Rally – Could M-Sport be saved by Qatar?

Nasser Al-Attiyah and the Qatar World Rally Team at the 2012 ADAC Rallye Deutschland.  Photo courtesy of WRC.com.

You might remember rumors back in August that Qatari native Nasser Al-Attiyah was planning to buy the 8 times manufacturer championship title holder Citroen World Rally Team. Nasser has already competing this season in a Citroen prepared DS3 under the Qatar World Rally Team banner which gave some weight to the rumor. However Citroen Team Principal, Yves Matton politely laughed such an idea. As with many rumors though, there is often a grain of truth. Maybe Nasser wasn’t going to buy Citroen, but maybe he was putting out feelers with the prospects of some other large involvement in the WRC for next year?

Nasser Al-Attiyah and the Qatar World Rally Team at the 2012 ADAC Rallye Deutschland. Photo courtesy of WRC.com.

The rumor of Nasser Al-Attiyah buying a rally team subsided until this weekend when rally reporter extraordinaire Colin Clark interviewed Al-Attiyah at the Cyprus Rally. Cyprus is the final event of the soon to be defunct Intercontinental Rally Challenge and also doubled as the penultimate round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. In this interview Colin asked Nasser about his future in the WRC and about a possible partnership with Nasser and Qatar with M-Sport. Nasser confirmed that he already has a great relationship with Ford for the MERC as was evident from the M-Sport prepared Ford Fiesta RRC he was driving in Cyprus.

In the interview, Nasser expressed strong interest to remain driving at the top level of the WRC as well as maintain his relationship with M-Sport. Not only did Nasser confirm that he wanted to continue under the Qatar World Rally Team banner for 2013, but he also stated that the target was for a fully funded not 2, but 3 car team! Nobody doubts that Nasser, with the backing of his beloved nation of Qatar ,has the financial ability to make such a prospect happen. To add credence to Nasser’s statements, M-Sport owner and team manager Malcolm Wilson dropped by the event in Cyprus before going to Spain for the final round of the WRC presumably to discuss more details.

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No official announcement has been made yet, but it makes perfect sense that Nasser Al-Attiyah and Qatar would want to work with a different manufacturer than Citroen. Back in September Citroen announced a brand new sponsor partnership with Abu Dhabi for 2013. I can see that having both a Qatar and Abu Dhabi team under the same manufacturer might not be the best from a marketing perspective, and M-Sport likely has some favorable terms right now with Ford dropping their involvement as a title sponsor just a few short weeks ago. If this deal comes together, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Qatar would breathe new life into what was looking like yet another bleak season for the WRC. With two available seats (one taken by Nasser himself of course), a Qatar World Rally Team would add great opportunity for both up and coming and seasoned drivers for next year. Could this be what keeps Petter Solberg in the WRC? We’ll have to wait and see after the deal gets inked.

UPDATE – Nasser Al-Attiyah wins the Cyprus Rally!

Andreas Mikkelsen for Volkswagen Motorsport at the 2012 Rally Argentina. Photo courtesy of WRC.com.

The experienced Qatari native added even more good news this weekend as he dominated the car breaker rally that is the Cyprus Rally. With this win Nasser grabs the lead in the points for the Middle East Rally Championship of which he has won a remarkable 7 times before.

Nasser drove under pressure from 2 time IRC Champion Andreas Mikkelsen who although had a puncture on the second day and dropped over a minute, was clawing back time at a remarkable pace on the final day of the event. It was all for not though, as Andreas Mikkelsen stopped on the penultimate stage to change yet another puncture. In a final farewell to Skoda UK’s involvement in the last ever IRC event, Andreas took to calling the pace notes and put his Co-Driver and fellow Norwegian Ola Floene in the drivers seat for the final stage. It could have been the 100th stage win for Mikkelsen in the IRC, but he gave up the chance to honor his teammate that helped him achieve back-to-back IRC championships and catapult his international career.