Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah firm favourite in new Ford Fiesta R5 Evo 2
This year’s FIA Jordan Rally, round two of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, gets underway with a two-kilometre super special stage on the shores of the Dead Sea from 19.30hrs on Thursday evening.
Traditionally based at the lowest point on the earth (at over 400 metres below sea level), the former round of the WRC is seen as the toughest round of the regional rally series and has a proud tradition in regional motor sport.
Thirteen cars and competitors from six nations will start Jordan Motorsport’s flagship event of the year, with Qatar’s 12-time regional rally champion, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, starting as the overwhelming favourite to clinch his 64th MERC rally win in a new M-Sport-built Ford Fiesta R5 Evo 2 being driven on an international event for the first time.
Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel have endured a difficult start to a season that has been a roller coaster from the start.
Radiator damage prevented the Qatari winning his home round of the MERC in February and victories in the Dubai International Baja and Qatar Cross-Country Rally were overshadowed somewhat by crashes at the Dakar and Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Al-Attiyah arrives at the Dead Sea lying third in the MERC’s points’ standings and fresh from a skeet shooting competition in Cyprus. He tested the new Ford Fiesta for the first time on Wednesday afternoon.
In the absence of Khalid Al-Suwaidi, AlAttiyah faces no competition in the RC2 class for R5 cars and attention focuses on what promises to be a close tussle for success in MERC 2 between eight Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers entered in the NR4 group for showroom production vehicles.
Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri holds second in the regional series and a similar position in MERC 2 after his runner-up finish in Qatar and could well challenge for overall title honours this season.
He and Qatari navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari lead an MERC 2 field that includes fellow Kuwaitis, Essam Al-Nejadi and Salem Al-Thefiri, Saudi Arabia’s Rakan Al-Rashed and the Jordanian quartet of Khaled Juma, Marouf Abu Samra, Ihab Al-Shorafa and Ziad Miqdad.
The Jordanian duo of Asem Aref and Musa Djiyerian will be aiming to conquer the demanding gravel stages of the Jordan Valley in their little Renault Clio, the sole entry in the RC3 class for two-wheel drive cars.
Three Jordanian crews will run behind the FIA entrants in a second National Rally. Ahmad Shaban, Salamah Al-Gammaz and Nasser Khanfar will drive three older Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions.
The event is being pulled together thanks to a huge national effort supported by the Jordanian Government and its security and safety services.
It is also being supported by the private sector with the Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa, Dead Sea Touristic & Real Estate Investment (Samarah), Vestel, CCI – Creative Concepts Industries, Radio Hala and Bliss FM all playing a key part.
Tomorrow morning (Thursday) cars will be scrutineered for FIA eligibility and the official timetable of events gets underway with the official pre-event press conference with leading drivers at the ceremonial start location from 17.20hrs.
The ceremonial start then takes centre stage from 18.20hrs and crews head into the opening two-kilometre Samarah super special stage at 19.30hrs.
The bulk of the action takes place on Friday and Saturday over gravel tracks and a further 17 timed special stages in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas.