Heroes look to shine in this week's Kuwait International Rally

Heroes look to shine in this week's Kuwait International Rally

21.03.2016: 2016 KUWAIT INTERNATIONAL RALLY, March 24-26, 2016 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), round 2

2016 KUWAIT INTERNATIONAL RALLY, March 24-26, 2016 
FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), round 2

•                     Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thafiri heads strong NR4 class line-up in Kuwait

•                     Finnish influence set to push Saudi Arabian rookie Rakan Al-Rashed


 World rallying is synonymous with noise, power, cars sliding sideways and dust and gravel being showered over spectators by a leading group of drivers entered in state-of-the-art World Rally Cars and Regional Rally Cars.

That is not always the case on FIA sanctioned events around the world. Although this weekend’s Kuwait International Rally features some of the region’s top stars at the wheel of R5 rally cars that tick all those boxes, there are a group of unsung heroes competing further down the entry list in cars that are as close as you can get to the saloon you would take to the retail park on a weekend.

The entry list announced by the Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) for the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) features an impressive line-up of Mitsubishi Lancers and Subaru Imprezas entered in the NR4 class for Group N or ‘showroom’ cars.

They are very different to ‘showroom’ cars, of course, but they feature the outer body lines of a standard road car, strengthened running gear and uprated suspension to cope with the pounding and punishment of surviving a dozen special stages through the deserts of southern Kuwait on Friday and Saturday.

They are no less exciting than their World and Regional Rally Car counterparts and the fact that they dominate the entry list in Kuwait opens the door for a fantastic battle between the front-runners this weekend.

Meshari Al-Thafiri currently leads the Kuwait national championship in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and has the experience and knowledge of the local deserts to give him and Qatari navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari a superb chance to win the NR4 class.

 A former runner-up to Nicolai Georgiou in the Pirelli Star Driver competition, Al-Thafiri is enjoying a useful run of form and would like nothing better than to win the international rally on his home stages.

It will not be easy for the Kuwaiti, however; he faces a strong trio of experienced Qatari drivers. Abdullah Al-Kuwari lines up with Adel Abdullah Hussein in a similar car. Hussein arrives fresh from taking fifth place in the recent Ha’il Nissan International Rally in Saudi Arabia with Ahmed Al-Sabban and the pair is focused on the win.

Top seed Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s brother Khalifa drives a Subaru Impreza with Cypriot navigator Savvas Laos and Rashid Al-Naimi and Italian co-driver Nicola Arena round off the three-pronged Qatari line-up in the NR4 class.

Al-Thafiri will have plenty of support in Kuwait though. Rallying is as popular as ever in the Northern Gulf and Jassim Al-Muqahwi and Salem Abdullah will be hoping for a strong finish in a slightly older version of the trusty Mitsubishi Lancer.

Al-Thafiri’s brother Mohammed also features among the local drivers alongside Saleh Ali, Elie Chachati and young Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah.

No driver has more experience than Lebanon’s Michel Saleh. Present in regional rallying even before the MERC began in 1984, Saleh returns to one of his favourite events with close friend and long time navigator Ahmed Ghaziri. He certainly has the determination to match the youngsters and will be hoping for car reliability if he is to make a sensational return to the top step of the NR4 class podium this week.

Other drivers are somewhat of unknown quantities in the region, with the exception of German lady driver Edith Weiss, who competes under a Qatar licence.

The NR4 entry list features Iranian drivers Hassan Akbarnejadbaei and Laleh Seddigh in a pair of Mitsubishis and the Turkish duo of Yigit Timur and Vedat Diker in later specification Mitsubishis.

Saudi Arabian Rakan Al-Rashed may be a name to watch in the future. He has been receiving support from Finland, the traditional former home of WRC rallying greats, and will be co-driven in Kuwait by Jarkko Kalliolepo. The Finn has considerable experience in European and WRC rallying with the likes of Jarkko Nikara, Jukka Hiltunen and Jussi Vällimäki. Kalliolepo retired from the recent Arctic Rally with suspension issues while sitting alongside Nikara.

Talented young Lebanese driver Rodolphe Asmar is also a star in the making and teams up with five-time Rally of Lebanon-winning navigator Joseph Matar in another Mitsubishi.

Competitors start their two-day reconnaissance of the special stages on Tuesday morning (tomorrow). It is a chance for each crew to make their own pace notes and find out the pitfalls and potential problem areas on each stage before the official start and the opening timed super special at the Sirbb circuit on Thursday, March 24.

The event is being held under the chairmanship of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah in conjunction with the General Authority for Sport.


Neil Perkins, also photos

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/heroes-kuwait-international-rally---146659.html

21.03.2016 / MaP

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