Arifjan, Kuwait: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will be aiming to match one of the longest-standing records in world motorsport when he heads an international field of competitors from eight nations into Kuwait’s exciting return to the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) at Kuwait Motor Town on Thursday afternoon.
While the State of Kuwait celebrates its own milestone of hosting a first international FIA-sanctioned event at its new FIA grade one race circuit facility, south of Kuwait City, Al Attiyah is focusing on claiming outright victory in the three-day event with his Autotek-run Ford Fiesta R5. This result would net the Qatari a record-equalling 14th regional rally title and put him alongside UAE’s Mohammed Ben Sulayem in the history books.
The Qatari already has the record for the greatest number of successes in the history of the Kuwait Rally with six wins (2009, 2011 and 2013-2016) to Ben Sulayem’s four (1985, 1988, 1989 and 2006).
Al Attiyah will also be chasing his 68th MERC win, while victory for navigator Matthieu Baumel would be his 17th in MERC history and would move the Frenchman ahead of John Spiller into equal third in the regional Hall of Fame behind Ronan Morgan (41 wins) and a tying Giovanni Bernacchini and Chris Patterson (25 wins apiece).
Al Attiyah said: “This is an important rally for several reasons. Obviously the record is important, but the Kuwait Rally is always challenging and it would be nice to wrap up the championship before the final round in Qatar in two weeks’ time.”
Czech driver Vojtech Stajf is attempting to become the first non-Arab driver ever to win the regional rally series and Ladislav Kucera has replaced Marketa Skacelova as his navigator in the Skoda Fabia R5.
Stajf trails Al Attiyah by 32 points in the title race after rallies in Jordan, Lebanon and Cyprus, but there are two rounds to go and a possible 39 points available to the winner of each race with 30 potentially on offer to the Czech if he can shadow his Qatari rival to the finish and complete all the special stages. That would not be sufficient for Stajf to prevent Al Attiyah from retaining the title, however, and Al Attiyah’s challenger will need to push hard over the opening stages to try and gain the upper hand on leg one.
While the leading duo swap seconds for supremacy at the top of the leader board, a fascinating tussle is sure to develop in MERC 2 for Group N cars such as the Subaru Impreza and derivatives of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Local driver Meshari Al Thefiri stands on the verge of claiming another showroom title with Qatari navigator Nasser Al Kuwari, but competition is sure to be fierce from a host of Jordanian, Omani, Qatari and Kuwaiti rivals.
Khaled Juma leads the way for the Hashemite Kingdom and still has a chance to win the title, while fellow countrymen Ihab Al Shorafa and Shadi Shaban will be challenging hard.
Abdullah Al Rawahi flies the flag in the category for the Sultanate of Oman and there are further Group N entries for Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah and Rashed Al Nuami and Kuwaiti drivers Jassim Al Muqahwi, Mubarak Al Thefiri and Fahad Al Mutairi.
Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah returns to active competition after a long absence working in a senior role within both the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation and the FIA. He teams up with the experienced Italian navigator Nicola Arena, who won the regional title with the late Misfer Al Marri in 2010.