The 2015 QMMF Qatar International Rally officially got underway with the ceremonial start outside the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation’s headquarters on the Salwa road in Doha on Thursday afternoon.
Ahead of a dozen cars and competitors from 11 nations lie 12 punishing desert special stages that will decide the outcome of the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).
Nine of the drivers attended the official pre-event press conference at the QMMF on Thursday afternoon.
“For sure, I have the local experience,” said top seed and defending champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. “I have raced here since 2002 and won the event 11 times in 12 years. But this rally is not easy. It never has been. It is fast, technical and experience counts for a lot.”
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi has a strategy for success. “I will drive flat out for three stages and see what happens and where I am in relation to Khalid (Al-Qassimi) and Nasser. If I am close, then I will push. If not, then I will settle back. I need to finish and score points.”
Both Iranian Subaru Imprezas safely passed scrutineering checks at the QMMF on their Qatar debut. “This is a big thing for Iran to be involved in an FIA championship and for us to be here in Qatar for the first time,” said Ali Mergarha.
“We are not here to win. We are here to gain experience on some terrain that is actually quite similar in places to the tracks we have near Shiraz. We will host the MERC in May and I hope everyone will come to Iran and support our rally.”
The QMMF also hosted an FIA Action for Road Safety seminar on Thursday, with delegates from the Syrian Automobile Club attending the event that was introduced by Hani Shaban, a long-time organiser of motor sport in Syria and the assistant clerk of the course of the QMMF Qatar International Rally, and moderated by Austrian consultant Claudia Gruber-Filippits.
Tomorrow (Friday), special stage action gets underway with a run through the opening Umm Wishah special stage from 09.53hrs. This is followed by stages at Al-Shabana (10.21hrs) and Al-Kharsaah (10.54hrs), before crews return to the Qatar Aqua Park for a regroup and midday service.
The three special stages are repeated at 13.22hrs, 13.50hrs and 14.23hrs on Friday afternoon before cars are kept overnight in a Parc Ferme at the Aqua Park. The event finishes at the QMMF on Saturday afternoon.
2015 QMMF Qatar International Rally starters:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta RRC
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC
5. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Enda Sherry (IRL) Ford Fiesta R5
6. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Adel Hussein (QAT) Ford Fiesta RRC
7. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/John Higgins (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC
8. Salah bin Eidan (KUW)/Vili Oslaj (SLO) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
11. Rashid Al-Naimi (QAT)/Arif Yousef Mohammed (ARE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
14. Mohammed Ghalehbani(IRN)/Seyedmassood Vahedi (IRN) Subaru Impreza
15. Edith Weiss (GER)/Vicky Psarakis (GRE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
16. Ali Mesgarha (IRN)/Vahidreza Vahdatinikzad (IRN) Subaru Impreza