Doha, Qatar: Victory on the Rally of Lebanon had always eluded Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel.
However, after a terrific early scrap with 14-time event winner Roger Feghali through the first four stages, Al Attiyah was left unchallenged when the Lebanese retired after an accident and this opened the door for the Qatari to record his first ever win in Lebanon and his 72nd career MERC win at the wheel of the Autotek Motorsport Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Baumel’s 20thcareer MERC victory came with a massive winning margin of 7min 09.3sec. Rodrigue Rahi finished in second place with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX and Patrick Njeim rounded off the podium places in a similar car.
The last non-Lebanese driver to win the specialised tarmac event had been Italy’s Piero Liatti at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza WRC way back in 2001.
Feghali kick-started the defence of his title with the fastest time in the opening super special stage on Friday evening. The Lebanese clocked a time of 1min 50.9sec to take a 2.1-second lead over Al Attiyah into the first of the asphalt stages on Saturday.
Al Attiyah clawed 0.8 seconds back in the second Hboub special and another 0.2 seconds in Ain Aaya to reduce the margin to a minuscule 1.1 seconds. Another fastest time in Sourat 1 gave the Qatari a lead of 0.3 seconds for the first time.
The contest was settled in Al Attiyah’s favour when Feghali retired on the re-run of Hboub, the Škoda Fabia R5 driver’s demise lifting Rahi and Njeim into second and third overall. Feghali left the road and sustained a double puncture. Carrying only one spare wheel, he was forced to retire.
Al Attiyah coasted through the remainder of the leg to take a comfortable advantage into the final day.
There were no dramas of note on the final day’s stages either and the Qatari was able to create history by becoming the first Qatari ever to win the Rally of Lebanon.