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We will be stronger next year, warns Stajf

 Czech driver Vojtech Stajf yesterday produced an upset win over home hero Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah on the final day of the Manateq Rally of Qatar and then quickly promised to give it another shot next year. The 44-year-old became the first non-Arab to win the final round of this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship in more than 32 years after Qatari star Al Attiyah – a two-time Dakar Rally winner – pulled out of the race early yesterday.
We will be stronger next year, warns Stajf

The last team to win the Qatar leg of the Middle East Championship was late Bjorn Waldegard and co-driver Fred Gallagher in their Toyota Celica Turbo way back in 1986.

After the pulsating challenge across the deserts in Qatar, Stajf and his female navigator Veronika Havelkova yesterday were crowned champions at a spectacular prize distribution ceremony held at Souq Waqif in front of a huge crowd.

“To win in the home event of Nasser is a big achievement,” Stajf said after the race. “Our rivals will have to be well prepared next year because we will be stronger,” Stajf warned.

“To win over Nasser at his home event is quite a miracle here I would say,” he said. “In rallying anything can happen. We started the rally with caution as we were trying to avoid making any serious mistakes,” he said.

“There were different stages and after the crash in Kuwait Rally, my team got a better car,”  Stajf said. “Thanks to my teams for the role they played. This year we did really well. It has been a special year for us,” he said.

“We are a Czech team with a great car and we deserved to win here,” he said.

Stajf praised his co-driver Veronika, a two-time Slovakian national champion.

“When I mentioned that we will racing in the desert she was all overwhelmed,” he joked. “She has done a great job. I was looking for a good navigator and I found a good driver,” Stajf said with a smile.
Stajf said retirements in off-road challenges can happen.

“I feel sorry for Nasser, but that happens sometimes. That is rallying,” Stajf, who was behind the wheel of his Skoda Fabia R5, said.

“We were keeping the pace to be safe from the beginning, holding back and waiting for a possible problem for Nasser. That’s what happened. My first rally was actually in 1986 with my uncle. That’s when I decided to become a rally driver.

“I am so happy for my sponsors, who have supported me to experience such a hard and challenging event like Rally Qatar.

“This year’s Middle East Championship was very hard for me. All the rallies were new for me and all the events were very different. I am still learning at the age of 44, even though I have been doing rallies for 22 years. This has been a great challenge.”

“We decided to go for the challenge for the while year. Each rally was different. Races had different pace,” Stajf said yesterday.

Despite the win, Al Attiyah still finished the season as the overall winner of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. The Qatari sealed the MERC title triumph – 14th overall – at the Rally of Kuwait two weeks ago.

Source: The Peninsula