Tribune News Network
The 2023 Oman International Rally gets underway with a ceremonial start at Muscat Drift Arena from 15.00hrs on Thursday afternoon. This will then be followed by a 3.01km super special stage, starting at 16.07hrs.
The Oman Automobile Association’s (OAA) flagship motor sporting event will kick start the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) once again, with competitors from nine nations set to tackle 13 gravel special stages over the weekend before the finish back at the Muscat Drift Arena on Saturday afternoon. In a route of 613.06km, 229.98km will be timed against the clock.
The defending regional champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and his Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel top an FIA field of 15 cars. The Qatari will be hoping to earn a record-breaking eighth success on the Oman event to add to his previous wins in 2003-2006, 2015, 2020 and 2022.
Baumel has enjoyed the top step of the podium on two occasions, with Steve Lancaster and Chris Patterson also earning two wins apiece and Spanish girl Alba Sanchez Gonzalez partnering Al Attiyah last year when Baumel was side lined through illness.
Competition for theVolkswagen Polo GTi crew comes from the Oman Rally Team’s Abdullah Al Rawahi and his Jordanian co-driver Ata Al Hmoud. They won the Oman event in 2021, the feat making Al Rawahi the second ever Omani national to win a round of the MERC as a driver.
The Czech crew of Petr Kacirek and Petra Rihakova wheel out a Duck Racing Skoda Fabia and Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al Atya and Italian team-mate Giovanni Bernacchini crew a Ford Fiesta R5.
While the Rally2 quartet should fight it out for overall victory, there is strength in depth in an MERC2 section where the multiple champion Meshari Al Thefiri will be hoping to win back a title that was fought out between the Jordanian duo of Issa Abu Jamous and Ihab Al-Shorafa in 2022.
Ninth and 10th generations of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution dominate a category that will also see three further Jordanian drivers - Shadi Shaban, Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez and Shaker Jweihan – take the start.
Local hopes rest on the shoulders of Abdullah Al Zubair and Zakariya Al Aamri in a pair of Subaru Imprezas, while Kuwait’s Mohammed Al Zafiri and Yousef Al Dhefiri and Lebanon’s Ahmad Khaled add strength in depth to the fight for honours in their Mitsubishis.
A national rally will run behind the main FIA event and has attracted a provisional nine starters (subject to final scrutineering).
Haitham Al Soomar and Wael Al Shabani topped the standings in 2022 in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII and return to battle against the likes of Ghaith Al Qasmi and Salim Al Touqi and a Subaru for Faisal Al Rashdi.
There are also a trio of Yamaha YXZs for Oman’s Mohammed Al Mazroui and Mutasim Al Balushi and Lebanon’s Alain Nawfal, while Abdullah Al Toqi teams up with Austrian WRC star co-driver Ilka Minor in a Toyota Yaris.