MERC Roger Feghali holds superb lead after day one in Jordan

2008 JORDAN RALLY, October 16th-October 18th 2008
2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 5 of 7

For immediate release
Friday, October 17th, 2008


Stunned Qatari Al-Attiyah demoted to second place
Third for Georgiou; Saudi's Al-Rajhi rolls; Cypriot Thomas out
Four Jordanian teams in top 10 at end of day one

DEAD SEA (Jordan): Lebanon's Roger Feghali and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini held a magnificent 1m 47.7s lead at the end of a thrilling opening leg of Jordan's round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship at the Dead Sea on Friday evening. The Lebanese star stunned the opposition with a series of sensational stage times to head second-placed Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Chris Patterson after nine punishing gravel special stages.

"I cannot tell you how shocked I am to be so far ahead, "admitted Feghali. "It is incredible. I prepared very well for this rally. I have found a good line through the corners and tried to keep it smooth and tidy. For sure, Nasser lost some time sweeping the roads this morning on the first loop, but only a handful of seconds per stage. I just need to keep this going."

Feghali had been the revelation at the Rally of Lebanon in July. He is tackling his first desert rally in a Group N car this weekend, although he did drive the course-opening car on two national events in Jordan recently. The Lebanese set a stunning time in the opening Yakrut stage, sliding his Mitsubishi at incredible angles to the fastest time by an astonishing 13 seconds.

A shell-shocked Al-Attiyah was second quickest, young Nicos Thomas was third in a TMR Subaru, borrowed from Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, and Jordan's Amjad Farrah was fourth. Misfer Al-Marri had promised the grand attack, but lost eight minutes with a time-consuming puncture, Al-Rajhi dropped over 90 seconds and Qatar's Mohammed Al-Marri retired.

Cars had been flagged away on Thursday evening by Prince Rashid Bin Hassan in the absence of His Royal Highness Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, who was attending the inaugural Asian Beach Games in Bali. Thirty-one cars eventually began the first stage, although homologation issues had forced both Thomas and Jordan's Ahmad Mihyar to find alternative cars at the 11th hour.

It was imperative that Al-Attiyah hit back over the 12.54km of the Rawda stage, but Feghali was inspired again and extended his lead to 38.1 seconds. The Lebanese was in sensational form, as Al-Attiyah slipped further behind and Thomas edged Farrah out of third place with the second fastest time to tie Al-Attiyah in the overall classification. Al-Rajhi rolled his new Subaru out of contention and Jordan's Ammar Hijazi also retired with mechanical woes.

Feghali was again the man to beat through Seham and extended his lead to 1m 07.9s, as Misfer Al-Marri began the long climb back from first stage delays and Thomas moved 2.6 seconds clear of Al-Attiyah and into a stunning second overall. At over 400 metres below sea level, the water splash on the fourth Baptism site stage is the lowest motor sporting location on earth and Al-Attiyah set his first fastest time, the Qatari reducing Feghali's lead to 63.6 seconds. Thomas dropped 20 seconds to the leaders, but remained well clear of Farrah and young Nick Georgiou.

"Running first on the road for the first loop this morning was a big disadvantage," said Al-Attiyah. "The stages were very slippery and we were acting as road sweepers, removing the loose gravel and dust from the surface. We speeded up on the next stages, but it was not easy. Roger is driving very well, but we will see over the rest of the rally if we can catch him."

Feghali was quickest in the second Yakrut special, extended his lead to 1m 14.9s and then to 1m 26.2s through the sixth Rawda special, where Thomas clouted a rock, broke a track control arm and retired on the same corner as Al-Rajhi had done during the morning's loop. The Cypriot's demise promoted Farrah to third at service and Georgiou to fourth place. Both Qatar's Khalid Al-Suwaidi and Jordan's Ahmad Mihyar also fell by the wayside, as Feghali headed into the final two stages of the day with a 1m 37.2s lead over Al-Attiyah after winning the seventh Seham stage.

Farrah punctured, survived a huge spin, dropped three minutes in the Mount Nebo stage and was caught by the redoubtable Michel Saleh. The delay pushed the Jordanian down to eighth position, as Feghali extended his lead to 1m 43.9s. Feghali was again quickest in the final Baptism site stage and headed into the overnight halt with a 1m 47.7s lead.

The UAE's Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum and Saleh - who won a Jordan national rally this season - held fourth and seventh places, Jordan's Ammer Al-Najjar and Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari were fifth and sixth and ninth-placed Faris Hijazi and Faris Bustami rounded off the top 10

Three members of the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team are also tackling the event in front-wheel drive Ford Fiestas at the rear of the field. Majed Al-Shamsi led the trio during the first leg from Khalil Al-Sheikh, but Bader Al-Jabri was plagued by overheating problems, withdrew before the third stage and will restart on Saturday under SupeRally rules.

Tomorrow (Saturday) crews will tackle a further nine special stages in the Dead Sea area of the Jordan Valley, beginning with a run through the 13km Suwayma stage at 8.35hrs. Competitive action follows at Mahes (09.02hrs), Turki (9.40hrs) and Erak Elamir (10.00hrs), before surviving teams return to the Dead Sea for a regroup and service stop.

Repeats of the Suwayma (11.51hrs) and Mahes (12.18hrs) stages precede a run along a technical route near Mount Nebo from 14.00hrs and the competitive action reaches a conclusion with second runs through the Turki (14.35hrs) and Erak Elamir (14.56hrs) stages. The ceremonial finish will take place at Emaar South Park on the shores of the Dead Sea at 17.00hrs. 

Jordan Rally MERC 2008 - leading positions after day one
1. Roger Feghali (RL)/Giovanni Bernacchini (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   1h 30m 56.4s
2. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza Spec C  1h 32m 44.1s
3. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   1h 36m 01.4s
4. Suhail Bin Khalifa (UAE)/Ahmad Ghaziri (UAE) Subaru Impreza N14   1h 36m 53.9s
5. Ameer Al-Najjar (HKJ)/Nicola Fanous (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   1h 37m 58.5s
6. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Daniel Barritt (GB) Subaru Impreza N14    1h 38m 36.5s
7. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Subaru Impreza N14    1h 39m 49.3s
8. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   1h 39m 59.1s
9. Faris Hizaji (HKJ)/Emad Juma (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   1h 41m 59.1s
10. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII  1h 42m 06.8s


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: ndppublicity@compuserve.com



Date issued: 17/10/2008

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