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13 September 2003
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship / Round 4
Syria International Rally

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi maintains lead in Group N championship

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Andreas Tsouloftas claimed his first-ever victory in a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship by winning the Syria International Rally, which finished outside the Cham Palace Hotel in Damascus on Friday (September 12). The former Cyprus National Rally Champion finished 1 minute and 24 seconds ahead of fellow Lancer Evolution driver Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi from the UAE, who also claimed victory in the Group N category. His brother, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi finished fourth overall in the third of four Mitsubishi’s in the top six, maintaining his lead in the fight for the Group N championship title.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Gr. N
(September 2003)
The Syria International Rally first ran in 2000, albeit not as a qualifying round of the championship, and has previously been dominated by 14-time Middle East Rally Champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem. The two-day desert event, round four of the six event series, saw 34 crews take the start in Damascus, including a record entry of 10 Syrians, and while only nine of the scheduled 11 stages ran, the event still provided thrilling action over stunning desert terrain, despite violent winds and poor visibility. The now renowned third stage passed historic Crusader forts and included a spectacular run through a narrow rock cutting, now known as ’The Rock’ as, in one place, the cutting is only just wide enough for a rally car to pass at slow speed. New and revised stages also saw crews in the deserts around Baghdad Caf, on the Syria-Iraq highway, as well as scheduled stages due to pass the Senoia desert camp and Zenobia desert crossing.

Andreas Tsouloftas and co-driver Savvas Laos started the event well and powered into the lead at the end of the fifth stage when early leader Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah suffered with broken suspension and dropped to eighth. Following the cancellation of stage six, the Cypriot took an overnight lead of 32 seconds over defending Group N champion Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi, the UAE driver piloting another Lancer Evolution. After restarting from the overnight halt in the Roman city of Palmyra, Tsouloftas held his nerve over the closing stages, despite being challenged by series leader and Subaru driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, who had climbed from eighth position and ultimately overhauled Al-Qassimi for second position in stage 10.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Gr. N
(September 2003)
Going into the final televised super special stage near Damascus, Tsouloftas held a 17 second advantage over the now second-placed Subaru driver, more than enough to maintain his lead over the two kilometer closing crowd-pleaser. However, Al-Attiyah was seen to shortcut the stage, seemingly winning it by an unprecedented 20 seconds to take a three second victory at the end of the rally. After a protest at the finish, the stewards of the event awarded Al-Attiyah a penalty for his actions, dropping him to third overall in the final standings.

"It was an enjoyable rally", said Tsouloftas, "but there were plenty of incidents and a couple of the stages were cancelled. One was definitely very fortunate for Nasser Al-Attiyah because he had wrecked his suspension and there was no way that he could have continued. But the cancellation of the ninth stage was good for me, because his car is faster and he was closing fast.

"But then I heard that he had apparently missed out a section of the 10th stage and then we had this incident on the final one. He should be ashamed of himself. He should have admitted defeat and accepted second place".

Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi and co-driver Khaled Al-Kendi were therefore elevated into second position, winning the Group N category to hold second in the fight for the production car title.

"My car was not good at all over the final stages", commented Sheikh Khaled. "The turbo seemed to be down on power and the engine was almost out at the finish. It sounded terrible. But it was a Group N win and I can still take the Group N championship, so not all bad news".

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Abdulaziz AL-KUWARI / Nasser AL-KUWARI
(September 2003)

Behind the penalized Al-Attiyah, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi finished fourth, maintaining his lead in the production car championship standings in his Ralliart UAE-entered Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. He now holds a 12 point advantage over his brother Khaled and is just four points adrift of Al-Attiyah in the overall Middle East Rally Championship standings.

"Not the best of rallies for me but I finished and that is important", said Sheikh Abdullah. "This series now looks as though it will go to the final round. We will sit down now and talk about the Troodos Rally in Cyprus".

Fifth position was claimed by Subaru driver Ahmad Hamsho, who was also the leading Syrian, while sixth was taken by Misfer Al-Marri in his Qatar Rally Team Mitsubishi Lancer. Marlboro Team Kuwait driver Mohammed Al-Sarraf finished eighth overall and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari was ninth, both in similar Mitsubishi machinery.

"We survived a huge jump on day one and that could have wrecked the car", commented Al-Kuwari. "The stages were nice, but it was a very fast rally; I was doing 210 km/h at times!"

Syria’s own Mohammed Haitham Youssefi and Anas Kwadri both retired their Lancers with mechanical problems, while Qatar’s Khalifa Al-Attiyah broke the steering at the end of the first leg.

The FIA Middle East Rally Championship resumes in Cyprus on October 31, when the crews head into the Troodos Mountains, famous for their inclusion in the country’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship.


  Driver / Co-driver Nat. Car Total Time Difference
 Andreas TSOULOFTAS / Sawas LAOS CY  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution   
 Khaled AL-QASSIMI / Khaled AL-KANDI UAE  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  + 1.24.0 
 Nasser AL-ATTIYAH / Steve LANCASTER QA/GB  Subaru Impreza WRC  + 1.28.0 
 Abdullah AL-QASSIMI / Khaled ZAKARIA UAE/HKJ  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  + 2.24.0 
 Ahmad HAMSHO / Allan HARRYMAN SYR/GB  Subaru Impreza WRC  + 5.56.0 
 Misfer AL-MARRI / Adel HUSSEIN QA  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  + 10.02.0 
 Mohammed HAMSHO / Terry HARRYMAN SYR/GB  Subaru Impreza WRC  + 12.04.0 
 Mohammad AL-SARRAF / Waleed AL-SARRAF KT/KT  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  + 14.39.0 
 Abdulaziz AL-KUWARI / Nasser AL-KUWARI QA  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  + 15.43.0 
10   Miras HOMSI / Ata AL-HAMOUD SYR/HKJ  Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution  + 16.32.0 
Nationalities: CY=Cyprus / GB=Great Britain / HKJ=Jordan / KT=Kuwait / QA=Qatar / SYR=Syria / UAE=United Arab Emirates /