March 14, 2015 – Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s rich vein of form continues and the Qatari coasted to an emphatic record-breaking fifth victory in the Kuwait International Rally on Saturday.
Partnered to a fourth successive win this year by French co-driver Matthieu Baumel, the Ford Fiesta RRC driver won nine of the 13 gravel special stages and reached the podium at Marina Crescent in Kuwait with a winning margin of 1min 02.1sec.
The success was his 56th in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) and he now stands just four wins short of the magical 60 set by Dubai’s Mohammed Ben Sulayem between 1984 and 2002. Baumel claimed his fifth MERC win and now draws level with Steve Lancaster and Nabil Njeim in equal sixth in the list of most co-driver wins in the MERC.
“I am so happy to keep this run of wins going and extend my lead in the championship,” said Al-Attiyah. “I had a good strategy here and it worked. I managed my pace and that was important. I did not take risks. It’s not all about winning all the stages. Now we have a good lead in the championship.”
Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi Citroën DS3 RRC won two stages and shadowed Al-Attiyah to the finish for the second time this season. He and Chris Patterson lost a little time in the dust on Friday but picked up another haul of valuable championship points to keep the heat on the Qatari in the eight-round series.
Two punctures and a one-minute time penalty cost a subdued Yazeed Al-Rajhi any chance of victory, but he and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr reached the finish in third place and set two fastest stage times.
The 2012 event winner Khalid Al-Suwaidi complained that the tracks were difficult to follow at times and admitted to losing his way on occasions. He finished in a solid fifth behind Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Marshall Clarke. Al-Kuwari’s uncle Abdullah Al-Kuwari rounded off the top six with his former Irish co-driver Killian Duffy.
Despite losing several minutes on the opening day, Salah bin Eidan proved that all was not lost and the Kuwaiti driver stormed back through the field to claim seventh and victory in the Group N category.
Despite brake issues, Germany’s Edith Weiss finished her second successive event in a fine eighth overall and second in Group N once Kuwait’s Saleh Aly retired on the 11th stage.
Abu Dhabi Racing junior Mansoor Bel Helai restarted under Rally 2 and benefited from the demise of overnight leader Mohammed Al-Sahlawi to claim ninth overall and first in the two-wheel drive section with his Citroën DS3. Qatar’s Rashid Al-Naimi rounded off the top 10.
The second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship was organised by the Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) in conjunction with the Kuwait International Automobile Club (KIAC) and ran under the patronage of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
Saturday – as it happened
Nineteen cars were given start times for the second day although Dawood Al-Gharabally failed to take advantage of Rally 2 and 18 cars began the day. Al-Attiyah headed into the final two loops of three stages with a lead of 1min 14.9sec and that advantage grew to 1min 22.9sec after the first run though the 23.81km of Bneider.
Group N Trophy leader Meshari Al-Thafiri and 2WD front-runner Mohammed Al-Sahlawi were sidelined. Al-Thafiri damaged his Mitsubishi’s radiator after a jump and ongoing drive shaft issues after a gearbox change thwarted Al-Sahlawi.
Al-Attiyah’s closest rivals held station heading to the first pass through the Arifjan stage and Al-Qassimi snatched his first fastest time of the event and reduced Al-Attiyah lead by 5.21 seconds. Al-Rajhi retained a distant third, although his cause was not helped by a 60-second penalty imposed by rally officials following a route infringement on Friday and two punctures on the first two stages. This forced the Saudi to start the third special on a deflating and non-shredded tyre that he had removed on the previous test.
Al-Attiyah was fastest again through Julai’a and reached service with an advantage of 1min 19.0sec. “I have not been pushing today, just taking it easy. I am a bit surprised, because I set the fastest time without pushing. The record of five wins here is not my aim. The most important thing is the continuity and the consistency.”
A repeat run through the three stages was all that stood in the way of Al-Attiyah and a record fifth win in Kuwait. Fifteen cars remained in the rally, although Elie Chachati was struggling with gear lever issues in 12th place.
Al-Attiyah was 20 seconds slower through the re-run of Bneider than he had been in the morning. Even though Al-Rajhi claimed the quickest time, Nasser’s lead grew to 1min 39.5sec. Saleh Aly of Kuwait suffered mechanical problems and failed to finish the stage.
Al-Attiyah was now running noticeably slower and Al-Qassimi shaved 27.7 seconds off the Qatari’s advantage in Arifjan 2. It meant that the defending champion headed for the final stage at Julai’a with a lead of 1min 11.8sec.
Caution was the order of the day there as well for the Qatari and he reached the stage finish with the third quickest time to confirm a fifth win in Kuwait. Al-Rajhi confirmed third overall with his second fastest stage time.
The 2015 FIA Middle East Rally Championship resumes with the brand new Shiraz International Rally in Iran on May 6-8.
2015 Kuwait International Rally – position after SS13:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 33min 36.1sec
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC 2hr 34min 38.1sec
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 36min 05.8sec
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Marshall Clarke (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 36min 59.2sec
5. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/John Higgins (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC 2hr 38min 52.4sec
6. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 42min 42.3sec
7. Salah bin Eidan (KWT)/Vili Oslaj (SVN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 53min 00.9sec
8. Edith Weiss (QAT)/Vicky Psarakis (GRC) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3hr 15min 06.4sec
9. Mansoor Bel Helai (ARE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (ARE) Citroën DS3 3hr 32min 57.0sec
10. Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT)/Arif Yousef Mohammed (ARE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3hr 38min 41.3sec
11. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Adel Hussein (QAT) Ford Fiesta RRC 3hr 48min 23.4sec
12. Elie Chachati (KWT)/Othman Hamder (LBN) Subaru Impreza 3hr 59min 43.0sec
2015 Middle East Rally Championship – drivers’ positions after round 2:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 50 pts
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE) 36 pts
3. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT) 20 pts
4. Salah bin Eidan (KWT) 18 pts
5. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 15 pts
5. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT) 15 pts
7. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT) 14 pts
8. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT) 12 pts
9. Ali Mesgarha (IRN) 8 pts
9. Edith Weiss (GER) 8 pts
11. Mansoor Bel Helai (ARE) 2 pts
12. Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT) 1 pt