(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Peninsula
DEAD SEA: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah matched another major milestone in the history of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship by equalling Mohammed Ben Sulayem's 12 victories at the Jordan Rally yesterday.
Al Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel began the final day with a lead of 4min 20.9sec and reached the Dead Sea finish of a rally that had been modified because of freak heavy rains on Thursday evening with a winning margin of 8min 03.2sec.
The success was Al Attiyah's record-breaking 67th in MERC history and a 16th for Baumel, who drew level with John Spiller as the fourth most successful co-driver in regional history behind Ronan Morgan (41 wins) and a tying Giovanni Bernacchini and Chris Patterson (25 wins apiece).
A delighted Al Attiyah said: 'I think we did a clever race. I am happy with the performance and to equal the record of wins here is a nice feeling. We already have the record of winning the most number of Middle East rallies. We will try and get the new record for the Middle East Championships this year.
Vojtech Stajf and Markéta Skácelová overcame a substantial first day time loss because of a puncture to regain second place in their Škoda Fabia R5. A good tyre choice worked in their favour as they set a target of overhauling Kuwait's Meshari Al Thefiri. The Czech belied his limited experience of gravel rallying to shadow Al Attiyah to the finish.
'The priority is the Czech Championship for my sponsors and I always try and find some more rallies that are interesting, said Štajf. 'This rally was a part of the World Rally Championship and I heard great things about the stages. I could not believe that we did the recce in temperatures of 37°C and sun and then the stage by the Jordan River would be cancelled because of the bad weather.
'The first leg was very hard because we had never driven an R5 car in such harsh conditions. The pace notes were not perfect and I was not able to trust them. We had to play catch up but we are happy to finish second. It's a good start to the MERC for us. On some events I would like to try and catch Nasser on some stages. He is a fast guy and a good measurement for me.
Al Thefiri and navigator Nasser Al Kuwari were the class of the MERC 2 field in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X and the Kuwaiti was rewarded with a maximum haul of showroom class points and third overall.
Al Thefiri said: 'It has been a good rally, big gap, about five minutes. We start the second day in second overall. But the Czech driver was very fast. Third is a good start for me and a good step for the championship.
The Jordanian crew of Khaled and Emad Juma had hoped to challenge Al-Thefiri over the closing stages, but had to be satisfied with fourth overall and maximum points on the second round of the Jordan National Championship. Local rivals Ahmad and Shadi Shaban finished fifth and Ihab Al Shorafa and Yousef Juma were classified in sixth place.
Lebanon's Henry Kahy had to send his Škoda Fabia to Jordan via Jeddah and his hard work with Jordanian co-driver Musa Djiyerian was rewarded with seventh overall and two-wheel drive honours.
Oman's Abdullah Al Rawahi and Zakariah Al Ofi missed most of the opening day after sliding into a ditch, but the youngster recovered well to overtake Asem Aref and Faris Al Tal over the first loop of stages in his Subaru Impreza STi. An ECU issue eventually sidelined the Omani and lifted Aref's Renault Clio RX back into eighth place.
Al Rawahi said: 'It was a disappointing day yesterday falling off the track and into a ditch. The goal today was to bring the car to the finish but we had a problem in the service and, by the time we had changed the ECU, we were over our time limit and out of the rally.
Salameh Al Gammaz led the way in the Jordan National category from Zeid Miqdad, Tareq Al Taher and Raed Al Advan, but Juma was registered for both rallies and claimed maximum points in the local series.
Al Gammaz slotted into third position.
Action in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship continues with the Cyprus Rally on June 15-17.
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