2024 Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Tuesday, January 30th, 2024



  • Teams and drivers make final preparations for opening round of MERC


LUSAIL (Qatar): The diminutive Italian Giovanni Bernacchini was officially confirmed as Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s co-driver during Tuesday’s administration checks for this weekend’s Qatar International Rally at the Lusail Sports Arena.


Twenty-three crews and competitors from 17 nations will take part in the opening round of the 2024 FIA Middle East Rally Championship.


Bernacchini replaces Andorra-based Mathieu Baumel, who has been a regular fixture alongside Al-Attiyah since the start of the 2015 season. Baumel cut his teeth in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship with Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Abdullah Al-Kuwari. Together, he and Al-Attiyah won four Dakars, two W2RC titles, 30 MERC rallies and nine regional FIA championships.


Fifty-year-old Bernacchini last competed with Al-Attiyah in 2014 and secured the fourth of his Qatar International Rally victories to add to wins in 2010, 2011 and 2013. In total, he has won 25 rallies in the MERC, a number equalled by Chris Patterson but still adrift of the record-holding Ronan Morgan (41) and Baumel (32). He will now co-drive for the Qatari on all five rounds of the regional rally series.


Al-Attiyah said: “It’s not a new challenge with Giovanni. He was with me for a long time and we won the championship together several times. This year I decided to have him again. For me, it was not really working like what I wanted with Mathieu. Still, we have a good relationship and now he is free. I also have my decision for the next co-driver for the Dakar and cross-country (Edouard Boulanger).


“At the moment I don’t know if we will do some more rallies. We will do Middle East and, in the event of the sponsor Visit Qatar, I think they want to have three or four race in WRC, maybe WRC2. Maybe Portugal, Sardinia, Greece, basically the ones that I like. We will also be very busy with the new programme of Dacia.


“After several months with the cross-country car, this morning the car felt very slow. I did 30km of testing this morning and I adjust myself and we changed a lot of things, just to be sure and to make a good start for the Qatar Rally.”


Bernacchini added: “It is a pleasure for me to come back after 10 years with Nasser. We won four times here together and I really hope that this new adventure after 10 years can be as successful. It’s something surprising me in a very good way but I really hope our agreement can bring back the same victories. When I left Nasser, I still tried to win some races in the Middle East. Now I have the chance again. I really hope to increase my number of victories.”


Bernacchini competed alongside Al-Attiyah’s cousin Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya last year in both the Oman and Qatar rallies and finished fifth and sixth overall. He has also co-driven in the region for Khalid Al-Suwaidi, Rashed Al-Ketbi and Roger Feghali.


Several drivers, including Al-Attiyah and the trio of Mads Østberg, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Mārtiņš Sesks (who are competing in Sports Racing Technology-run Skoda Fabia RS Rally2s) tested their cars in the desert to the north of Doha on Tuesday morning.


Loubet will be co-driven by Loris Pascaud this season in the WRC2 category of the FIA World Rally Championship. He and Pascaud, who has worked as an integral member of the Frenchman’s gravel crew for the last two seasons, will use the event in Qatar as an invaluable acclimatization exercise. After taking part in the Africa Eco Race at the start of January and claiming five stage wins in an Apache SSV, Loubet spent last weekend in the commentary box for Canal+ Sport at the Monte-Carlo Rally.


Sesks was testing at the helm of a Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 in central Finland recently and Østberg was involved in testing for the recent Sigdalsrally in Norway. Both events were a far cry from the deserts of northern Qatar.


Tomorrow (Wednesday), competitors carry out a detailed reconnaissance of the dozen gravel stages that have been laid on by the QMMF through Qatar’s northern deserts.


The Waab Al-Mashrab stage is similar to 2023 but there have been minor changes to sections of both the Al-Waab and Umm Birka specials, with new tracks added into the middle part of both specials.


The Al-Khor stage features a new start section and will be run in the opposite direction to 2023, while the majority of the Ras Laffan and Al-Thakhira stages remain unchanged except for a new start and finish section for the Ras Laffan special and a short change near the end of Al-Thakira.


The 2024 Qatar International Rally gets underway from Lusail Boulevard at 19.00hrs on Thursday evening, before competitors tackle an exciting opening super special stage at the LCSC Karting Academy from 20.00hrs.


There is a chance of light rain on Thursday and blustery and less settled weather conditions for Friday and Saturday.



For further media information: Neil Perkins, Media Relations Officer, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: [email protected].



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