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Al-Attiyah takes lead in Qatar Rally
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 04 - 02 - 2017

LOSAIL, Qatar — It wasn't just foul weather conditions and poor visibility that Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah had to contend with to hold an outright lead of 10.4 seconds after the opening leg of the QMMF Qatar International Rally Friday.
Bidding to win the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship for a 14th time, the Autotek-run Skoda Fabia R5 driver and French navigator Matthieu Baumel ceded the opening special stage to young Khaled Al-Suwaidi and British co-driver Marshall Clarke, before regaining the advantage on stage four and reaching the overnight halt at the top of the leader board.
"The dust from the wind made visibility really difficult this morning," admitted Al-Attiyah, whose Autotek mechanics were forced to carry out transmission repairs at final service after a front differential failure. "We had five short stages without any real issues, other than a lot of dust. There was no service at halfway, so that is always at the back of your mind as well. We have the lead and that was the goal. We have bad weather here, but it is rare to be like this and I was grateful to the QMMF for cancelling the second stage and thinking of us."
The two Skoda Fabia R5 drivers were the class of a depleted field. Qatar's Rashed Al-Naimi and new Portuguese co-driver Hugo Magalães settled into a routine well on the navigator's first rally in Qatar and held a comfortable third overall and an MERC 2 (Group N) lead over the Kuwaiti pairing of Meshari and Fares Al-Thefiri. The Kuwaiti duo were five minutes adrift.
After six of the 10 provisional starters were refused entry into the Qatar International Rally by event stewards for contravening various safety regulations, only four cars started the main event and a further three continued in a National Rally running shortly behind. A biting northerly wind and shifting dust didn't help matters either and the second stage was cancelled on safety grounds.
Former co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari had been looking forward to pushing for the podium in the main event as a driver, but the Qatari and his Irish navigator Killian Duffy took small consolation from a comfortable overnight lead in the Qatar National Rally.
They won each of the five special stages to reach Losail with a massive lead of 13min 06sec over Khaled Al-Mohannadi and his new Indian co-driver Musa Sherif. Al-Kuwari would have been classified fourth in the international and just 10 seconds behind Al-Naimi had his car passed all the FIA checks on Thursday.
Lebanon's Henry Kahy teamed up with Jordanian Musa Djiyerian at the 11th hour and held a distant third in a third Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.


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