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Nasser Al Attiyah takes a hard corner during the Jordan Rally on Saturday. Attiyah claimed first place by the end of the day (Photo courtesy of Jordan Rally)
AMMAN — 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 13thoutright victory at 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, 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 during the second round of the 2019 FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).
The result marked Attiyah's 71stMERC win in the 212-event history of the regional series since its inception in 1984. Baumel has now won 19MERC rallies.
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 Kuwari and British co-driver Marshall Clarke were waiting to pounce if Attiyah's troubles worsened and the Škoda Fabia R5 crew finished second and maintained the pressure on their rivals in the race. Their consolation was winning day two and collecting an additional championship point.
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 made another top three finish for the host nation.
Abu Samra commented in the finish after the race, saying: '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'.
Kuwait's Meshari Thefiri and Qatari navigator Nasser 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.
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 and the Lebanese crew of Ahmed Khaled and Dany Kairouz were eighth.
Salameh Al Gammaz topped the standings amongst the National Rally entrants at the back of the field after overnight leader Tareq Taher was delayed and then retired in SS18. Ziad Miqdad and Oman's Zakariya Amri were the other finishers after Sami Fleifel retired.