DOHA // The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi missed out on victory as Qatar's Nasser Al Attiyah emerged triumphant after one of the closest battles in the history of the Qatar International Rally.
Driving his Autotek-run Ford Fiesta RRC in the traditional opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, the Qatari was made to work harder than even before for his record-breaking 10th Qatar International Rally victory and his 46th career MERC win.
Sheikh Khalid, in his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total Team DS3 car, and British navigator Scott Martin pushed Al Attiyah all the way until they suffered a flat tyre on the 10th stage.
The Qatari then pushed home his advantage over the closing kilometres to seal victory by the margin of 55.7 seconds and a maximum points' haul at the start of a new season of Middle East rallying.
"All credit to Khalid for the way he drove this week but it is fantastic for me to win," said Al Attiyah. "Winning in Qatar is always a special feeling and to take my 10th win here is superb."
Al Qassimi said: "Overall it was a fantastic event. Yes it was rough, very difficult, and I had to drive with my head. The first day I led the rally. The second day it was still a battle, and I lost first place it because of one flat tyre towards the end.
"But this is a fantastic team, a fantastic car, the atmosphere was good and I really enjoyed it. It was a good start to the year. The problem with the tyre was the only problem we had in the whole rally.
"To come here and win quite a lot of the stages [four] is very good for me. For most of the last 12 months I didn't have much time in the car after my knee operation so overall I'm pleased with the performance."
Qatar's Abdulaziz Al Kuwari and Khalid Al Suwaidi traded stage times in their Ford Fiesta RRCs and Al Kuwari, last year's winner, managed to hold his overnight lead to the finish and take the final podium position.
Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi set consistent stage times during the course of the two days and reached the finish in fifth position with British co-driver Steve Lancaster.