14-times FIA Middle East champion back in action to support Al Qassimi initiative to revive rallying in UAE
Sulayem with Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi during the 2000 UAE International Rally.
Dubai, UAE, 26 February 2015: Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the record-breaking 14-times FIA Middle East rally champion, steps out of retirement after more than 12 years this weekend to contest the second round of the 2015 UAE National Rally Championship.
Sulayem, who won the Dubai International Rally for the 15th time on his last competitive appearance in December 2002, will be partnered again by his co-driver of many years, Irishman Ronan Morgan, for the Sharjah Rally on Saturday.
Together they formed the most successful partnership in Arab rallying history, securing the Middle East title ten times and enjoying an unprecedented level of international rally success in the Middle East and overseas.
Sulayem has accepted an invitation to compete in the Sharjah Rally from Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, founder and President of the Emirates Motorsport Club, organisers of the UAE National Rally Championship
“When Sheikh Abdullah asked me to enter I couldn’t turn him down,” said Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE.
“He is doing so much good work to revive rallying in the UAE, and I have to support him and do what I can to promote a sport which has given me so much in my life. If my appearance can help to encourage more young Emiratis to take up rallying, or persuade some of our older local competitors to return, that will be very satisfying.”
Sulayem and Morgan will compete in the rebuilt Ford Escort WRC which they took to victory in the 1999 Jordan International Rally, the car’s last competitive event.
Said Sulayem: “I’m excited, I’m a little nervous, and I really don’t know what to expect after being out of rallying for more than 12 years. I’ve prepared as well as I can in a very short period of time. I’ve been able to do a little bit of testing in the desert and I’ll get some practice on the route before the rally and just take it from there.
“Ronan was surprised as anyone when I told him I’d be entering the event. He retired a year before I did and, like myself until recently, thought his rallying days were well behind him. But we both want to give something back to this sport we love, which is where motor sport started in the Middle East back in the 1970s.
“Rallying has been overtaken by other motor sport disciplines in recent years. But it’s is my passion and, like Sheikh Abdullah, I want to see it go from strength to strength again in the future here in the UAE and across the region.”
Sulayem and Morgan, who are top seeds in the Sharjah Rally, will be reunited with some great rallying friends in the event, which gets under way from Sharjah Corniche at 11am on Saturday. They include Sheikh Abdullah and his long-time co-driver, Gaby Khoury, and veteran Lebanese driver Michel Saleh and Ahmad Ghaziri.
Sulayem first entered rallying in 1982, winning in his first event, a local rally in Dubai, to launch a remarkable career which took him to more FIA titles and international tally victories than any driver in history.
He captured the FIA Middle East title for the first time in 1986, winning it the next five years, again in 1994 and seven years in a row from 1996 before retiring. His first overseas rally win came in Turkey in 1991. He also recorded World Rally Championship Group N victories in Spain and Argentina over the next two years.
His achievements brought him widespread recognition, including medals of honour from King Hussein of Jordan and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. In 1999, he was named UAE Sportsman of the Century by Agence France-Press.
Sulayem took over as President of the ATCUAE in 2006 and two years later became the first Arab to be elected Vice President of the FIA and member of the World Motor Sport Council. Morgan is now the ATCUAE’s General Manager