MERC Nasser Al Attiyah eases to victory in dramatic Jordan Rally

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

For immediate release
Saturday, October 18th, 2008


Lebanon's Georgiou takes second; third for Jordan's Najjar
Fuel pump failure robs Lebanon's Feghali of dream Jordan win
HRH Prince Feisal Al-Hussein follows event on-line from Asian Beach Games

DEAD SEA (Jordan): Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson benefited from the 11th stage retirement of Lebanon's Roger Feghali and his Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini to seal an emphatic victory in the Jordan Rally, the fifth round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, at the Dead Sea on Saturday. The win marked the Qatari's fourth Jordan Rally success in the last six years.

After 11 stages of frantic competition between the two rivals, Feghali held a lead of over 98 seconds heading into the Mahes stage, but a cruel fuel pump failure sidelined the Lebanese driver's Mitsubishi and handed a comfortable lead and eventual win to a delighted Al-Attiyah.

"To win a rally, first you have to finish, "admitted Al-Attiyah. "Everyone was impressed by Roger's performance and he was unfortunate to have a technical problem. But we came here with a game plan and it has worked perfectly. I needed to claim maximum points. I said before the start that I needed to get the win and we are pleased with this result."

London-based Lebanese driver Nick Georgiou finished a distant second and increased his advantage over Cypriot Nicos Thomas in the battle for the coveted Pirelli Star Driver award, while Jordan's Ameer Najjar rounded off the top three and gave the host nation a podium finish. Oman's Nizar Al-Shanfari made it five finishes from as many events to add to his points' tally with fourth overall and the redoubtable Lebanese veteran Michel Saleh was fifth.

His Royal Highness Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, the chairman of Jordan Motorsport, was following the event on the internet from the inaugural Asian Beach Games in Bali, courtesy of the excellent tracking and results technology used by event officials. "Congratulations to Nasser, who is a worthy winner of the event. I was not able to be there this year, but I was able to follow what must have been a thrilling event from the internet," he said.

Al-Attiyah faced an uphill struggle to claw back 1min 47.1sec over the final nine special stages on Saturday, although Feghali did have a slight disadvantage of running first on the road over stages that had been run in reverse and 'cleaned' on Friday.

Al-Attiyah laid down the gauntlet with the fastest time over the 13km of the Suwayma stage, after 26 of the original 31 starters began the second leg. The Qatari was on the ragged edge and duly reduced Feghali's lead to 1min 38.1sec to set up the prospect of a fascinating showdown over the next eight stages. But the contest was all but settled near the start of the next Mahes test when Feghali's fuel pump failed and the dejected Lebanese driver was sidelined. A superb performance was brought to an end and a relieved Al-Attiyah was able to ease his pace.

Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum struggled through the 10th stage with serious mechanical problems after an accident and retired. Farrah was suffering from a misfire and transmission woes, as the depleted field began to fall by the wayside and Jordan's Najjar found himself up to third overall.

Al-Attiyah continued to drive home his advantage through the Turki stage and headed to Erak Elamir with a massive 3min 56.6sec lead over second-placed Nick Georgiou. Sixth-placed Farrah was struggling on with engine woes and was already falling into the clutches of a resurgent Faris Bustami, who had overhauled Faris Hijazi and climbed to seventh.

The Qatari leader noticeably eased his pace over the subsequent stages and the top 10 settled into a set pattern with no drivers able to close in on their closest rivals. Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri was fighting back from first stage delays on Friday and found himself in ninth position and eligible for a championship point, while Najjar benefited from Al-Attiyah's tactics to take the fastest times in the Turki and Erak Elamir stages.

Al-Attiyah set the quickest time and extended his lead over Georgiou to 4min 13.1sec in the re-run of Suwayma. The Lebanese driver sustained a flat tyre in Mahes, as a rampant Al-Attiyah cruised into the distance with a lead that had grown to nearly five minutes.

The drama was continuing down the field: Thomas suffered ongoing overheating problems and began to drop out of contention, Mazan Tantash rolled and persevered with a cracked screen and Hijazj lost eighth place with terminal transmission trouble 300 metres into SS15. Eighteen cars survived to tackle the final three stages after Kuwait's Essam Al-Nejadi was also sidelined.

Al-Attiyah's lead exceeded five minutes for the first time after the Mount Nebo stage as he cruised towards a fourth Jordan Rally win. But Mount Nebo spelt the end of the road for Farrah: the Jordanian had been dropping time all day and eventually succumbed to his transmission woes, his demise duly promoting Faris Bustami to sixth place.

The second Turki stage gave Al-Attiyah no problems and he cruised through Erak Elamir for the last time to secure an emphatic win by the margin of 6min 00.4sec, with Georgiou claiming a distant second place and Najjar finishing third after a spirited late attempt to catch the young London-based Lebanese driver.

Three members of the Abu Dhabi Junior Rally Team entered the Jordan event for the first time and Majed Al-Shamsi was the class of the field in his Ford Fiesta. The Abu Dhabi rookie began day two in 16th overall and had been as high as 12th place before drive train trouble forced him into retirement. Khalil Al-Sheikh lost 15 minutes in SS11 after an accident but headed Bader Al-Jabri back to the Dead Sea, on an event where all three drivers gained priceless experience.

Regional championship contenders now switch their attentions to the penultimate round of the series in Cyprus at the start of November.
Jordan Rally MERC 2008 - positions after SS18* (unofficial @ 15.50hrs)
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Chris Patterson (GB) Subaru Impreza N14   3h 05m 02.5s
2. Nick Georgiou (RL)/Joseph Matar (RL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   3h 11m 02.9s
3. Ameer Al-Najjar (HKJ)/Nicola Fanous (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   3h 11m 23.4s
4. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)/Daniel Barritt (GB) Subaru Impreza N14    3h 14m 53.7s
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Subaru Impreza N14    3h 16m 42.3s
6. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Ramzi Mansour (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8   3h 22m 08.4s
7. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussein (QA) Subaru Impreza N14    3h 23m 33.1s
8. David Scialom (GB)/Thomas Mathias (GB) Subaru Impreza STi   3h 36m 38.5s
9. Jaber Al-Marri (QA)/Alaa Al Hmoud (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9   3h 37m 04.1s

* subject to outcome of post-event scrutineering

2008 FIA Middle East Rally Championship - positions after round 5 (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)   38 pts
2. Nick Georgiou (RL)    25 pts 
3. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)   22 pts
4. Nizar Al-Shanfari (OM)   21 pts
5. Michel Saleh (RL)    16 pts
5. Nicos Thomas (CY)   16 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 Bustami (HKJ)   4 pts
14. Faris Hijazi (HKJ)    3 pts   
15. Mazan Tantash (HKJ)   2 pts
16. 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: ndppublicity@compuserve.com




Date issued: 18/10/2008

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