Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah cruised to the fastest time of 1min 35.9sec through the 1.71km Vestel super special stage that kick-started the 2018 FIA Middle East Rally Championship on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan on Thursday afternoon.
The Ford Fiesta R5 driver is chasing a 14th regional title and a record-equalling 12th win in Jordan. He and French navigator Mathieu Baumel will take a lead of just 1,4 seconds over the Czech duo of Vojtĕch Štajf and Markéta Skácelová into the gravel stages on Friday after tackling the opening stage in torrential rain. The Škoda Fabia R5 crew are taking part in the Hashemite Kingdom for the first time.
“This is only my second gravel rally after the Shiraz International in Iran last year, said tajf. I was talking to Nasser there last year and he suggested that I take part in some rallies in the Middle East. I am a tarmac driver but I approached my sponsors and here we are. The goal is not to try and beat Nasser. The goal is to learn as much as I can and be as close to him as I can on these very difficult stages.
Cars were flagged away from the ceremonial start podium by HRH Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, Chairman of Jordan Motorsport, in gloomy weather conditions, as dark storm clouds gathered menacingly in the Dead Sea area.
Minutes earlier, Meshari Al-Thefiri, Abdullah Al-Ruwaihi, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Vojtĕch Štajf, Ahmad Shaban and Asem Aref had attended an official Q&A session with the media on the start podium.
First blood in the competitive MERC 2 category fell to Kuwaits Meshari Al-Thefiri after the rain began to intensify as the stage progressed and was falling heavily with sporadic thunder and lightning for the later cars through the super special stage. Jordans Ahmad Shaban finished the stage three seconds behind the Kuwaiti and Khaled Juma was a further 1.8 seconds adrift.
Twenty-one-year old Omani Abdullah Al-Rawahi completed his first ever MERC stage in seventh position after stalling close to the stage finish. The rookie said: We saw the stages on the recce and they are really amazing. The first one will be really tough tomorrow. We will have to take care. They are nice and flowing and beautiful in the mountains.
This is a really good opportunity for me. The stages here are cleaner than Oman, where they are a bit rougher and more technical. My strategy is to finish the rally and keep the car safe. This is my first rally. I have been karting for about 10 years and I decided to move into cars and rallying was the best option for me. I have very little experience of rallying at home but I will be learning a lot here.
Lebanons Henry Kahy and Jordanian co-driver Musa Djiyerian got their regional rallying campaign in a Group A koda Fabia underway with the eighth quickest time.
Local driver Asem Aref, co-driven by Faris Tal, guided his little two-wheel drive Renault Clio RX safely through the opener at the rear of the field.
Amir Tareq Al-Taher, Zeid Miqdad, Salameh Al-Gammaz and Raed Al-Edwan are tackling the second round of the Jordan National Championship and additional points are available this weekend.
Tarek Al-Taher clocked the fastest time in the saturated opening super special stage to lead Salamah Al-Gammaz by 12.6 seconds. Al-Edwan left the track and rolled in the slippery conditions and lost over two and a half minutes.
The 36th edition of the Jordan Rally is running with the support of Kroon Oil, VESTEL, Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa, the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre managed by Hilton, Guarantee travel group, Hala and Bliss FM.
Tomorrow (Friday), crews will tackle two runs through three special stages, commencing with the 19.0km of the Mahes test at 10.04hrs. Palms (30.2km) and the Baptism Site (11.70km) follow at 10.47his and 11.45hrs, respectively.
The three stages are repeated in the afternoon at 13.25hrs, 14.03hrs and 15.01hrs after a return to the Dead Sea service area at lunchtime.
2018 Jordan Rally positions after SS1:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5 1min 35.9 sec
2. Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE)/Markéta Skácelová (CZE) Škoda Fabia R5 1min 37.3 sec
3. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 43.2 sec
4. Khaled Juma (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 48.0 sec
5. Ahmed Shaban (JOR)/Shadi Shaban (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1min 46.2 sec
6. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1min 53.3 sec
7. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Zakariya Al-Ofi (OMN) Subaru Impreza STi N14 1min 55.5 sec
8. Henry Kahy (LEB)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) koda Fabia 2min 01.8 sec
9. Asem Aref (JOR)/Faris Tal (JOR) Renault Clio RX 2min 06.9 sec
2018 2nd Jordan National Rally positions after SS1:
1. Tarek A-Taher (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI 2min 03.7 sec
2. Salamah Al-Gammaz (JOR)/Feisal Al-Gammaz (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V 2min 16.3 sec
3. Ziad Miqdad (JOR)/Hassan Miqdad (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII 2min 33.8 sec
4. Raad Al-Advan (JOR)/Zaid Abdul Ghani (JOR) Arctic Cat Wildcat 4min 49.6 sec