Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, partnered by Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini, secured a hard-earned sixth victory in the Jordan Rally, the fourth round of the 2012 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), which finished at the Dead Sea on Saturday.
Al-Attiyah claimed his 43rd MERC career success but he was pressured all day by the Lebanese duo of Roger Feghali and Joseph Matar. A 10-second penalty for a jump- start cost the 10-time Lebanon Rally winner dearly and he settled for second position in his Motortune Ford Fiesta S2000 after winning five of the 16 timed special stages. Al-Attiyah’s winning margin was 34.7 seconds and the triumph also marked Bernacchini’s 14th MERC victory and his second in Jordan.
“This was a fantastic rally and I enjoyed a great competition with Roger and Yazeed,” said Al-Attiyah, who won six special stages. “It was never going to be easy to win from the front when I was cleaning the roads, but I had a good lead overnight and I managed to drive well today. Now I am in a good position with the championship.”
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr set the fastest time in five special stages and reached the finish in third position on their return to the regional championship.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari maintained his advantage in the championship with fourth overall in his Mini S2000. The official FIA results were incorrect before the Jordan Rally and Al-Kuwari duly started the event with a nine-point lead over Al-Marri. The Qatari now holds a similar advantage over a tying Al-Attiyah and Feghali heading to the remaining two rounds in Cyprus and Dubai.
The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi used the event as a shakedown before a full programme of events in 2013. In an unbranded Ford Fiesta, the Emirati managed to finish fifth with British co-driver Marshall Clarke and had no recurring problems after recent leg and knee surgery.
Lebanon’s Nick Georgiou won the Group N category and confirmed sixth overall in his Mitsubishi with Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud.
Sharjah’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Steve Lancaster finished seventh, but Qatar’s Misfer Al-Marri and Italian navigator Nicola Arena were never able to recover from massive first day delays and slipped to fourth in the MERC after finishing eighth.
Jordanian national speed champion Husam Salem was classified ninth and finished as the leading local driver. The Jordanian duo of Ala’a Rasheed and Zeid Dahshan, Saudi Arabia’s Saeed Al-Mouri and Egypt’s Ahmad El-Kabany completed the list of finishers, but Qatar’s Khalid Al-Suwaidi left the road and retired on the penultimate special stage.
Day two – as it happened:
Al-Attiyah began the second day with an 18.8sec lead over Feghali, but the Qatari was again forced to sweep the stage surfaces through the 14km Turki stage. The Lebanese reduced his advantage to 13.6sec with the fastest time. Al-Rajhi was slightly off the pace and slipped a further 18.9sec behind the seven-time regional champion. Jordanian national champion Mazan Tantash retired his Mitsubishi with suspension issues.
The Qatari redressed the balance through Bahath and extended his lead by five seconds to 18.6sec. Al-Rajhi slipped even further behind but remained well clear of fourth-placed Khalid Al-Qassimi. The Jordan Rally had become a two-horse race, but Feghali was reported to have jump-started the ninth stage and was awarded a 10-second penalty, handing Al-Attiyah an overall lead of 28.6sec. Al-Kuwari punctured but retained fifth place.
The daunting 26.24km of the Karama stage offered Feghali an excellent battleground to close in on Al-Attiyah. The Qatari set a target time of 18min 42.4sec and it was enough to beat Feghali by one second to extend his lead to 29.6sec. Al-Rajhi went even quicker and won the stage by 3.4sec.
He repeated the feat with the fastest time at the Baptism site, where Feghali managed to pip Al-Attiyah by seven-tenths of a second to reduce the Qatari’s lead to 28.9sec. Al-Rajhi finished the stage on a flat tyre and Al-Qassimi finished the stage with a small fire coming from the underside of his Ford. He lost over four minutes and slipped behind Al-Kuwari and into fifth place.
Al-Attiyah’s lead increased to half a minute through stage 14, but there were no repercussions from Al-Rajhi’s and Al-Qassimi’s 13th stage problems and they retained third and fifth positions heading to the penultimate Karama stage.
Al-Rajhi claimed his third stage win of the day and maintained third position, but Feghali had noticeably eased his pace to conserve second place and Al-Attiyah headed to the final special at the Baptism Site with a 44.3-second advantage. Khalid Al-Suwaidi left the road and lost his chance of finishing in ninth position.
Feghali recorded the fastest time in the final stage, but there was no stopping Al-Attiyah, who duly confirmed a hard-earned victory – his sixth in Jordan since 2003.
The next round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship will take place in Cyprus at the start of November.
2012 Jordan Rally – final positions:
01. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA)
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 2h 53m 08.7s
02. Roger Feghali (LBN)/Joseph Matar (LBN)
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 2h 53m 43.4s
03. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA)/Michael Orr (GBR)
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 2h 55m 30.9s
04. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Patrick Walsh (GBR)
Mini Cooper S2000 3h 03m 21.7s
05. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Marshall Clarke (GBR)
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 3h 03m 48.8s
06. Nicholai Georgiou (LBN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (HKJ)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX – 3h 11m 55.2s
07. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Steve Lancaster (GBR)
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 3h 14m 05.4s
08. Misfer Al-Marri (QAT/Nicola Arena (ITA)
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 3h 15m 57.6s
09. Husam Salem (HKJ)/Nancy Al-Majali (HKJ)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII – 3h 34m 32.8s
10. Ala’a Rasheed (HKJ)/Ramzi Mansour (HKJ)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X – 3h 36m 09.3s