DEAD SEA (JORDAN): A new season of FIA special stage rallying in the Middle East gets underway with this weekend’s 36th Jordan Rally.
The Hashemite Kingdom’s premier motor sporting event is the opening round of the six-event series for the first time and roars into life with a two-kilometre super special stage on the rocky shores of the Dead Sea from 16.24hrs on Thursday afternoon.
Steeped in history and tradition since it joined the FIA Middle East Rally Championship in 1984, the Jordan Rally was a round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and continues to set the benchmark for event organisation in the region.
This year, Jordan Motorsport have laid on 14 gravel special stages in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas on Friday and Saturday, many sections of which were used when Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen and the French duo of Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier claimed their one-off WRC victories.
Over the course of the last 36 years two men have dominated the top step of the podium in Jordan. Dubai’s Mohammed Ben Sulayem claimed 12 wins between 1984 and 2002 and Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah has won the event on 11 occasions since 2003.
Al-Attiyah is the top seed again this weekend with French co-driver Matthieu Baumel and will be hoping to equal Ben Sulayem’s dusty dozen victories at the lowest place on earth. He drives a Ford Fiesta R5 run by the British Autotek Motorsport team.
Aiming to prevent the defending regional champion from claiming that 12th victory are the Czech duo of Vojtĕch Štajf and Markéta Skácelová in a Škoda Fabia R5. The two rivals competed against each other in Iran last year and Štajf has a good reputation as a solid driver in European stage rallies. This will be his first experience of the twisty and demanding Jordanian stages, however, and erring on the side of caution early on may well be a wise move for the Czech.
Behind the R5 duel, teams from Jordan, Kuwait and Oman will compete in the MERC 2 or Group N category. Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri teams up with Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari in his bid to win the category title in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. He faces competition from the Jordanian Mitsubishi trio of Ihab Al-Shorafa, Khaled Juma and Ahmed Shaban and the young Omani Abdullah Al-Rawahi (Subaru).
Jordan’s Ameer Nassif was forced to withdraw after logistical issues delayed the transfer of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Al-Thefiri and Al-Shorafa finished third and fourth in the overall standings last season, while Al-Rawahi is making his first appearance in the MERC after tackling select smaller events in the Sultanate of Oman through his father’s links with the Oman Automobile Association.
Local driver Asem Aref wheels out his Renault Clio and Lebanon’s Henry Kahy teams up with Jordanian navigator Musa Djiyerian in a Group A Škoda Fabia in their respective RC3 and RC4 categories.
Rally organisers are also hosting a National Rally behind the main event. Amir Tareq Al-Taher, Zeid Miqdad and Salameh Al-Gammaz wheel out three Mitsubishi Lancers, while Raed Al-Edwan has entered the event in an Arctic Cat. Additional points are available on this event to count towards the Jordan National Championship.
The 36th edition of the Jordan Rally is running with the support of Kroon Oil, VESTEL, Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa, the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre managed by Hilton, Guarantee travel group, Hala and Bliss FM.