DEAD SEA — Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel cruised through the final six gravel stages to secure a comfortable 15th victory at the 2022 Jordan Rally on Saturday.
Driving an Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTi R5 to victory for the third time in Jordan, the Qatari won 11 of the 12 special stages in the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas of the Hashemite Kingdom and is now very close to a record-breaking 18th FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) title.
The win marked Al-Attiyah’s 81st career MERC success and his third of the season, while his Andorra-based co-driver now has 29 victories to his name.
Al-Attiyah, who had a winning margin of 9min 57.6sec, said: “I am really happy to win the Jordan Rally. I have a lot of experience and I have competed a lot here. Thanks to the organisation for making an amazing job. To win 15 times here has not been easy but the team has worked very hard.
“We need only two or three points from Lebanon and Cyprus. We know we can be strong in every race. We need another Nasser Al-Attiyah in the championship. We need people to continue the Middle East Championship. It is important to us.”
The Lebanese duo of Alex Feghali and Joseph Matar overcame a minor turbo scare to seal second overall and first in the MERC2 category, the youngster going one better than his third place and second in class in 2021.
“It was a pretty fun weekend and at the end of the first day we had a good of around one minute,” said Feghali. “The game plan today was just to keep the time and that’s exactly what we did. It’s nice to get the second place, my first second place ever and we won the group.”
Defending MERC2 champion Meshari Al-Thefiri was unable to catch Feghali on the final day but the Kuwaiti and Qatari co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari collected valuable showroom category points nonetheless, their challenge for the showroom category title boosted by the unfortunate retirement of the series-leading Jordanian Issa Abu Jamous with car damage.
Al-Thefiri said: “It was good for us to finish this rally. We lost many seconds yesterday. Today I pushed to the maximum to catch what I can. We win six stages and Alex wins six. I promise next year we will fix everything to win!”
The Jordanian pairing of Khaled Juma and Tareq Al-Taher came home in fourth overall in their Subaru Impreza WRX and claimed victory in the Jordan National Rally after a fierce tussle with fifth-placed Hamada Odeh and Yazan Juma. The crew were separated by just half a second in the battle for fourth and the national category win.
Shadi Shaban and Samer Issa had been given a notional time for the fifth stage on Friday and were able to continue on day two. The Mitsubishi crew reached the finish in sixth overall.
Abdullah Al-Rawahi and Jordanian navigator Ata Al-Hmoud had held second overall for the first four stages on Friday and continued to show excellent pace on the final day after restarting in their Škoda Fabia R2 under the Rally2 ruling.
The Omani set the fastest time in stage nine and a string of second fastest times enabled him to climb back to seventh overall. That vital finish for the Omani ensured that Al-Attiyah was mathematically not able to confirm a record-breaking 18th regional title before the next round in Lebanon.
Al-Rawahi said: “It was important to gather some points, especially as we did not finish in Kuwait. This time we had a few dramatic moments, but we managed to come back and the second day was good and the set-up for the car was much better when we went softer. The pace was there as well.
“Having Nasser in the championship is a great benchmark. He is a world class driver. Every time I try and get closer and closer to him and that is happening and he is always there to support as well. Hopefully in the future we can do what Nasser has been doing!”
Kuwait’s Mohammed Al-Thefiri and Suleiman Al-Helal were eighth and the Jordanian MERC2 title-chasing Ihab Al-Shorafa and Yousef Juma finished ninth and added valuable points to their tally. Yousef Al-Dhafeeri and Abedalrahman Shekakwa rounded off the top 10.
Local driver Asem Aref teamed up with Ahmad Jankhout to compete in the MERC3 section in his Renault Clio RS. But the former regional two-wheel drive champion retired in the penultimate stage when the studs on a front wheel sheared and the wheel fell off.
Saturday – as it happened
Rally officials reinstated Shaban in fifth position after the Jordanian stopped to assist a fellow competitor on the stage on Friday.
Al-Rawahi was able to continue under the Rally2 ruling, despite the fact that Jordanian rookie Shaker Jwihan had actually rolled at the same corner and on to Al-Rawahi’s car on Friday afternoon’s Jordan River stage. Jwihan, Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya and local driver Bader Al-Fayez did not restart.
Two runs through three stages were on the timetable and Al-Attiyah continued to dominate through the 12.69km of Bahath. He extended his lead over Feghali to 6min 59.6sec. But a hard-charging Al-Thefiri reduced the Lebanese’s hold on the MERC2 lead to 37.2 seconds to set up a thrilling duel over the remaining five stages. Al-Rawahi bounced back from his accident to set another second fastest time.
Abu Jamous came into the event leading the MERC2 Championship, but the Jordanian retired his Mitsubishi after the opening stage with underside damage, his demise throwing the title race wide open.
The Suwayma (11.08km) stage followed and Al-Attiyah increased his lead to 7min 27.3sec, as Al-Thefiri trimmed Feghali’s MERC2 cushion to 32.9sec.
The Qatari completed the loop safely and headed to service with a lead of 7min 55.7sec but Feghali had redressed the balance in the tussle for MERC2 honours with Al-Thefiri: the Lebanese beat the Kuwaiti in Ma’in and increased his lead to 45.6 seconds, despite worries about the condition of the turbo charger on the Lancer.
Al-Thefiri lost a few seconds off the track and was also concerned about the high temperatures, while Salamah Al-Ghammaz retired from the national rally field on the last stage of the loop.
Stage wins and second quickest times followed for Al-Attiyah and Al-Rawahi on the re-runs of Bahath and Suwayma. A relaxed Qatari headed to the final Ma’in stage with a 9min 01.9sec cushion over Feghali who, in turn, was 30.3 seconds ahead of Al-Thefiri.
Strong winds and shifting dust had been prevalent during the morning and access from Amman to the Dead Sea had been closed for safety reasons. There were fears that the final stage would be cancelled but it was able to go ahead and Al-Attiyah stayed clear of trouble to clinch victory with the fastest time by 9min 57.6sec.
Support for this year’s event came from Zain Jordan, Mountain Dew, the Guarantee Travel Group, Hala and Bliss FM. — SG