Al-Attiyah and Bernacchini lead in the 2013 Jordan Rally
2013 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini held a 1min 11.2sec lead in the 2013 Jordan Rally after eight drama-filled special stages in the Dead Sea area on Friday.
The Ford Fiesta RRC driver edged into a tiny lead through the first slippery stage and gradually pulled away from the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Scott Martin to take a comfortable advantage into Saturday’s eight timed tests.
“We knew after the recce that the stages would be very difficult and it has not been easy to maintain a fast pace,” said Al-Attiyah. “The tyres have been working hard and the roads have been very slippery. We have the lead but there is a long way to go.”
Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi came under increasing pressure from the Lebanese duo of Roger Feghali and Joseph Matar as the afternoon progressed. The Lebanese was quickest through the fourth stage in his Motortune Fiesta and moved to within one and a half seconds of the Emirati’s Citroën before slipping behind on the seventh stage.
Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Irish co-driver Killian Duffy put their jetlag to one side to hold fourth place in the Seashore Ford Fiesta RRC. Sharjah’s Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Qatar’s Khalid Al-Suwaidi were tied in fifth position and Jordan’s Ma’rouf Abu Samra was the leading local driver in seventh.
Jordanian Husam Salem (Mitsubishi) held the Group N advantage over Abu Dhabi’s Bader Al-Jabri, but Abu Dhabi Racing’s Majed Al-Shamsi and Irishman John Higgins lost a potential top finish and escaped unhurt after rolling over the edge of a sheer drop into a canyon in the fifth stage.
Team-mates Mohamed Al-Sahlawi and Allan Harryman were fortunate to avoid serious injury when their Citroën DS3 left the road and came to rest balancing on the edge of the same cliff face. Mohammed Al-Mutawaa and Stephen McAuley led the Junior and 2WD categories in a third Abu Dhabi car.
“Lightning always seems to strike twice for Abu Dhabi Racing,” said Harryman. “A similar thing happened to two of our cars on the same corner in Portugal in 2009!”
“It was a blind corner and I was worried about it so I was slowing down,” admitted Al-Sahlawi. “But everyone had been cutting from the left and there weren’t any lines to follow. I stopped when I saw the water but the front right wheel went over the edge and we got stuck. We were scared we might fall off!”
Al-Shamsi was not so fortunate and was taken to a clinic with his shoulder in a sling for a check-up. “We came to a loose sharp left with a big drop and the back wheels went over the edge,” said co-driver Higgins. “The car just fell back over the edge and landed upside down.”
Twenty-six cars were flagged away from the official start podium at Martyrs’ Memorial in Amman on Thursday evening by HRH Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, chairman of Jordan Motorsport, in the presence of several distinguished motor sport-related guests from across the Middle East region.
Day 1 – as it happened
Al-Attiyah led 25 rivals into the opening 13.50km of the Suwayma stage and set the target time of 7min 24.3sec. Al-Qassimi ensured that this was going to be the mother of all battles and dropped just two-tenths of a second to the Qatari.
Al-Kuwari and Feghali dropped six and nine seconds to the top two as the leading quartet moved on to the slippery 20.44km of the Mahes stage. Abu Dhabi Racing rookie Mohamed Al-Sahlawi slid off the stage and left his Citroën DS3 precariously balanced near the edge of a cliff.
Al-Attiyah managed to edge into an 8.2 second lead over the Emirati as the leaders headed back to service at the Dead Sea. Saeed Al-Mouri was awarded a 2min 20sec time penalty for reaching the start of the rally 14 minutes later than anticipated, but the leading duo and Feghali and Al-Kuwari had already pulled clear of the chasing pack.
Would the Mount Nebo stage signal the sight of the Promised Land for Al-Qassimi? It was not to be for the Emirati and Al-Attiyah managed to beat his rival by eight-tenths of a second to increase his lead to nine seconds. The gap grew to 17.8 seconds after Nasser set the second quickest time behind Feghali through Ma’in.
“You know it is not easy, very slippery,” said the Qatari. “We use soft compound tyres because we are first on the road. I am happy. Maybe the second time around will be a little easier.”
Behind the leading quarter of Al-Attiyah, Al-Qassimi, Feghali and Al-Kuwari, Khalid Al-Suwaidi held fifth, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi was sixth and Jordan’s Ma’rouf Abu Samra and Group N leader Husam Salem were seventh and eighth.
Al-Attiyah beat his morning stage time through Suwayma by nearly five seconds to extend his lead to 27.4 seconds after five stages. Feghali closed to within eight seconds of second overall with the second quickest time, as Al-Attiyah reached the re-run of Mahes and again set a crushing time to reach the mid-afternoon service with an advantage of 45.9 seconds.
Feghali closed to within one and a half seconds of Al-Qassimi and second place. Both Qatar’s Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Emirati Majed Al-Shamsi left the road and retired in the fifth stage, with Al-Shamsi leaving the track at the same point as Al-Sahlawi survived the scare in the morning.
Al-Attiyah emerged from the second Mount Nebo stage with the fastest time and an overall lead of 51.6 seconds after beating Al-Qassimi by 5.7 seconds. Feghali lost time to his rivals and slipped 17.9 seconds behind Al-Qassimi, but the Lebanese was secure in third.
Al-Attiyah duly set the quickest time in the eighth Ma’in stage and reached the overnight halt with a lead of 71.2 seconds, as tyre wear continued to plague Al-Qassimi, who slipped to within 8.8 seconds of Feghali.