(MENAFN - Arab Times) Veteran Lebanese rally driver Michel Saleh has been competing in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship since it was conceived from the early Gulf Rally Championship way back in 1984. But Saleh's affinity to the State of Kuwait goes back even further than the start of the prestigious FIA regional rally series. Michel has been taking part in rallies in Kuwait for a staggering 41 years and is relishing the start of this weekend's Kuwait International Rally, the second round of the 2014 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), which gets underway with a timed super special stage at the Sirbb circuit on Thursday afternoon at 16.30hrs. Saleh has entered a Subaru Impreza in the 13-stage event, which is being organised by the Kuwait Quarter Mile Auto & Motorcycle Club (KMRC), under the chairmanship of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Sabah
He will also tackle the event with a different co-driver, having reached the decision to recruit young Kuwaiti Faisal Al-Fazran, the son of Eid Al-Fazran who is no longer taking part in the event. "When I started rallying I was in Kuwait," enthused Saleh, who is now based in Dubai. "I love this country and this rally. I moved here from Lebanon when I was two years old. I started racing in 1973 and the first proper rally was 1974. I raced in all of those early rallies and won the Kuwait International Rally in 1984 with Tony Samia in a Toyota Celica GT, the year I moved from Kuwait to live in Dubai.
"The last actual rally before the first Gulf War was in 1989. We did a Marlboro international 4x4 rally and I won it. A very young new driver called Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah finished second!" Michel tackled the 1995 MERC event held in memory of Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, a prominent member of the Al-Sabah ruling family who was killed while defending the Seif Palace in Kuwait City during the 1990 Iraq invasion. Saleh has only missed one Kuwait Rally (2013) since it returned to the regional rally scene for a second time in 2008 after the second Gulf War of 2003. "The stages are very nice here. It is not dangerous and the tracks are not hard on the cars, but it can be bad if it is raining. I would love to see a rock here, the stage are that good
"Obviously over the years I have raced in Kuwait against many great drivers, but the two that stand out for me are the early battles I had with Saeed Al-Hajri and those rallies against the local driver Tariq Al-Wazzan, who sadly passed away. These are memories I will always cherish." Saleh takes his place in a starting line-up this week that includes not only four of the region's top drivers, but four of the most talented Arab drivers ever to make a name for themselves on the world stage
He may be in the twilight of his motor sport career, but competing on equal terms against the likes of Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Khalid Al-Qassimi and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari is what makes the sport so special for the Lebanese veteran who owed so much of his passion for rallying to his family roots in Kuwait. On Wednesday, after completing the second reconnaissance day of the special stages, teams will pass through administration checks at the Safir Hotel and Residences in Fintas, a district in Kuwait's Al-Ahmadi Governorate, before attending a drivers' briefing in the evening.