· Kuwait’s Al-Thefiri wins MERC 2; Czech Vojtĕch Štajf finishes second
· Fourth-placed Khaled Juma leads Jordanian teams and wins National Rally
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah matched another major milestone in the history of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship by equalling Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s 12 victories at the Jordan Rally on Saturday.
Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel began the final day with a lead of 4min 20.9sec and reached the Dead Sea finish of a rally that had been modified because of freak heavy rains on Thursday evening with a winning margin of 8min 03.2sec.
The success was Al-Attiyah’s record-breaking 67th in MERC history and a 16th for Baumel, who drew level with John Spiller as the fourth most successful co-driver in regional history behind Ronan Morgan (41 wins) and a tying Giovanni Bernacchini and Chris Patterson (25 wins apiece).
A delighted Al-Attiyah said: “I think we did a clever race. I am happy with the performance and to equal the record of wins here is a nice feeling. We already have the record of winning the most number of Middle East rallies. We will try and get the new record for the Middle East Championships this year.”
Vojtĕch Štajf and Markéta Skácelová overcame a substantial first day time loss because of a puncture to regain second place in their Škoda Fabia R5.
A good tyre choice worked in their favour as they set a target of overhauling Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri.
The Czech belied his limited experience of gravel rallying to shadow Al-Attiyah to the finish.
“The priority is the Czech Championship for my sponsors and I always try and find some more rallies that are interesting,” said Štajf.
“This rally was a part of the World Rally Championship and I heard great things about the stages. I could not believe that we did the recce in temperatures of 37°C and sun and then the stage by the Jordan River would be cancelled because of the bad weather.
“The first leg was very hard because we had never driven an R5 car in such harsh conditions.
The pace notes were not perfect and I was not able to trust them.
We had to play catch up but we are happy to finish second. It’s a good start to the MERC for us. On some events I would like to try and catch Nasser on some stages.
He is a fast guy and a good measurement for me.” Al-Thefiri and navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari were the class of the MERC 2 field in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and the Kuwaiti was rewarded with a maximum haul of showroom class points and third overall.
Al-Thefiri said: “It has been a good rally, big gap, about five minutes.
We start the second day in second overall. But the Czech driver was very fast.
Third is a good start for me and a good step for the championship.”
The Jordanian crew of Khaled and Emad Juma had hoped to challenge Al-Thefiri over the closing stages, but had to be satisfied with fourth overall and maximum points on the second round of the Jordan National Championship.
Local rivals Ahmad and Shadi Shaban finished fifth and Ihab Al-Shorafa and Yousef Juma were classified in sixth place.
Juma said: “We had a small problem and we had to change the plan to make sure that we finish the rally in fourth overall.
We now lead the Jordan Championship. Maybe we will go to Kuwait and Qatar at the end of the year.”
Lebanon’s Henry Kahy had to send his Škoda Fabia to Jordan via Jeddah and his hard work with Jordanian co-driver Musa Djiyerian was rewarded with seventh overall and two-wheel drive honours.
Oman’s Abdullah Al-Rawahi and Zakariah Al-Ofi missed most of the opening day after sliding into a ditch, but the youngster recovered well to overtake Asem Aref and Faris Al-Tal over the first loop of stages in his Subaru Impreza STi.
An ECU issue eventually sidelined the Omani and lifted Aref’s Renault Clio RX back into eighth place. Al-Rawahi said: “It was a disappointing day yesterday falling off the track and into a ditch.
The goal today was to bring the car to the finish but we had a problem in the service and, by the time we had changed the ECU, we were over our time limit and out of the rally.”
Salameh Al-Gammaz led the way in the Jordan National category from Zeid Miqdad, Tareq Al-Taher and Raed Al-Advan, but Juma was registered for both rallies and claimed maximum points in the local series. Al-Gammaz slotted into third position.
The 36th edition of the Jordan Rally ran 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.
