This time, the Qatari rally is more exciting than usual. In the past, the bet was worth either of the second place winner or the number of minutes Nasser Al-Attiyah would beat his nearest opponent. And in history, the number of those minutes ranged from one to 15. So it’s no wonder that this year it was the fifteenth victory of a Qatari in his home – Qatar International Rally
This year, a well-known WRC figure arrived in a box of sand and gravel. K.Meeke, having a tough but interesting time in Saudi Arabia, like many in such an environment was infected and admitted to having a positive Dakar Rally virus test. So he did not run far from those lands, rented Škoda Fabia R5 from the SRT, and was preparing to tickle Nasser in a discipline in which this time Northern Ireland has more experience than a Qatari. A Mini Dakar rally driver V.Žala rented his Škoda Fabia R5 to M.Khalid Al-Suwaidi with the same SRT team help. The third slightly more interesting crew is A.Al-Kuwari and Irishman J.Fulton. The first spent a lot of time at the WRC with RRC and R5 equipment, and his new co-pilot read pacenotes for Ireland’s young talent C.Devine at the European Rally Championship last year.
Nasser’s cousin Khalifa, who appears on the rally tracks from time to time, also took part in the rally. Among the 21 participants guests came from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Oman, and Jordan, as this rally is the event of the Middle East Championship (MERC). In technical terms, Mitsubishi Lancer and Subaru Impreza cars with some R5 cars dominate. This time there were as many as 5 of the R5’s. The remaining participants drive perhaps even more suitable Polaris or Maverick buggies for this terrain.
The roads, if they can be called that, are also unique. Watching the onboards really bears a lot of resemblance to the Dakar that has just ended. Understanding where the road is and which barely visible track needs to be hit in that desert is a challenge for many. Due to the specifics of the special stages, it is very important to get out of the corners as fast as possible, so the lines are often not limited to the road with the risk of catching rocks or local vegetation. Plus the terrain there is completely flat, making navigation even harder. As a result, this rally served as the most difficult event for co-drivers in the region. But navigation is not the only caution. The sideroads are full of rocks and the “roads” have a number of small bumps that throw light and fast rally cars into the air like balls. Plus a lot of dust sometimes obscures the view for the same drivers who caused them.
The rally itself consisted of 11 special stages. On Friday evening, participants spun 4 kilometers around stakes at the Qatar sports complex, located in the country’s capital Doha. Saturday and Sunday held 18-22 km challenges which were in Qatar’s gravelly desert, in the northeast of the country. This amounted to 208 kilometers of special stages. There was an interesting time regime at the rally. The Saturday and Sunday special stages ended as early as the afternoon.
In terms of results, the miracle did not happen, although there were glows. On Saturday, before the final stage of the second day of the rally, the intrigue was extremely lively. N.Al-Attiyah and K.Meeke exchanged victories in the special stages and if not for the 25s penalty, Northern Ireland would have even been ahead. But here on Saturday afternoon, everything got on the usual track. In the Al-Thakira stage, Meeke’s car was thrown from one pit to the edge of another pit, which knocked down the bumper and engine cooling components. The guest from Europe had to return to the service on the rope. The service revealed that among other things the engine was damaged, so Sunday’s ride in the desert under the Super Rally rule did not happen. Then his compatriot A.Al-Kuwari was trying to chase Nasser, which drove a VW Polo R5. Taking advantage of the fact that the rally leader no longer needed to rush anywhere, and even the car was capricious, Al-Kuwari managed to win three stages, although at the rally finish he was almost 2 minutes behind the former Dakar rally winner. Which isn’t very much anyway compared to others. Khalid Al-Suwaidi, who finished in third place, was more than 6 minutes away and the others even further.
So far, K. Meeke has not revealed whether this return to the specifics of the classic rally is simultaneous. The fact that Kris is ready to gather as much information as possible about the region’s roads and geography as the next Dakar is inexorably approaching. Al-Kuwari, who finished in second place, promises a more interesting rally program this year. Many participants in the Qatari Rally were waiting for the next stage of MERC in Oman, which was unfortunately only recently postponed for reasons known to all. So the next more serious rally event in the Middle East will be in Jordan which takes place in spring. It is equally dominated by the old fox Nasser.
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Photos – QMMF