LUSAIL BOULEVARD TO HOST START OF QATAR INTERNATIONAL RALLY ON THURSDAY EVENING
2024 Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1
For immediate release
Wednesday, January 31st, 2024
LUSAIL BOULEVARD TO HOST START OF QATAR
INTERNATIONAL RALLY ON THURSDAY EVENING
- Crews to tackle a floodlit super special stage at LCSC Karting Academy
LUSAIL (Qatar): Twenty-three crews and competitors from 17 nations will be flagged away from the ceremonial start of the Qatar International Rally at Lusail Boulevard from 19.00hrs on Thursday evening.
The 2024 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) will see the region’s finest drivers then heading to Jordan in May, Lebanon in September, Cyprus in October and on to the finale in the Sultanate of Oman at the end of November. But the season’s opener across the demanding deserts of northern Qatar has attracted two of the hottest prospects in the sport and one of the long-established front-runners in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Norwegian driver Mads Østberg will be making his third successive appearance in Qatar, having pushed local hero Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah hard in 2022 and then finishing second to the Qatari last year. He and co-driver Patrik Barth of Sweden crew the first of three SRT Škoda Fabia RS Rally2s.
The other two will be in the hands of rising stars Pierre-Louis Loubet and Mārtiņš Sesks and their co-drivers Loris Pascaud and Renārs Francis, the quartet all making their first appearance on a desert rally of any kind. Loubet is a former WRC2 champion and was a member of the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. The Frenchman is the son of the former Lancia and Alfa Romeo factory driver and 1989 European Rally Champion Yves Loubet.
Sesks, 24, started out in motorsport at the age of five in a buggy in his native Latvia and graduated through the ranks of karting to compete in rallying in 2014. A former member of the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team, he became the first Latvian ever to win a round of the FIA Junior WRC in Estonia in 2020.
Their experience aside, Al-Attiyah and his co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini start the three-day event as clear favourites for success in an Autotek Motorsport Volkswagen Polo GTI. Al-Attiyah will be chasing a staggering 18th career victory in Qatar since 2003 and maximum points in his bid to lay the foundations to a push for a 20th MERC title.
The Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) has supported the challenge of two other talented Qatari drivers. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari won the event back in 2012 in a Mini S2000 and the former WRC2 driver teams up with Ireland’s James Fulton, who is making his second appearance in Qatar after finishing second with Al-Kuwari in a Škoda in 2021.
Khalid Al-Suwaidi, like Al-Kuwari, makes only token rally appearances these days but has won two rounds of the MERC (Kuwait – 2012 and 2022) and he drives the second of the Sarrazin-supplied Volkswagens with British co-driver Ross Whittock making his Qatar debut as co-driver. Whittock is a regular competitor in the USA and Europe and won the 2019 European Rally Championship with Chris Ingram.
Oman’s Abdullah Al-Rawahi shared the regional title in a dead heat with Al-Attiyah in 2023 and he and Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud will be hoping to go one better this year in their Autotek-run Škoda. Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya and his co-driver Ziad Chehab round off the Rally2 field in their Ford Fiesta.
Eleven drivers from Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon and India will compete for honours in the MERC2 category for production class machines. The Jordanian duo of Shaker Jweihan and Husam Salim, Kuwait’s Jassim Al-Muqahwi and Lebanese driver Ahmad Khaled top the field in four Mitsubishi Lancers, while Rashed Al-Muhannadi flies the flag for the host nation in a Subaru WRX-STi.
Dubai-based Indian driver Saneem Payyaakkal teams up with Musa Sherif to make his first appearance in an FIA international rally after competing in UAE national events. Saneem, who hails from Thrissur, wheels out a two-wheel drive Ford Fiesta. He made his rally debut in 2008 and has won three UAE rally titles in the front-wheel drive category with Sherif, who himself is a seven-time national INRC champion co-driver.
At the rear of the field, Qatari driver Khalid Al-Muhannadi (Polaris), Stefano Marrini (Can-Am) and fellow Italian Filippo Epis (Yamaha) will battle it out for supremacy in the T4 category.
Tomorrow (Thursday), following the official pre-event press conference on the start podium (18.30hrs), the rally gets underway from a new location on Lusail Boulevard at 19.00hrs.
Competitors will then tackle an exciting opening super special stage at the LCSC Karting Academy from 20.00hrs. Two cars will start out on the 1.09km asphalt course at the same time and complete two passes and two laps against each other for a total stage distance of 4.36km.
2024 Qatar International Rally – updated entry list:
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (POL) Volkswagen Polo GTI
- Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)/Loris Pascaud (FRA) Škoda Fabia RS
- Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia Evo
- Mads Østberg (NOR)/Patrik Barth (SWE) Škoda Fabia RS
- Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/James Fulton (IRL) Volkswagen Polo GTI
- Mārtiņš Sesks (LVA)/Renārs Francis (LVA) Škoda Fabia RS
- Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Ross Whittock (GBR) Volkswagen Polo GTI
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT)/Ziad Chehab (LEB) Ford Fiesta Mk II
- Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Mustafa Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Jassim Al-Muqahwi (KWT)/Thamer Al-Mutairi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Husam Salim (JOR)/Nancy Al-Majali (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Samer Sfeir (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Saqer Abu Jamous (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Rashid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Taha Al-Zadjali (OMN) Subaru WRX-STI
- Saneem Payyaakkal (ARE)/Musa Sherif (IND) Ford Fiesta Rally 4
- Zakariya Al-Aamri (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Mazroui (OMN) Subaru WRX-STI
- Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Ihab Al-Shurafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
- Mohammed Al-Atteya (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
- Fabid Ahmer (IND)/Milen George (IND) Subaru WRX-STI
- Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Mohammed Innab (SAU) Polaris RZR Pro XP (T4)
- Stefano Marrini (ITA)/Stefano Tiraboschi (ITA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4)
- Filippo Epis (ITA)/Gabriele Zanni (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000R (T4)
For further media information: Neil Perkins, Media Relations Officer, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: [email protected].
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