Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah regained the outright lead in the 2003 FIA Middle East rally championship by winning the 21st Jordan International Rally, the third round of the six-event series, which finished in Amman today .
Driving a Subaru Impreza WRC, the Qatari and his British co-driver Steve Lancaster extended their 6m 05s overnight advantage to 10m 27s at the finish of the Marlboro-supported event. Several of their major rivals were sidelined in a dramatic opening leg which decimated the international entry.
"I was probably driving no more than 50 or 60% today," said Al-Attiyah. "We turned the engine anti-lag system off and I relaxed a little without losing my concentration. It feels great to win this rally for the first time and I am now in a good position to win the championship."
Only 21 of the original 42 cars completed the 20 special stages in the rocky deserts to the south of Amman and across the twisty downhill trails near the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo and Rumman, to the west of the city.
Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas began his championship campaign with a fine second place in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
"Second place is okay for me," said the multiple Cyprus national champion. "Now I must attack in Syria and make sure that I win my home rally in Cyprus in November. I enjoyed the stages today. They suited my driving style and were similar to those in the Troodos mountains at home."
The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi coasted to third overall and the Group N win, to remain a mere three points behind Al-Attiyah in the overall title race and in a strong position to win the showroom championship again.
The leading Jordanian driver was the former National Champion Faris Bustami, who finished in a fine fifth place in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution,
"I had a problem with the differential on Friday, but it is great to finish as the top Jordanian driver," said Faris. "I missed the Rally of Lebanon to prepare for this and it has all been worthwhile, but the last stage problem was so frustrating."
While Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi was fourth, after losing nine minutes changing a wheel on Friday. Bustami looked set for fourth place before stopping for over a minute with an electrical problem in the final stage.
Marlboro Team Kuwait driver Mohammed Al-Sarraf followed the Qatari Misfer Al-Marri to the finish in seventh place overall. Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab was left shattered on Friday evening when transmission failure resulted in his third consecutive non-finish in the Marlboro Team Peugeot 206 WRC. "I can't put into words the disappointment that both Abdullah and I are feeling," said co-driver Bobby Willis. "It was a bitter blow for our team to retire here."
Jordanian Marouf Abu Samra rolled his Mitsubishi out of contention in a wadi during the opening leg and veteran Michel Saleh - the winner of the Jordan Rally back in 1981 and 1982 - suffered a driveshaft failure. Defending Group N regional champion Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi wrecked his Mitsubishi's oil cooler on a boulder and was forced out during leg one.
<pre> Results : 1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA)/Steve Lancaster (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2h 51m 10.8s 2 Andreas Tsouloftas (CY)/Savvas Laos (CY) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 3h 01m 38.0s 3. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Khaled Zakaria (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 3h 07m 20.0s 4. Hamed Al-Sowaidi (QA)/Michael Morrissey (IRL) Mitsubishi LancerEvolution 6 3h 13m 59.8s 5. Faris Bustami (HKJ)/Ata Al Hmoud (HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 4 3h 14m 08.7s 6. Misfer Al-Marri (QA)/Adel Hussain (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 3h 17m 24.9s
2003 FIA Middle East Rally Championship after round 3 of 6 Overall drivers' positions 1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QA) 20 2. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 17 3. Roger Feghali (RL) 10 4. Abdo Feghali (RL) and Andreas Tsouloftas (CY) 8 6. Justin Dale (GB) and Rodrigue Rahi (RL) 6
Group N positions 1. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE) 20 2. Hamad Al-Sowaidi (QA) 12 3. Justin Dale (GB) 10 4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QA) and Elan (RL) 8 6. Craig Johnson (GB), Sheikh Khaled Al-Qassimi (UAE) and Misfer Al-Marri (QA) 6
FIA 1600 Cup 1. Ziad Karanouh (RL) 16 2. Ramez Al-Farra (SYR), Asem Aref (HKJ) and Meshal Al-Nejadi (KT) 10 5. Lu'ay Abu Kaff (RL) 6
Manufacturers 1. Subaru 30 2. Mitsubishi 13 3. Ford and Toyota 8