DEAD SEA, Jordan: Nasser Saleh al Attiyah cruised into a massive lead of 8 minutes 32.1 seconds after an opening leg of six gruelling special stages of the Jordan Rally that were held in punishing heat and decimated the field on Friday.
The Qatari and his Andorra-based co-driver Matthieu Baumel were never troubled in any of the speed tests and were able to manage their pace after gaining a comfortable lead on the opening loop of three specials held in the Dead Sea and Mount Nebo areas of the Hashemite Kingdom.
Al Attiyah said: “It was a good morning. We tried to push the first two stages. The other drivers had some problems, punctures, but it is not an easy rally even for the experienced drivers. We know these nice roads. We have a good lead and now we try to manage.
“The second loop was good. It was not easy and a lot of big rocks on the second stage. We managed without any problems. Now we just need to finish.”
Kuwait’s Meshari al Thefiri was the Volkswagen Polo GTi driver’s closest challenger and the second-placed Mitsubishi Lancer man secured an overnight advantage of 40.8 seconds in the MERC2 category.
Alex Feghali, the son of 14-time Rally of Lebanon winner Roger, finished the leg in third and second in MERC2 after a morning tussle with Oman’s Abdullah al Rawahi and closed in on Al Thefiri as the day progressed.
“The second loop was much better for us,” said Feghali. “We gained 15 seconds on Meshari. We have some problems with the diff, but we will push tomorrow and try and get second.”
AL RAWAHI SIDELINED
Al Rawahi was sidelined with engine issues after overheating at the end of the first loop. “We had a puncture on the rear on the first stage, and then another one on the longer second one,” said the disappointed Omani. “It was really tough. I guess the rubber from the tyre cut a bit of the pipe on the radiator and we got a bit of a leak. The car over heated but we only knew after the third stage. It stopped. We managed to get back to service but the compression was low on the engine and we could not continue.”
AL WAHAIBI CRASHES
Hamed al Wahaibi had been relishing his return to the international arena after a nine-year absence, but the Omani suffered a shock crash while testing tyres on Thursday morning and was not able to make the ceremonial start after damaging his Skoda Fabia.
Al Wahaibi said: “I lost a bit of concentration while testing tyres. I just ran a bit wide out of a corner and went into a small ditch. The car went end-over-end about five times. Ilka (Minor) and I are both okay. The car proved its strength. I was so happy to be here and back in rallying.
“We will be in Rally Lebanon, for sure. Thanks to the organisers for all their support. The welcome has been great, fans, competitors and my friend Nasser (Al Attiyah) was so supportive. Now I wish my team-mate Abdullah al Rawahi all the best for the coming two days.”