As competitors from across the Middle East and Europe make their final preparations for this weekend’s QMMF Qatar International Rally, round one of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, one man is preparing to take part in his fourth event in as many weeks.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi has begun a new season of motor sport action in superb style and is aiming to become the first Saudi driver ever to win the Qatar International Rally. Three weeks ago he steered his powerful Hummer to outright victory across the desert in the inaugural Rally Jeddah, before jetting off to Sweden to contest the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship on the snow and ice of northern Europe.
The Riyadh driver came within a whisker of winning the prestigious WRC 2 category for a second successive season and eventually finished fourth. He then headed east to the frozen wastelands of northern Russia and, on Sunday, he confirmed a stunning win in the Baja Russia Northern Forest ’14 to take an early lead the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in an Overdrive Toyota Hilux.
“It’s been very hectic, very tiring and very exciting,” said Al-Rajhi. “Now we are back to the Middle East but this is going to be very difficult. The local drivers are quick here. It will not be easy to beat them on their home rally. This will be the third car I have driven in four weeks with a third co-driver. I hope that Michael (Orr) and I can be successful.”
Meanwhile, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, winner of the Qatar International Rally in 2012, had intended to use a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in this year’s event, but the Qatari has taken the decision to wheel out his Motortune-run Ford Fiesta RRC with family support.
Edith Weiss has been supporting Middle East rallying since the early 1990s and the German is the leading lady on the entry list at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX that she acquired recently from Gassner Motorsport, five-time winners of the German Rally Championship.
With support from the 1993 FIA Middle East rally champion Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani, Weiss and new co-driver Norma Sandawi will be hoping to achieve a top 10 finish.
“I have many fond memories of competing in Qatar and have taken part in the event for the last four years,” said Weiss. “I finished 10th overall with a Nissan Sunny GTi-R in 1997 and my first rally was way back in 1992 with a Toyota Celica, where I also finished 10th overall and met Sheikh Hamed for the first time.”
Turkey’s top female driver Burcu Cetinkaya has been forced to miss the opening round of the Middle East series but is present in Doha in a television media capacity. Nada Zaidan represents the host nation in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), there will be a meeting of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, while documentation will take place for all teams taking part in the QMMF Qatar International Rally after crews have completed their second day of reconnaissance.
The first Women in Motorsport seminar in the Middle East will start at 10am on Wednesday morning with opening speeches by Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, president of the QMMF and FIA vice-president for sport for the MENA region, and Graham Stoker, the FIA deputy president for sport.
Further presentations will follow from the likes of the FIA’s Michèle Mouton, WIM vice-president Randa Nabulsi, MSA international training programme director Susan Sanders, FIA WRC media delegate Hayley Gallagher and FIA commission manager Frédérique Trouve.
Ladies are attending the two-day seminar from all corners of the world and include Egypt’s Yara Shalaby, FIA WMC circuit project co-ordinator Cathy Muller Ehrlacher, Finland’s Tina Lehmonen, Mexico’s Jenny Bertin, former Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons, Moroccan representative Samira Bouhassoune and Keko Ihara of Japan.
Competitive action in the QMMF Qatar International Rally gets underway with a super special stage on the Doha Corniche from 6pm on Thursday evening.