Nasser Saleh al Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel cruised to the fastest time of 3min 25.6sec on the opening 3.55km super special stage of the Oman International Rally, round one of the 2020 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), on Thursday afternoon.
After the ceremonial start at the Oman Automobile Association, teams tackled the first FIA stage in Oman for five years before the action switches to the famous sinuous gravel trails in the Al Hajar mountains on Friday and Saturday.
Attiyah guided his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 to an overnight lead of 5.9 seconds with Oman’s Abdullah al Ruwahi, partnered by Jordanian navigator Ata al Hmoud, getting to grips with his Ford Fiesta R5 for the first time to snatch second place.
Kuwait’s Meshari al Thefiri continued his recent domination of the MERC 2 category into a new season with the third fastest time and the lead in the showroom section in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. He and Irish co-driver Derek O’Brien finished the stage 10.9 seconds ahead of Oman’s Zakariya Al-Ofi, who was second in MERC 2 and fifth overall, behind fourth-placed Qatari Nasser Khalifa al Attiyah and his Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.
The Lebanese duo of Henry Kahy and Rony Maroun began the driver’s defence of his ERC 3 title in solid style by holding the two-wheel drive advantage in their Skoda Fabia. Kuwait’s Jassim al Muqahwi brought up the rear of the field after incurring a jump-start penalty.
Zakariya al Amri claimed the fastest time in the National Rally that ran before the FIA protagonists took to the stage. The Omani guided his Subaru Impreza STi to a time of 3min 57sec to take a lead of 8.7 seconds over Ghaith al Qassimi into the night halt.
After official scrutineering, 11 started the FIA event and seven were permitted to take part in the National Rally.
Teams face two loops of three special stages on Friday (February 7th), starting with the first pass through the 19.20km of Al Misfah at 09.59hrs. The 16.1 km of Saal follows at 10.32hrs and precedes Madinat Al Irfan (11.6km) from 11.20hrs. The stages are repeated in the afternoon.
2019 Oman International Rally Positions after SS1
1. Nasser Saleh al Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 3min 25.6sec
2. Abdullah al Ruwahi (OMN)/Ata Hmoud (JOR) Ford Fiesta R5 3min 31.5sec
3. Meshari al Thefiri (KWT)/Derek O’Brien (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3min 35.0sec
4. Nasser Khalifa al Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 3min 42.4sec
5. Zakariya al Ofi (OMN)/Ammar Al-Balooshi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3min 45.9sec
6. Jarah al Tauqi (OMN)/Issa Al-Wardi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII 3min 48.7sec
7. Khalid al Manji (OMN)/Rony Bou Abdo (LEB) Subaru Impreza STi 3min 54.1sec
8. Abdullah al Zubair (OMN)/Emad Juma (JOR) Subaru Impreza STi 3min 54.2sec
9. Faisal al Rashdi (OMN)/Waleed al Rashdi (OMN) Subaru Impreza STi 3min 59.7sec
10. Henry Kahy (LEB)/Rony Maroun (LEB) Skoda Fabia 4min 05.8sec
11. Jassim al Muqahwi (KWT)/Thamer al Mutairi (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 4min 10.6sec