Arifjan, Kuwait: Record-breaking Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah confirmed a 14th FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) title with a dominant victory in the 25th Kuwait International Rally at Kuwait Motor Town on Saturday.
The Qatari’s seventh win in Kuwait and his 69th career MERC win (68 rally wins) secured the record-breaking 14th regional title by the margin of 12min 19.2sec.
Al Attiyah now has the record for the number of MERC titles to himself after FIA official Jerôme Roussel examined the archives recently and confirmed that the 1989 regional series had been cancelled because only three rallies had taken place and Dubai driver Mohammed Ben Sulayem had actually won 13th official championship titles.
Al Attiyah’s French co-driver Matthieu Baumel secured his third regional title and his 17th MERC event win to move ahead of John Spiller and into third in the regional Hall of Fame behind Ronan Morgan, Chris Patterson and Giovanni Bernacchini. The success also marked an astonishing 15th regional title in 16 seasons for Ken Skidmore’s Autotek Motorsport operation, which also guided the late Misfer Al Marri to the title in 2010.
“This a fantastic result for me and the whole team after another excellent season,” said Al-Attiyah. “To break the long-standing record is very satisfying. There have been many memories along the way and many battles with some great drivers. Now we can look to the future and pushing ahead with more records of our own.”
Kuwaiti driver Meshari Al Thefiri and Nasser Al Kuwari began the day in second overall and the local star drove at a measured pace to confirm his fourth MERC 2/Group N title in the regional series. Victory in his home event continues to elude the Mitsubishi driver, however. His father Ahmed Al-Thefiri remains the only Kuwaiti national ever to win the event – at the wheel of a Datsun Violet before the MERC was formed back in 1981.
Lebanon’s Henry Kahy and Jordanian navigator Musa Djiyerian celebrated the driver’s first MERC 3 title success in a two-wheel drive Skoda Fabia, although the category win secured a second successive series triumph for his navigator – Musa had co-driven fellow Jordanian Asem Aref to the title in 2017. The duo reached the finish in seventh overall.
Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah hadn’t taken part in an MERC event since the 2007 Dubai International Rally, but the former QMMF President and FIA Vice-President acclimatised to the tricky conditions with aplomb. Despite missing out on points for finishing the opening leg because of a differential issue, he and Italian navigator Nicola Arena bounced back to round off the podium positions.
Vojtech Stajf missed out on the regional title, but the Czech has enjoyed an impressive debut season in the regional series and pushed Al Attiyah hard on some stages. He has already secured the runner-up spot in the championship and rewarded his mechanics’ hard work on Friday afternoon with a solid fourth-placed finish in his Skoda Fabia R5.
Final positions (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 58min 24.8sec
2. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 10min 43.8sec
3. Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 26min 28.3sec
4. Vojtech Stajf (CZE)/Ladislav Kucera (CZE) Skoda Fabia R5 2hrs 29min 30.7sec
5. Khaled Juma (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 40min 21.3sec
6. Abdullah Al Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Subaru Impreza 2hrs 49min 39.7sec
7. Henry Kahy (LBN)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) Skoda Fabia 2hrs 57min 43.4sec
8. Ihab Al Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3hrs 00min 03.5sec
9. Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Tarek Al Taher (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3hrs 07min 22.6sec
2018 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – positions after round 4 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 146pts
2. Vojtech Stajf (CZE) 93pts
3. Meshari Al Thefiri (KWT) 59pts
4. Roger Feghali (LBN) 38pts
5. Khaled Juma (JOR) 32pts
6. Christos Demostheous (CYP) 25pts
7. Rodolphe Asmar (LBN) 24pts
8. Henry Kahy (LBN) 21pts
9. Eddy Karam (LBN) 19pts
9. Alexandros Tsouloftas (CYP) 19pts
9. Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah (QAT) 19pts
12. Ihab Al Shorafa (JOR) 17pts
13. Ahmed Shaban (JOR) 16pts
14. Savvas Savva (CYP) 15pts
15. Costas Zenonos (CYP) 12pts
16. Rony Kanaan (LBN) 11pts
16. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN) 11pts