Tough day 1 for favourites at Jordan Rally 2023
Oman’s Abdullah Al-Rawahi and local driver Ata Al-Hmoud were the shock leaders of the Jordan Rally after a dramatic day’s action across world-class special stages that wound their way through the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas at the lowest place on earth on Friday.
The Škoda Fabia Evo crew looked to be heading for second place until runaway leaders, Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, suffered a broken right-hand front driveshaft on the start line of the second pass through the gruelling Jordan River stage, dropped 2min 39sec and finished the loop of three stages in two-wheel drive. The Qatari now trails by a daunting 2min 33.4sec at the night halt and will be hard-pushed to make up the deficit on the final day.
Al-Rawahi said: “We started not as we expected. We wanted to be closer to Nasser on the first loop. Unfortunately, we lost a lot on the second stage. Then he had a fault with his car and we managed to take the lead. It’s a good lead for tomorrow. We will go in now with a different strategy to try and keep that lead. Nothing is impossible. These stages are some of my favourite and tomorrow’s stages are quite familiar as well. Let’s see how it goes…”
Al-Attiyah added: “Day one, we started three stages very smooth and we are leading and then we had an issue with a driveshaft for three stages. We have been quiet to manage to finish all the stages. I am happy to start again tomorrow. It will be another target and we try to push. The race will be interesting. We need to be flat out. It is always nice to win Jordan!”
Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri teamed up with Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari and was embroiled in an enthralling duel with the Lebanese crew of Roger Feghali and Joseph Matar for the first four stages.
Feghali led until stage three and then Al-Thefiri hit the front. Despite trimming the lead in SS4, the Lebanese then suffered an alternator belt failure on his Mitsubishi in the fifth speed test and Al-Thefiri was able to coast through to finish the day in third overall and first in MERC2.
Al-Thefiri said: “I am happy for this result. We work hard. We take more experience and the set-up for the car is ready before the rally. I will drive the same and hold position. I am comfortable now. This rally is very tough.”
The leading Jordanian driver Shaker Jweihan and his Omani co-driver Taha Al-Zadjali are fourth, 1min 54.1sec adrift of the defending MERC2 champion. Jweihan added: “It was a tough day. Jordan River was the stage of the day. I am driving on a normal gearbox. I was trying to be in the mix and trying to be up there if anything happened – and it happened with Roger. I know the stages tomorrow and they are tricky with a lot of crests. Hopefully, we will keep the pressure on.”
Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez and Emad Juma are classified fifth in their Mitsubishi and Shadi Shaban and Samer Issa round off the top six.
Support for this year’s event comes from Zain Jordan, Hala and Bliss FM.
Friday – as it happened
Yakrut (9.49km) was first on the agenda at the start of seven-stage Friday in the Jordan Valley. Al-Attiyah laid down the gauntlet with a time of 6min 03.9sec and that was enough to beat Al-Rawahi by 9.2 seconds. Early MERC2 bragging rights fell to Feghali: the Lebanese headed Al-Thefiri by 1.8 seconds. Ameer Nassif failed to start the event after his Subaru suffered mechanical issues before the first stage.
The mammoth Jordan River stage of 40.79km has never taken any prisoners, although Jordan Motorsport has worked hard to grade the surface on this occasion. Winding its way through the lowest place on earth, close to the frontier with the Occupied Territories, the stage provides one of the world’s greatest special stage challenges.
Al-Attiyah posted a time of 28min 10.6sec and increased his lead over Al-Rawahi to 58.8 seconds. Feghali was locked in a gripping battle with Al-Thefiri for MERC2 supremacy. The Kuwaiti beat his rival by 0.8 seconds to trail by just one second! Defending MERC2 champion Issa Abu Jamous stopped in the stage with mechanical issues and Sami Fleifel and Yousef Al-Dhafeeri were also in trouble.
Baptism Site (11.34km) was the final stage of the morning’s loop and showcased the biblical history of this legendary part of the world.
Al-Attiyah finished the loop with another fastest time to take a lead of 1min 01.7sec over Al-Rawahi back to service at the Dead Sea. The 15-time event winner beat the Omani by just 2.9 seconds on the stage. Al-Thefiri dug deep and outlined his pedigree as the top MERC2 driver in the region to snatch the midday advantage from Feghali: he beat his fellow Mitsubishi driver by 19.2 seconds to lead by 18.2 seconds.
