Muscat: The Oman International Rally makes a welcome return to the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) calendar for the first time since 2015 on February 6th-8th. Organised by the Oman Automobile Association (OAA), the special stage rally has been one of the most popular rounds of the regional series since its inception in 1984.
The event offers some of the finest rallying terrain in the Middle East, with competitors able to enjoy fast, smooth and flowing gravel roads through the Al Hajar mountains. The Oman
event moves from its former date towards the end of the season to host the opening round of the Merc for the first time. Teams then heads off to Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan before the series concludes in Cyprus at the start of October.
It will be a counting round for the Merc1, Merc 2, Merc 3 and Merc Junior Championship for drivers. Crews will tackle a short special stage (15.45 hrs) after the ceremonial start (15.00 hrs) at the headquarters of the OAA on February 6 and two further legs of six stages apiece on February 7 and 8. There will be 201 competitive kilometres in a compact route of 532.40 km.
The event is being organised under the chairmanship of Rtd Brigadier Salim Ali al Maskari with Anwar Ali Soomar working as Rally Director and Ahmed Abdullah al Zadjali appointed as Clerk of the Course. First held as a non-championship event in 1979 – when the Swedish duo of Harri Kallstrom and Claes Billstam were victorious in a Datsun 160 J – the event has seen many well-known names grace its entry lists. Former winners include Swedish legend Bjorn Waldegard (1988), local hero Tony Georgiou (1992) and Qatar’s Saeed al Hajri (1983, 1984 and 1985).
But the two dominant forces over the years have been the UAE’s Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Qatar’s defending regional champion Nasser Saleh al Attiyah. Ben Sulayem secured seven victories between 1986 and 1998 and Al Attiyah currently has five victories to his name – 2003-2006 and 2015. The event was not held between 2008 and 2013 and since the Qatari’s last win with Matthieu Baumel in a Ford Fiesta RRC. Entries close on Tuesday, January 28. –ONA