Qatar's Al Attiyah Eyes 20Th MERC Title As Jordan Rally Set To Flag Off At Dead Sea


(MENAFN- The Peninsula) The Peninsula

Amman, Jordan: The Jordan Rally, one of the most iconic rallies in the Eastern Hemisphere and a three-time former round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), gets underway at Dead Sea this evening.

An entry that features 29 cars and competitors from nine nations will take the start at a purpose-built podium in the event's service park with the spectacular backdrop of the Dead Sea and the neighbouring West Bank from 19.15hrs.

Crews will then tackle 15 demanding loose surface special stages in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas of the Hashemite Kingdom for honours on the second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah is chasing an unprecedented 20th MERC title since 2003 and win number 16 in Jordan. Last year, he shared the Drivers' Championship with Abdullah Al Rawahi and had to watch as the Omani snatched his first ever win in at the Dead Sea.


Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah

Al Attiyah's challenge for that 20th title has not started well either: a puncture and then suspension damage sidelined the Qatari from his home event in February and he will take the start tomorrow evening without a point to his name in this year's championship. He and co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini do have a new Škoda Fabia RS at their disposal this weekend, however, with the car being run by Autotek Motorsport.

While round one winner Pierre-Louis Loubet had never planned a full MERC programme this year, Qatar runner-up Mads Østberg confirmed last weekend in Portugal that he had planned to compete in Jordan with an SRT-run Škodabut logistical issues had prevented that from happening. The Norwegian finished 13th overall when the event was a round of the WRC for the last time in 2011.

Competition for the trio of Rally2 entrants comes from a pair of QMMF-supported Škodas for Abdulaziz Al Kuwari an Khalid Al Suwaidi. Al Kuwari holds fourth in the Drivers' Championship after round one and teams up with British co-driver Marshall Clarke. Al Suwaidi is a two-time winner of the Kuwait International Rally and teams up with Ross Whittock, who arrives in Jordan fresh from achieving overall success at last weekend's Manx National Rally on the Isle of Man with James Williams.

Bader Al Fayez teams up with Lebanon's Joseph Matar to drive a Rally1 Škoda for the host nation and Qatari veteran Nasser Khalifa Al Atya and co-driver Ziad Chehab wheel out their Motortune-run Ford Fiesta. Al Atya will be hoping to improve on his current fifth place in the Drivers' Championship. Local drivers dominate the MERC2 category after the opening round in Qatar: Shaker Jweihan takes a six-point championship lead into the weekend's action over Shadi Shaban with Husam Salim holding third place. Ten drivers will compete in MERC2 at the Dead Sea and they include Ameer Nassif, Ihab Al Shorafa Fadi Dahshan, Palestine's Hamada Odeh, Lebanon's Ahmad Khaled and Omani driver Zakariya Al Aamri.

The route features a revised 195.20 competitive kilometres in a compact route of 575.48km.

The Mount Nebo area hosts the opening Panorama and Bahath stages tomorrow morning before competitors return to the Dead Sea area to complete the loop with a pass through the aptly-named Baptism Site special.

A lunchtime service precedes a repeat run through each of the three speed tests and a short blast through a 3.3km super special at the Dead Sea to round off the day's proceedings at 16.35hrs.

Saturday's action features 109.42 competitive kilometres and is made up of two passes through each of the Shuna, Rawda, Turki and Suwayma stages: Shuna is the longest of the entire event at 20.93km. The podium and ceremonial finish (18.00hrs) and the post-event press conference (18.30hrs) round off proceedings.

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