MUSCAT: The 2023 Oman International Rally gets underway with a ceremonial start at Muscat Drift Arena from 15.00hrs on Thursday afternoon. This will then be followed by a 3.01-km super special stage, starting at 16.07hrs.
The Oman Automobile Association’s (OAA) flagship motor sporting event will kick-start the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) once again, with competitors from nine nations set to tackle 13 gravel special stages over the weekend before the finish back at the Muscat Drift Arena on Saturday afternoon. In a route of 613.06km, 229.98km will be timed against the clock.
The defending regional champion Nasser Saleh al Attiyah and his Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel top an FIA field of 15 cars. The Qatari will be hoping to earn a record-breaking eighth success on the Oman event to add to his previous wins in 2003-2006, 2015, 2020 and 2022.
Baumel has enjoyed the top step of the podium on two occasions, with Steve Lancaster and Chris Patterson also earning two wins apiece and Spanish girl Alba Sánchez González partnering Al Attiyah last year when Baumel was side lined through illness.
Competition for the Volkswagen Polo GTi crew comes from the Oman Rally Team’s Abdullah al Rawahi and his Jordanian co-driver Ata al Hmoud. They won the Oman event in 2021, the feat making Al Rawahi the second ever Omani national to win a round of the MERC as a driver.
The Czech crew of Petr Kačirek and Petra Řiháková wheel out a Duck Racing Škoda Fabia and Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa al Atya and Italian team-mate Giovanni Bernacchini crew a Ford Fiesta R5.
While the Rally2 quartet should fight it out for overall victory, there is strength in depth in an MERC2 section where the multiple champion Meshari al Thefiri will be hoping to win back a title that was fought out between the Jordanian duo of Issa Abu Jamous and Ihab al Shorafa in 2022.
Ninth and 10th generations of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution dominate a category that will also see three further Jordanian drivers - Shadi Shaban, Sheikh Bader al Fayez and Shaker Jweihan – take the start.
Local hopes rest on the shoulders of Abdullah al Zubair and Zakariya al Aamri in a pair of Subaru Imprezas, while Kuwait’s Mohammed al Zafiri and Yousef al Dhefiri and Lebanon’s Ahmad Khaled add strength in depth to the fight for honours in their Mitsubishis.
A national rally will run behind the main FIA event and has attracted a provisional nine starters (subject to final scrutineering).
Haitham al Soomar and Wael al Shabani topped the standings in 2022 in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII and return to battle against the likes of Ghaith al Qasmi and Salim al Touqi and a Subaru for Faisal al Rashdi.
There are also a trio of Yamaha YXZs for Oman’s Mohammed al Mazroui and Mutasim al Balushi and Lebanon’s Alain Nawfal, while Abdullah al Touqi teams up with Austrian WRC star co-driver Ilka Minor in a Toyota Yaris.
2023 Oman International Rally – leading entries:
1. Nasser Saleh al Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Volkswagen Polo GTI
2. Abdullah al Rawahi (OMN)/Ata al Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia Evo
3. Nasser Khalifa al Atya (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5
4. Ihab al Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
5. Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
6. Sheikh Bader al Fayez (JOR)/TBA Mitsubishi Lanver Evo X
7. Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
8. Mohammed al Zafiri (KWT)/Suleiman al Helal (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
9. Meshari al Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser al Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
10. Abdullah al Zubair (OMN)/Taha Soomar (OMN) Subaru Impreza STi
11. Yousef al Dhefiri (KWT)/Carlos Hanna (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
12. Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Samer Sfeir (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
14. Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Nancy al Majali (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
15. Petr Kačirek (CZE)/Petra Řiháková (CZE) Škoda Fabia R5
16. Zakariya al Aamri (OMN)/Mohammed al Aamri (OMN) Subaru Impreza STI
2023 Oman National Rally – leading entries:
17. Haitham al Soomar (OMN)/Wael al Shabani (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII
18. Ghaith al Qasmi (OMN)/Ahmed Salim OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
19. Alain Nawfal (LEB)/Bashar al Qassimi (OMN) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R
20. Mohammed al Mazroui (OMN)/Sana al Shukaili (OMN) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R
21. Mutasim al Balushi (OMN)/Ammar al Balushi (OMN) Yamaha YXZ 1000 R
22. Salim al Touqi (OMN)/Issa al Wardi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
23. Abdullah al Touqi (OMN)/Ilka Minor (AUT) Toyota Yaris
24. Faisal al Rashdi (OMN)/Yaqdhan al Rashdi (OMN) Subaru Impreza STi
25. Musab Soomar (OMN)/Nasr Ibrahim al Qasmi (OMN) Kia Rio