MERC: Jordan legs one and two report

Bakhashab holds useful lead after 2 legs of Jordan Rally. Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi and his Irish co-driver Michael Morrissey edged ahead over the opening 2.35 kms Super Special stage of the Jordan International Rally, the fifth round of this ...

Bakhashab holds useful lead after 2 legs of Jordan Rally.

Qatar's Hamed Al-Sowaidi and his Irish co-driver Michael Morrissey edged ahead over the opening 2.35 kms Super Special stage of the Jordan International Rally, the fifth round of this year's FIA Middle East rally championship.

In front of thousands of spectators who had gathered just outside Amman to watch the opening stage of this Marlboro-backed event, their Subaru set the quickest time of 2m 13s. Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab was second overall in a time of 2m 15s in his Toyota Corolla WRC, while Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas completed the top three with 2m 19s in his Mitsubishi. Defending Middle East champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem holds joint fifth place with Jordan's Ma'rouf Abu Samra, eight seconds behind the leader.

Lebanon's Michel Saleh, who won this event in 1981 and 1982, started his 2002 campaign in dramatic fashion by rolling his Toyota in front of the television cameras on the special stage. He dropped over two and a half minutes.

Cars were flagged away from the start by His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Al-Hussain, brother of His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan.

The UAE's Khalid Al-Qassimi started the event with a 10-point lead in the Group N Championship in his Mitsubishi Lancer, but faces numerous challenges to his dominance this weekend. He trailed Qatar's Misfer Al-Marri by a mere second at the overnight halt.

The battle for supremacy amongst the female drivers centred on the competition between Bahrain's Yasmin Alhilli and the Jordanian trio of Nancy Al-Majali, Abir Batikhi and Tala Al-Shawwa. Shawwa was the fastest of the quartet in the opening stage, beating Alhilli by eight seconds, with Al-Majalia further four seconds behind and a similar distance ahead of Batikhi.

In the FIA 1600 category, joint series leaders Ron Oakeley (Subaru) and Ziad Karanouh (Peugeot) were locked in a fascinating battle, which resumes on Friday over the desert stages. They will face the rapid Cypriot Charis Komodromos and Qatar's Mohammed Al-Marri in a pair of Opel GSis.

Marlboro Team Saudi Arabia driver Abdullah Bakhashab was a comfortable leader of the Rally, after seven special stages in the rocky and dusty deserts of the Hashemite Kingdom on today. "I have enjoyed today," said Bakhashab. "After the problems in Syria with the blown engine and the last minute work to fit the new engine a day before the start, it was great to settle into a good pace today. I have been happy with everything."

He had moved into the overall lead after the opening 15 kms Zmeileh special stage in his Toyota Corolla WRC, although the defending champion Mohammed Ben Sulayem had been the fastest of the 36 entrants through the test and moved up from fifth to second overall. Bakhashab extended his advantage in the third stage, when Ben Sulayem collected a puncture and he benefited still further when Jordan's main hope Ma'rouf Abu Samra was delayed with a rear suspension arm problem and a puncture.

As the day progressed, Ben Sulayem - needing just one point to clinch a 14th regional title - sustained a second flat tyre and Bakhashab extended his overnight lead to 73 seconds. "I didn't want to push too hard," confessed Ben Sulayem. "There was no need. It would be nice to win, but Abdullah has driven well and the most important thing for me is the point to win the championship."

Jordan's Ma'rouf Abu Samra was on course to better the fourth place he earned last season and held third overall, ahead of a troubled Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, the Sharjah driver delayed with a broken shock absorber and a sixth stage flat tyre.

Group N championship leader Khalid Al-Qassimi inverted his Mitsubishi and caused the organisers to stop the sixth special stage while his car was removed from the track. Both crew members were unhurt.

This opened the door for Misfer Al-Marri, Abdullah Al-Kuwari and Mohammed Al-Sarraf to challenge for the showroom section in their Mitsubishi. At the overnight halt the Qatar Rally Team's Al-Kuwari led the category from Mubarak Al-Hajri. Marlboro Rally Team Kuwait driver Al-Sarraf wss fourth in the category after rear suspension problems.

Overall overnight leader Hamed Al-Sowaidi's challenge came to an end in the sixth stage when the clutch failed on his Subaru and if rolling on the opening Super Special on Thursday wasn't bad enough for Michel Saleh, he collected a flat tyre in the third section and slipped further behind the leaders. The Lebanese eventually retired with an overheating engine.

Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas held third at the start of the day's action, but his Mitsubishi slipped to fifth place, while Ahmad Daoud and Faris Bustami were handily-placed for the host nation, despite Bustami losing time with a flat tyre. Asem Aref retired with transmission problems and was joined by Nancy Al-Majali and Tala Al-Shawwa.

This left the way clear for Bahrain's Yasmin Alhilli to lead the female entrants in the Marlboro-supported rally in her Batelco-entered Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 5.

Saturday is the final day of the event and the surviving crews tackle a further six special stages, including the daunting 40 kms special at Hafira and two reruns through Zmeileh. The final test will be a repeat of Thursday's Super Special at Marj Al Hammam (Valley of the Doves), followed by the traditional ramp finish at 5.30pm.

<pre> leaderboard after 2 legs:

1. Abdullah Bakhashab/Bobby Willis (Toyota Corolla WRC) h 2m 54s
2. Mohammed Ben Sulayem/John Spiller (Ford Focus WRC) 1h 13m 15s
3. Ma'rouf Abu Samra/Malek Hariri (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 1h 16m 07s
4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi/Khaled Zakaria (Ford Focus WRC) 1h 18m 41s
5. Misfer Al-Marri/Adel Hussain (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 1h 23m 05s
6. Andreas Tsouloftas/Panayiotes Shalos (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6) 1h 25m 22s

-duby miller

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Bobby Willis , Andreas Tsouloftas , Khalid Al-Qassimi , Michel Saleh , Khaled Zakaria