Oman’s Al-Rawahi and Ulster’s Kris Meeke round off podium places, while Østberg, Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi retired on dramatic final day.
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah overcame one of the most difficult challenges of his career at the Qatar International Rally to record a 16th victory at his home event and achieve a stunning milestone of 80 wins in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) since 2003.
Driving his customary Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTI, Al-Attiyah only hit the front on the eighth of 12 gravel special stages in the Qatar deserts and survived a front puncture in stage nine to press home his advantage over the final three stages. Mads Østberg pushed him all the way to the penultimate stage, but Al-Attiyah hung on doggedly and eventually secured a winning margin of 4min 38.4sec after the Norwegian retired.
The success was a 28th for co-driver Mathieu Baumel in the MERC and his fifth in Qatar, while Al-Attiyah’s 80th success as a driver equalled the number of wins achieved last month by French legend Sébastien Loeb in the FIA World Rally Championship.
“It is a good feeling,” said Al-Attiyah, who duly extended his lead in the regional series. “I am really happy to win Qatar Rally. This is my home and in front of my people. This was not an easy race. It was tricky. The pace that we did from yesterday to today, me and Kris and Mads, was very hard. This was a fantastic win. I was trying to keep one pace. It was amazing.”
Østberg and Ilka Minor certainly took the fight to Al-Attiyah, led overnight and extended their advantage on the first stage of the morning. The Norwegian lost his way for a few seconds in stage eight and then a rear puncture cost him his lead before the regroup. He pushed hard during the afternoon to try and hunt down a charging Al-Attiyah, but it was in vain and a heavy impact in the penultimate stage damaged the Škoda Fabia R2 evo, caused a water leak from a fractured pipe and sidelined the former FIA WRC2 World Champion within sight of the finish.
Oman’s Abdullah Al-Rawahi was patient and stayed clear of trouble as chaos ensued around him. He and Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud were rewarded with a stunning second place in their Oman Rally Team-run Škoda Fabia R2 evo and a useful haul of championship points.
Andorra-based Ulsterman Kris Meeke and co-driver Chris Patterson led after two stages on Friday before rolling out of contention for the win in stage four. Meeke climbed from fifth to third during the final day and then overcame a damper issue on the final loop of three stages to regain third overall and the final place on the podium.
Transmission issues accounted for Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and cost the Qatari a potential podium finish, while a broken wheel hub was the cause of Khaled Ak-Suwaidi’s retirement from fifth overall.
Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri was the class of the MERC2 field in his fourth-placed Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. He and co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari completely dominated the category to secure a winning margin of 11min 56.5sec over Oman’s Zakariya and Mohammed Al-Aamri.
Jordan’s Issa Abu Jamous moved ahead of fellow countryman Ihab Al-Shorafa on the final loop of stages, when the latter suffered tyre issues. They reached the finish in sixth and seventh overall. Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Attiyah was eighth and Germany’s Edith Weiss came home in ninth.
Action in the 2022 FIA Middle East Rally Championship resumes in Kuwait on March 17th-19th.
2022 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS12 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Volkswagen Polo GTI 1hr 44min 44.5sec
2. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia R2 evo 1hr 49min 22.9sec
3. Kris Meeke (AND)/Chris Patterson (IRL) Škoda Fabia R2 evo 1hr 50min 51.5sec
4. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 08min 19.3sec
5. Zakariya Al-Aamri (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Aamri (OMN) Subaru Impreza 2hr 20min 15.8sec
6. Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 28min 50.2sec
7. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hr 29min 53.3sec
8. Mohammed Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Savvas Laos (CYP) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 32min 48.3sec
9. Edith Weiss (QAT)/Serena Mattivi (ITA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hr 34min 32.9sec
(note: entry nationalities determined by competition licence as per regulations)
14 starters, nine finishers