This year’s Marlboro car rally of Lebanon kicked off Friday night with a frenzy of fireworks lighting up the sky and a military brass band blaring the national anthem.
Beirut Governor Yacoub Sarraf, representing President Emile Lahoud, inaugurated the opening in the Beirut Central District.
The three-day event, which runs until Sunday, is the fifth round of the Middle East Rally Championship. This year’s course is just over 1,000 kilometers from start to finish ? a standard length for rallies ? and will include 22 “special speed stages” at various points along the race. These special stages make up just over a quarter of the total distance driven.
Participants include international drivers such as Italy’s Baro Liatti, who will be behind the wheel of his Subaru Impreza, and local driver Roger Feghali, winner of the last four events here. Feghali is also driving a Subaru Impreza.
Other drivers competing this year include Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Bakhashab and the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed bin Sulayem. A winner of 20 Marlboro rallies during his career, bin Sulayem and his Ford Fox are widely expected to win here this weekend.
Rally director Ziad Jamous said Thursday that the event “enjoyed the appreciation and admiration of the International Car Racing Federation.” He said the $300,000 cost of staging this year’s event had been picked up by the Lebanese Tourism Car Club. However, he predicted that the cost would have been at least “double” had it not been for so many volunteers.
Between 100 and 150 volunteers are scheduled to help out at various points, or “service pits,” along the main course.