2003 MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

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7 July 2003
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship / Round 2
Rally of Lebanon

MITSUBISHI DRIVER AL-QASSIMI LEADS MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Abdullah AL-QASSIMI / Gaby KHOURY

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi leads the FIA Middle East Rally Championship after finishing sixth overall in last weekend’s Rally of Lebanon, the second of the six-round series. Al-Qassimi, who finished second in the Championship last year, also won the highly-competitive Group N category and now holds a clear lead going to Jordan later this month.


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Gr. N
Khalid Al-Qassimi / Khaled Al-Kandi
(July 2003)

The 27th Rally of Lebanon kicked off with a 2.1 kilometer super special stage in the heart of rebuilt Beirut, but searing heat and challenging conditions took their toll and of the original 47 competitors, just 27 made it to the finish on Sunday, July 6. This year’s rally covered no fewer than 21 asphalt special stages and 283.45 competitive kilometers in a total distance of 1,035.10 kilometers, the opening leg taking the crews to the Batroun and Monsef regions to the north of the city and the second leg running to the east around Zandouka, Yahchouch and Blat. The event was dominated by the Lebanese brothers Roger and Abdo Feghali, older brother Roger ultimately claiming victory for the second time in four years. Pre-season favorite Abdullah Bakhashab rolled his Peugeot 206 WRC into retirement in the second stage and the Saudi driver was soon to be joined on the sidelines by Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah - the winner of the opening round - four stages later.

Al-Qassimi, the former Group N Champion who has recently switched from a world rally car to Mitsubishi’s dominant showroom machinery, ran in contention from the outset. The Sharjah driver drove a measured event, steadily climbing the leaderboard as the high rate of attrition took out many of his rivals. By the end of the opening leg he had edged into the provisional Championship lead, aided by the exclusion of Philippe Kazan, the Honda driver forced out with brake irregularities. By the end of the second leg, Al-Qassimi had climbed to sixth, winning Group N in the process and claiming the Championship lead.


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Gr. N
Toni Abdel Hak / Nabil Komboz
(July 2003)

"It is good to be back in a Group N car", said Sheikh Abdullah. "The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is very good and we have enjoyed the rally. I will push on all year and if we are still in contention for the Championship at the end, then that is a big bonus".

UAE driver Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi also put in a fine performance, the defending regional Group N champion finishing 10th overall in his Lancer Evolution, despite suffering problems during the opening stages.

"From the start of the first stage I had a problem with the brakes", said Sheikh Khaled. "We bled the system at the service in Kaslik but it was no better. Then the turbo charger lost power. I tried to repair the car but we could not get on the pace we needed to catch the leaders. It was quite frustrating".

Local driver Doumit Bou Doumit took the early Group N advantage after the opening super special in Beirut and the Lancer Evolution driver settled into a comfortable pace behind the leading Feghali brothers to finish third after the first leg. "I made a good preparation for this rally", he said. "For me it is home and I should drive well. It was unfortunate for the two world rally car drivers to retire early, but my plan was to finish as the best non-world rally car driver".


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Gr. N
Hamad Al-Sowaidi / Michael Morrissey
(July 2003)

While Doumit was on track to achieve his goal, technical scrutineering revealed an alleged infringement of turbo-charger regulations and the Stewards ultimately excluded the Lebanese driver from the results.

Kuwait driver Mohammed Al-Sarraf, whose Marlboro Rally Team Kuwait Lancer Evolution is prepared by Australian former Group N Champion Ron Cremen, suffered electrical problems in the opening super special, relegating him to last. Despite a fight-back in the mountains, Al-Sarraf was forced into retirement with terminal electrical problems in stage 14.

Other Mitsubishi drivers were struck with similar misfortunes. Qatar’s Mister Al-Marri, the 2002 runner-up in the Group N Championship, was forced out with a fire after the final stage of the opening leg and team-mate Abdullah Al-Kuwari withdrew his Mitsubishi following an accident. Lebanese driver Mohamad Hamsho crashed in the ninth stage and Bachar Aboukoura retired with a damaged car in stage 13. Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari looked set to take two valuable Championship points, until he crashed out of the rally on stage 18.

The FIA Middle East Rally Championship resumes in three weeks time with the Jordan International Rally on Thursday, July 24. The Royal Automobile Club of Jordan is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and the revamped event offers a selection of tricky mountainous gravel stages near Mount Nebo and faster stages in the Jordan desert, south of Amman. A switch of date from May to July will further add to the challenge, the Jordan Rally set to be the hottest in the Championship.

FINAL OVERALL CLASSIFICATION
(Subject to confirmation)

  Driver / Co-driver Nat. Car Total Time Difference
 Roger FEGHALI / Ziad CHEHAB RL  Subaru Impreza WRC 2.46.07.0   
 Abdo FEGHALI / Joseph MATAR RL  Toyota Corolla WRC 2.47.12.7  + 1.05.7 
 Rodrigue RAHI / Patrick ZIADE RL  Lancia Delta HF Integrale 3.07.32.4  + 21.05.4 
 "MARCO" / Sam SAWAYA RL  VW Golf GTI Kit Car 3.09.26.4  + 23.19.4 
 Michel SALEH / Ahmad GHAZIRI RL  Toyota Celica GT4 3.09.50.0  + 23.43.0 
 Abdullah AL-QASSIMI / Gaby KHOURY UAE  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (1st Gr.N) 3.13.30.8  + 27.23.8 
 "ELAN" / Ziad KHAWAM RL  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (2nd Gr.N) 3.13.46.4  + 27.39.4 
 Elie GERMANY / Sam CHAAYA RL  Lancia Delta HF Integrale 3.14.47.9  + 28.40.9 
 Khalid AL-QASSIMI / Khaled AL-KANDI UAE  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (3rd Gr.N) 3.15.18.0  + 29.11.0 
10   Elie DIB / Georges HAYEK RL  Subaru Impreza STI 3.17.10.4  + 27.43.4 
11   Toni ABDEL HAK / Nabil KOMBOZ RL  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (4th Gr.N) 3.17.51.1  + 31.34.1 
12   Hamad AL SOWAIDI / Michael MORRISSEY QA/IRL  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (5th Gr.N) 3.22.47.1  + 36.20.1 
13   Khalifa AL-ATTIYAH / "APPOLO" QA/RL  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (6th Gr.N) 3.26.53.9  + 40.46.9 
14   Antoine HONEIN / Bechara HADDAD RL  Renault Clio Williams (7th Gr.N) 3.27.04.9  + 40.57.9 
15   Ahmed AL-SABBAN / Kilian DUFFY SA/IRL  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (8th Gr.N) 3.34.00.9  + 47.53.9 
16   Majid AL-GHAMDI / Amr REFAI SA  Toyota Rav 4 3.44.10.3  + 58.03.3 
17   Ebrahim EL-BUSMAIT / Cyril HADDAD BAH/RL  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (9th Gr.N) 3.47.00.4  + 1.00.53.4 
Nationalities: BAH=Bahrain/ IRL=Ireland/ QA=Qatar/ RL=Lebanon/ SA=Saudi Arabia/ UAE=United Arab Emirates/

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