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28 November 2023

Oman Automobile Association plans to open in 2023 MERC

By Emirates24/7

The Oman Automobile Association (OAA) will host Oman International Rally, the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), on January 26th-28th, 2023.  

The Sultanate has some of the smoothest and most challenging gravel special stages on the planet and the Oman event has been one of the most popular in the regional calendar since it burst on to the international scene way back in 1979 and then became a round of the inaugural MERC in 1984. 

The 2023 event is being run under the chairmanship of Brigadier (Retd.) Salim Ali Khalifa Al-Maskiry and will offer 13 special stages over two legs.  Chris Hodgson will act as the new Rally Director, working with Clerk of the Course Ahmed Al-Zadjali and his deputies, Saud Al-Rawahi and Younis Al-Balushi.

Administration checks will take place at rally headquarters on Wednesday evening (January 25th), with scrutineering scheduled for Thursday morning at the OAA. Both the official ceremonial start and opening super special will then take centre stage from 15.00hrs on Thursday afternoon. 

The OAA will then host the prize giving (17.30hrs) and post-event press conference (18.30hrs) on Saturday afternoon (January 28th) after two days of competitive action on the surrounding gravel trails.

Friday’s action will be fought out over two passes through the Al-Khoud, Jafnayn and Sa’al special stages, split by a midday service stop and regroup. Saturday’s timetable will use two passes of the Murayrat, Misfah and Mulinah stages.

“We are delighted to be hosting the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship again in 2023,” said OAA managing director Suleiman Al-Rawahi. “We invite drivers and teams from around the world to take up the challenge of racing on our country’s varied gravel and sandy stages.”

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is the most successful driver in recent seasons in Oman, the Qatari defending regional champion now having seven wins under his belt, spanning a time period of 21 years between 2003 and 2022. 

The current FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem also won the event on seven occasions between 1986 and 1998, while Saeed Al-Hajri recorded three successive wins (1983-1985). 

The late Björn Waldegård (1988), Tony Georgiou (1992), Michel Saleh (1993), Khalid Al-Qassimi (2007), Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (not an MERC round - 2014) and Abdullah Al-Rawahi (2021) have taken solitary wins in recent MERC history. 

Entries close on Wednesday, January 9th. Registration and entry forms are available from Thuwan Ehab Ossen, Email: thuwan@omanauto.org.