Dakar Rally champion Nasser Saleh al Attiyah of Qatar has shifted his driving mode to the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) with its first round flagged off at the Oman Automobile Association (OAA) in Muscat on Thursday.
“There is a lot of hard work behind retaining the title in the Dakar Rally. I have a good co-driver in Mathieu Baumel and we remained calm amid the storm in the tough Dakar routes in Saudi Arabia,” the five-time Dakar Rally champion said before the start of Oman International Rally at the Muscat Drift Arena.
On a query about how he changes his mode smoothly from a gruelling Dakar to challenging Merc races, Al Attiyah jokingly said: “It’s like getting a new wife.”
“Dakar Rally is one of the biggest rallies in the world. I am happy to switch mode from a tough race to comparatively shorter stages in the Merc rounds. But it is only due to its regulations. The challenges of the rally remain the same.”
“Coming to the Oman Rally, we did our homework well. Yesterday we had some practice and ‘shake down’ sessions. We hope to do our best,” the Qatari driver, who looks to claim his record-breaking eighth title in Muscat, said.
Al RAWAHI CONFIDENT
Oman’s Abdullah al Rawahi said he is confident to make an impact in his home rally course.
“We have a great field of drivers here with Dakar champion Nasser al Attiyah one of the top favourites. I believe our team has the potential to catch up with the top drivers. I am confident of a good performance,” Abdullah, who became the second ever Omani to win a round of the Merc as a driver in 2022, said.
Regarding the challenges posed by the weather, the 25-year-old said, “it is part of the rally and drivers have to cope with it.”
Czech veteran Petr Kacirek said it is exciting to be back in the country for his second Oman Rally.
“It feels great to be in Oman with such wonderful weather. The Oman Rally will be challenging with the presence of Nasser al Attiyah and other top class drivers.”
“We look forward to improve our position (second) from last year,” Kacirek said in a lighter vein.
The Czech crew of Petr Kacirek and Petra Rihakova claimed second in their Skoda Fabia for Duck Racing team in the 2022 edition. Nasser al Attiyah partnered Spanish girl Alba Sanchez Gonzalez to top the podium.
The 13-stage Oman Rally started with a 3.01km super special stage on Thursday with drivers from nine countries in contention for the honours.
The OAA’s flagship motor sporting event will run a distance of 613.06 km with 229.98 to be timed against the clock.
The FIA field of 15 drivers will tackle the 13 super special gravel stages to return to the Muscat Drift Arena for the final ceremony on Saturday afternoon.
Abdullah al Rawahi and his Jordanian co-driver Ata al Hmoud mound their challenge while Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa al Atya and Italian team-mate Giovanni Bernacchini crew a Ford Fiesta R5.
In the Merc2 section, multiple champion Meshari al Thefiri of Kuwait leads the challenge.
Abdullah al Zubair and Zakariya al Aamri in a pair of Subaru Imprezas are the local hopes with good competition from Kuwait’s Mohammed al Zafiri, Yousef al Dhefiri and Lebanon’s Ahmad Khaled in their Mitsubishis.
Oman national rally will also run along with the main FIA event and has attracted a provisional nine starters.
2022 winners Haitham al Soomar and Wael al Shabani will return to defend their title in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII against the likes of Ghaith al Qasmi, Salim al Touqi and Faisal al Rashdi.
In Yamaha YXZs, Oman’s Mohammed al Mazroui, Mutasim al Balushi and Lebanon’s Alain Nawfal are in the frame, while Abdullah al Toqi teams up with Austrian WRC star co-driver Ilka Minor in a Toyota Yaris.