(MENAFN- The Peninsula)
NICOSIA, CYPRUS: Multiple-time regional champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah of Qatar (Volkswagen) will lead a stellar line-up when the 2021 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) returns at this weekend's Nicosia-based Cyprus Rally.
Al Attiyah and his French navigator Mathieu Baumel are at the top of the MERC rankings following their second-place finish in the Lebanon International Rally two weeks ago.
The fourth round of the regional rally will also see Al Attiyah's cousin Nasser Khalifa Al Atya (Ford), Oman Rally Team's Abdullah Al Rawahi, Turkey's Raul Denktas (Hyundai i20), the local Petrolina Racing Team duo of Alex Tsouloftas and Simos Galatariotis in their Volkswagen Polo R5s in a strong 32-car field that includes numerous local drivers.
Omani rallying legend Hamed Al Wahaibi will return to international rallying action after a 10-year absence in MERC.
Making a comeback after his last race in 2011 where he competed in the Dubai International Rally in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, Al Wahaibi's original return to action was curtailed by a testing accident in Jordan back in May. But the Omani is relishing the challenge of taking on the notoriously demanding gravel stages in Cyprus.
The 53-year-old carried out testing on the island on Tuesday and yesterday with New Zealand navigator Tony Sircombe, his former co-driver on rounds of the WRC.
“I am excited to be back in Cyprus again after all these years,” said Al Wahaibi.“It is such a great place with very good people and culture. The roads are fantastic, but very slow and twisty. It requires a different rhythm. There is a different flow. A different driving technique is needed here.
“The team is good, the car feels great. What happened in Jordan was a setback for me. That's why here it is like starting again at my first event.”
Al Wahaibi will drive a Motortune-run Škoda Fabia 1.6 with logistical support from Asyad Express, an Omani delivery and logistics company, and Sandan (a new industrial area near Muscat).
This year's Cyprus Rally gets underway with a ceremonial start at 19.00hrs in Nicosia city centre tomorrow evening. The Cyprus Automobile Association (CAA) has then laid on 12 gravel stages over the weekend.
Two loops of three stages of 6.19km (Nikatari), 20.07km (Kapouras) and 21.21km (Kourdali) make up the opening leg on Saturday. Crews will tackle three sinuous stages of 13.01km (Lythrodontas), 19.02km (Ayios Ephifanios) and 10.96km (Ayia Marina) on two occasions on Sunday.
The ceremonial finish is scheduled for 18.00hrs in Nicosia.
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