Qatar’s Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah and his stand-in Spanish co-driver Alba Sanchez Gonzalez began their new partnership in winning style by setting the fastest time of 3min 42.8sec through the opening super special stage of Oman Rally Sohar International on Thursday afternoon.
Bidding to win a remarkable 18 FIA Middle East Rally Championship titles since 2003, the recent Dakar Rally winner flung his Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTI through the narrow dusty corners of the graded opening test and moved into a 3.3-second lead over Oman’s Hamed al-Wahaibi and Kiwi co-driver Tony Sircombe in their Motortune-run Skoda Fabia Evo.
Nine FIA entrants and four cars running in the Oman National Rally Championship were flagged away from a revised ceremonial start at Nakhal before crews tackled the opening 3.90km super special stage with the spectacular backdrop of the rugged mountains to one side and the urban Nakhal area to the other.
Sunny and slightly windy conditions prevailed, as the defending Oman Rally champion Abdullah al-Rawahi and Jordanian navigator Ata al-Hmoud carded the third fastest time in their Skoda Fabia. The youngster finished just 5.4 seconds adrift of his local rival to set up the prospect of a thrilling tussle for the podium places over the weekend.
Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa al-Atya teamed up with the experienced Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini to hold fourth place in a Ford Fiesta R5. MERC debutant Petr Kacirek and co-driver Vaclav Kopacek safely negotiated the opening stage in their Duck Racing Skoda Fabia in fifth.
The opening stage ran in reverse order and the Jordanian pairing of Issa Abu Jamous and Emad Juma were the first crew into the stage. They carded a target time of 4min 15.3sec and that put them into sixth at the night halt.
The local crew of Jarah al-Touqi and Issa al-Wardi were second quickest of the MERC2 contingent in their Subaru Impreza and held seventh overall.
Oman’s Zakariya and Mohamed al-Aamri were eighth and Jordan’s Ihab al-Shorafa and Yousef Juma rounded off the FIA contingent in ninth place.
Oman’s Haitham al-Hadidi and Saif al-Hinai drew first blood on the national rally that ran behind the main field.
The bulk of the competitive action takes place over 12 timed special stages today and tomorrow before the ceremonial finish and post-event press conference take place at Nakhal from 15.25hrs on Saturday afternoon.
positions after SS1
1. Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah (QAT)/Alba Sanchez Gonzzlez (ESP) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 3min 42.8sec; 2. Hamed al-Wahaibi (OMN)/Tony Sircombe (NZL) Skoda Fabia R5 3min 46.1sec; 3. Abdullah al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata al-Hmoud (JOR) Skoda Fabia R5 3min 51.5sec; 4. Nasser Khalifa al-Atya (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 4min 09.9sec; 5. Petr Kacirek (CZE)/Václav Kopá?ek (CZE) Skoda Fabia R5 4min 11.0sec; 6. Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 4min 15.3sec; 7. Jarah al-Touqi (OMN)/Issa al-Wardi (OMN) Subaru Impreza 4min 26.3sec; 8. Zakariya al-Aamri (OMN)/Mohamed al-Aamri (OMN) Subaru Impreza 4min 32.5sec; 9. Ihab al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 4min 35.7sec
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