downtown Doha.

That event was synonymous with large areas of standing water and small lakes on many stages and was eventually won by Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Mubarak Al-Hajri in a Toyota Celica GT4.

This year’s event will start and finish at Souq Waqif in downtown Doha with the ceremonial start planned for 19.05hrs on Thursday (November 15).

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