Qatar throws hat into rally ring with Al Attiyah
Qatar could be the Gulf's new representative in the World Rally Championship (WRC) next year after it was announced Wednesday that Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will join the Qatar-backed Citroen.
The Qatari is finalising a deal which will see him drive alongside Sebastien Loeb, the eight-time world champion, and Mikko Hirvonen in one of three Citroen Total World Rally Team cars, which will all carry Qatar branding.
Hirvonen has moved from the Ford Abu Dhabi team, whose four-year deal with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) has expired. Hirvonen replaces Sebastien Ogier, the French driver, who signed a three-year contract with Volkswagen.
Amid conjecture that ADTA are poised to end their involvement in the sport, Ford are yet to announce their plans for next season.
The ADTA were unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The investment from Qatar into the sport raises the prospect of the country's motorsport officials one day bidding to stage a WRC round, something that eluded Abu Dhabi.
Qatar have already demonstrated their ambition to bring major sporting eventsto the country by winning the rights to host the Fifa Football World Cup and securing other blue-riband events such as ATP tennis, European Tour golf and Diamond League Athletics.
They also just lost out to London in the bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships.
Should Qatar host a stage of the WRC it would afford Al Attiyah the chance to compete in his home rally, an opportunity denied to Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, the Abu Dhabi driver who has competed in a Ford Abu Dhabi works car for the last four-and-a-half years.
The ADTA failed to win the right to stage a WRC round in each of the past two years. While the career of Sheikh Khalid remains up in the air, the future looks bright for Al Attiyah, the 2011 Dakar Rally winner. "He's a very, very good driver and I'm happy for him," said Mohammed ben Sulayem, the FIA vice president and president of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE. "We're proud to have an Arab driver to represent this region in the World Rally Championship, and I'm sure he will do well."
Al Attiyah said the victory in Dakar was the seminal performance of his career.
"That was a great moment for me, to be the first Arab winner of a rally which so many others have tried to win over the years," he said. "It has opened a lot of doors for me. It means I can continue in the Dakar, and also that I have a new opportunity in the WRC."
The Qatari will contest all 13 rounds of the WRC and also line up in six of seven scheduled rounds of the FIA Middle East Championship, missing out only on the Cyprus Rally, which clashes with the WRC event in Spain.
His immediate priority is the 33rd Dubai International Rally on December 1-3, where he needs a seventh-place finish to secure his seventh FIA Middle East title.
"I'm going to Dubai to win the rally, not finish seventh," Al Attiyah said.
"But I must be clever as I want to make sure of the championship. I always enjoy driving in the Dubai Rally. It's the last rally of the season and it's a special event for me."
* Compiled by The National staff
Published: November 24, 2011 04:00 AM