March 2, 2015 – Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi won the Sharjah Rally after a great battle with Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and then paid tribute to the 14-times FIA Middle East Champion for a stirring comeback 12 years after retiring from competitive motor sport.
“Mohammed was much faster on the technical sections, and it was as if he had never been away,” said Al Qassimi, who was partnered by Gaby Khoury in a Mitsubishi Evo 9 for the second round of the UAE Rally Championship.
They had a winning margin of 45 seconds over Sulayem and his long time Irish co-driver Ronan Morgan, who were back together in the Ford Escort WRC which they took to victory in the 1999 Jordan International Rally before the car was retired.
A time penalty accounted for 30 of those seconds, and but for mechanical problems in the 20-year old Escort it might have been a different story at the finish on Saturday.
Oman’s Khalid Al Manji and Saif Al Aisiri in a Subaru Impreza took third place, and the top six was completed by two more Omanis, Faisal Al Rashidi and Walid Al Rashidi in another Subaru, Emiratis Ali Mater Al Ketbi and Rabab Al Tajir in a Nissan Patrol, and Saudi Arabia’s Ibrahim Al Mohana with the UAE’s Rashid Al Ketbi in another Nissan Patrol.
Sheikh Abdullah was full of praise for Sulayem at the finish, and both men are determined to work together to bring about a revival of rallying in the UAE where it has fallen behind other motor sport disciplines in recent years.
“Mohammed’s car had been parked for the last 15 years and it gave him problems,” said Al Qassimi, founder and President of the Emirates Motorsport Club, organisers of the UAE National Rally Championship. “But he was back up to speed. Really, he was the winner.
“We are trying our best to revive rallying, and it seems to be coming back better than I had expected, but now I hope it will go better and better. We are working together as friends to rebuild the spirit of rallying. We want to bring a new generation of drivers into this sport, and I think in the next rally we will see many more.”
Sulayem said: “Getting in a rally car for the first time in 12 years, the memories came flooding back and it was fun. But this is not about me. It’s about encouraging youth to come into rallying.
“Abdullah is doing a great job to bring more drivers into the sport. He is working hard and I’m very grateful to him. This was a very well organised rally, supported by the Government of Sharjah, and we will work together now to attract the next generation of drivers.”
Sulayem had not competed since scoring his 15th victory in the Dubai International Rally in December 2002, but he won the first special stage, beating Al Qassimi by one second, despite a broken rear drive shaft.
That meant he was reduced to 2WD power on the next stage which Al Qassimi won by 43 seconds. Sulayem took the next three stages to close the gap to 15 seconds, but his challenge faded when he lost fuel pressure and punctured on the last stage.
Sharjah Rally results:
1. Shk Abdulla Al Qassimi, Gaby Khoury (UAE) Mitsubishi Evo 9 43:59.659
2. Mohammed Ben Sulayem , Ronan Morgan (UAE)/ Ford Escort 44:45.721
3. Khalid Al Manji / Saif Al Aisiri (Oman) Subaru Impreza 50:32.708
4. Faisal Al Rashidi / Walid Al Rashidi (Oman) Subaru Impreza 50:45.231
5. Ali Mattar Alketbi / Rabab Al Tajir (UAE) Nissan Patrol 51:20.222
6. Ibrahim N.Al Mohana / Rashed R. Al Katbi (KSA/UAE) Nissan Patrol 52:40.710
7. Ian Barker / Sheila Hutton (UAE) / Nissan Patrol 53:04.456
8. Ali Al Shawi / Ali Obaid (UAE) Chevy Blazer 53:57.978
9. Nooh Buhmaid / Suhail Al Ali (UAE) / Nissan Patrol 54:44.210
10. Mansoor Parol / Srinivasa Thota (UAE) / Ford Fiesta 56:18.558
Novice award winners:
Drivers Category: Mohammed Chehab
Co-Drivers Category: Rashed Al Ketbi
UAE Rally Championship standings after round 2
1. Sheikh Abduballa Al Qassimi (UAE) 75pts
2. Nooh Buhomaid (UAE) 38
3. Ibrahim Al Mohana (KSA) 38
4. Ali Al Shawi (UAE) 28
5. Ian Barker (UAE) 26
6. Mohammed Ben Sulayem (UAE) 18
7. Khalid Al Manji (Oman) 15
8. Mohamed Ammar (UAE) 12
9. Faisal Al Rashidi(Oman) 12
10. Ali Mattar Al Ketbi (UAE) 10