The first round of this year’s Middle East Rally Championship, the Qatar International Rally, served up some highly competitive racing at all levels. Khalid Al Qassimi and his co-driver Scott Martin finished as runners-up in their DS3 RRC whilst junior driver Mohammed Al Sahlawi, alongside co-driver Allan Harryman, won the two-wheel drive category.
Known to include some of the roughest gravel roads in the championship, this year’s Qatar Rally lived up to its reputation. The competitors and cars had to brave extremely testing conditions, full of tricky sections and where punctures can be easily picked up, given the many rocks found on the roads. However, the race saw a relentless battle between Khalid Al Qassimi and the rally’s home driver, Nasser Al Attiyah.
In the very early stages, the Qatari pulled out a lead of a few seconds but Khalid fought back on the third special stage to take the overall lead, a lead he would still hold at the end of day one. The top two drivers took turns to claim the fastest stage times, and ended the day with just 2.2 seconds between them.
It was very much the same story on Saturday, although the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team driver was forced to sweep the road and carve out the racing line for the other cars, losing precious time in the process. Unfortunately, he then lost around thirty seconds on “QMMF 2” after picking up a puncture and with it, his hopes of winning the rally evaporated. He ended the event on a high, however, by winning the final stage and finished as runner-up overall.
“This is a very positive result for our first race in the Citroën DS3 RRC,” said Khalid just before stepping onto the podium. “We were in the battle to win and the car worked perfectly well on these difficult and rough roads. It is also the first time I have driven alongside Scott Martin. His professional attitude helped me to stay relaxed during the race. This all augurs well for the rest of the championship and we’ll be trying hard to reproduce our good form at the next event. Meanwhile, it’ll be a whole different ball game in the Citroën DS3 WRC and on the snow-covered roads of Sweden. The conditions will be totally different but I can’t wait to race there!”
For the Citroën DS3 R3s, the weekend was also full of incident. Winner and runner-up in the “Abu Dhabi Young Driver Selections”, Mohammed Al Mutawaa and Mohammed Al Sahlawi were making their competitive debuts in the DS3 R3. Whilst the winner of the selection event impressed, especially when claiming the seventh fastest time overall on SS7, the runner-up suffered three punctures in the first few timed stages on Friday, forcing him to retire. On the Saturday, however, Mohammed Al Mutawaa’s rally ended on “QMMF 1” after he rolled his car. After rejoining under Superally regulations, Mohammed Al Sahlawi got to grips with the conditions and climbed back up the standings, splitting some of the Group N cars. He finished tenth overall and was first in the two-wheel drive category.
“The first day was very difficult for me as I picked up punctures on the first three timed stages. The roads were covered with rocks and I was unable to avoid them,” explained the young Emirati. “However, I learned my lesson, focussing on this aspect and I made much more progress on the second day. This was my first rally, so I’m very proud to finish tenth overall, especially as I have learned a lot during the event.”
The competitors will be back in action on March 21 at the Kuwait Rally, the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
1. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC 2:16:47.2
2. Khalid Al Qassimi (UAE)/Scott Martin (GB) Citroën DS3 RRC +55.7
3. Abdulaziz Al Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC +4:15.0
4. Khalid Al Suwaidi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC +5:49.0
5. Adullah Al Qassimi(UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Ford Fiesta RRC +15:52.2
6. Yazeed Al Rajhi (KSA)/Michael Orr (GB) Ford Fiesta RRC +21:52.4
7. Abdulla Al Kuwari (QAT)/Khalid Al Kendi (UAE) Mitsubisi Evo IX +37:20.1
8. Bader Al Jabri (UAE /Nicholas Clinger (FRA) Subaru Impreza N15 +39:11.8
9. Michele De Nora (ITA)/Sergio Secchi (ITA) Subaru Impreza R4 +45:45.6
10. Mohammed Al Sahlawi (UAE)/Allan Harryman (GB) Citroen DS3 R3 +56:36.9