Last season’s championship runner-up Abdullah al Rawahi of Oman had to endure disappointment on the second day of the 2021 Qatar International Rally, the first leg of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, in Losail, Qatar, on Saturday.
Driving a Ford Fiesta and competing in the R5 class, the Omani driver’s car suffered a broken steering arm to force him into retirement, failing even to complete the special stage on Saturday.
Rawahi is a young talent on the MERC scene and graduated from MERC 2 to drive a fully-fledged R5 car last year. The Omani is working with his Oman Rally Team and Jordanian
navigator Ata al Hmoud with technical advice from 14-time Rally of Lebanon winner Roger Feghali. Rawahi finished as runner-up to Nasser Saleh al Attiyah in last year’s MERC.
On Saturday, defending regional champion Nasser Saleh al Attiyah took full advantage of late problems for Ulsterman Kris Meeke to hammer home his advantage after a fascinating four gravel special stages.
The two rivals shared a pair of stage wins apiece through the northern deserts and were separated by 10.3 seconds before the last action of the day. Meeke and English navigator Sebastian Marshall damaged the underside of their Škoda Fabia R5 after a heavy landing over a jump and were forced to stop after the stage.
The actual time loss was only 46.9 seconds, but the radiator had failed after the impact and damaged the intercooler. Rather than risk damaging the engine more seriously, Meeke stopped the Fabia on the road section and had to be towed back to Losail with hefty time penalties later awarded that will drop him down to sixth place on Sunday’s restart under Rally2 rules.
That drama enabled Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel to guide their Autotek Volkswagen Golf GTi R5 to the night halt with a 1min 40.6sec advantage over Abdulaziz al Kuwari and new Irish co-driver James Fulton in their Škoda Fabia R5. Kuwari, the 2012 Qatar International Rally winner, finished the day comfortably clear of third-placed Khalid al Suwaidi and his navigator Hugo Maghalães.
Nasser Khalifa al Atya also benefited from Meeke’s issues and climbed to fourth overall with Kuwait’s Meshari al Thefiri driving impressively into fifth place and a comfortable lead in MERC 2. Sheikh Suhaim al Thani belied his lack of rallying experience to post an impressive debut drive to sixth in the Motorsport Italia-run Škoda.
Oman’s Zakariya al Aufi was seventh and second in MERC 2 and Saudi Arabia’s Salef al Saif led the FIA T4 section in his Can-Am with eighth.
The third Omani driver in fray, Zakariya al Amri was excluded for taking a short cut on one of the stages.