MUSCAT (Oman): The 2015 Oman International Rally gets underway at the Oman Automobile Association (OAA) in Muscat on Thursday afternoon and precedes the first competitive special stage of three kilometres, starting at 16.48hrs.
The Sultanate of Oman’s return to the FIA Middle East Rally Championship for the first time since 2007 has attracted an impressive 20-car field and three of the leading drivers will be eyeing victory for very different reasons.
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has recently confirmed an 11th regional championship crown in 13 glorious seasons of competing in the area. But he has one eye on one of the longest standing records in world motor sport this weekend. Dubai’s Mohammed Ben Sulayem amassed 60 outright MERC rally victories between 1984 and 2002 and a win over the 13-timed gravel stages in Oman would see Al-Attiyah equal the Emirati’s remarkable feat.
“Obviously the championship is won and we have nearly finished an amazing year with the victory on the Dakar Rally, the FIA World Cup, the WRC 2 title and the Middle East Championship,” said Al-Attiyah, who won four times in Oman between 2003 and 2006. “But this is a different type of milestone and it would be great to match Ben Sulayem’s number of wins with a win here in Oman.”
Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi won this event the last time it was a round of the series in 2007 and would like to add to the seven regional events on which he has graced the top of the podium. Al-Qassimi wheels out a Citroën DS3 RRC with Al-Attiyah’s former navigator Chris Patterson reading the notes.
Oman organisers ran a successful candidate event in 2014 for the country’s return to the MERC and Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari was the winner with Irish co-driver Killian Duffy. His solitary outright MERC victory came in Qatar and the Doha driver is long overdue another win in his Ford Fiesta RRC.
In addition to other drivers from Kuwait, Germany, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, the Sultanate of Oman has attracted 10 local drivers to compete in a variety of Mitsubishis, Subarus and a Toyota. Topping a list that includes Zakariya Al-Ofi, Faisal Al-Rashdi, Humaid Al-Waili, Hamid Al-Qasmi, Haitham Al-Zadjali, Zakariya Said, Ahmed Qassim Al-Zadjali and Ehab Al-Zadali are the Subaru crew of Khalid Al-Manji and Saif Al-Aisri.
“I have competed here several times in various local rallies and the international and can honestly say that these are some of the most beautiful, flowing and challenging special stages anywhere in the world,” enthused Ulster co-driver Allan Harryman, who is co-driving for Abu Dhabi Racing’s Saeed Bintowq in one of a pair of two-wheel drive Citroën DS3 R3s on the entry list.
After Thursday afternoon’s super special stage, the competitive action switches to the remote gravel trails through the Hajar mountains and surrounding area.
There will be six special stages in the Rusayll, Misfah and Saal areas on Friday (November 6) and a further half a dozen timed tests on Saturday (November 7) around Khoud, Murayrat and Misfah before the ceremonial finish at the OAA from 4pm.