Arifjan, Kuwait: Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah emerged relatively unscathed from one of the most action-packed days in the recent history of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) to hold an outright lead of 8min 03.9sec in the 25th Kuwait International Rally on Friday.
The first loop of three of the day’s six timed special stages in the deserts south of Kuwait City decimated the field and a mere three FIA cars and one entrant running in the National Rally completed the entire day’s route.
“It was not easy today,” said Al Attiyah. “It was difficult to see the lines with the conditions and we missed the track a couple of times. There were no lines so I needed to concentrate hard. We had a flat tyre and a little scare when I thought the clutch was slipping, but I have a big lead to conserve on Saturday and it’s looking good for the championship.”
Kuwaiti driver Meshari Al Thefiri remains firmly on course for a fourth MERC 2 or Group N showroom title. He and Qatari navigator Nasser Al Kuwari overcame a minor scare before service and a drive shaft failure on the last stage to finish the day in second position.
Lebanon’s Henry Kahy and Jordanian navigator Musa Djiyerian survived the carnage around them to hold an unlikely third overall in a two-wheel drive Skoda Fabia. The points earned guaranteed the 2018 MERC 3 title for ‘Henry the Third of Kuwait’ and his delighted navigator.
Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah, the former QMMF President and FIA Vice-President, continued his impressive return to competitive action and looked to be heading for third overall at the end of the day. But the Qatari suffered a cruel mechanical issue on the last stage and slipped into Rally 2 territory.
The Kuwaiti pairing of Jassim Al Muqahwi and Tamer Al Mutairi were the only crew to complete the day’s action in the National Rally category.
Vojtech Stajf’s MERC title challenge was hanging by a thread after the Czech driver badly damaged his Skoda Fabia R5 on the fourth stage and slipped from second to fifth overall. His crew faced a race against time to repair the R5 in time to start Saturday’s stages under Rally 2 after the Czech had stopped again after losing his way on the fifth special.
After SS4, Stajf said: “I don’t know what happened. The visibility was not good and we hit this hole and the car rolled.”
The rate of attrition was high on the first loop of three stages with all but six of the FIA entrants and two of the National Rally cars retiring prematurely. Drive shaft issues accounted for Rashed Al Nuami and Ihad Al Shorafa, engine woes plagued Shabi Shaban and electrical gremlins sidelined Abdullah Al-Ruwahi. Fuel feed issues robbed Khaled Juma of a potential fourth place after the regroup.
Top three positions after SS7:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 04min 29.9sec
2. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 12min 33.8sec
3. Henry Kahy (LBN)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) Škoda Fabia 1hr 29min 14.2sec