Big Surge Keeps Middle East Champion Well On Course For Another Ford Title Double Despite Unexpected Desert Obstacles Mohammed Ben Sulayem stamped his authority on the Jordan International Rally today with a typically impressive surge in his Ford...
Big Surge Keeps Middle East Champion Well On Course For Another Ford Title Double Despite Unexpected Desert Obstacles Mohammed Ben Sulayem stamped his authority on the Jordan International Rally today with a typically impressive surge in his Ford Focus World Rally Car.
Staying firmly on course for another double Ford Middle East title triumph, Ben Sulayem led Qatar's Hamad Al Sowaidi by 3mins 50 seconds at the end of the first leg, with the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi a close third.
Any thoughts that the Arab world's top driver could lose his grip on an event he has already won ten times were quickly dispelled as he swept clear of the early pace-setter, Lebanon's Michel Saleh, whose moment of glory on the first day was followed by disaster on the second.
While Saleh had held a one-second lead after the previous evening's 1.9km super stage in Amman, Ben Sulayem had been saving his best for the stages that matter in the desert south of the Jordanian capital.
That message was rammed home by another immaculate show of power and reliability by the Ford Focus WRC, while Saleh's ageing Toyota Celica GT-4 went out on stage six after a trail of problems which began when it sprang an oil leak after hitting a ditch.
Earlier, three rogue water tankers wandering across the rally route had forced the organisers to halt the day's opening stage. With the first five cars safely through, all those following were credited with the same time as the fifth fastest on the stage, Al Sowaidi
On the next stage, with Saleh's super stage glory fading fast, Ben Sulayem increased his lead, while fellow-UAE driver Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi, the reigning Middle East Group N champion, took his brand new SAIF-Zone Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 into second place.
With Ben Sulayem again extending his advantage over the next two stages, Al Sowaidi and Jordan's Marouf Abu Samra moved above Al Qassimi, whose bid for a third successive Group N win this season was hindered when he lost time after going off course on stage four.
But Al Qassimi climbed above Abu Samra on stage six, suggesting that, while Ben Sulayem's Ford Focus WRC was again in a class of its own, the Group N battle was just beginning.
Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Al Sabban and Kuwait's Abdullah Al Kuwairi completed the top six ahead of Bahrain's Hassan Al Sadadi, while another Bahraini challenger, Abdel Rahman Ghulum, made his exit when his Mitsubushi suffered mechanical failure on stage five.
Another of the leading Group N contenders, Qatari Mubarak Al Hajri, had plunged from contention on Thursday evening when he received a six-minute penalty after arriving at par ferme too early following the super stage.
Also joining the casualty list today were Jordan's Amjad Farrah and his co-driver wife, HRH Basma Bint Ali, who retired their Group N Ford Escort Cosworth on stage four with mechanical problems.
There were no problems, however, for Ben Sulayem, who is aiming to extend a 100 per cent record in his Ford Focus WRC in this year's FIA Middle East Championship after victories in the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain. The rally finishes in Amman at 4pm tomorrow (Saturday) after four more stages.
Provisional leading positions at end of first leg:
1. M. Ben Sulayem / K.Zakaria (UAE/HKJ) Ford Focus WRC (A) 1:11:52.80
2. H.Al Sowaidi / M.Morrissey (QT/IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 (N) 1:15:42.50
3. A.Al Qassimi / T.Al Warshaw (UAE/UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 (N) 1:16:40.90
4. M.Abu Samra / A.Shamaylih (HKJ/HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 5 (N) 1:17:42.80
5. A.Al Sabban / H.Downey (IRL) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4(N) 1:25:01.40
6. A.Al Kuwari / Z.Abu Zaid (QA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III (N) 1:25:02.20
7. H.Al Saddadi / H.Al Jabry (BAH/OM) Subaru WRX (N) 1:26:12.70
8. K.Charalambus / J.Charalumbus (CYP) Opel Astra GSI (A) 1:27:21.10
9. F.Bustami / S.Bustami (HKJ/HKJ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4(N) 1:32:13.70
10. M.Al Hajri / AlHarryman (QA/IRL) Mitsubish Lancer Evo 6 (N) 1:33:13.60