MERC Khalid Al Qassimi snatches slender overall lead in Jordan Rally

Jordan Rally 2007
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 4 of 8
FIA World Rally Championship, official round in 2008

For immediate release
Friday, May 11th, 2007


Jordanian rookie Amir Najjar steals the limelight with five fastest stage times
2004 Jordan Rally winner Amjad Farrah holds third position
Qatar’s Al-Attiyah crashes out of Jordan Rally on opening special stage

DEAD SEA (Jordan): The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British co-driver Nick Beech were the overall leaders of the Jordan Rally after 10 timed special stages in the Dead Sea area of the Hashemite Kingdom on Friday.

The UAE driver snatched the lead in the ninth stage with a stunning time and maintained his advantage over the final Mahes test to lead the fourth round of the regional rally series, which is set to join the FIA World Rally Championship in March 2008.

Jordanian rookie Amir Najjar and co-driver Nicola Fanous lost crucial time with a puncture in the seventh test and saw their 24.4-second overall lead after SS6 whittled down to just 4.3 seconds. Najjar had been the comfortable leader after six timed special stages, setting the fastest time on five of the six gravel tests.

Al-Qassimi and Nick Beech began the seventh stage a mere 2.4 seconds behind Farrah in third overall and moved into second place. The 2004 regional champion was fastest in the eighth stage and headed into the final two specials of the day just 2.7 seconds behind Najjar and 11.3 seconds in front of Farrah. A classic battle was in prospect.

Al-Qassimi beat Farrah by 15.7 seconds in SS9 to extend his grip on second place to 24.3 seconds, but all eyes were on Najjar’s stage time. He was unable to match the UAE driver in SS9 and slipped 13.3 seconds behind the Subaru driver. But Al-Qassimi incurred a disputed 10-second time penalty for late arrival at the stage start, although this was likely to be dropped. It mattered not, because he comfortably beat the young rookie in the final stage of the day.

Najjar was still upbeat about his chances of taking victory on Saturday: “I have driven in sprint and hillclimbs, but have only taken part in two rallies before,” said the rising local star. “I need to keep up this pace. I won five of the first six stages and had a good lead, but it could have been more had I not got a puncture on the fourth stage and then another one in SS7. I can still win this rally.”

Jordan’s Ata Khalifeh, Lebanon’s Michel Saleh and the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi completed the top six. Cypriot Spyros Pavlides lost seventh place with a series of flat tyres on the ninth stage.

His Royal Highness Prince Feisal Al-Hussain, Chairman of Jordan Motorsport, was an enthusiastic onlooker at the Dead Sea and was delighted to see the Jordanian contingent performing so well. “This has been a high quality day of rallying and it’s superb to see our new Jordanian drivers challenging the more established teams. It’s important when the WRC comes here in 2008 that the motor sporting world sees, not only a top class event, but Jordanian drivers who are capable of performing at the highest level.”

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Briitsh co-driver Chris Patterson were the pre-event favourites to take the overall lead in the 2007 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, but they left the road 5.6 km into the first Turki special stage, landed in a ditch and were forced to withdraw.

“We ran wide on a corner and broke the front left-hand wheel,” said a shell-shocked Al-Attiyah, who has now suffered accident-related setbacks in Sweden, Mexico, Oman, Argentina and Jordan this season. “We got stuck off the road in a field. The front bottom suspension arm was damaged. We were looking at 10 minutes of penalties per stage and a total of 1h 40m of penalties for missing 10 stages. With so many cars in the rally, this gave us little chance of taking championship points.”

Thirty-eight cars began the first of 18 gravel special stages on Friday morning. Jordan’s Amir Najjar broke Al-Attiyah’s stage record with a fastest time of 9m 18.0s in the opening Turki special, as team mate Ala Khalifeh, 2004 rally winner Amjad Farrah, the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Lebanon’s Michel Saleh followed closely behind.

A close battle developed around Mount Nebo, with Najjar – the Rumman hillclimb record holder and Jordan speed champion - maintained his overall advantage. Farrah managed to pass Khalifah, as the Jordanian trio controlled proceedings at the head of the field.

Najjar took an 18.3 second overall lead into the second Turki stage, as Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas complained of turbo boost problems and accidents sidelined Qatar’s Ahmad Al-Kuwari and the UAE’s Sultan Al-Ameri. Kuwait’s Mufeed Mubarak, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Jordan’s Faris Bustami and Britain’s David Scialom stopped with mechanical problems. Jordan’s Mazan Tantash rolled out of contention.

Khalid Al-Qassimi upped his pace over the second Turki stage by setting the fastest time and moved to within 1.7 seconds of second-placed Farrah, as the battle for the podium reached boiling point at the Dead Sea - over 300 metres below sea level – in blustery and warm, overcast conditions. Najjar punctured and maintained a 15.2 second overall lead.

Over the next two stages, Najjar extended his lead to 24.4 seconds, as Qassimi returned to the Dead Sea service point a mere 2.5 seconds behind Farrah. But a further puncture cost Najjar dearly in SS7, as Khalid Al-Qassimi closed in.

Tomorrow (Saturday) there will be eight special stages, beginning at 07.26 hrs with the first of two runs through the 16.76km Kafrein test. Stages at Wadi Shueib (07.56 hrs) and Rumman (08.54 hrs) follow, before a service and regroup at the Dead Sea. The three stages are then repeated from 11.47 hrs.

After a second regroup on the shores of the lowest place on earth, two final stages at Shuna and the Dead Sea stand between the surviving drivers and a potential podium finish at the King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre from 18.00 hrs.

Sponsorship for the Jordan Rally comes from companies Jordinvest, Chinese car brand Chery, Capital Bank, Marriott Hotels, the King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre, Fastlink, Sawt Al Ghad and Riyadah.

Both the Ministry of Housing and Public Works have also worked on the special stages and extra support from the Ministry of Tourism, Jordan Tourist Board and the Greater Amman Municipality and Higher Council of Youth has been crucial.

Positions after SS10 (unofficial @ 17.20 hrs):
1. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Nick Beech (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 47m 28.7s
2. Amir Najjar (HKJ)/Nicola Fanous (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 1h 47m 42.8s
3. Amjad Farrah (HKJ)/Nicola Arena (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 1h 47m 53.3s
4. Ala Khalifeh (HKJ)/Othman Nassif (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 1h 49m 40.2s
5. Michel Saleh (RL)/Ziad Chehab (RL) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 51m 01.6s
6. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 51m 22.9s
7. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 1h 53m 56.7s
8. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Hamad Al-Marri (QA) Subaru Impreza WRX STi 1h 55m 48.5s
9. Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX 1h 56m 55.4s

For further media information:
Neil Perkins, 2007 Jordan Rally Media Office Manager, Media Centre, King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Centre, Dead Sea, Jordan, Tel: + (962) 7 95171401, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153 E-mail: NDPPublicity@compuserve.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)


Date issued: 11/05/2007

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