DEAD SEA, Jordan, May 6: Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah was at his clinical and devastating best on the second day of the Jordan Rally. The Qatari, who had begun the day with a lead of 9.5 seconds, won all 10 special stages in the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas to take a convincing lead of 11min 16.4sec into the final eight timed tests on Saturday.
His partnership with French co-driver Matthieu Baumel in a Skoda Fabia R5 goes from strength-to-strength and the Doha-based driver remains firmly on course for a 10th Jordan win.
“To be honest, I pushed hard on the super special on Thursday night to make a show for the spectators, but then I managed to control the rally and my pace,” said the Qatari. “I know from experience that these stages need to be respected and I was able to drive quickly without making mistakes.”
The eagerly anticipated battle for MERC 2 honours developed into a duel between the Jordanian duo of Khaled Juma and Husam Salem, after Khalifa Al-Attiyah rolled out of contention on the first stage of the morning and Rashid Al-Nuami crashed and lost a wheel.
Juma, the defending local national champion, took advantage of ongoing brake issues and caution by his local rival to reach the night halt with a lead of 1min 23.4sec and a fine second overall. Salem was a solid third to give the host nation two places on the provisional podium.
A somewhat resigned Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and his Irish navigator Killian Duffy held second in their Skoda Fabia R5 until the 10th stage, when the Qatari launched his car off the track and into retirement. Al-Attiyah and Al-Kuwari had been the class of the field. A three-minute delay in SS7 pushed Khalid Al-Suwaidi further behind the leading duo and the Qatari failed to start of the eighth stage and retired.
Once Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Al-Nuami hit trouble, Abdullah Al-Kuwari took the decision to ease his pace to preserve championship points and the Qatari held third in MERC 2 and fourth overall at the end of the day.
Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri overcame early morning delays and climbed to fifth place. Ihab Al-Shorafa was sixth, Lebanon’s Rodolphe Asmar and Jordan’s Asem Aref rounded off the eight survivors, but local girl Lina Hadadi lost her seventh position after stopping in the last stage of what developed into a gruelling day at the Dead Sea.
Al-Attiyah had stunned his rivals with the pace and finesse he had shown in the tricky little Abdali super special on Thursday afternoon. Not even the Qatari had expected to take a 9.5-second lead into the opening gravel stage of 16.85km. He set the target of 12min 03.3sec and duly extended that overnight lead over Al-Kuwari to 19.4 seconds.
But the drama was unfolding behind the leading duo: Rashid Al-Nuami broke a wheel and damaged the bodywork, Meshari Al-Thefiri lost over five minutes after hitting a rock, which broke the gear stick and forced him to incur additional penalties. Khalifa Al-Attiyah then rolled his Subaru, although neither member of the crew was injured.
The carnage didn’t end there either: local hero Husam Salem lost valuable time with brake issues and Rodolphe Asmar rolled, managed to get his car on to its wheels and reached the stage finish with the loss of nearly 20 minutes. “This stage was not ‘Panorama’ it was paranoia,” joked local driver Ihab Al-Shorafa. “I saw cars all over the place.”
The short Syagha special of 9.6km was next up and the leading duo began to pull clear of the chasing pack. Al-Attiyah extended his lead to 21.5 seconds and then added a further 5.8 to that advantage in Rama. A terrific tussle was developing between Juma and Salem for MERC 2 spoils and 2.7 seconds separated the duo after SS4.
Al-Attiyah safely negotiated Bahath and Suwayma and reached the midday service at the Dead Sea with a lead over Al-Kuwari of 41.1 seconds. Delays for Salem meant that Juma reached the mid point in fourth with an MERC 2 lead of 1min 12.9sec.
“I wasn’t really pushing in there. No problems, but I guess I was doing a bit of road sweeping and losing a bit of time,” confessed Al-Attiyah. “This afternoon the stage surfaces will be cleaner and we can maybe push a little bit more.”
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari said: “The gap is a lot, honestly. We lost 10 seconds yesterday, but 31 today is still a lot in five stages.
The super special was not a stage to drive. I know the gaps are not really big – two seconds and then five seconds on each stage. But, I was not risking. I will try my best. It is not easy.”
“No problem. I finish the first stage leading Group N,” said sixth-placed Abdullah Al-Kuwari. “When I see that the two cars I am fighting with in the Middle East went down (Al-Nuami and Al-Attiyah), I slowed down because I need to finish and get the points. Now we have two cars from Jordan in front of us. They are not going for the whole championship, so I must make sure that I finish.”