ØSTBERG AND BARTH LEAD AFTER OPENING SUPER SPECIAL STAGE IN QATAR
2024 Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1
For immediate release
Thursday, February 1st, 2024
ØSTBERG AND BARTH LEAD AFTER OPENING SUPER SPECIAL STAGE IN QATAR
- Illness forces Latvia’s Mārtiņš Sesks to withdraw at the 11th hour
LUSAIL (Qatar): Norwegian driver Mads Østberg and his Swedish co-driver Patrik Barth got to grips with their Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 and moved into a slender lead after the opening 4.36km super special stage of the Qatar International Rally at the LCSC Karting Academy late on Thursday evening.
Twenty-two competitors from 16 nations were flagged away from the ceremonial start at a new location on Lusail Boulevard earlier in the evening by QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai. They then tackled two laps and two passes of the 1.09km asphalt course at Lusail and the Norwegian was 0.8 seconds quicker than second-placed Pierre-Louis Loubet and Loris Pascaud.
The French duo are competing on a desert rally for the first time in their SRT Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 and the opening tarmac stage was not a true reflection of what the French crew will face over the next two days.
Loubet said: “It’s a pleasure to be here and I am really looking forward to the rally. I know it is going to be very challenging. I hope I can find my braking points in the open desert for the corners and not brake too late!”
After sharing last year’s regional championship title with Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Abdullah Al-Rawahi will be hoping to go one better this season with his Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud. The Omani guided his Autotek-run Škoda to third on the opening stage.
Al-Rawahi said: “This first rally of the year is going to be quite a challenge, bearing in mind our last event was in Cyprus (October 2023). I hope this will be an amazing year. We are pushing. We want to compete for the win. Every year we get closer and closer. Last year was very disappointing. We broke the engine. This year we also have a new challenge of the JWRC and we have Rally Sweden in a couple of weeks. I am very excited for that. These will be new experiences. Hopefully this year is another good learning curve for us.”
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini came home fourth in their Autotek Motorsport Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Local driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Irish co-driver James Fulton are competing in a Sarrazin-supplied Volkswagen Polo GTi for the first time. The Qatari finished the opening stage in fifth position.
He said: “I am looking forward to this rally and happy to be in a rally car again after even more than a year. They are good stages, mixed, some technical sections and some fast and some bumpy sections. We did a good test. It’s the first time in the Polo. I need some more time in the car to properly adapt but we are happy. It’s very similar to the Škoda. It is going to be a very good competition. Thanks to the QMMF for putting me in a rally car again.”
Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya has teamed up with Lebanon’s Ziad Chehab for the forthcoming season and the 1993 Qatar International Rally winner guided his Motortune Ford Fiesta to 10th position.
Al-Atya said: “I did two days of testing with the new car. I am hoping to adapt better than last year. I feel more committed in the car now and hope to be pushing hard this year. I have more experience and I did two rounds in the World Championship in Portugal and Sardinia. That gave me a lot of time to sit and race. I am also happy with my new co-driver Ziad and the Motortune team. This year will be different for me.”
Shaker Jweihan drew first blood with the fastest time in the MERC2 category for production class machines. The Jordanian held an overnight cushion of 11.4 seconds over Lebanese driver Ahmad Khaled. Indian debutant Fabid Amer stopped his Subaru WRX-STi with reported fuel feed issues.
Latvia’s Mārtiņš Sesks was taken ill in the build up to the rally in Doha and received medical treatment for a virus. With co-driver Renārs Francis not able to read pace notes in English, it would have been necessary for his team to find both a replacement driver and co-driver for the third SRT Škoda but this was not logistically possible in the timescale available.
Tomorrow (Friday), competitors will tackle two loops of three gravel stages through Qatar’s northern deserts. The Waab Al-Mashrab (15.32km), Al-Waab (15.33km) and Umm Birka (21.38km) specials will be run in the morning at 09.20hrs, 09.48hrs and 10.30hrs, respectively. They will then be repeated in the afternoon at 13.20hrs, 13.48hrs and 14.30hrs after a return to the Lusail Sports Arena for a regroup and midday service from 11.30hrs.
A strengthening wind is forecast for Friday and part of Saturday. This will alleviate potential dust issues on the special stages provided that it does not intensify and create sandstorm conditions and poor visibility.
2024 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS1 (unofficial @22.00hrs):
- Mads Østberg (NOR)/Patrik Barth (SWE) Škoda Fabia RS 4min 37.6sec
- Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)/Loris Pascaud (FRA) Škoda Fabia RS 4min 38.4sec
- Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia Evo 4min 40.2sec
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (POL) Volkswagen Polo GTI 4min 40.9sec
- Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/James Fulton (IRL) Volkswagen Polo GTI 4min 45.0sec
- Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Ross Whittock (GBR) Volkswagen Polo GTI 4min 50.0sec
- Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Mustafa Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 4min 50.2sec
- Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Samer Sfeir (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 5min 01.6sec
- Husam Salim (JOR)/Nancy Al-Majali (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 5min 02.8sec
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT)/Ziad Chehab (LEB) Ford Fiesta Mk II 5min 07.4sec
- Ihab Al-Shurafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 5min 14.5sec
- Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 5min 15.0sec
- Zakariya Al-Aamri (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Mazrui (OMN) Subaru WRX-STI 5min 18.2sec
- Jassim Al-Muqahwi (KWT)/Thamer Al-Mutairi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 5min 19.6sec
- Rashid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Taha Al-Zadjali (OMN) Subaru WRX-STI 5min 30.7sec
- Saneem Payyaakkal (ARE)/Musa Sherif (IND) Ford Fiesta Rally 4 5min 33.4sec
- Mohammed Al-Atteya (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 5min 33.6sec
- Stefano Marrini (ITA)/Stefano Tiraboschi (ITA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4) 5min 38.0sec
- Filippo Epis (ITA)/Gabriele Zanni (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000R (T4) 5min 42.2sec
- Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Mohammed Innab (SAU) Polaris RZR Pro XP (T4) 5min 53.6sec
- Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Saqer Abu Jamous (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 5min 58.7sec
- Fabid Ahmer (IND)/Milen George Cherian (IND) Subaru WRX-STI DNF
For further media information: Neil Perkins, Media Relations Officer, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: [email protected].
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