Saturday – as it happened Rally officials were unable to use the two runs through the Rawda stage of 12.69km because of the heavy rainfall that had fallen in the region on Thursday evening.
That would have reduced the day’s competition by 25.38km but, to ensure that the minimum distances to be eligible for FIA points were adhered to, a third run in the Ma’in stage of 16.91m was introduced and a second run through the Dead Sea super special stage was added to the itinerary at the end.
The action started on time with the 11.74km of the Suwayma stage – a slightly shortened reverse run of Friday’s Baptism special. Al-Attiyah completed the special in 6min 22.5sec and Štajf reduced Al-Thefiri’s hold on second place to 2min 06.3sec.
But neither Juma nor Shaban were able to make in-roads into the Kuwaiti’s hold on the MERC 2 advantage.
Al-Rawahi returned to action under Rally 2 and set the sixth quickest time.
Al-Attiyah carded a target of 7min 14.3sec in the 8.55km of the first Amar special and safely negotiated the first of three runs through Ma’in to extend his outright lead to 6min 32.1sec. Štajf was continuing his charge and two rapid times whittled Al-Thefiri’s hold on second place down to just 43.6 seconds at the return to service at the Dead Sea.
A resurgent Al-Rawahi closed in on Asem Aref and passed the Renault driver to snatch eighth before service. “It has not been easy, even though we have not been pushing,” said Al-Attiyah.
“We need to keep the concentration. The car has been great, much better balanced after we changed the shocks last night. I have been four months not driving this car. I have been busy with Cross-Country and this is a different vehicle.”
Štajf said: “We put the proper tyres on today. The design of this tyre is better for the dry and it sticks better to the road. We only had two recce passes and I still have to be cautious because the pace notes are not really correct. I am finding my way. The second loop will be a better feeling for me. I worked out we need to make 1.5 seconds per kilometre and we are doing more than that.”
The three specials were repeated before a third run through Ma’in and the second Vesta super special brought the action to a conclusion.
Al-Attiyah was four-tenths of a second quicker on his second run through Suwayma, where Štajf reduced Al-Thefiri’s hold on second still further to 29.2 seconds.
Al-Rawahi was late leaving service while additional work was carried out on his Subaru but, by the time the team had replaced the ECU, he was over his time limit and out of the rally.
Al-Attiyah cruised through Amar 2 untroubled and Štajf reduced Al-Thefiri’s grip on second place to just 3.2 seconds on a stage where Juma also got the better of the Kuwaiti.
The Czech driver stormed through into second place on the second run through Ma’in and extended that lead over the last two stages to shadow Al-Attiyah on to the podium.
Al-Thefiri and Juma coasted to the end in third and fourth overall. Action in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship continues with the Cyprus Rally on June 15-17. 2018
Jordan Rally – positions after SS14 (unofficial @ 17.00hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 56min 30.3sec
2. Vojtĕch Štajf (CZE)/Markéta Skácelová (CZE) Škoda Fabia R5 2hrs 04min 33.5sec
3. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 06min 50.3sec
4. Khaled Juma (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 14min 16.1sec
5. Ahmed Shaban (JOR)/Shadi Shaban (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 2hrs 18min 45.2sec
6. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2hrs 35min 55.6sec
7. Henry Kahy (LEB)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) Škoda Fabia 2hrs 46min 08.1sec
8. Asem Aref (JOR)/Faris Tal (JOR) Renault Clio RX 3hrs 00min 45.0sec 2018
2nd Jordan National category – positions after SS14:
1. Salamah Al-Gammaz (JOR)/Ghaith Al-Wrakat (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V 2hrs 28min 43.8sec
2. Ziad Miqdad (JOR)/Hassan Miqdad (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII 2hrs 42min 07.0sec
3. Tarek A-Taher (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI 2hrs 52min 28.2sec 4. Raad Al-Advan (JOR)/Zaid Abdul Ghani (JOR) Arctic Cat Wildcat 3hrs 25min 56.3sec