Al Attiyah’s magnificent seven

Multi-talented Nasser Al Atiyyah wins the Dubai International Rally for the seventh year on the trot as Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi comes up just short.

Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah on his way to victory in Dubai International Rally. Courtesy Dubai International Rally
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Qatari secures yet another Dubai title
Dominance continues as Emirati Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi's bid runs out of steam
DUBAI // Winner of nine Middle East Rally Championships (Merc) and seven Dubai International Rally titles in a row, Nasser Al Attiyah is the master of the sport in this part of the world.
He is the only Arab to win the gruelling Dakar Rally and his typical year involves defending his Merc crown, competing in the World Rally Championship and driving at different cross-country events around the globe.
It is a demanding schedule, one that would exhaust most individuals, but the Qatari, 42, still finds time to represent his country at other forums. He is a renowned shooter and has flown his country's flag at five Olympic Games, returning with a skeet bronze from the 2012 London Games.
Last month, he made his debut in powerboats, alongside experienced Italian throttle man Matteo Nicolini, at the Key West World Championships in Florida. His Spirit of Qatar boat finished second.
Given the demands of rallying, some wonder how he finds time to pursue his other passions and be successful as well. It must be in his DNA.
"No, it is not in genes," he said with a smile yesterday after finishing 18.2 seconds ahead of Emirati ace Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi to defend his Dubai crown.
"I just love challenges, and I love representing my country. Perhaps that is the main reason. We get a lot of support from the Qatar ruling family and this is a great motivation for me. It keeps me focused, and I feel I have to keep pushing myself to excel and represent my country in a good way."
That desire to excel was evident in the final leg of the Merc. Al Attiyah had already assured himself of the title with four wins in the previous five rounds. Coming to Dubai, he led the championship with 118 points to Al Qassimi's 69. But he refused to take his foot off the pedal.
Finishing Day 1 with a lead of 29.7 seconds over Al Qassimi, Al Attiyah watched the Emirati ace blaze to victories in the opening four stages yesterday and come to within 15.4 seconds of the leader with two stages to go.
Al Attiyah, however, took the final two stages to cut short Al Qassimi's rally. There was more frustration for the Emirati as he suffered a double puncture shortly after completing the final stage, which forced him out of the event.
Al Qassimi's departure allowed Qatar's Misfer Almarri, who finished 5 minutes 33.6 seconds behind the winner, to step up a spot on the podium while the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, brother of Sheikh Khalid, took third spot.
"I gave it everything I had today," said Sheikh Khalid, who also finished second on the Merc's season points list. "I thought I still had a chance after the first four stages, so it was a disappointing way to finish. But that is rallying."
With his Merc campaign done and dusted, Al Attiyah will now turn his attention to shooting. He wants to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and is hoping to win a gold this time.
"This is my main target now, because after winning the bronze medal in London, my focus is on winning the gold medal," he said. "This is my dream."
There will be a few of powerboat races on his schedule as well, but rallying will remain at the top of his "priority list".
That, probably, is not good news for the region's budding drivers. But Al Attiyah served his apprenticeship in the era of the mighty Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and he is building a dynasty of his own.