By Our Correspondent/Dead Sea
Less than seven months after claiming a ninth victory on the shores of the Dead Sea, Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah returns to rallying action in the Hashemite Kingdom at the Jordan Rally this weekend.
One of the most popular counting rounds towards the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has returned to its regular May date. An international field of competitors from 11 nations will tackle 19 special stages and 222.77km of competitive action in a route of 640.63km through the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas to mark the 198th event in MERC history.
Al-Attiyah holds the record for 62 regional championship rally wins and is chasing Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s record of 12 triumphs in Jordan. He surpassed the UAE driver’s long-standing record of 60 victories back in February and is keen to press on towards an unprecedented 100 wins.
“It’s always important to take a close look at the stages to make sure that there are no significant changes and the winter weather has not altered the nature of the roads,” said Al-Attiyah, who is partnered in Jordan by the French navigator Matthieu Baumel, himself a winner of 11 MERC rallies.
Arch rival Abdulaziz al-Kuwari has endured a fraught start to his 2016 campaign in a Skoda Fabia R5. The Qatari crashed heavily out of his home event in an incident that hospitalised navigator Marshall Clarke and he has since refocused and regrouped.
A retirement in Rally Mexico was followed by third in WRC 2 in Argentina, but al-Kuwari remains pointless in the MERC after missing an outing in Kuwait at the 11th hour. He teams up with Irishman Killian Duffy again in Jordan.
The third of the R5s and the last realistic competition for al-Attiyah comes from former Kuwait Rally winner Khalid al-Suwaidi, partnered by the top seed’s former co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, with whom he won 24 rounds of the MERC. Al-Suwaidi drives a Ford Fiesta on this occasion.
The impressive field of MERC 2 drivers in a variety of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Imprezas makes up the bulk of the entry. Qatar’s Rashed al-Nuami leads the region’s secondary championship by two-points from Abdullah al-Kuwari heading into the Jordan showdown. Local hopes rest on the shoulders of Husam Salem, Khaled Juma, Ihad al-Shorafa and Lina Hadadi.
The Jordanian duo of Asem Aref and Musa Djiyerian bring up the rear of the field in a diminutive Renault Clio. Aref finished seventh overall in a two-wheel drive Fiat Stilo last October.
The event gets underway with a Q&A session with several of the leading drivers on the podium, the ceremonial start and a 2.37km super special stage in Abdali, Amman’s new business, commercial and leisure hub, on today afternoon.
All eyes will be on Qatar’s Al-Attiyah to see if he can continue the dominating performance he has shown so far.
FIA MERC standings
2016 Middle East Rally Championship – drivers’ positions after round 2 (Top 10):
1. Nasser al-Attiyah (QAT) 78
2. Khalid al-Suwaidi (QAT) 43
3. Meshari al-Thefiri (KWT) 30
4. Rashed al-Nuami (QAT) 29
5. Abdullah al-Kuwari (QAT) 25
6. Yigit Timut (TUR) 24
7. Rodolphe Asmar (LEB) 22
8. Khalifa al-Attiyah (QAT) 19
9. Stephano Marrini (ITA) 12
10. Rakan al-Rashed (SAU) 11
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