25 February 2014

MERC Middle East Rally Championship 2014

The FIA Middle East Rally Championship got underway again at the weekend in Qatar.
Despite being short on luck at the season’s opening rally, Khalid Al-Qassimi and Chris Patterson nonetheless claimed a podium spot in their Citroën DS3 RRC.
Among the Abu Dhabi Racing – Citroën Middle East Trophy drivers, Mohamed Al-Mutawaa enjoyed the best performance, winning the “two-wheel drive” category and grabbing sixth place in the overall standings.

The Qatar International Rally began on Thursday evening with the super special stage held on the Doha Corniche. Khalid Al-Qassimi and Chris Patterson set the fastest time to become the early leaders of the event.

The following day, the Citroën DS3 RRC crew lost ground on the local drivers: “The marking of the stages was often quite vague and that had a significant impact on my performance level. In contrast, the Qatari drivers seemed very comfortable and are more used to the stages. I was also trying to avoid picking up any punctures, which are easy to get when the road surface is as hard on the tyres as it is here.”

More comfortable on the second runs, Khalid Al-Qassimi reduced the gap to his rivals, especially having altered his car’s suspension settings. However, a radiator leak then cost him close to two minutes on the day’s penultimate stage. “We managed to repair the radiator and replace the coolant with water from our water bottles,” explained the Abu Dhabi driver. “We turned up late at the start and completed SS6 at a much slower speed. The main thing was that we avoided having to retire and held onto third position.”

From that point onwards, the aim was to hold onto the final podium spot on the second leg. After demonstrating his potential by winning SS8, Khalid set a good series of times. Over the course of the day, he even managed to close the gap to the leader.

“Once again, I had to deal with the fact that the course was not always clearly marked. But I’m pleased to have set some good times. It augurs well for the next few rallies,” concluded the DS3 RRC driver.

With five Citroën DS3 R3s entered for the Abu Dhabi Racing – Citroën Middle East Trophy drivers, the “two-wheel drive” category also provided plenty of excitement at the rally. Making the most of the experience they acquired last season, Mohamed Al-Mutawaa and Mohamed Al-Sahlawi quickly moved clear at the front. The former was the more consistent of the leading pair: he ended the first leg in sixth position in the overall standings, whilst his rival held eighth place.

Quicker than his all his team-mates on SS6, Saeed Bintouq produced the best performance of the three rookies. He ended day one in twelfth overall. Hampered by a series of punctures, Juma Al Falasi and Mansoor Bel Helei were forced to retire, but were able to contest the second leg under Rally2 rules.

Mohamed Al-Sahlawi produced a stunning performance on Saturday morning to rack up three category stage wins. However, Mohamed Al-Mutawaa held his nerve as he hit back on the second runs to go on to take the category win. In finishing sixth and seventh overall, the DS3 R3s showed their versatility on one of the most difficult courses in rallying. Saeed Bintouq’s hopes of completing the rally were dashed after he went off, whilst Mansoor Bel Helei and Juma Al Falasi made it to the finish.

The next round of the MERC will be held in Kuwait on March 20-21.


1. Al-Attiyah / Bernacchini (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:13:11.4
2. Al-Kuwari / Duffy (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:13:41.5
3. Al-Qassimi / Patterson (Citroën DS3 RRC) 2:16:04.6
4. Al-Rajhi / Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:38:31.3
5. Al-Kuwari / Arena (Ford Fiesta R5) 2:39:01.2
6. Al-Mutawaa / McAuley (Citroën DS3 R3) 2:47:00.4
7. Al-Sahlawi / Parry (Citroën DS3 R3) 2:49:29.9
8. Ala:a / Matar (Ford Fiesta R5) 2:54:46.3
9. Meshari / Fahad (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) 3:03:52.8
10. Bel Helei / Al-Kendi (Citroën DS3 R3) 3:13:11.1
11. Al-Falasi / Higgins (Citroën DS3 R3) 3:23:35.8

Marie-Pierre Rossi
Media Abu Dhabi Citroën World Rally Team

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Media & Comunication TGS Worldwide
Media Toni Gardemeister Driving Academy
Rally Report Magazine Argentina

Photos: André Lavadinho

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