Nasser’s 11th FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) title in 13 years with win in Jordan
QATAR’S AL-ATTIYAH CLINCHES 11th FIA MIDDLE EAST RALLY TITLE WITH 9th WIN IN JORDAN
Podium finish and Group N victory for Jordan’s Salem and Al-Majali
Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari fights back to take second; Juma in fourth
DEAD SEA (Jordan): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah confirmed his 11th FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) title in 13 years with an emphatic start-to-finish victory in the Jordan Rally, round six of the series, which finished with the stunning backdrop of the Dead Sea on Saturday.
The Qatari and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel won 18 of the 21 gravel special stages that are some of the most beautiful and demanding in the world. His ninth victory in Jordan also marked a 59th career MERC win to put him just one success away from equalling the 60 victories achieved by Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Sulayem between 1984 and 2002. The winning margin for his fourth successive victory in the Hashemite Kingdom was a massive 29min 31sec.
It was also MERC win number eight for Matthieu Baumel, who duly overtook Jordan’s Khaled Zakaria to become the fifth most successful regional co-driver in history.
“I was happy because Yazeed (Al-Rajhi), Abdulaziz (Al-Kuwari) and Khalid (Al-Suwaidi) were back and pushing today,” said Al-Attiyah. “I did what I had to do. Today, in the morning, I won all five stages. I was driving on the same pace as yesterday. No slowing and no risks.
“Yesterday I chose soft tyres for the first five stages and today I used harder tyres on the front and soft on the rear. The problem with the soft is a lot of movement and it does not suit the stages especially on the later stages. But this is another fantastic win for me and another Middle East Championship title. I am very happy.”
The Qatari, who clinched the FIA World Cup in Morocco last week and could add the WRC 2 title to his trophy cabinet in Spain next Sunday, was in a class of his own. But a fierce battle waged over the closing stages for the runner-up spot.
Despite losing over 23 minutes on Friday with a broken wheel, Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and British navigator Marshall Clarke began a sterling fight back through the field. They started the final day in fourth and overhauled the Jordanian duo of Husam Salem and Khaled Juma to snatch second place.
“It was important to me to finish in at least the top three for the sponsors,” said Al-Kuwari. “I was not happy with my performance here, especially with the older tyres I have been using. But it’s a good finish after the problems I faced.”
It was fitting that an all-Jordanian team was on the podium and a delighted Husam Salem and co-driver Nancy Al-Majali held on to confirm a second successive victory in Group N and take third overall in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX. It was the first podium finish for an all-Jordanian crew since Ameer Al-Najjar and Nicola Fanous finished third in 2008.
“The first stage I did not have the confidence and nor the second either,” admitted Salem. “We change a little the set-up for the third one and it was better. The Baptism stage was excellent for us. I hit the water splash too hard in Baptism and it loosened the sump guard and hit the radiator. But the goal at the start was a podium and we achieved that, so I am happy.”
Khaled Juma has already confirmed the Jordanian national rally title in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII and he and Faris Al-Tal finished the international in fourth and second in Group N. Ihab Al-Shorafa and Rakan Khair were fifth.
Khalid Al-Suwaidi and Al-Attiyah’s former co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini began the second leg under Rally2 after Friday’s problems and looked set for a sixth-placed finish until late technical issues sidelined their Ford Fiesta RRC.
Saudi’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr also restarted under Rally2 and overhauled the Fiat Stilo of Asem Aref and Moad Arja to finish the stages in sixth position.
Al-Rajhi said: “I thought I would get Rally2 after the super special and not at the end of the leg. So I took 100 minutes of penalties. I did not think the first stage would be included in leg one. This should be taken into consideration in the future. The championship needs every competitor when the numbers are low. You have no chance to come back with these penalties. If I did not go to Spain from here, I would not have continued today.”
Lina Hadadi and Barkev Shadian finished as the highest crew running in a secondary rally behind the FIA event. They fended off a challenge from the fellow all-Subaru Impreza crew of Basheer Azar and Bilal Majdalawe.