Countdown to JORDAN Rally – 2023 FIA Middle East Rally Chmpionship, rd 3
The Jordan Rally, one of the most iconic international motor sporting events in the FIA calendar, gets underway with a pre-event press conference (18.15hrs) and ceremonial start (18.45hrs) at the Dead Sea on Thursday evening.
The third round of the 2023 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has attracted 25 crews and competitors from seven nations, with 19 teams also registered for the second round of the Jordan Rally Championship. Entrants completed their stage reconnaissance on Wednesday.
Jordan Motorsport has laid on a similar route to 2022, with Clerk of the Course George Khoury confirming minor changes to the middle section of the demanding 40.79km Jordan River stage and the late addition of a short 3.48km special stage at the Dead Sea on Friday afternoon. The revised itinerary features 208.04 competitive kilometres in a route of 589.85km.
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has taken the event by storm in recent seasons with his Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel. The duo have won the last seven successive Jordan rallies (2020 was cancelled) since 2015 – three in Ford Fiestas, one in a Škoda Fabia R5 and the last three in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Al-Attiyah has now won a record-breaking 15 events in the Hashemite Kingdom and a staggering 83 MERC rallies since 2003, while Baumel has 31 regional wins to his name. Understandably, they start as clear favourites to win the event this weekend.
Challenging the Qatari over 13 timed special stages in the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas is Abdullah Al-Rawahi in his Škoda Fabia R5. The Omani made the perfect start to his MERC campaign with a second victory at his home event in January but retirement from round two in Qatar has pushed him down to joint second in the points’ standings. He teams up with Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud.
Meshari Al-Thefiri is equal second in the championship with Al-Rawahi after a podium finish in Oman and valuable points in Qatar. The Kuwaiti also holds a 15-point advantage in the FIA MERC2 series after back-to-back victories on the opening two rounds. His co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari is tied second in the Co-Drivers’ Championship with Giovanni Bernacchini.
There is strength in depth in the MERC2 category in Jordan with 16 entrants and fierce competition for Al-Thefiri. The strongest challenge is likely to come from 15-time Rally of Lebanon winner Roger Feghali and his co-driver Joseph Matar in their Motortune Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Roger’s son Alex attended the event in 2022 and finished second overall but his father has taken up the reins on this occasion. His battles with Al-Attiyah on asphalt in Lebanon have been some of the highlights of the MERC in recent seasons with the duo taking two wins apiece in the last four events.
Kuwait’s Yousef Al-Dhafeeri and Jordan’s Shadi Shaban are currently Al-Thefiri’s closest pursuers in the MERC2 Championship. Additional Jordanian competition comes from local drivers Shaker Jweihan, Issa Abu Jamous, Ameer Nassif, Shadi Shaban, Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez, Fadi Darshan, Sami Fleifel, Ihab Al-Shorafa and the talented young Mustafa Al-Atari.
Jweihan and Al-Dhafeeri finished second and third in Oman and the Kuwaiti followed that result with second in Qatar. Al-Shorafa rounded off the podium places in Losail and holds fifth in the current MERC standings.
Also registered in the MERC2 section are Palestine’s Hamada Odeh, Lebanon’sAhmad Khaled, Kuwait’s Salem Al-Dhafeeri and Oman’s Zakariya Al-Aamri.
The remainder of the field are only eligible for the Jordan Rally Championship. Feisal Al-Ghammaz (Mitsubishi), Nancy Al-Majali (Mitsubishi), Ibrahim Al-Ali (Subaru), Asem Aref (Subaru), Hashem Kalbouneh (Black Iris), Ghaith Qubti (Range Rover) and Ziad Miqdad (Renault) will run behind the FIA field.
Support for this year’s event comes from Zain Jordan, Hala and Bliss FM.