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Hail Saudi Baja: Quatar´s Nasser Al Attiyah enters Rally with X-Raid BMW.

Qatar's former FIA P-WRC winner and defending FIA Middle East rally champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has entered the Saudi Arabia Hail Baja in an official X-raid BMW X3CC, run by the German-based AlgoDyne Green Racing Team. The three-day event is being held under the patronage of HRH Prince Saud Bin Abdul Mohsen Bin Abdul Aziz, Governor of Hail, President of the Supreme Commission for Hail Development and the Head of the Supreme Commission of the Hail Rally, on February 11th-14th in the north-central region of the Kingdom.

The Qatari will team up with French X-raid co-driver Matthieu Baumel for both crew members' first motorsport event in Saudi Arabia. The car is the one that Al-Attiyah had hoped to use in January's cancelled Dakar Rally, where Baumel had been on the entry list with the rising French star Guerlain Chicherit.

"Missing out on the chance to compete in the Dakar was disappointing for the entire X-raid team," said Al-Attiyah. "But I managed to win my home rally in Qatar recently for the sixth time in six years - a new record - and that has given me great confidence for the Saudi event.

"I know that our X3 is strong, powerful and reliable and it should be perfectly suited for the desert terrain we will experience. The temperatures will be much, much lower than we faced in the UAE last year, but I am confident that we can win the event outright."

The recent Qatar special stage event was also useful experience for his co-driver: Baumel teamed up with Qatari rally driver Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah to claim third place in the overall standings on his first ever outing in the regional rally series.

"The rally in Qatar was good experience for me in the Middle East in a different rallying discipline," said Baumel. "It was very enjoyable and it was a chance to get to know Nasser better and prepare myself for the desert. Nasser is a world class driver and I am looking forward to my opportunity to compete with him in Saudi Arabia."

Adding extra spice to the event is the late entry from Nasser Khalifa Al-Attiyah, the President of the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation (QMMF), who teams up with his cousin's usual Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson to experience the challenging dunes of the Nufud desert for the first time. Nasser Khalifa and Patterson discussed the possibility of the entry in a light-hearted conversation during the recent Qatar International Rally and, according to Patterson, "the entry developed from there."

While Nasser Saleh and Baumel are two of the favourites in the 48-strong field to take victory in the Kingdom's inaugural FIA Baja event, Nasser Khalifa has been a regular competitor in special stage events across the Middle East for many years and will wheel out a powerful Land Rover. "It should be a good craic," enthused Patterson. "I have been following the Dakar for a few years and am very interested by this form of motorsport. Nasser is looking forward to it, so we will see what we can do."

Meanwhile, two regular special stage competitors from the Middle East have boosted the entry. Lebanon's Michel Saleh has been a stalwart of regional rallying for over 30 years and will tackle the Saudi event with Lebanese co-driver Joseph Mattar in a Land Rover. Saleh received an award in Doha last month for his services to FIA motorsport in the Middle East and is looking forward to the new Saudi challenge.

Kuwait's Saleh Bin Eidan was only deprived of a podium finish in the recent Qatar International Rally on the final two special stages and the Kuwaiti will be aiming for a top five result in Hail.

The event will again be based at the Maghwat facility on the outskirts of Hail where temperatures have been around 11 degrees Centigrade during the day recently, but dropping to as low as minus eight degrees at night. Scrutineering and documentation will take place on Monday, February 11th and this will be followed by the ceremonial start at Maghwat at 2pm on Tuesday, February 12th.

2008/02/12 | 08:22 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Neil Perkins

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