Rally International UAE : TEAMS FINALISE PREPARATIONS FOR SYRIA INTERNATIONAL RALLY FIA MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

30.08.2005: Rally International UAE : TEAMS FINALISE PREPARATIONS FOR SYRIA INTERNATIONAL RALLY FIA MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Syria International Rally 2005 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 6 of 8

Qatar's Al-Attiyah on brink of second regional title;
HRH Prince Feisel Al-Hussein delighted with Jordanian entry

SEDNAYA (Syria): The most talented rally drivers in the Middle East have been putting the finishing touches to their preparations for this weekend's Syria International Rally over the last two days. Teams from Syria, Jordan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Qatar have taken advantage of a two-day reconaissance period to take a closer look at the 16 special stages they will face on Thursday and Friday.

Top seed is the defending FIA Middle East Rally Champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, but the UAE driver is in grave danger of losing his title this weekend. The 2003 champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has enjoyed a sensational season behind the wheel of his Subaru Impreza and has won each of the opening five rallies in Al-Ain, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Jordan to give himself a maximum 50 points in the FIA Middle East Drivers' Championship.

Al-Qassimi has collected 30 points from four finishes - a third place in Jordan in May and three runner-up positions - but he will relinquish his regional title on Friday evening should his Qatari rival take a sixth successive maximum points' haul.

"There were nine rallies at the start of the season, but we lost the Rally of Lebanon," said the FIA's Regional Commissioner Derek Ledger. "That meant the series being reduced to eight rounds with the best seven scores to count that had been earned by each driver eligible for the overall championship. If Nasser wins in Syria he will have 60 points from six starts and there would be no way that Al-Qassimi could catch him."

Even if Al-Qassimi was to win the final two events of the season in Cyprus and finish second this weekend, he would fall two points short of the 60-point target set by Al-Attiyah, regardless of whether the Qatari scored points on the final two rounds. Third-placed Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum has already conceded defeat and decided not to tackle the rally this weekend.

"It has been a great season for me so far," said Al-Attiyah, who can also mathematically take a unique double FIA victory this year. No Arab driver has ever won an FIA regional championship and the coveted FIA Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) title in the same season, but favourable performances by Al-Attiyah in Wales and Australia in the coming weeks, coupled to a favourable result by his rivals in Japan could see the Doha-based driver enter the rallying history books.

"The new stages in Syria are really impressive," added the Qatari. "They suit my driving style. This rally has not been too kind to me in the last couple of seasons, but I am determined to make amends. A win would be nice, but the championship has to be the priority."

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is fielding seven teams in the Syrian Rally and His Royal Highness Prince Feisel Al-Hussain, Chairman of Jordan Motorsport, is understandably delighted. "I am excited at the prospect of seven teams competing from Jordan and wish them every success. Our FIA WRC bid has captured the imagination of our local competitors and it is something we hope the region as a whole will benefit from and will support. It is encouraging to see that Syria will be hosting such a strong field for a Middle East rally and we wish them every success with their event this weekend."

"We have worked hard to make the route as compact and challenging as possible ," said Hani Sheban, Chairman of the Organising Committee. "This year there will be two new special stages. One will run on Thursday and one on Friday and they will be repeated twice. We have received favourable feedback so far from all the visiting teams and that is a terrific boost for the organsing team before the weekend."

The rally starts from the Al-Jalaa Club Mezzah in Damascus on Wednesday and this will be followed by a timed 'super special' stage to be shown live on Syrian Television. There will be 16 special stages in the Sednaya and Maloula areas. Additional support for the rally comes from Areeba, the Sheraton Ma'aret Saydnaya and Hamsho International.

www.syrianrally.com

Lutfi Estwani, Chief Media and Press Officer
Neil Perkins, English Press Officer, NDP Publicity Services

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30.08.2005 / MaP

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