Al-Attiyah dominates MERC’s Jordan Rally

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini mastered the conditions and controlled their pace to perfection to secure a comfortable victory in the 2013 Jordan Rally, round three of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), at the Dead Sea on Saturday.

The Qatari duly clinched his 48th career MERC victory and his seventh in Jordan by the margin of 01min 42.2sec to take a 24–point championship lead into the summer break. The success also marked the 11th win for Ford in the 31-year history of the Jordan Rally.

“This was never going to be an easy rally and, for sure, this is the toughest event in this championship,” said a delighted Al-Attiyah. “Now I have three wins in three rallies and 75 points. The target at the start of the year was the championship but now I would like to win every rally this season – the grand slam!”

A string of fastest stage times enabled the Lebanese duo of Roger Feghali/Joseph Matar to sneak past Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Scott Martin to secure second position in their Motortune Ford Fiesta. Al-Qassimi retained second in the Championship with third overall with his Citroën DS3.

Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari/Killian Duffy were never able to match the pace of the leading trio but the WRC 2 leaders were a solid fourth in the Seashore Ford Fiesta. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Steve Lancaster finished fifth and Ma’rouf Abu Samra, a two-time national champion, and co-driver Malek Hariri finished sixth and were classified as the leading local crew in their Skoda Fabia S2000.

Abu Dhabi Racing’s Bader Al-Jabri and Jordanian Zeid Dahshan were separated by one tenth of a second after 12 special stages and Dahshan went on to win the Group N category in his Mitsubishi from fellow countryman Ala’a Khaleifah. Jordan’s Husam Salem lost the lead in SS11 with mechanical issues.

Mohammed Al-Mutawaa and Irish co-driver Stephen McAuley won the 2WD category with a Citroën DS3, the young Emirati also claiming the Junior category win.

Eighteen of the original 26 starters finished day one and they were joined by a further six cars on the restart list for the final day under Rally2, although Jordanian driver Yousef Al-Asmar decided not to restart from 17th position.

Abdullah Al-Kuwari had flipped his Mitsubishi on to its side on Day One and the car had become wedged between two walls of rock. It had to be rolled over on to its roof before it could be dragged back on to its wheels, but damage was slight and the Qatari was able to continue. After his much-publicised dice with a cliff face in Suwayma, Abu Dhabi Racing’s Mohamed Al-Sahlawi restarted at the rear of the field.

Al-Attiyah was first on the road into the Turki stage and he began with a 1min 11.2sec advantage over Al-Qassimi, who had been plagued by an intermittent rear differential problem on a couple of Friday’s stages.

Roger Feghali.

Third-placed Feghali had spun on the last stage on Friday and started 8.8sec behind the Emirati, but the Lebanese reduced Al-Qassimi’s hold on second to six seconds on the opener with the fastest time, as both drivers shaved a couple of seconds off Al-Attiyah’s overall lead. Al-Suwaidi and Abdullah Al-Qassimi began the day tied in fifth position, but the Qatari sneaked into fifth behind Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.

The Bahath stage was next on the agenda and the top three were virtually inseparable with Feghali taking the stage win by seven-tenths of a second from Al-Qassimi. But the Emirati was only able to reduce Al-Attiyah’s overall advantage by one-tenth of a second. Al-Attiyah was in cruise control as teams returned to service at the Dead Sea.

The shortened WRC Jordan River stage accounted for the longest test of the rally – a 26.24km timed section at Al-Karama – and Feghali set his third quickest time of the morning to move 2.4 seconds ahead of Al-Qassimi and into second position. Al-Attiyah’s overall lead was trimmed to 68sec.

Feghali’s morning form continued at the Baptism Site and the fourth consecutive fastest time enabled him to move 18.1 seconds clear of Al-Qassimi, although the Lebanese trailed Al-Attiyah by 66.4 seconds. “We carried an extra tyre this morning and maybe were a little overweight so that didn’t help,” admitted Al-Qassimi. “When everything works well we are fine, but you can easily lose time on the corners when things aren’t right.”

Al-Suwaidi slid wide on a tricky left-hand corner and needed spectators to push him back on to the track. The Qatari lost over seven minutes and slipped from fifth to seventh.

Meanwhile, Husam Salem’s retirement with mechanical problems in the 11th stage handed the Group N initiative to Abu Dhabi Racing’s Bader Al-Jabri. The Subaru driver reached service with a lead of just 0.1 seconds from Zeid Dahshan.

Four stages stood between Al-Attiyah and his seventh Jordan win. He was quickest in the re-runs of Turki and Bahath and headed to the second run through Al-Karama with an overall lead of 1min 14sec. Feghali extended his lead over Al-Qassimi to 29.4 seconds and Dahshan moved ahead of Al-Jabri in the Group N tussle.

Marouf Abu Samra passes a troubled Khalid Al-Suwaidi.

Al-Attiyah survived the nervy 26km of the Al-Karama stage to take the fastest time and a 1min 39sec lead into the final special at the Baptism Site, but problems for Feghali cost him 16 seconds and moved Al-Qassimi to within nine seconds of the Lebanese with one stage remaining.

There were no late dramas for Al-Attiyah and he held on to secure a fine win, with Feghali holding on to second and Al-Qassimi taking third position.

Action in the championship resumes with the Rally of Lebanon in September.

Final Overall Classification:
01) Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah/Giovanni Bernacchini (Ford Fiesta RRC) – 02hr 51min 53.1sec
02) Roger Feghali/Joseph Matar (Ford Fiesta RRC) – 2hr 53min 35.3sec
03) Khalid Al-Qassimi/Scott Martin (Citroën DS3 RRC) – 2hr 53min 53.7sec
04) Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari/Killian Duffy (Ford Fiesta RRC) – 2hr 56min 17.8sec
05) Abdullah Al-Qassimi/Steve Lancaster (Ford Fiesta RRC) – 3hr 06min 57.7sec
06) Ma’rouf Abu Samra/Malek Hariri (Skoda Fabia S2000) – 3hr 07min 34.8sec
07) Khalid Al-Suwaidi/Nicola Arena (Ford Fiesta RRC) – 3hr 14min 01.0sec
08) Zeid Dahshan/Elie Musalem (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X N) – 3hr 19min 25.2sec
09) Ala’a Khaleifah/Othman Naseef (Subaru Impreza N) – 3hr 19min 47.0sec
10) Bader Al-Jabri/Denis Giraudet (Subaru Impreza N) – 3hr 21min 12.8sec

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