Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Marouf Abu Samra finish second and third

Kuwait’s Al-Thefiri takes crushing MERC 2 win; Lebanon’s Kahy wins MERC 3

DEAD SEA (JORDAN): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah survived a suspension scare on the first run through the Amar special stage and went on to secure a record-breaking eighth successive and 13th outright victory in the Jordan Rally on Saturday.

Seemingly coasting to victory with a massive lead of over five minutes in their Autotek-run Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel were forced to limp through two stages with broken suspension and sufficient repairs were made to enable the duo to reach the finish with an eventual winning margin of 4min 08.2sec on this second round of the 2019 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).

The result marked Al-Attiyah’s 71st MERC win in the 212-event history of the regional series since its inception in 1984. Baumel has now won 19 MERC rallies.

Al-Attiyah said: “Today was a special day for us. We had a few problems but we managed to fix everything. I am so happy to win and to lead the Middle East Championship after winning in Qatar and now here in Jordan. The suspension issue was a worry. We had three gravel shocks (shock absorbers) and one tarmac one and the balance was completely different. It was not easy to have all the parts because this was a new car.”

Fellow Qatari Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and British co-driver Marshall Clarke were waiting to pounce if Al-Attiyah’s troubles worsened and the Škoda Fabia R5 crew finished second and maintained the pressure on their rivals in the title race. Their consolation was winning day two and collecting an additional championship point.

Al-Kuwari said: “We are happy to finish second. We knew that Nasser was going faster every time. We are happy with our pace with different tyres and a different set-up. It was difficult to start a proper rally after such a long time. By the end of the season, I hope to have our speed again.”

The Jordanian crew of Marouf Abu Samra and Malek Hariri were rewarded with a podium finish in their Ford Fiesta R5, the Amman driver enjoying his return to the international spotlight as he confirmed another top three finish for the host nation.

Abu Samra added: “The podium means a lot for me and the fans in Jordan. I said to a lot of guys before the start that it was a long rally and to build their speed step-by-step. It looks like no one was listening. I enjoyed the rally a lot.”

Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri and Qatari navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari were the class of the MERC 2 field. The defending champion was able to ease his pace over the closing kilometres and still managed to cross the finish line in fourth overall with a massive winning margin of 1hr 04min 25.2sec.

Al-Thefiri said: “We go slowly, slowly today to take care of the car. There is no point to push more. It is a difficult rally. You never know, at any time, you could have a problem.”

Lebanon’s Henry Kahy continued the defence of his MERC 3 title in impeccable style with a fine category win and fifth overall with Jordanian co-driver Musa Djiyerian in his nimble Škoda Fabia.

The other three finishers all came from Rally 2 after retiring on Friday. Khaled and Emad Juma set some fastest MERC 2 times in their Mitsubishi during the day and finished in sixth place.

Jordan’s Shadi Shaban and Ammer Nassif finished seventh.

Support for the event came from The Boulevard, Mountain Dew, Hala and Bliss FM.

Saturday – as it happened

Only Oman’s Abdulla Al-Ruwahi and Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya failed to return to action under Rally 2 for a further 10 special stages on leg two that included two runs through the Suwayma, Mahes, Rawda, Amar and Nebo specials.

Al-Ruwahi retired with car damage after his opening stage accident on Friday and Al-Atya withdrew on medical grounds with a shoulder issue after his steering woes on the second loop of day one’s stages. Fourteen FIA cars and six national machines, therefore, restarted.

Volkswagen technicians confirmed that it wasn’t a fuel sensor issue that had given Al-Attiyah the late scare on Friday evening. The car was actually running low on fuel after a misjudgement by the team.

Nevertheless, the Qatari began his challenge in Suwayma with a lead of 4min 21.2sec over Al-Kuwari. The latter’s lead over Abu Samra had grown to 58.5 seconds after the Jordanian had been awarded a 10-second time penalty by rally stewards.

