By Our Correspondent/Dead Sea, Jordan
He began the event as the firm favourite, and Qatar’s Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah was in devastating form to completely dominate the FIA Jordan Rally in his new Autotek-run Ford Fiesta R5 Evo 2. The 12-time regional rally champion won all the special stages for the second successive year and reached the finish at the Dead Sea with a winning margin of 16min 09.3sec.
It was the perfect result for the Qatari and French navigator Matthieu Baumel after their retirement in round one in February and keeps the Qatari in the hunt for a 13th title, despite the fact that he still trails Kuwait’s Meshari al-Thefiri by seven points in the unofficial championship standings. The victory was al-Attiyah’s 64th in MERC history; Baumel has now taken 13 as a co-driver.
“The car was fantastic, no issues at all and I was able to control my pace and take no risks,” said al-Attiyah. “The future of this championship is important to me and Jordan as a rally is one of the strongest anywhere with its organisation and important to a great many people. It has a proud tradition and deserves a strong future.”
The all-Jordanian crew of Marouf Abu Samra and navigator Malik Hariri returned to the Jordan Rally for the first time since 2014 and settled in superbly, despite only running a brief pre-event test on the old Turki stage. They produced an impressive career-best performance to seal second position and victory in MERC 2.
Abu Samra’s feat marked the first time in 36 years that a Jordanian driver had finished second in the Jordan Rally – the late Nabil Dirani completed the event behind Lebanon’s Michel Saleh at the wheel of a Renault 17 Gordini in 1981.
Kuwait’s Meshari al-Thefiri began the event in strong contention for both the MERC and MERC 2 titles and third overall did the Mitsubishi Lancer driver’s chances no harm at all. He now leads the MERC 2 Championship outright by an unofficial 21 points and heads to Cyprus as the outright MERC leader.
All nine FIA cars and four runners in the 2nd National Rally began the opening 15km Shuna stage that preceded runs through the Jordan River and Baptism Site stages and the return to service at the Dead Sea. The opener was slightly delayed while some spectators were relocated and al-Attiyah increased his lead to 9min 49.6sec.
Al-Thefiri managed to fend off a struggling Juma to strengthen his hold on third place heading to the 31.01km of the renowned Jordan River stage. Al-Attiyah just missed out on breaking the 23-minute barrier for the longest timed section of the event and another fastest time pushed the Qatari 11min 37.9sec in front of Abu Samra, who had sustained a flat tyre three kilometres into the Shuna stage.
Ongoing turbo charger issues wrecked Juma’s chance of threatening al-Thefiri’s hold on third. Ahmad Shaban rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI out of the 2nd National Rally and enabled Salamah al-Gammaz to take a massive lead into the remaining five stages.
Al-Attiyah reached service with a lead of 12min 14.5sec and there were large gaps between drivers inside the top six after Juma dropped another three minutes to al-Thefiri through Baptism with his turbo charger woes. “We had to complete two and a half stages like this,” groaned the Jordanian.
The road section between Jordan River and Baptism spelt the end of the line for Essam al-Nejadi (overheating) and Salem al-Thefiri (mechanical).
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