Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah tops a bumper entry for this weekend’s Jordan Rally, Round Three of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), which starts from the Martyr’s Memorial in Al-Hussein Sports City on Thursday evening.
Al-Attiyah is the defending regional champion and will also be hoping to retain the Jordan Rally title he secured last October at the Dead Sea. The Qatari has a 14-point lead in the series after securing wins in both Qatar and Kuwait and a seventh win in Jordan would give the Ford driver a 48th regional rally win and set him well on the road to a ninth MERC title.
Jordan Motorsport has attracted 30 entrants from eight countries for what has become the most popular event in the regional calendar. Purpose-built gravel special stages and the stunning backdrop of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and the Baptism Site give this event a truly historic appeal and it was one of the most popular rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) for three years with top drivers and media alike.
Eleven Jordanian entrants join Al-Attiyah and three other drivers from Qatar, seven from the UAE, three from Lebanon, two from Kuwait and one from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Italy on the provisional list.
Among those hoping to dethrone the Qatari are the 2004 regional champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, current WRC-2 frontrunner Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari – fresh from confirming a stunning category win in the Rally Argentina this past weekend and the rapid Lebanese driver Roger Feghali.
Saeed Al-Mouri is also the only driver in the field to wheel out a MINI Countryman RRC, a car that was originally developed for the German manufacturer by the British car preparation company Prodrive. The Saudi teams up with the experienced co-driver Amr Al-Refai, who began his career as part of Abdullah Bakhashab’s young Toyota Rav-4 rookie team that tackled rounds of the MERC through the Toyota Team Saudi Arabia banner in the late 1990s.
Al-Mouri is an experienced motorsport allrounder with sponsor Hankook Racing and is looking forward to his second MERC outing of the season with the Tok Sport run-MINI, having finished sixth overall in the Kuwait International Rally in March to hold seventh in the Drivers’ Championship. He was also the Red Bull Car Park drift champion in 2011 and has previously won Middle East and Saudi titles in Radical and Saudi Super Leggera racing disciplines and a national rally in Kuwait last December. “I was not able to start the first round in Qatar, but the result in Kuwait shows that we are moving in the right direction and we are both looking forward to this week’s rally.”
Fellow Saudi Yazeed Al-Rajhi is still being forced to sit on the sidelines after injuring his back in a dune accident at the Ha’il International Rally at the end of March. Al-Rajhi, who won the WRC-2 category at the Rally of Sweden earlier in the year, is hoping to return to action shortly.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Irish co-driver Killian Duffy jetted into Amman just as the first day of recce was about to start on Tuesday morning. The Qatari also holds third place in the Middle East Championship’s driver standings after finishing third in both the Qatar and Kuwait rallies.
Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya has endured a disappointing start to her MERC campaign this season. After rolling her Mitsubishi Lancer in Qatar and recovering to finish 13th overall, one of the world’s leading female drivers finished 11th in Kuwait and heads to Jordan with navigator Ozlem Azguc keen to kickstart her points challenge.