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AL KETBI STILL ON COURSE FOR DREAM WIN BUT FACES EPIC BATTLE AS DUBAI RALLY HEADS FOR CLIMAX

2 December, 2011

Dubai, UAE, 2nd December 2011: UAE driver Rashid Al Ketbi is on course for the victory he has dreamt of in the 33rd Dubai International Rally, but still faces a huge test of nerve and concentration in what promises to be an epic climax to the 2011 FIA Middle East Championship tomorrow (Saturday).

At the end of the first leg following six special stages today, Al Ketbi and co-driver Khalid Al Kendi in their Skoda Fabia S2000 led by 31.8 seconds  from Oman’s Hamed Al Wahaibi who turned back the clock to produce a superb display, six years after retiring from international rallying.

Hopes of a home win on the UAE’s 40th National Day weekend were strengthened by the fact that  Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, accompanied by British co-driver Steve Lancaster in a Ford Fiesta 2000, was just 2.2 seconds further away in third place, and still well in the hunt.

Starting the day needing only a top seven finish to capture the FIA Middle East title for a seventh time, Qatar’s defending champion in Dubai, Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, finished the leg in fourth place, fighting back brilliantly following a major scare.

 

After badly damaging the front suspension and steering on his Ford Fiesta S2000 when he hit a tree near the end of the first stage, Al Attiyah battled through the next two stages, winning one of them, but then collected two minutes in time penalties when he reached the service regrouping late.

Dubai Rally 2

With the car’s suspension replaced, Al Attiyah showed that he was still well in control of the championship, if not the rally, by setting the fastest time on the next two stages as he moved to within just 57.8 secs of the lead.

The Qatari is not the kind of driver to cruise through the second day to protect his car and make sure of another Middle East title, and the stage is set for a thrilling tussle for victory over the remaining six special stages.

Before the rally, Al Ketbi said he wanted to pull off a “dream” victory to present to his sponsor, H.H.Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai.

He couldn’t have had a better start, winning the opening “Spirit of the Union” stage and completing the first loop of three stages holding a six-seconds advantage over Al Qassimi, despite damaging the front right side of his car after hitting a bush.

Driving a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X alongside Allan Harryman, son of his former co-driver, Al Wahaibi forced his way into second place by winning the day’s penultimate stage, much in the style which made the dashing Omani World Championship Group N runner up back in 1999.

Among the first leg casualties was the UAE’s Sheikh Suhail Al Maktoum, a former Dubai Rally winner, whose Subaru Impreza blew its engine on the second stage. Also going out was former Middle East Group N champion Ron Oakeley with a blown head gasket on the first stage and German lady driver Edith Weiss who suffered mechanical problems on the next stage.

All have the option to resume the event following repairs tomorrow (Saturday) as the rally heads for the finish on Emaar Boulevard, Old Town Dubai, at 4.30pm. The special stages on Leg 2 are in the Al Dhaid area and are easily located from the Sharjah-Kalba Road or the Al Dhaid Road.

Dubai Rally 3

Provisional results at end of Leg 1:

1. Rashed Alketbi / Khalid Alkendi / ARE / ARE / Skoda / Fabia / S2000              1:11:48.8

2. Hamed Al Wahaibi / Allan Harryman / OMN / GBR / Mitsubishi Evo X / N       1:12:20.6

3. Abdullah Al Qassimi / Steve Lancaster / ARE / GBR / Ford Fiesta / S2000         1:12:22.8.

4. Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah / G.Bernacchini / Qat / ITA / Ford Fiesta / S2000          1:12:46.6

5. Mufeed Mubarak / Saad Almelaifi / KWT / KWT / Mitisubishi Evo X / N           1:19:38.3

6. Mshari Al-Thefiri / M.Al-Thefiri / KWT / KWT / Mitisubishi Evo IX / N 1:21:32.5

7. Burcu Cetinkaya / Cicek Guney / TUR / TUR / Mitisubishi / Evo X / N               1:23:53.1

8. Michel Saleh / Nancy Al-Majali / LBN / JOR / Subaru / Impreza / N                    1:25:06.6

9. Robert Aaraj / tba / LBN /    / Subaru / Impreza / N                                               1:30:57.7

10. Robert Nutter / Simon Nutter / GBR / GBR / Subaru / Impreza WRX / N         1:34:25.0