MERC Jordan Rally gets underway in Amman on Thursday afternoon
2008 JORDAN RALLY, October 16th-October 18th 2008
2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 5 of 7
For immediate release
Wednesday, October 15th, 2008
JORDAN'S MIDDLE EAST CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY GETS
UNDERWAY ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON IN AMMAN
Qatar's Al-Attiyah heads top class entry at the Dead Sea
Farrah leads impressive 12-car Jordan entry into action
DEAD SEA (Jordan): The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan's second major international rally in just under six months fires into life on Thursday (tomorrow) afternoon with the ceremonial start at the Al-Hussein Gardens in Amman from 3.30pm (first car at 5.30pm).
The three-day event is the fifth round of the prestigious FIA Middle East Rally Championship and has attracted 34 entrants from 12 countries to follow on from the successful round of the FIA World Rally Championship that the country hosted in April.
Held under the chairmanship of His Royal Highness Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, Jordan Rally MERC 2008 takes place over similar gravel special stages to those graced by World Champion elect Sébastien Loeb and his rivals in April, but Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah should be the favourite for outright victory on this occasion.
"This event is important to me," admitted Al-Attiyah. "I have a nine-point lead in the championship but that is not enough. I need to win here and put a cushion between me and Misfer (Al-Marri) and the other drivers. These stages are quite technical, often slippery and can catch you out if you are not careful. I will try my best."
Al-Attiyah's closest challenger is Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri in a similar Subaru Impreza, although competition over the 18 special stages will be fierce and at least another six drivers are more than capable of taking the win. Jordanian Amjad Farrah has endured a fraught season with his Mitsubishi, although he became the first local driver to win this event four years ago and deserves better luck at some point this season.
He heads an impressive 12-car Jordanian contingent that features Faris Bustami, Ameer Najjar, Faris Hijazi, Mazan Tantash, Ammar Hijazi, Tamer Tabaa, Ibrahim Muhawesh, Ahmad Mihyar, Abir Al-Batikhi, Nader Jabali and Ziad Masannat.
Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh and his team mate Sheikh Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum will also be looking for the outright win. They hold sixth and 12th in the regional series, but Al-Maktoum led the Group N category in the WRC round in Jordan earlier this season and will be aiming to set the record straight when the event reaches a climax on the banks of the Dead Sea from 5pm on Saturday afternoon.
London-based Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou and young Cypriot Nicos Thomas have made impressive starts to their rallying careers. They hold third and fourth in the championship, Thomas has already won the Cyprus Rally outright this year and both are in contention for the Middle East's Pirelli Star driver award, which may well go down to the wire in Dubai in December. Both have shown an impressive, consistent pace this season, especially considering Thomas only competed in the desert for the first time in Syria in June.
Lebanon's Roger Feghali is one of the most naturally-talented drivers in the Middle East. He cruised to a sixth win in Lebanon this season and duly took the decision to tackle the rest of the championship. Winning the title this year is a tall order for the Mitsubishi driver, but this will be a Jordanian gravel debut for Feghali, who will be aiming to win the title for the first time in 2009.
The Sultanate of Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari holds equal fourth place in the title race and is seeded at nine in his new Subaru. The Muscat driver has shown consistent form all year and enjoys competing in Jordan, where he will also face Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi and the Kuwaiti drivers Meshari Al-Thafiri and Essam Al-Nejadi.
The event is also another training opportunity for the recently-formed Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team. Young Abu Dhabi rookies Majed Al-Shamsi, Bader Al-Jabri and Khalil Al-Sheikh will drive three front-wheel drive Ford Fiestas at the rear of the field, as they aim to learn the techniques needed to be competitive on gravel special stages in their bid to follow in the footsteps of 2004 regional champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and reach the dizzy heights of a works drive in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Also featuring on the entry list are the Qatari drivers Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Ahmad Al-Kuwari, Mohammed Al-Marri, Jaber Al-Marri and Khalid Al-Suwaidi. Britain's David Scialom makes the trip in a Subaru Impreza and Lebanon's Raafat Al-Mohtar and Yuval Melamid complete the impressive line-up.
Jordan Rally MERC 2008 - top 10 starters
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza Spec C
2. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9
3. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Subaru Impreza N14
4. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Subaru Impreza Spec C
5. Ameer Al-Najjar (HKJ)/Nicola Fanous (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9
6. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9
7. Roger Feghali (RL)/Giovanni Bernacchinni (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9
8. Nicos Thomas (CY)/S G Chips (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9
9. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Daniel Barritt (GB) Subaru Impreza N14
10. Suhail Bin Khalifa (UAE)/Ahmad Ghaziri (UAE) Subaru Impreza N14
2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship - positions after round 4:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 28 pts
2. Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 19 pts
3. Nick Georgiou (RL) 17 pts
4. Nicos Thomas (CY) 15 pts
4. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM) 15 pts
6. Michel Saleh (RL) 11 pts
7. Roger Feghali (RL) 10 pts
7. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 10 pts
9. Salah Bin Eidan (KT) 7 pts
10. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 6 pts
10. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA) 6 pts
12. Suhail bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum (UAE) 5 pts
13. Faris Hijazi (HKJ) 3 pts
14. Ahmad Al-Kuwari (QA) 1 pt
For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2008 Jordan Rally Media Officer, Media Centre, Ground Floor, Mövenpick Hotel Dead Sea and Spa, Jordan, Mobile: + 962 79 9037531, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org