Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is used to driving under pressure, but he and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini were pushed all the way to the finish of a thrilling QMMF Qatar International Rally by fellow countryman Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari on Saturday.
Separated by just 5.5 seconds at the start of the second day, Al-Attiyah pressed home a slight advantage once Al-Kuwari and Irish navigator Killian Duffy suffered a drive shaft breakage. The nine-time MERC champion, driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, duly secured his 11th Qatar win in 12 years and his 51st MERC success on the 30th anniversary of the championship. His winning margin was 30.1 seconds.
"Everyone knows I enjoy competing here in Qatar and it's a special feeling to win here," said Al-Attiyah, the winner of six of the timed tests. "It was not easy – credit to Abdulaziz for his performance. It's always important to get points on the board for the championship and winning is always special."
Second-placed Al-Kuwari is the third generation driver from his family and is following in the footsteps of his rally driving father Sadoon and grandfather Arhema, who took part in the first Qatar Rally in 1975. "I gave it my best shot and am pleased with my performance," said the Qatari, who won five stages behind the wheel of his Fiesta RRC. "Nasser's record here speaks for itself and I am delighted to have pushed him so hard."
After first-day gearbox woes, Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Italian navigator Nicola Arena climbed into the top five in their Ford Fiesta R5, edging the Kuwaiti duo of Masoud Al-Saleh and Sulaiman Al-Helal down to fifth before Al-Saleh's Fiesta RRC retired before the final loop of three stages with gearbox issues
Drive shaft problems had sidelined Yazeed Al-Rajhi's Fiesta RRC on day one, but the Saudi hit back with consistent stage times on Saturday to secure points for fourth place after he overtook Abdullah Al-Kuwari's Fiesta R5 on the final stage.