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Stajf is first non-Arab winner of Qatar rally since 1986.

Czech driver Vojtech Stajf (third from right) and his navigator Veronika Havelkova (third from left), winners of the Manateq International Rally of Qatar pose on the podium with runners-up Adel Abdulla (second from left) of Qatar and navigator Ziad Chebab (left), and third-placed driver Abdullah al-Kuwari and navigator Nasser al-Kuwari, both from Qatar, yesterday.

By Sports Reporter/Losail

Czech driver Vojtech Stajf and his female navigator Veronika Havelkova created their own little piece of history with a shock victory in the Manateq International Rally of Qatar, the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, yesterday. Following Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah's retirement on the first stage of the day, Stajf cruised to an emphatic win. His success marked the first victory in the Qatar International Rally for a non-Arab driver since the late Bjorn Waldegard's success with co-driver Fred Gallagher in a Toyota Celica Turbo way back in 1986. The win also marked the first for a non-Qatari driver since 2002 and the first MERC win for the Czech at the end of his debut season. Stajf won the first stage of the day and then extended his advantage over Adel Abdulla to 1min 50sec with the fastest time through Al Ghariyah. The Skoda Fabia R5 driver's eventual winning margin was 4min 07.8sec. Havelkova is a two-time Slovakian national champion, but this was her first event with Stajf. The delighted Czech said: "I feel sorry for Nasser, but that happens sometimes. That is rallying. We were keeping the pace to be safe from the beginning, holding back and waiting for a possible problem for Nasser. That's what happened. My first rally was actually in 1986 with my uncle. That's when I decided to become a rally driver. I am so happy for my sponsors, who have supported me to experience such a hard and challenging event like Rally Qatar. "This year's Middle East Championship was very hard for me. All the rallies were new for me and all the events were very different. I am still learning at the age of 44, even though I have been doing rallies for 22 years. This has been a great challenge." Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel headed into the opening Al Khor stage defending a lead of just over two minutes, but the Qatari's hopes of securing a record 14th home event win were ruined just metres into the stage when the rear left-hand drive flange broke on his Ford Fiesta R5. The crew struggled to the stage finish, dropping 2min 40.9sec to new leader Stajf, but retired after the flying finish. Al-Attiyah said: "The upright was completely broken. Maybe it was some damage when we had a puncture in Kuwait. It was the same corner. It is bad luck. The problem was from the start of the stage. There was a vibration. We did 300 metres and stopped to check if it was a flat tyre. We saw nothing and decided to keep going to the finish. The wheel was completely stuck and we only had three wheels. We let Vojtech pass and we finished behind him. But it was over for us." Qatar's runner-up Adel Abdulla and new Lebanese navigator Ziad Chebab delivered an impressive debut performance in a Ford Fiesta R5. Abdulla got to grips with the increased performance quickly, although the loss of over two minutes in the seventh stage because of power steering issues cost him any realistic chance of catching Stajf. Abdulla said: "This is a very good result for me. We pushed a little for the first two stages this morning and then we lost the power steering after two kilometres. It was hard to turn in the tight corners and we threw away a lot of time." Abdullah al-Kuwari moved into third overall when al-Attiyah retired and then lost over two and a half minutes with a puncture and a turbo issue in stage six. But the Qatari and his nephew Nasser al-Kuwari secured the final podium place and won the MERC 2 category. Mohamed al-Meer was unable to capitalise on al-Kuwari's delays when he suffered his own time loss in Al Ghariyah. He and Ahmad al-Fares reached the finish in fourth. MERC 3 champion Henry Kahy and Jordanian navigator Musa Djiyerian wrapped up an excellent season with another impressive display in their two-wheel drive Skoda Fabia 1.6. Kahy was classified in sixth overall after losing fifth on the penultimate stage. Qatar's Rashed al-Mohannadi and Jordanian co-driver Yousef Juma finished fifth after Kahy suffered technical issues near the end and slipped to sixth place. Overall classification (top 5) 1. Vojtech Stajf (CZE)/Veronika Havelkova (CZE) Skoda Fabia R5 1hr 39min 46.7sec 2. Adel Hussein (QAT)/Ziad Chehab (LEB) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 43min 54.5sec 3. Abdullah al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nasser al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 52min 48.0sec 4. Mohamed al-Meer (QAT)/Ahmad al-Fares (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 13min 57.1sec 5. Rashid al-Mohannadi (QAT)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hrs 20min 27.8sec 2018 FIA MERC overall standings (top 10) 1. Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah (QAT) 153pts 2. Vojtech Stajf (CZE) 131pts 3. Meshari al-Thefiri (KWT) 59pts 4. Roger Feghali (LBN) 38pts 5. Henry Kahy (LBN) 33pts 6. Khaled Juma (JOR) 32pts 7. Adel Abdulla (QAT) 29pts 8. Christos Demostheous (CYP) 25pts 9. Abdullah al-Kuwari (QAT) 24pts 10. Rodolphe Asmar (LBN) 24pts 2018 FIA MERC 2 standings (top 10) 1. Meshari al-Thefiri (KWT) 117pts 2. Khaled Juma (JOR) 49pts 3. Abdullah al-Kuwari (QAT) 39pts 4. Savvas Savva (CYP) 37pts 5. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR) 33pts 6. Costas Zenonos (CYP) 30pts 7. Mohamed al-Meer (QAT) 29pts 8. Ahmed Shaban (JOR) 25pts 8. George Englezou (CYP) 25pts 10. Rashid al-Mohannadi (QAT) 24pts 10. Nasser Khalifa al-Attiyah (QAT) 24pts

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Nov 18, 2018
Words:973
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