Omani drivers excel at Merc rally

Oman’s Abdullah al Rawahi is delighted after a new car brought him luck as he finished second behind rally great Nasser Saleh al Attiyah of Qatar in the Oman International Rally in Muscat on Saturday.
Speaking to Observer after his best ever performance in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (Merc), Al Rawahi said it was great feeling to be on the Merc podium along with some top rally drivers.
“It was high-competition field with the presence world champion Nasser al Attiyah. We took part with a new car and it was highly challenging and testing race for us’’.
In 2019, Abdullah became the first Omani and GCC driver to win Jordan Rally in its 45-year history.
The youngster said the experience at the Jordan Rally helped him perform well at home. “The rally experience in Jordan was very valuable and helped me a lot in Merc rally in Muscat’’.
Al Rawahi was partnered by Jordanian Ata Hmoud in their Ford Fiesta R5 at the Oman Automobile Association (OAA) hosted event from February 6 to 8.

Al Attiyah continues winning spree
Rally winner Al Attiyah said he is happy to continue his good performance in Oman.
“This is my sixth win in Oman. I am happy to keep my form in tact’’.
The Qatari icon praised the Omani drivers impressive performance.
“The Omani drivers put up a great show in the rally. But there is no surprise knowing their interest in rallying and motorsports’’.
“Abdullah came second and is a promising driver,” the star driver said.
Al Attiyah kept his dominance of the opening leg of Merc 2020 Championship with a convincing start-to-finish victory.
The Qatari and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel won each of the 12 special stages (SS9 was cancelled) in their Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 and romped to a winning margin of 5min 04.1sec on Oman’s return to the regional series for the first time since 2015. The success was Al Attiyah’s sixth in Oman as he tries to break Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s record of seven wins in the Sultanate. Baumel has now won the event twice (2015 and 2020).
Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa al Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini finished third in their Ford Fiesta R5s.

ZAKARIYA TAKES
MERC 2 HONOURS
Oman’s back-to-back rally champion Zakariya al Aufi converted his knowledge of the rally stages into a career-best performance in the Merc event to finish fourth.
“This is my third Merc rally and my best ever performance so far. I am very happy to finish first in the Merc 2 category,” the winner of Oman Rally 2017-18 and 2018-19 said.
Zakariya and co-driver Ammar al Balushi held the advantage in the MERC 2 category at the start of the day, but were overhauled by Abdullah al Zubair and Emad Juma on the first stage of the opening loop — the 21.57 km of the Khoud Old Village special. Al Zubair slipped to third behind Kuwait’s defending regional champion Meshari al Thefiri and his Irish navigator Derek O’Brien after dropping 1min 40sec on the special. Al Aufi moved ahead again and continued to lead from Al Thefiri through SS11, despite the Kuwaiti setting the fastest time in the category.
Both Al Zubair and Jarah al Tauqi retired on the second loop with technical issues and that paved the way for fourth-placed Al Aufi to pip Al Thefiri, fifth, to Merc 2 honours. Omani drivers Khalid al Manji and Jassim al Muqahwi reached the finish sixth and seventh overall.
Al Zubair, though disappointed, took the final outcome in his stride saying “it was a great learning experience in my first Merc rally at home’’.
The Omani, who competed in the FIA World Cup in Baja Rally as well as Cross Country Rally last year said he will “return for sure” in the next edition of Merc rally.
Ghaith al Qassimi took a comfortable advantage of 6in 23.5sec in the final six stages of the Oman National Rally but the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo driver lost out on the National Rally win to Mohammed al Mazrui after late problems. Hamid al Qasim and Haitham al Zadjali were second and third.
Yaqhdan al Rashdi and Waheeb al Khamsi both retired early on and Zakariya al Amri succumbed to mechanical issues on stage 10.
The FIA Middle East Rally Championship resumes with the Manateq Qatar International Rally on April 9 to 11.

2020 Oman International Rally – positions after SS13:
1. Nasser Saleh al Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 2hr 04min 32.3sec
2. Abdullah al Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Hmoud (JOR) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 09min 36.4sec
3. Nasser Khalifa al Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 18min 47.6sec
4. Zakariya al Aufi (OMN)/Ammar al Balushi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 20min 33.8sec
5. Meshari al Thefiri (KWT)/Derek O’Brien (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 22min 55.2sec
6. Khalid al Manji (OMN)/Rony Bou Abdo (LEB) Subaru Impreza STi 2hr 30min 02.4sec
7. Jassim al Muqahwi (KWT)/Thamer al Mutairi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 32min 56.1sec
8. Henry Kahy (LEB)/Rony Maroun (LEB) Skoda Fabia 3hr 27min 46.1sec
MERC 2
1. Zakariya al Aufi (OMN)/Ammar al Balushi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 20min 33.8sec
2. Meshari al Thefiri (KWT)/Derek O’Brien (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 22min 55.2sec
3. Khalid al Manji (OMN)/Rony Bou Abdo (LEB) Subaru Impreza STi 2hr 30min 02.4sec

2020 Oman National Rally – positions after SS13:
1. Mohammed al Mazrui (OMN)/Wail al Shaibani (OMN) Toyota Yaris 3hr 03min 49.5sec
2. Hamid al Qasim (OMN)/Ahmed al Sadi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Vi 3hr 05min 45.5sec
3. Haitham al Zadjali (OMN)/Sana al Shikaili (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 3h 25min 57.6sec
4. Ghaith al Qassimi (OMN)/Mohammed al Amri (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI 3hr 39min 14.2sec