Doha is a long way from Cavan. Indeed, James Fulton’s desert rally debut in Qatar couldn’t have been more separated from his home stages in Ireland.
For Fulton, the new scenery was coupled with a new partnership with local driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.
It turned out to be a successful Middle East Rally Championship debut for the Irish navigator as he overcame the unusual surroundings to claim second on the Qatar International Rally.
“I am thrilled to get to the finish of my first event here in the Middle East,” commented Fulton. “To come away with second overall is a really good feeling and second-place points for the championship is a great start to the year.
“As you might have noticed from onboards, Qatar Rally is definitely not your typical event.
“There are unique lines for every corner. It is crucial to get the correct line to maintain as much speed through the corner as possible because the stages are so fast and flowing.
“You can cut in slightly before and cut out slightly after the corner to try to maximise the speed, but it all depends on how big the rocks are or if there are some small trees.”
Fulton’s result is all the more laudable when you recognise that the rally was won by the now 15-time event-winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. Three stage wins on Sunday’s six stages showed the potential of the Irish-Qatari pairing.
Footage from the event showed how difficult it is to pick out a discernable track on the desert stages. Thus making Fulton’s delivery of pacenotes all the more important.
The challenge continued as Al-Kuwari’s notes had to be delivered in a style opposite to Fulton’s 2020 driver, Callum Devine. Al-Kuwari receiving a “Right – 6” when Devine would expect a “1 – Right.”
“I knew that the recce was going to be very important for us. Having studied Abdulaziz’s onboards in the weeks before arriving in Qatar I adjusted myself to his system.
“His pacenotes are quite different to any of the drivers that I have sat with previously. So I know the recce was going to be very important for us both to gel together.
“The recce itself is very busy because you’re trying to take the correct route and perfecting lines for each corner. I have to say though I really enjoyed the recce and the new challenge.
“Before coming to Qatar a few people that have competed here told me that this is the toughest event in the Middle East and the toughest event on a co-driver in the Middle East.
“I knew, along with starting a new partnership with Abdulaziz, that it was going to be difficult.
“But we are really happy with how the event went and how we worked together so quickly on such a demanding rally for the crew.”
With rallying in Ireland taking a backfoot, Fulton is keen to make the most of his opportunities further afield. His experience with Al-Kuwari in Qatar has only spurred him on to continue the adventure.
“It was brilliant to meet some really nice people over here. Working with Abdulaziz was a pleasure, he is a really great guy and driver.
“He hadn’t driven a rally car in 18 months so it was very positive for him to be ahead of several other R5s. He was comfortable in third place on Saturday behind both Nasser and Kris [Meeke] who are just back from racing in the Dakar.
“Over the weekend our pace kept increasing as he got more comfortable in the car and working alongside me.
“Abdulaziz had planned to go to Oman, MERC’s second round. But it has been postponed until later in the season due to Covid.
“The Jordan Rally is now the next round but it isn’t until the end of May.
“Abdulaziz is thinking about what to do now as he is keen to get more seat-time and put a program together.
“Hopefully, we will get back out before Jordan to keep building up the pace.”
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Photos courtesy of MMS Racing