In-form Al Attiyah eyes Middle East title glory

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, the regional rally star, will be the centre of attention at the vibrant Amman residential district of Abdoun where the opening stage of the 2015 Jordan Rally, round six of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), will kick off today.
Nasser Al-Attiyah
Nasser Al-Attiyah
The podium area today will be venue of the  ceremonial start at 3.30pm, before some of the region’s leading drivers head into a nearby timed super special stage at 4.30pm.

Al Attiyah is the most successful Arab driver in history and the Qatari needs just one point from this three-day rally to secure an 11th regional title in 13 years.

He starts as the favourite to win the event for a ninth time as well and that success would also be his 59th in the MERC and put him within one victory of Mohammed Bin Sulayem’s 60 successes.

“I always enjoys competing in this rally,” Al Attiyah said from Amman, Jordan, yesterday.

“The stages are challenging and of a high standard. I have won here eight times before, but it is never easy and you always have to concentrate hard on these roads. Another title is within my grasp and that is the priority, but I also want to win the rally, of course.”

A challenging route, comprising the timed super special and 20 further gravel special stages in the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas, will ensure that the Qatari and his French co-driver Matthieu

Baumel will need to concentrate at all times. The pair has just clinched the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and is on course for WRC2 success in the WRC.

Baumel, for his part, has won seven MERC events and is tied with Jordan’s very own Khalid Zakaria as the fifth most successful navigator in regional history, albeit some way behind Ronan Morgan (40 wins), Giovanni Bernacchini (25), Chris Patterson (24) and John Spiller (19).

Leading Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi will be hoping to push the Qatari to the limit. Both rivals drive Ford Fiesta RRCs, but Al Rajhi has missed a couple of rounds of the series this season, is not in series contention and only has a fifth outright MERC win on his mind. Ulster co-driver Michael Orr will also be chasing a fifth personal success at this level.

Abdulaziz Al Kuwari is a former winner of his home Qatar Rally and scored maximum championship points on a Cyprus round of the series. He too will be aiming for victory in a third Ford Fiesta with English co-driver Marshall Clarke. A podium finish would catapult the Qatari into second position in the championship at the expense of Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi.

“As always, the stages are nice and they will be challenging,” said the Qatari. “There is no damage to them after the recent rain and we are looking forward to what is sure to be a good battle between us, Nasser and Yazeed.”

Qatar’s Khaled Al Suwaidi drives a fourth Ford at the top of the entry list and the 2012 Kuwait Rally winner could also move ahead of Al Qassimi with outright victory in Jordan.

Al Attiyah, Al Rajhi, Al Kuwari and Al Qassimi are all on the entry list for next week’s penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Spain.

Leading Jordanian driver Husam Salem tops the Group N contingent in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.

Rivals include Qatar’s Rashid Al Naimi and Jordanians, Khaled Juma, Ihab Al Shorafa and Lina Hadidi.