MERC: Jordan International Rally preview

Ben Sulayem hopes for tough Jordan test in Ford Focus World Rally Championship Arab world's top driver wants to be pushed for victory as Middle East Championship (MERC) returns to Hashemite Kingdom with new life being pumped into the Jordan ...

Ben Sulayem hopes for tough Jordan test in Ford Focus

World Rally Championship Arab world's top driver wants to be pushed for victory as Middle East Championship (MERC) returns to Hashemite Kingdom with new life being pumped into the Jordan International Rally. Mohammed Ben Sulayem returns to the scene of some of his best FIA MERC successes next week hoping to face the toughest test of the season so far in his Ford Focus world rally car. After comfortable victories in the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, the 12-times Middle East champion wants the fourth round of this year's regional series to provide a bigger examination of his ability to guide Ford to another double title triumph this season.

"We've had a virtually perfect season so far, and that's great for the team," said the Arab world's top driver. "But to be honest, I would really like to be pushed harder this time."

Added Ben Sulayem: "We have a strong lead in the drivers' and manufacturers' championships, and my aim is to give Ford the two titles again.

"But like every driver, what I enjoy most is a good battle, as I've had in Jordan in the past. That's what the Jordan Rally, and the Middle East Championship as a whole, needs to make things interesting."

Ben Sulayem, who will be partnered again in the Ford Focus WRC by Jordanian co-driver Khaled Zakaria, has won ten times in the Hashemite Kingdom, a record which began with his first international win in the same event back in 1984.

While it is difficult to see Fords supremacy being seriously challenged when the three-day event roars to life next Thursday, Ben Sulayem refuses to take another victory for granted.

"That would be a big mistake," he says. "I'll be preparing for this rally as thoroughly as I've done for every event throughout my career. The moment you start relaxing is the time when this sport can catch you by surprise, and I won't be taking any chances."

One of the Jordan Rally's staunchest supporters over the last two decades, Ben Sulayem was heartened by the administrative shake-up which has seen a new-look organizational structure, created by HRH Prince Faisal Bin Al-Hussein, bringing in major changes to the rally format following last year's problems with safety.

The 2001 Jordan International Rally gets under way at 5pm on Thursday May 17 with a 2km super special spectator stage at the Amman International Fair. The main action begins at 7am the following morning, with Ben Sulayem's Ford Focus WRC leading the rally away from the Sheraton Hotel in Amman, the event's official headquarters, on a re-designed 1,040-km desert route.

Both the Friday (May 18) and Saturday (May 19) legs feature five special stages each to be run twice, with other new features including timing equipment accurate up to a tenth of a second.

-duby miller

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About this article
Series Other rally , WRC
Drivers Khaled Zakaria