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EVER PRESENT SALEH SEES NO END FOR HIS UNBROKEN DUBAI RALLY JOURNEY

28 November, 2011

Veteran driver refuses to give up hope of victory and aims to prove he is still      a match for the best in Middle East over UAE National Day weekend.

 

Dubai, UAE, 28th November 2011: Michel Saleh, an ever present across four decades of the Dubai International Rally, goes into the event for the 33rd time over UAE National Day weekend still refusing to accept that he may be destined never to win it.

One of the most colourful characters in the 27-year history of the FIA Middle East Championship, Saleh has in fact been competing in regional motor sport since entering his first event in Kuwait in 1973 and aims to his keep incredible Dubai Rally record running for some time yet.

Now in his twilight years as a rally driver, the 56-year-old UAE-based Lebanese can see no immediate end to the route ahead and will be going all out to prove over National Day weekend that he can still compete with hot favourite Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and the rest of the region’s best.

“As long as I’m healthy and can still drive then I’ll carry on,” he said. “I won’t stop unless I feel I’m too old or not fast enough. I love this sport. It’s in my blood. I’m already planning for next year and will have a new car.”

Adds Saleh: ‘To be honest, I have never given up hope of winning the Dubai Rally. If I felt that way I’d sit at home. I’m going to go out and give my best. I really want to try to do something this time to show that I’m still here.”

Saleh has lost count of his collection of top three positions in Dubai in “the only rally I really love”, but most affectionately remembers one of his second place finishes, in 2002, which gave him his second UAE National Championship title.

Saleh 2

“I broke my prop shaft when we went over a big jump on a hairpin, but that stage was cancelled and I just had enough time to fix the car and get it ready for the next stage,” he said. He was not as fortunate in 1993 when he started the event with a chance to become FIA Middle East champion, only for his hopes to be ruined by a succession of problems.

“Michel is one of the great characters of this sport in the Middle East, and the Dubai International Rally wouldn’t be the same without him,” said FIA Vice President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers.

“He has a love for rallying which is as strong now as it was when I first met him and competed against him in the early 1980s. He hasn’t changed at all, and he will always have a special place in the history of this event.”

Saleh goes into Dubai Rally action this time with Jordanian Nancy Al-Majali, herself an accomplished rally driver, as his navigator in a Group N Subaru Impreza.

He has  been guiding her in the sport for a number of years, and now that it is her time to guide him she has risen to the challenge this season, having obviously absorbed and retained some of his never ending enthusiasm.

“She was very good in Kuwait and Lebanon,” he says. “She never gets scared, and her pace notes are excellent. She’s as crazy about rallying as I am.”

The 33rd Dubai International Rally is being held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Arts and Culture Authority.

Staged with the full support of the Dubai Ruler’s Court, the event is also backed by Emarat, Dubai Police, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs - Dubai, and the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services.

Dubai Rally 3

Based at Dubai Men’s College, in the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) campus in Academic City, Dubai, the rally has its ceremonial start at 7.30pm on Thursday (December 1) on Emaar Boulevard, Old Town Dubai. Special stage action begins at 9am the following day from HCT, and the event finishes at 4.30pm on Saturday December 3  back on Emaar Boulevard, Old Town Dubai.

2011FIA Middle East Rally Championship standings after five rounds


FIA Middle East Championship final standings  
1. Nasser Al Attiyah (QAT) 100 pts
2. Rashid Al Ketbi (UAE) 79 pts
3. Shk Abdulla Al Qassimi (UAE) 78 pts
4. Mufeed Mubarak (KWT) 54 pts
5. Essam Al Nejadi (KWT) 27pts
6. Michel Saleh (LBN) 23pts
7. Meshal Al Nejadi (KWT) 22pts
8. Ammar Hijazi (JOR) 20pts
9. Mazen Tantash (JOR) 20pts
10. Nancy Al Majali (JOR) 14pts
11. Fahad Ashknani (KWT) 08pts
12. Mshari Al Thefiri (KWT) 02pts

* Table shows points scored for previous rounds in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Cyprus and Lebanon.