Al-Attiyah set the target time of 6min 15.1sec in the opening 11.74km stage and beat Al-Kuwari by 19.2 seconds to extend his lead to 4min 40.4sec. The latter’s consolation was increasing his advantage over third-placed Abu Samra to 1min 15.7sec.

Asem Aref was the first casualty of the day from the international rally; the Renault Clio driver lost second in MERC 3 with technical issues shortly after the start of the Suwayma stage. Ihab Al-Shorafa followed his fellow countryman into retirement after the stage finish and Saudi Arabia’s Said Al-Mouri succumbed to his own technical issues before the start of the first Rawda special. His demise lifted Al-Aufi into fifth after Feghali lost three minutes in the test.

At 19km in length, Mahes was the longest stage of this year’s rally and Al-Attiyah crossed the finish line in 15min 22.1sec. Another quickest time enabled the Qatari to reach the refuelling point with a lead of 5min 30.3sec.

Al-Kuwari said: “We are keeping our second place. That is all. Nothing much else to do. There is a big gap in front and behind. I am enjoying the stages. The last one, Mahes, was a really nice stage. It was like WRC class…”

The leading trio held station through Rawda 1, but the Qatari ceded his road position to Al-Kuwari at the start of Amar 1 and incurred a 30-second time penalty as a result. Al-Kuwari carded the target of 7min 14.9sec and suspension issues saw Al-Attiyah lose 1min 32,9sec in the special and his lead was whittled down to 3min 47.7sec.

Al-Kuwari finished the Nebo stage in 7min 01sec and gained another 69 seconds on his struggling rival, who limped to service with his lead reduced to 2min 36.2sec. Al-Attiyah said: “We have a problem with the front suspension. We lose a lot of time. I hope we have the spare part.”

Abu Samra said: “If Nasser’s problem had been earlier it may have been something else, but he reached the service area for the three of us. He still has the lead. Even if he was a minute and a half behind, he could catch it back this afternoon. I am enjoying driving today. We are happy.”

The loop of three also saw the demise of Alex Feghali with a broken differential in SS14 and Kuwait’s Saleh bin Eidan wrenched a wheel off his Mitsubishi after striking a giant rock in the Nebo stage. He was transferred to hospital for examination after complaining of back pain. Oman’s Zakariya Al-Aufi also lost out on a top six position when he retired his Mitsubishi after SS15.

The Autotek team did not have the spare gravel shock absorber for the Volkswagen and Al-Attiyah set out for the final loop of five stages with a nervy lead of 2min 36.2sec. Only eight FIA cars and five national entrants survived to tackle the final loop of five stages.

Al-Kuwari set the target of 6min 35.6sec in Suwayma 2, but Al-Attiyah was not to be denied and beat his rival by 14.8 seconds and then a further 52.2 seconds in Mahes 2. There were large gaps between all the drivers heading to the final three stages, but Al-Attiyah safely negotiated Rawda 2 with the fastest time and stayed clear of trouble in Amar 2 and Nebo 2 to confirm the win.

2019 Jordan Rally – positions after SS21:

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Volkswagen Pole GTI R5 3hrs 00min 48.5sec

2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Marshall Clarke (GBR) Škoda Fabia R5 3hrs 04min 56.7sec
3. Marouf Abu Samra (JOR)/Malek Hariri (JOR) Ford Fiesta R5 3hrs 06min 27.6ec

4. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 3hrs 20min 08.8sec

5. Henry Kahy (LEB)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) Škoda Fabia 3hrs 57min 36.7sec

6. Khaled Juma (JOR)/Emad Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 4hrs 24min 34.0sec

7. Shadi Sheban (JOR)/Ameer Nassif (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 4hrs 37min 07.8sec

2019 FIA Middle East Rally Championship – standings after round 2 (unofficial):

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 77pts

2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT) 61pts

3. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT) 33pts

4. Marouf Abu Samra (JOR) 25pts

5. Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (QAT) 24pts

6. Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT) 19pts

7. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT) 16pts

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