Doha, Qatar: The 2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar got underway with the spectacular backdrop of Souq Waqif in downtown Doha on Thursday evening.
Amid the hustle and bustle of shops, oriental bazaars, street cafés and the aroma of natural spices from across the Middle East, the region’s finest drivers crossed the start podium in a ceremony that was filmed live by the AlbRayyan satellite television network.
It marked the first time that the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) had taken the start of the country’s prestigious round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship into the centre of Doha.
A pre-event press conference preceded the start ceremony. It took place on the podium and was split into two sections with Manateq’s CEO Fahad Rashed Al Kaabi joining QMMF President Abdulrahman Al Mannai at the start of proceedings.
Record-breaking 14-time regional champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah was then joined on the stage by Czech rival Vojtech Stajf, Qatari drivers Adel Abdulla and Abdullah Al Kuwari, Oman’s Abdullah Al Rawahi and Kuwait’s MERC 2 champion Meshari Al Thefiri.
Al Mannai also took the opportunity to present Al Attiyah with a cake to celebrate his recent achievement of a 14th regional title and fellow competitors were invited on to the stage for the cake cutting and the handing over of a special award for the Qatari, who is bidding for a 14th victory in his home event since 2003.
Al Attiyah said: “It is fantastic to have the start here in the souq. There is an excellent atmosphere with a lot of spectators. Now I must focus on the next two days and trying to win my home rally again.”
Sixteen cars were registered to start the event, with five Omani entrants joining Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al Thani in the National category and 10 drivers taking their place in the main FIA event.
Guests at the start included six-time Qatar International Rally winner and two-time regional champion Saeed Al Hajri and former MERC series regular Hamed Al Suwaidi.
Souq Waqif is one of the few traditional souks that remain in the Gulf and is renowned for the sale of garments, handicrafts, spices and souvenirs. The original souk was founded over 100 years ago close to what used to be a dry riverbed known as Wadi Musheireb. A restoration programme began in 2006 and was completed in 2008.