Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel were in a class of their own after 11 special stages of the 2019 Jordan Rally in the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas on Friday.
The Qatari is bidding for a record-breaking 13th victory at the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) and guided his Autotek-run Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 to the fastest time on each of the days gravel stages until an alarm ruined his chance of completing a clean sweep on the final super special stage of the day. The outcome was a massive lead of 4min 21.2sec for the 14-time regional champion and 21 consecutive stage wins in this years rally series for the Polo.
Al Attiyah said: "Last stage I see small alarm. I see fuel pressure. I decide just to go easily. Maybe we run without fuel. The gauge only shows zero, so I decide to finish the small stage without push. I am happy we are here now. I am quite happy. It is fantastic to win all the stages except for the super special. We are learning a lot with this car."
Fellow countryman Abdulaziz Al Kuwari made a slow start on his return to the Hashemite Kingdom for the first time in three years at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia R5 with British co-driver Marshall Clarke. He held second place, 48.5 seconds in front of the Jordanian crew of Marouf Abu Samra and Malek Hariri in a Motortune Ford Fiesta R5, after both drivers had lost time with flat tyres on the second loop. Al Kuwari also sustained some car damage towards the end and his rival had throttle issues.
Abu Samra said: "I am feeling good and relieved at the same time. I am glad we made it to the service at the end. I have a problem with the throttle sensor. At the end of the day, I have enjoyed it and the gap is not that much between us on an international rally."
Lebanese rookie Alex Feghali gained in confidence as the day progressed, benefiting from navigator Joseph Matar's experience, to reach the night halt in a fine sixth place and third in MERC 2.
Qatar's Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah battled on through the pain barrier with steering issues after a puncture. He and experienced Italian co-driver Nicola Arena held sixth overall in a Motortune Ford Fiesta R5 until they retired after eight stages.
Oman's Zakariya Al Aufi was classified in seventh and Lebanon's Henry Kahy guided his Skoda Fabia to eighth and the MERC 3 advantage.
The Jordanian trio of Khaled Juma, Ihab Al Shorafa and Shadi Shaban retired on the first loop of stages with turbo, engine and clutch-related issues. They were joined by MERC 3 entrant Asem Aref after the water splash on the Baptism Site stage.
Jordanian drivers Salameh Al Gammaz, Tareq Al Taher, Ziad Miqdad, Amjad Anasweh and Sami Fleifel and Omans Zakariya Al Amri were entered in the National Rally. Al Ghammez led from the start before dropping two minutes on the super special stage in the unofficial results. The local driver reached the night halt 52.1 seconds behind leader Al Taher. Al Amri lost fifth place after stopping in SS9.
Secretary-General of Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) Abdulrazaq Al Kuwari praised the strong presence of Qatari racers in Jordan. He added that the experience of both Al Attiyah and Al Kuwari proved crucial as they overcame intense competition, particularly from Abu Samra who was close to an upset. He noted that the Jordan rally was one of the harder and more historic ones of the region.
Al Kuwari also said that Al Attiyah's win will boost his chances of winning the Middle-East championship for the 15th time in his career. (QNA)
Cover image credit: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar
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