Dead Sea,October 12 (QNA) – Qatar s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini led after a titanic struggle for supremacy on the first day of the 30th anniversary of the Jordan Rally, round four of the 2012 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, at the Dead Sea on Friday.
Despite running first on the road and being forced to sweep loose gravel off the track surfaces, Al-Attiyah won four of the day s eight special stages to hold an 18.8-second advantage over the Lebanese duo of Roger Feghali and Joseph Matar at the end of day one.
Feghali won two stages in his Motortune Ford Fiesta and heads into the final day 17.4 seconds in front of third-placed Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, who was fastest on the first and third stages with Ulster co-driver Michael Orr.
“It has been unbelievable sweeping the road and running first through the stages,” said Al-Attiyah, who drives a brand new Ford Fiesta RRC on an event where there are (according to rally historian Martin Holmes) more Regional Rally Cars (RRCs) than on any event ever before. “I think maybe one second a kilometre difference. It was so slippery out there. It was not easy to push hard and stay very competitive.”
The UAE s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi made a low-key return to the sport after a 12-month absence and was a solid fourth overall in his Ford Fiesta to make it a Ford 1-2-3-4. Championship leader Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari held fifth in the sole Mini S2000 and Lebanon s Group N leader Nick Georgiou and Sharjah s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi rounded off the top seven.
Mazan Tantash slipped from seventh to 12th overall after puncture-related delays on stage six and this enabled Zeid Dahshan to climb to eighth and finish the day as the leading Jordanian driver.
Qatar s Misfer Al-Marri lost his chances of taking outright victory when he sustained a time-consuming flat tyre on the third stage and slipped to ninth overall. Khalid Al-Suwaidi lost five minutes with a puncture and slipped to 10th position before leaving the road in SS7.
Jordan s Husam Salem, Tantash and Ala a Rasheed finished the day in 10th, 11th and 12th positions, but Egypt s Ahmad El-Kabany brought up the rear of the field in 13th.
Day one as it happened
Al-Attiyah laid down the gauntlet with a stunning time of 7min 17.6 sec in the first 13.5km Suwayma stage. He beat
Al-Marri by a staggering 25.6sec and Khalid Al-Qassimi by 13.9sec, but Al-Rajhi was even quicker than the Qatari and won the stage by 1.9sec, with Feghali slotting into third position. Tantash was the leading Jordanian in ninth.
Mahes was the longest stage of the day and Al-Attiyah set the target time of 14min 58.2sec. Al-Marri suffered a flat tyre, dropped over nine minutes when the jack broke and slipped to 14th overall.
Al-Attiyah gained the outright lead and some front panel damage when Al-Rajhi dropped 8.3sec to the defending regional champion heading back to the Dead Sea for a brief service. “I was cleaning the roads in there,” said Al-Attiyah. “I gained the time back when I pushed even harder.” Feghali set the second fastest time and remained in third and Tantash climbed to eighth.
Al-Rajhi set the fastest time through the Mount Nebo stage and headed to the tricky 17km of the twisty Ma in stage trailing Al-Attiyah by just 5.1sec. Khalid Al-Suwaidi lost over four minutes with a flat tyre, but Saeed Al-Mouri suffered mechanical problems in the special and was towed to service. The Saudi will restart under SupeRally on Saturday.
Al-Attiyah finished Ma in in 12min 01sec and reached the major midday service with an overall advantage of 7.6 seconds over Al-Rajhi. Feghali held third, despite a spin on the fourth stage, and Khalid Al-Qassimi was in touch with fourth position on his rallying comeback. Fourteen of the 15 starters remained in the rally.
“Now I will push hard on the next two,” said Al-Attiyah. “If we have a big gap then that is fine but, if not, then maybe it is better if Yazeed is leading tonight .”
Al-Attiyah was a man of his word and shaved three seconds off his first run through Suwayma when he tackled stage five. His lead over Al-Rajhi grew to 16.6sec heading to Mahes, as Feghali and Al-Qassimi retained third and fourth and Tantash continued to lead the Jordanian contingent in seventh place.
Al-Attiyah beat his first Mahes time by 14sec in stage six and edged 3.5sec further in front of Al-Rajhi, but Feghali produced a stunning fastest time of 14min 37.1sec and moved into second position at the expense of the Saudi driver. Tantash lost nearly 10 minutes and slipped from seventh to 13th overall.
Al-Attiyah beat his previous run through Mount Nebo by three seconds and Al-Rajhi by four seconds to boot. Feghali was squeezed out of the fastest time by a mere tenth of a second and the Qatari s leading margin climbed to 19.4sec heading to the final stage of the day. Kuwait Rally winner Al-Suwaidi left the road and wrecked his chance of lifting the MERC title.
Al-Attiyah had made it public knowledge that he didn t want to run first on the road on day two but he was 13 seconds quicker through the final Ma in stage than he had been in the morning. He extended his lead over Al-Rajhi by a further 12.1 seconds to 36.2 seconds, but Feghali clinched his second fastest time and reached parc ferme trailing Al-Attiyah by just 18.8 seconds.
Al-Attiyah knew he would be sweeping day two stages as well. The rally was finely poised for a fascinating final eight timed tests on Saturday.(qna)