Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah on Friday won the Shiraz International Rally, but the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi’s challenge for a better podium finish was hit after cancellation of three stages.
Al Attiyah took the lead of the rally on stage four the previous evening and maintained that position till the end of the event on Friday.But arch rival Sheikh Khalid, driving in Shiraz for the very first time, had to battle both the adverse conditions and competition from five Qatari entries, all bent on muscling the Abu Dhabi Racing driver out from podium contention.
And the Qatari plan partially worked, with Abdullah Al Kuwari leading the pack for the first three stages on Thursday and relinquishing his position on the penultimate test to compatriot Al Attiyah.
The change of lead was significant given that Al Attiyah is leading the championship and is gunning for a 11th regional title, though his 10th trophy is in dispute and under challenge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland. The petition is yet to be listed for hearing even though it was filed way back on January 1 this year.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Khalid was running in second place on day one for the first of two tests, but a combination conditions, including torrential rain, hampered the Citroen DS3 RRC driver.
Going into the overnight halt on Thursday, Sheikh Khalid was just 45.7 seconds off Al Attiyah, but the Qataris worked successfully in tandem to push the Abu Dhabi native down to third.
After stage seven, Sheikh Khalid was just a minute behind Al Attiyah with four tests still to go and then managed to take away four seconds from Al Attiyah on stage nine.
The Shiraz rally is a new addition to the MERC, along with Oman, which expands the series to eight rounds from the previous six.
And, interestingly, not a single Iranian driver participated in their home event where only nine of the 14 registered cars started, of which just seven finished.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Khalid will head for the next round of the World Rally Championship, Rally Portugal from May 21-24, where he will get behind Citroen’s updated DS3 world rally car.