Rawahi spearheads Oman’s challenge
Oman's Abdullah al Rawahi will spearhead the sultanate's strong challenge in the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) Series - Manateq Qatar International Rally - in Qatar from March 14-16.
Oman is being represented by eight teams and include Saif al Harthy and Zakariah al Shanfari among other rallyists.
Qatar's Nasser Saleh al Attiyah heads a 29-car entry for the rally, which has competitors from ten nations competing
The international flavour in boosted by a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX entry for Italy’s Stefano Marrini, an RC3 Renault for Jordanian Asem Aref and three Lebanese entries for defending MERC 3 champion Henry Kahy (Skoda), Elie Chachati (Subaru) and Ahmad Khaled (Mitsubishi).
The regional rally series has struggled in recent seasons to attract new teams, but sterling effort and hard work by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) has seen a resurgence in interest in rallying in the region and the Qatar event has been rewarded with the largest entry seen for several years.
While Nasser Saleh al Attiyah and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel start as clear favourites to give their Autotek Motorsport Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 a winning debut - just two weeks after winning the
Manateq Qatar Cross-Country round of the FIA World Cup - there is strength in depth throughout the entry list that has been sent to the FIA for official approval.
Several other drivers will be eager to challenge Nasser Saleh in their R5 cars. Nasser Khalifa al Attiyah, runner-up in the regional series in 1993 and a podium finisher in Kuwait last season, returns to rallying action in Qatar at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5.
Adel Abdulla was second overall at the event last November and also runs a similar Ford for the second time, while former rally winner Abdulaziz al Kuwari returns to action with a Skoda Fabia and regular Irish co-driver Killian Duffy. There are also R5 Ford Fiesta entries for the 1993 regional champion Sheikh Hamed al Thani and a returning Khalifa al Attiyah.
Competition is likely to be intense in the MERC 2 category for Group N or NR4 cars. Kuwait’s Meshari al Thefiri returns to defend his regional title, but will come under intense pressure from the likes of Khalid al Suwaidi, Abdulla al Kuwari (third overall and MERC 2 winner in 2018), Abdullah al Rabban, Mohammed al Meer (fourth overall in 2018) and a strong Omani contingent.
This year’s rally will be based at the Lusail Sports Arena for a second year, but the ceremonial start and opening super special stage will take place at Souq al Wakra on March 14.
After a further ten special stages in the north of the country on the next two days, the prize giving ceremony will take place at Souq Waqif in downtown Doha for a second year on March 16.