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MERC - Vojtĕch Štajf becomes first non-Arab winner of Manateq International Rally of Qatar since 1986

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  • Dramatic fifth stage retirement for Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah
  • Adel Abdulla guides Fiesta R5 to second; Al-Kuwari wins MERC 2

Czech Vojtĕch Štajf and his female navigator Veronika Havelková created their own little piece of history on Saturday with a shock victory in the Manateq International Rally of Qatar, the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.


Following Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s retirement on the first stage of the day, Štajf cruised to an emphatic win. His success marked the first victory in the Qatar International Rally for a non-Arab driver since the late Björn Waldegård’s success with co-driver Fred Gallagher in a Toyota Celica Turbo way back in 1986. The win also marked the first for a non-Qatari driver since 2002 and the first MERC win for the Czech at the end of his debut season.


Štajf won the first stage of the day, then extended his advantage over Adel Abdulla to 1min 50sec with the fastest time through Al-Ghariyah. The Škoda Fabia R5 driver’s eventual winning margin was 4min 07.8sec. Havelková is a two-time Slovakian national champion, but this was her first event with Štajf.


The delighted Czech said: “I feel sorry for Nasser, but that happens sometimes. That is rallying. We were keeping the pace to be safe from the beginning, holding back and waiting for a possible problem for Nasser. That’s what happened. My first rally was actually in 1986 with my uncle. That’s when I decided to become a rally driver. I am so happy for my sponsors, who have supported me to experience such a hard and challenging event like Rally Qatar.


“This year’s Middle East Championship was very hard for me. All the rallies were new for me and all the events were very different. I am still learning at the age of 44, even though I have been doing rallies for 22 years. This has been a great challenge.”


Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel headed into the opening Al-Khor stage defending a lead of just over two minutes, but the Qatari’s hopes of securing a record 14th home event win were ruined just metres into the stage when the rear left-hand drive flange broke on his Ford Fiesta R5. The crew struggled to the stage finish, dropping 2min 40.9sec to new leader Štajf, but retired after the flying finish.


Qatar’s runner-up Adel Abdulla and new Lebanese navigator Ziad Chebab delivered an impressive debut performance in a Ford Fiesta R5. Adel got to grips with the increased performance quickly, although the loss of over two minutes in the seventh stage due to power steering issues cost him any realistic chance of catching Štajf.


Abdullah Al-Kuwari moved into third overall when Al-Attiyah retired and then lost over two and a half minutes with a puncture and a turbo issue in stage six. But the Qatari and his nephew Nasser Al-Kuwari secured the final podium place and won the MERC 2 category.  


Saturday’s action started in the north with a shortened stage of 13.20km at Al-Khor and this preceded the unchanged 21.16km of Al-Ghariyah special and the modified 14.22km of Al-Ruwais. The stages were repeated in the afternoon after a return to service at the Qatar Handball Stadium.


Visit Standings to view the 2018 FIA Middle East Rally Championship classifications after round 5.