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Qatari star wins opening Jordan Rally stage

Jordan International Rally
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 3 of 6

For immediate release
Thursday, July 24th, 2003

VICTORY FOR Al-ATTIYAH ON
OPENING STAGE OF JORDAN RALLY

Bakhashab two seconds behind; Abu Samra in third

AMMAN (Jordan): The 21st Jordan International Rally, the third round of the 2003 FIA Middle East rally championship, got underway with a Super Special stage on the outskirts of Amman this evening (Thursday). Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and his British co-driver Steve Lancaster set the fastest time of 2m 00s in their Subaru Impreza WRC.

Cars started the 2.27 kms stage at the Amman International Fair in reverse order for the benefit of a large crowd of spectators and the live television broadcast on Jordan's sports channel.

Behind the overnight leader, Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab was second overall in a Marlboro Team Peugeot 206 WRC, a mere two seconds behind, and Jordan's Marouf Abu Samra completed the top three at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6.

Cypriot Charis Komodromos was forced to stop his Opel Astra with mechanical problems, while Lebanon's fourth-placed Michel Saleh, Qatar's Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al-Sabban survived spectacular landings over a televised jump without damaging their cars.

Current regional championship leader Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi finished the stage in 24th place after losing 29s to the stage winner.

The bulk of the competitive action takes place on Friday, when the 42-car international entry heads down the desert highway for eight timed special stages in the deserts to the south of the city. Six of the original 48 cars had withdrawn from the race when the official entry list was published this afternoon, including Qatar's Mohammed Al-Marri and Syria's Ramez Al-Farra.

Supported by Marlboro, this year's three-day Jordan Rally promises to be the closest in years, as Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab lines up alongside Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas and the home favourite Marouf Abu Samra.

~We have a team plan and will keep to this,~ admitted Bakhashab's Ulster co-driver Bobby Willis. ~It has not been the best of starts to the season, but we are quietly confident. The car is working well and the stages are good. There are some fast downhill sections to watch out for on Saturday, near the Dead Sea, but we have concentrated hard on preparations and need to finish if we are to win this year's championship.~

Rival Al-Attiyah was in determined mood at the start. ~I suppose in a way I should be thinking of pushing hard to take the win,~ said Nasser. ~But I also need to make sure that I finish. I drove the last stages of the Qatar Rally at 80% full speed. Maybe this is how I should approach this rally. The car feels fantastic and I like the stages in the desert.~

Tsouloftas feels at home on tight, narrow stages which resemble the terrain he is used to in the Troodos mountains back in his native Cyprus. ~I was really looking forward to this rally,~ said Andreas. ~The stages by the Dead Sea and Mount Nebo are perfect for me and my car. I think I can win. The stages are technical and not too fast and that is perfect for my tactics.~

Jordan's Marouf Abu Samra is bidding to become the first Jordanian driver to win the event in its 21-year history. ~I have a good car and have made a solid preparation for this rally,~ said Abu Samra. ~It will not be easy, but it would be fantastic to win the race. I have won two national rallies in Jordan this year and a hat-trick would be perfect!~

Tomorrow's (Friday) action consists of four special stages, repeated twice, with a service park situated at Baalbaki used five times during the day.

In a route of 620 kms, there will be 162 competitive kilometres on Friday, before the event draws to a conclusion on Saturday evening following a further 11 stages in the Dead Sea and Rumman areas.

The Jordan Rally is based at the Amman Marriott Hotel and has further support from Marlboro, Royal Jordanian airlines, Amman Marriott, Masar/Motorola, Toyota, Mobilecom, Samsung, Minolta, Batelco Jordan and Aramex.

Poisitions after SS1 (top 7 only):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2m 00s
2. Abdullah Bakhashab (KSA)/Bobby Willis (GB) Peugeot 206 WRC 2m 02s
3. Marouf Abu Samra (HKJ)/Malek Hariri (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2m 04s
4. Michel Saleh (RL)/Joseph Mattar (RL) Toyota Celica GT4 2m 07s
5. Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Al-Kindi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 2m 08s
6. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2m 09s
7. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 2m 10s

Ends

For further media information: Neil Perkins or Richard Breiss, 2003 Jordan International Rally Press Office, Rally Media Centre, Moab Hall, Royal Automobile Club of Jordan, Amman, Tel: + (962) 6 5818345, Fax: + (962) 6 5818278, GSM: + (962) 6 859218
www.racj.com

Date issued: 24/07/2003

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