Seventh heaven: Al Attiyah triumphs at Dubai Rally
Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah survived a powerful second leg charge by the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi to win the Dubai International Rally, the final round of the FIA Middle East Championship on Saturday.
Trailing Al Attiyah by 29.7 seconds overnight, Al Qassimi produced a brilliant surge to win the first four of the day’s six special stages in his Abu Dhabi Citroën Total DS3 and pile the pressure on the nine-time Middle East champion.
But with his advantage reduced to 15.4 seconds, Al Attiyah fought back to take the next two stages, and Al Qassimi suffered a frustrating anti-climax when he was forced out of the event by a double puncture shortly after completing the final stage.
His departure meant that Al Attiyah, partnered by Giovanni Bernacchini in a Ford Fiesta RRC, won by 5 mins 33.6 secs from Qatar’s 2010 Middle East champion, Misfer Almarri.
A delighted Al Attiyah said: “I had a good strategy. I was careful because I didn’t want to get any punctures. Khalid took the risks and I’m happy to win. It was a good fight and this is what we need for the championship to improve.”
Finishing third in another Ford Fiesta was the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, brother of Sheikh Khalid and runner-up in Dubai last year.
After a ten-second time penalty in Friday’s first leg had presented him with a mountain to climb, Sheikh Khalid produced the perfect response over the second leg’s first loop of three stages, winning them all alongside Scott Martin in his Abu Dhabi Citroën to move within 19.8 seconds of the lead.
He said: “I knew I had to go flat out, but I also had to be neat in places to avoid overshooting corners. There was a very fine balance. At very high speed you can maybe gain a second here or lose a second here on the corners. We still have a lot of hard work to do.”
He was looking to complete one of the biggest fightbacks in recent Middle East Championship history and become the first UAE winner of the Dubai International Rally since his own second successive victory in 2006.
The consolation for Al Qassimi was in seeing the four young Abu Dhabi Racing drivers he has guided into this year’s Middle East Championship all finishing in the top ten in Dubai’s traditional final round of the series.