This page contains archived information and may not display perfectly

MERC - WRC regulars Mikkelsen, Lindholm and Østberg add Scandinavian sparkle to Qatar International Rally


Defending champion Al-Attiyah heads quality international field

Record nine Rally2 cars set for second round of regional rally series

Norwegian WRC stars Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Østberg and flying Finn Emil Lindholm have added a little touch of Scandinavian sparkle to an impressive entry list announced today by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) for next weekend’s Qatar International Rally (February 16th-18th).

The second round of the 2023 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has attracted 24 cars in the FIA field and competitors from 13 nations, in addition to teams competing in a national status event running behind the main rally.

While Østberg will be taking part in the event for a second successive season after retiring from the outright lead in 2022, both Mikkelsen and Lindholm will be competing in Qatar for the first time. Mads has also previously tackled the Jordan round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The Scandinavians will drive a trio of Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evos run on the event by Sports Racing Technologies (SRT), the team which also ran Østberg and Kris Meeke in Qatar last February.

Thirty-five-year-old Østberg’s solitary WRC win came in Portugal back in 2012, but the Norwegian has won 65 WRC special stages, the 2020 FIA WRC2 Championship with PH Sport and finished second in 2021 with the TRT World Rally Team. As a factory driver with Citroën, he also finished as runner-up in the 2019 WRC2 Pro series. In 2022, the Norwegian won the Hungarian Rally Championship. Sweden’s Patrik Barth is his regular co-driver.

Like Østberg, Mikkelsen, 33, is an experienced WRC campaigner and a multiple WRC event winner. His best three WRC performances netted wins in Spain in 2015 and Poland and Australia in 2016 with the official Volkswagen team. He also claimed the 2011 and 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge titles and won both the FIA WRC2 title and the FIA European Rally Championship in 2021. Torstein Eriksen will co-drive for his fellow countryman.

Lindholm is the youngest and least experienced of the three Scandinavians, although the 26-year-old is the defending FIA WRC2 champion. He claimed category wins last year in Finland and Greece and finished third in Croatia, Estonia and Japan. Thirty-four-year old Finnish female Reeta Hämäläinen will co-drive for Emil.

For the third year, Al-Attiyah and his Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel will face WRC competition on the defending champion’s home rally. Al-Attiyah has 16 victories under his belt in Qatar, although he will start the rally from second place in the regional championship after missing out on victory to Abdullah Al-Rawahi in Oman last month.

The home challenge has been boosted by a pair of QMMF Rally Team entries for the 2012 event winner Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Khalid Al-Suwaidi, a two-time winner of the Kuwait International Rally. They drive two further Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evos, with Abdulaziz’s father Sadoon entered in a QMMF-backed Volkswagen Polo GTI Rally2, as the veteran celebrates 40 years as an active competitor.

MERC series leader Abdullah Al-Rawahi will be seeking valuable championship points in his quest for a maiden regional title and Qatari veteran Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya rounds off the Rally2 entrants in his Ford Fiesta R5.

Eleven derivatives of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and a pair of Subaru Impreza STIs will contest the FIA MERC2 category. Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri claimed the winner’s laurels in Oman last month and heads a field that includes fellow countryman Yousef Al-Dhafeeri and the Jordanian sextet of Shaker Jweihan, Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez, Issa Abu Jamous, Ihab Al-Shorafa, Shadi Shaban and Sami Fleifel.

The MERC2 field is boosted by Lebanese drivers, Ahmad Khaled and Jad Al-Aawar, and a QMMF-supported Mitsubishi in the hands of local driver Abdullah Al-Rabban and a QMMF-backed Subaru for Rashid Al-Muhannadi.

T4 cross-country cars are also eligible for the MERC and Italy’s Stefano Marrini (Can-Am) and Qatar’s Khalid Al-Muhannadi (Polaris) will duel for class honours.

The rally is again being held under the chairmanship of QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, senior committee member Abdulrazaq Al-Kuwari and the QMMF’s Executive Director Amro Al-Hamad.

“We are delighted to announce a formidable entry for Qatar’s round of the regional rally championship,” said Amro Al-Hamad. “This is the third year we have attracted some top names from the WRC and we have a record nine Rally2 cars in the field, including five drivers from Qatar. We have two winners of WRC rallies, the last three WRC2 winners, our five-time Dakar Rally winner and four drivers who have previously won rounds of the MERC.”

Officials at the QMMF have laid on a slightly revised three-day format that offers 13 timed special stages and 209.69km competitive kilometres in a route of 618.52km.

The competitive action fires into life with a new floodlit 3.27km super special stage at Lusail, starting at 20.00hrs next Thursday evening (February 16th).

2023 Qatar International Rally – leading entries:

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND)Volkswagen Polo GTI
2. Emil Lindholm (FIN)/Reeta Hämäläinen (FIN)Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
3. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR)Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
4. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Patrik Barth (SWE)    Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
5. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR)Škoda Fabia Evo
6. Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA)Ford Fiesta R5
7. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Lorcan Moore (IRL)Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
8. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Hugo Magalhães (PRT)Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
9. Sadoon Al-Kuwari (QAT)/TBAVolkswagen Polo GTI
10. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
11. Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Nancy Al-Majali (JOR)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
12. Yousef Al-Dhafeeri (KWT)/Carlos Hanna (LEB)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
14. Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR)Mitsubishi Lanver Evo X
15. Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Yazan Juma (JOR)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
16. Zakariya Al-Aamri (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Mazroui OMN)Subaru Impreza WRX STI
17. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
18. Rashid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Fares Allouh (QAT)Subaru Impreza STI
19. Jad Al-Aawar (LEB)/Vicken Kanledjian (LEB)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
20. Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Samer Sfeir (LEB)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
21. Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
22. Abdullah Al-Rabban (QAT)/Hassan Ali Obaid (ARE)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
23. Sami Fleifel (JOR)/Ahmed Al-Khatab (JOR)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII
24. Stefano Marrini (ITA)/Stefano Tiraboschi (ITA)Can-Am Maverick X3
25. Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Pedro Santos (PRT)Polaris Pro XP