QATAR’S defending champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will have another crack at glory when the Middle East Rally Championship’s (MERC) new season begins with the Qatar International Rally on Friday.
Nasser clinched his 12th regional crown last year and is two short of UAE legend Mohammed bin Sulayem’s record of 14.
The ace Qatari and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel, in their Skoda Fabia R5, are once again the favourites in a field comprising 30 competitors from 12 countries.
“I always love racing here at home and it’s a great place to once again start the season,” said Nasser, who pulled out in third stage of the recent Dakar Rally.
The traditional opening round of the regional series will be fought over 12 special stages in a revised two-day route laid on by rally officials under the supervision of Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation President Abdulrahman Al Mannai.
Nasser’s main challengers include compatriot Khalid Al Suwaidi and Kuwait’s Masoud Al Saleh, both driving Ford Fiesta R5.
Other main Qatari competitors are Nasser’s brother Khalifa, Rashed Al Naimi, Sheikh Suhaim Al Thani, Saif Al Naimi, Nasser Al Kuwari and Khalid Al Mohannadi.
Other names to watch out for include Lebanon’s Henry Kahy, Oman’s Hamid Al Qassimi and Kuwait’s Salem Al Thafiri.
“We’re delighted to see so many nationalities and several new faces on the entry list for the Qatar leg of MERC,” said Al Mannai.