Defending FIA Middle East rally champion and recent Dakar Rally winner, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, will lock horns with Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, when the QMMF Qatar International Rally gets the 2015 FIA Middle East rally series underway this week.
The Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) released the entry list for the three-day event at the weekend and the trio top a high-quality field of competitors from Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Germany, Kuwait, Great Britain, Ireland, Greece, France and Iran.
Al-Attiyah will be partnered by Frenchman Matthieu Baumel, with whom he won the recent Dakar Rally. Baumel replaces the diminutive Italian Giovanni Bernacchini, who has worked alongside Al-Attiyah for several years in special stage rallies.
Ford Fiestas dominate the upper reaches of the entry list. With the exception of a solitary Citroën DS3 RRC for the UAE’s Al-Qassimi, Al-Attiyah, Al-Rajhi and the Qatari quartet of Abdulaziz and Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Khalid Al-Sowaidi have all been entered in British-built Ford Fiestas.
The remainder of the field drive a selection of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, with the Kuwaiti duo of Saleh bin Eidan and Meshari Al-Thafiri heading the group.
A two-car Tehran Rally Team has entered the Qatar event for the first time on the back of the new Iran Rally joining the regional rally championship for the first time in May this year. Laleh Seddigh and Elaheh Karim crew one of the cars and Ali Mesgarha and Yahidreza Vahdatinkzad occupy the second entry.
The Sultanate of Oman has also returned to the MERC calendar in 2015 after a seven-year absence and two Omani drivers grace the entry list in Qatar for the first time in several years. The experienced Khalid Soomar Al-Zadjali teams up with Taha Soomar Al-Zadjali in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII and Khalid Saleh Al-Minji and Saif Al-Aisri crew a second car.
Germany female driver Edith Weiss will be taking part in her eighth Qatar International Rally, this time at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX alongside her Greek navigator Vicky Psaraki. Weiss finished 12th overall, second in Group N and first of the Ladies’ crews last year.
“Qatar has one of the most demanding gravel surface rallies in the world and I always look forward to coming here to compete,” said Weiss, who first competed in Qatar in 1992. “The event is professionally organised by the QMMF and it’s always a pleasure to be here.”
The three days of desert rallying will also play host to the Qatar Misfer National Rally Championship, held in memory of the late Misfer Al-Marri. Round one will take place over Thursday’s and Friday’s stages and the second round will be fought out over Saturday’s timed tests.
Crews begin their reconnaissance of the special stages tomorrow (Monday) and the special stage action gets underway with a short street stage after the ceremonial start on Doha Corniche on Thursday evening.