(MENAFN - Gulf Times) 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 yesterday.
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.
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
Middle East Rally Championship standings after round 2 :
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