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Arab World’s No.1 Driver Steers Ford Focus WRC To 14th Victory In His Home Event


DUBAI, UAE, 15 November, 2001 – Mohammed Ben Sulayem rounded off another triumphant FIA Middle East Championship season with victory in the Dubai International Rally today to give Ford a fifth regional manufacturers’ title.

Ben Sulayem, who had clinched his 13th Middle East drivers’ crown in Syria back in September, took his Ford Focus World Rally Car to victory by 4 minutes 24 seconds over Qatar’s Hamad Al Sowaidi. It was his 14th win in his home event, his fifth victory of the season, and his 55th career win in the Middle East Championship.

While Mitsubishis filled the other four top positions, Ben Sulayem’s final mission of the season – to present the Middle East manufacturers’ championship to Ford – was never threatened.

Celebrating with co-driver Khaled Zakaria at the finish beside the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, the Ford MERC Team star said: "This is the perfect way to round off a season which marks the 100th anniversary of Ford’s debut in motor sport.

"We had a couple of punctures on the first leg, and a front driveshaft problem near the end, but the car has been fantastic again, as it has been all season."

Ben Sulayem had in fact reduced his pace in the Ford Focus WRC over the last two stages after a front driveshaft broke at the end of the 11th stage, but this could not delay his path to another comfortable victory.

Sowaidi finished 3 minutes 19 seconds ahead of another Qatari, Mubarak Al Hajri, with Cypriot Menelaos Melissas, Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al Sabban and Bahrain’s Hassan Al Saddadi completing the top six.

Cypriot Nearchos Nearchou, the new Middle East Super1600 champion, British driver Simon Nutter, UAE-based Ron Oakeley and Syrian Ramez Al Farra, were the only other finishers from 26 starters.

While Ben Sulayem took the Ford Focus WRC on another pleasure cruise to victory, Michel Saleh suffered an agonising disappointment. Lying third overnight in his Damas Toyota Celica GT-4, he was forced to retire the car before the 2nd leg re-start because of transmission problems.

The rally organisers, the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE, had earlier cancelled the 14th special stage at Dubai creek because of deteriorating conditions.

Provisional results:

1. M. Ben Sulayem / K. Zakaria (UAE/HKJ) Ford Focus WRC (A) 2hrs 6mins 35secs

2. H. Al Sowaidi / M. Morissey (QT/IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI (N) 2:10:59

3. M. Al Hajri / N. Ahmadi (QT/UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI (N) 2:14:18

4. M. Melissas / P. Shialos (CY/CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI (N) 2:29:27

5. A. Al Sabban / D.O’Gorman (SA/IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI (N) 2:42:10

6. H. Al Saddadi / Y. Al Hilli (BAH/BAH) Subaru Impressa WRX (N) 3:01:00

7. N. Nearchou / G.Paryros (CY/CY) Proton Wira (A) 3:06:02

8. S. Nutter / TBA (GB/) Opel Corsica GSI (A) 3:09:33

9. R. Oakley / J. Turner (UAE/UAE) Subaru Impreza WRX (N) 3:23:38

10. R. Al Farra / Y. Asmar (SYR/HKJ) Seat Ibiza (N) 3:58:00