The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi completed his second successive victory in the Dubai International Rally today (Friday) to bring down the curtain on the 2006 FIA Middle East Championship.

Partnered by Khalid Al Kindi in a Subaru Imprezza, the 2004 Middle East champion

completed the 640-km event with a winning margin of exactly two minutes from fellow-UAE driver Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al Maktoum in another Subaru.

Taking third place in his Mutsubishi Evolution, another 2mins 18 seconds adrift, Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi lost the final podium place in the FIA Middle East series to his brother, Shk Khalid, by a single point.

Completing the top six were Qatar's Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah in a Subaru, Sheikh Suhail's City of Arabia team-mate, Michel Saleh, in a Mitsubishi Evo and Oman's former Middle East Group N champion, Nizar Al Shanfari, in a another Subaru.

Holding an overnight lead of 1 min 18 seconds, Sheikh Khalid made a convincing start to the second leg, increasing his lead by 29 seconds over Sheikh Suhail on the first of the day's six special stages.

Sheikh Suhail, already assured of runner's-up spot in the championship, responded by taking the next stage, and while he was never able to serious challenge for the lead, the defending champion could never afford to relax.

"It's been tough on the car today," said Sheikh Khalid after completing the last of 14 special stages. "It's taken a lot of hammering, especially the suspension. There's been some good stages, but we've had to be careful of some big ditches. I'm very happy, but it was tough, really tough out there."

Sheikh Suhail said: "I had a flat tyre on stage nine after 3km which cost us about 30 seconds. Stage ten was good because we took 19 seconds from Khalid, but stage 11 wasn't good for us because we started having front drive shaft problems just 500 metres into the stage."

It was a frustrating day for Sheikh Abdullah who had hoped to put the pressure on the front two. He said: "We had a few problems with the set-up which meant I couldn't push it like I wanted to, and we damaged the drive shaft when we hit a rock."

Among the casualties failing to make the finish were Sadiq Fadel who retired on the ninth stage with a loss of power in his Mitsubishi, British driver David Scialom who pulled out after his brakes failed and the UAE's Yehya Al Amri who was halted by axle problems.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club for the UAE, the rally organisers, welcomed the 16 survivors from 29 starters to the finish at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel. The 2006 Dubai International Rally took place under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation, Chairman of Emirates Group and Chairman of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise.

The event enjoyed the full backing of the Government of Dubai, Dubai Police, the Unified Ambulance Centre, Dubai Ports World and the Dubai Immigration authorities. It is sponsored by Nakheel, Dubai's premier property developer, Emarat, Hertz UAE, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Shamil, Mashreqbank, Damas and the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, the official headquarters for the event.

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