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Qatar gold rewrites the history of the MERC
18.11.2018

The crew of the team Racing 21 Vojtěch Štajf - Veronika Havelková, representing the ACCR Czech team, won a very valuable victory in the absolute classification of the competition 2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar, which took place from 15th to 17th November. And so this fantastic result of the Czech crew in the last competition of this year's FIA MERC series rewrites the history of the Middle East championship.

Previously the only non-Arab crew to have won the Qatar Rally were Björn Waldegård with Fred Gallagher in a Toyota Celica back in 1986. And the triumph of Vojtěch Štajf and Veronika Havelková also put an end to the hegemony of the local Qatar teams in this rally since 2002. And Veronika Havelková became only the second woman to stand in first place on the winner's podium, following on from the Swede Tina Thörner, who navigated Nasser Al-Attiyah to victory here in 2009.

From the aspect of Vojtěch Štajf, the start of the competition 2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar, where the track on most of the speed trials was in part changed or shortened due to heavy rain, was all about a gradual increase in the pace and getting used to cooperation with a new navigator. But as the number of kilometres passed on the difficult gravel track covering a total of ten speed trials, he became increasingly confident behind the wheel of his ŠKODA Fabia R5, which the mechanics had managed to restore to top form after it had rolled in the previous event in Kuwait.

The second place overall after the first day was primarily an achievement of the aim to hold on to second place overall in the MERC rankings. At that time the race was being headed by the Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, who from the aspect of points obtained had already been crowned this year's winner of MERC after the penultimate event in Kuwait. But after the first morning timed section on the second day of the competition, the local driver Al-Attiyah ran into problems with his rear left wheel, and Štajf immediately utilised this hesitation of the competition favourite and won this time trial. So after the fastest time in one trial in the Cyprus rally, he also won another victory in the time trial in MERC.

But immediately after that the Qatari driver had to withdraw from the competition due to a fault of his car, and a possibility opened up for the Czech crew to gain the first victory in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship competition. Štajf was well aware of this challenge, and attempted to control the situation right up to the competition's finish. In spite of this he and the new navigator Veronika Havelková did not manage to avoid a short hesitation when they lost their way on the very difficult terrain of the seventh time trial, which resulted in the crew being penalised by the referees. But this changed nothing in the tactic to maintain a sufficient distance from the next of the competitors, the Qatari Adel Hussein, also driving an R5 specification car

Right up to the end of the competition Štajf and Havelková confidently held on to their leading position in the competition, and they arrived at the finish ramp on the ancient market of Souq Waqif in the heart of the capital Doha in first place overall in their ŠKODA Fabia R5, more than four minutes ahead of Adel Hussein in his Ford Fiesta R5. Abdullah Al-Kuwari came in third in the competition in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.

"This is a satisfying reward for the year-long effort that we focused on the Middle East Championship. We were in an unfamiliar environment, each race was different, and at the age of forty-four I'm still a learner," said the Prague driver commenting on his victory and describing the difficulty of this race: "even in terms of organisation, participation in this series is not easy. And moreover here in Qatar Veronika Havelková acted as my navigator for the first time. A change of co-driver is never a completely simple moment, but she handled it really well. It was very valuable for us to win in a country which is the home ground to Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has won the championship many times, so we couldn't wish for more. He was unlucky today, and as a racing driver I can feel for him in a situation where you have a problem. But rallying sometimes throws up these kind of moments. And I had to concentrate because when I was trying to overtake him in the dust, I was worried that I might hit something, but at the same time we were losing valuable time behind him. Twice I tried to drive out of the rut, but there were big rocks there. I did not want to take risks at any price and perhaps lose the entire competition. When Nasser finally let us get in front, it was clear that we had a chance of first place."

The Fabia R5 driver describes his tactics in the rest of the race: "We tried to drive fast but also carefully and mainly to miss rocks. The roads were really smashed up, and it was starting to tell on our car. Then came one moment of hesitation - we went about three or four hundred metres in the wrong direction. We didn't go back, but I went straight back to the track. I didn't gain any time because I had to go slowly in second gear, and I had to avoid large rocks. But all the same we did not stick to the track, and the penalisation was justified, although very high. So we had to watch our backs and mainly be really careful not to get lost again. At the finish line we enjoyed the Czech national anthem on the winner's podium. I see it as a reward for the entire team for the work over the course of the year and also for the people who contributed to my success and supported us but weren't in Qatar. In the end my partner Karel Janeček could not come due to the pressure of work, but we will make up for it the Saturday after next and enjoy our common passion at Prague Rallysprint, where we will once again be a crew together. Several of my compatriots came for the announcement of the winner in Doha, which was also super. Simply put, I enjoyed the mission here to the full," said the happy absolute winner of the competition Vojtěch Štajf, and he also emphasised the great cooperation with the local embassy of the Czech Republic, represented by the ambassador Martin Dvořák.

And of course the navigator Veronika Havelková was also overjoyed at the finish line after her first participation beside Štajf. "For me the Qatar rally was a massive challenge from start to finish. During the familiarisation drives I said to myself that we would definitely roll our Fabia R5 on one of the jumps or in a rut. The track was incredibly rough. But the first time trial showed how brilliantly our car was working, and how it literally smoothed out the bumps. And Vojta's experience on gravel and his support also calmed me down. We drove with certainty, we tried to spare the car as much as possible and work together as one. In view of the final result, I think that we really managed it. So I am really thrilled by the rally in Qatar."

With their first victory in the absolute ranking of the 2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar the Czech team Racing 21 secured overall second place in this year's FIA Middle East Rally Championship series in the drivers' ranking. Moreover Vojtěch Štajf completed each of the competitions of this year's Middle East Championship.

Results of 2018 Manateq International Rally of Qatar
1st Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE)/Veronika Havelková (CZE), Škoda Fabia R5 1h 39min 46.7sec
2nd Adel Hussein (QAT)/Ziad Chehab (LEB), Ford Fiesta R5 1h 43min 54.5sec
3rd Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1h 52min 48.0sec
4. Mohamed Al-Meer (QAT)/Ahmad Al-Fares (KWT), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2h 13min 57.1sec
5. Rashid Al-Mohannadi (QAT)/Yousef Juma (JOR), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2h 20min 27.8sec

2018 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – final order:
1st Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) 153 points
2nd Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE) 131 points
3rd Meshari Al-Thifeeri (KWT) 59 points
4th Roger Feghali (LBN) 38 points
5th Henry Kahy (LBN) 33 points

More about the competition: http://qmmf.com/events/qatar-international-rally-2/

VIDEOS FOR COMPETITION:
Technical scrutineering: https://we.tl/t-KVqBVeGyrW
First leg: https://we.tl/t-sgQKvzBqfm
Second leg: https://we.tl/t-xqXexdSXYK
Finish ramp: https://we.tl/t-dojiGxN54h

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