Al-Attiyah said: “Everything went well this morning and it all went to plan. I am just going to keep pushing the car and try and open up a lead.”
Al-Rawahi added: “We went in this morning with a combination of soft and hard (tyres). We lost a bit of time on the first one, although we were pushing, but the main loss was in Jordan River. It was completely soft and we were half hard and half soft. I did a few mistakes as well. Let’s see on the second run how we can improve.”
“It’s taking some time to get back on gravel,” admitted Feghali. “It’s been around nine years. Just trying to get used to it. I will try and push a little bit more on the second loop.”
Fadi Dahshan and Hashem Kalbouneh did not continue after the midday break.
Al-Attiyah continued to push on through the re-run of Yakrut. He shaved 2.9 seconds off his morning’s run to extend his advantage over Al-Rawahi to 70.1 seconds. Feghali had promised to attack in the afternoon and he pegged Al-Thefiri’s MERC2 lead back to just 5.5 seconds with a potent stage performance. Jweihan maintained fifth and third in MERC2.
The second pass through Jordan River would be the biggest challenge of the rally with stones and loose rocks potentially pulled out on to the surface during the morning. Al-Attiyah pressed on regardless, but he suffered a transmission issue and the loss of drive in the special and dropped 2min 39.7sec to Al-Rawahi. The time delay dropped the Qatari 1min 29.6sec behind the Omani. Al-Thefiri beat Feghali by 25.7 seconds to increase his MERC2 advantage to 31.2 seconds.
With a crippled Volkswagen, the Qatari was unable to attack on the second pass through the Baptism stage and he was 43 seconds slower than he had been in the morning. Al-Rawahi took advantage to extend his lead to a comfortable 2min 09.9sec.
There was drama at the top of the MERC2 standings as well: Jweihan was the third driver to start the stage after delays for both Al-Thefiri and Feghali. The Lebanese suffered a reported alternator issue after the Jordan River stage and slipped behind Shaker Jweihan.
A dramatic afternoon’s action concluded with a single pass through the 3.48km Dead Sea stage. Al-Attiyah dropped another 23.5 seconds to Al-Rawahi and finished the leg trailing by a daunting 2min 33.4sec with six stages to run on Saturday. Feghali was unable to make the start of the sixth stage after his alternator belt failure and withdrew from the event later in the afternoon.
Leg two will be fought out over two loops of three special stages, starting with the 12.58km of Bahath from 10.24hrs. Runs through Suwayma (11.08km) and Ma’in (17.00km) follow from 10.57hrs and 11.54hrs before a lunchtime return to the Dead Sea service park for a regroup and service.
The three specials will be repeated at 13.55hrs, 14.28hrs and 15.25hrs before the ceremonial finish in the spectacular location on the shores of the Dead Sea at the Dead Sea Marriott Resort and Spa.
1. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia Evo 1hr 25min 49.2sec
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 1hr 28min 22.6sec
3. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 30min 15.6sec
4. Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Taha Al-Zadjali (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 32min 09.7sec
5. Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 36min 48.6sec
6. Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 37min 00.2sec
7. Zakariya Al-Aamri (OMN)/Mohammed Al-Mazroui (OMN) Subaru Impreza 1hr 38min 56.4sec
8. Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Joseph Kmeid (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 40min 00.6sec
9. Mustafa Al-Atari (JOR)/Zeid Abu Zaid (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 40min 42.8sec
10. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 54min 02.9sec
11. Salem Al-Dhafeeri (KWT)/Fares Al-Thefiri (KWT) Subaru Impreza 1hr 59min 05.1sec
2023 Jordan National Rally – positions after SS7:
1. Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia Evo 1hr 25min 49.2sec
2. Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Taha Al-Zadjali (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 32min 09.7sec
3. Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 36min 48.6sec
4. Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 37min 00.2sec
5. Mustafa Al-Atari (JOR)/Zeid Abu Zaid (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 40min 42.8sec
6. Nancy Al-Majali (JOR)/Nadia Shnoudeh (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI 1hr 45min 45.7sec
7. Ghaith Qubti (JOR)/Tarek Al-Assad (JOR) Range Rover Classic 1hr 52min 54.4sec
8. Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 54min 02.9sec
9. Asem Aref (JOR)/Ahmad Jankhout (JOR) Subaru Impreza 2hr 04min 11.2sec
10. Ziad Miqdad (JOR)/Amer Mousa (JOR) Renault Clio 2hr 16min 29.8sec