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2014 QMMF Qatar International Rally FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), round 1

DOHA (Qatar): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is used to driving under pressure, but he and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini were pushed all the way to the finish of a thrilling QMMF Qatar International Rally by fellow countryman Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari

Separated by just 5.5 seconds at the start of the second day, Al-Attiyah pressed home a slight advantage once Al-Kuwari and Irish navigator Killian Duffy suffered a drive shaft breakage. The nine-time MERC champion, driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, duly secured his 11th Qatar win in 12 years and his 51st MERC success on the 30th anniversary of the championship. His winning margin was 30.1 seconds.

“Everyone knows I enjoy competing here in Qatar and it’s a special feeling to win here,” said Al-Attiyah, the winner of six of the timed tests. “It was not easy – credit to Abdulaziz for his performance. It’s always important to get points on the board for the championship and winning is always special.”

Second-placed Al-Kuwari is the third generation driver from his family and is following in the footsteps of his rally driving father Sadoon and grandfather Arhema, who took part in the first Qatar Rally with a Fiat in 1975. “I gave it my best shot and am pleased with my performance,” said the Qatari, who won five stages. “Nasser’s record here speaks for itself and I am delighted to have pushed him so hard.”

Radiator and tyre issues plagued Khalid Al-Qassimi; the Abu Dhabi driver finished third and won two of the 13 special stages alongside Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson.

After first-day gearbox woes, Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Italian navigator Nicola Arena climbed into the top five in their Ford Fiesta, edging the Kuwaiti duo of Masoud Al-Saleh and Sulaiman Al-Helal down to fifth before Al-Saleh retired before the final loop of three stages with gearbox issues

Drive shaft problems had sidelined Yazeed Al-Rajhi on day one, but the Saudi hit back with consistent stage times on Saturday to secure points for fourth place after he overtook Abdullah Al-Kuwari on the final stage.

Young Abu Dhabi Racing team member Mohamed Al-Mutawaa won the battle of the five junior Citroën DS3 drivers. He and Ulster navigator Stephen McAuley finished a fine sixth and pipped Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and his Welsh team mate Craig Parry by 2min 29.5sec.

Jordan’s Ala’a Rasheed, Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thafiri and third Abu Dhabi junior Mansoor Bel Helai rounded off the top 10. Germany’s Edith Weiss (12th) beat Qatar’s Nada Zeidan (14th) to the top Ladies’ award.

Provisional final positions– unofficial @ 15.15hrs:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC            2hr 13min 11.4sec
2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC                      2hr 13min 41.5sec
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC              2hr 16min 04.6sec
4. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC                                  2hr 38min 31.3sec
5. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5                                    2hr 39min 01.2sec
6. Mohamed Al-Mutawaa (ARE)/Stephen McAuley (GBR) Citroën DS3                    2hr 47min 00.4sec
7. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (ARE)/Craig Parry (GBR) Citroën DS3                   2hr 49min 29.9sec
8. Ala’a Rasheed (JOR)/Joseph Matar (LBN) Ford Fiesta R5                                    2hr 54min 46.3sec
9. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Fahad Al-Mutairi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X    3hr 03min 52.8sec
10. Mansoor Bel Helai (ARE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (ARE) Citroën DS3                    3hr 13min 11.1sec
11. Juma Al-Falaisi (ARE)/John Higgins (IRL)            Citroën DS3                               3hr 23min 35.8sec
12. Edith Weiss (DEU)/Antoine Salem (LBN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX               3hr 40min 06.7sec
13. Hitmi Khalifa Al-Hitmi (QAT)/Kamal Khoder (QAT)             Subaru Impreza N12            3hr 52min 27.9sec
14. Nada Zaidan (QAT)/Maja Loncar (CRO) Subaru Impreza N12                   4hr 19min 42.1sec