Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Spanish co-driver Alba Sanchez Gonzalez managed their pace to perfection to seal an emphatic victory in Oman Rally Sohar International 2022, the first round of the Middle East Rally Championship.
With the hard work done on Friday's gravel stages, Al Attiyah avoided risks over the closing half dozen speed tests to secure a seventh victory in Oman by the margin of 15min 13.8sec in his Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTI. It was Al Attiyah's 79th career MERC win and gave him the perfect foundations on which to build a challenge for an 18th regional title.
Sanchez Gonzalez, who was standing in for Mathieu Baumel as Al Attiyahs co-driver, became the first female to win a round of the MERC since Veronika Havelkova partnered Vojtech Stajf to a one-off victory in Qatar in 2018. Swedens Tina Thorner had been the first female ever to win a round of the MERC alongside Al Attiyah in Qatar in 2009.
"It was important that we got off to a winning start here in Oman and I am very happy with this result," said Al Attiyah. "I was able to manage my pace today, avoid punctures and take no risks. Today was about preserving the car and protecting the lead."
"The stages are fantastic with amazing landscapes. Alba stood in for Mathieu and did a fantastic job. I am delighted for her that she has a first win in the Middle East," he added.
The man in form over the final day was a resurgent Hamed Al Wahaibi, the Omani veteran bouncing back from turbo issues at the start of day one to win five stages on Saturday. That enabled Al Wahaibi and Kiwi co-driver Tony Sircombe to finish in sixth place in their Motortune Skoda Fabia.
Czech Petr Kacirek and co-driver Vaclav Kopacek were Al Attiyahs closest rivals in their Duck Racing Skoda Fabia. Competing in his first MERC rally, the Czech reached the finish in Nakhal 2min 58.3sec ahead of the third-placed crew of Qatars Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini.
Omans Zakariya and Mohammed Al Aamri led the MERC2 category in a Subaru Impreza until mechanical issues forced them out of fourth overall on the penultimate stage. Jordans Issa Abu Jamous and Emad Juma duly moved up to fourth to win MERC2 and Ihab Al Shorafa and Yousef Juma secured fifth place and second in the category.
Cover image credit: Nasser_Dakar
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