SWRT readied for sand, sea and salt in WRC-first For the first time in the history of the World Rally Championship, crews will travel to the Middle East for the fifth event of the 2008 season. The debutant Rally Jordan is set to be a gruelling...
SWRT readied for sand, sea and salt in WRC-first
For the first time in the history of the World Rally Championship, crews will travel to the Middle East for the fifth event of the 2008 season. The debutant Rally Jordan is set to be a gruelling challenge of hard-base sandy roads that sprawl through the region's desert plains from the rally base alongside the Dead Sea.
Located just below the northern Jordan city of Amman, Rally HQ and the service park promise a spectacular welcome for crews. Based on the banks of the Dead Sea, it is the lowest point on earth at 408 metres below sea level. Most of the rally is run below sea level, making for a stark contrast to the altitude of the last two events in Mexico and Argentina. The roads that wind through the Jordan Valley reach as low as 400 metres below sea level, and the only altitude section in the Rumman forests rises to just over 1000 metres, past the biblical site of Mount Nebo.
The rally comprises 21 stages and 351 competitive kilometres of hard-packed sandy roads on which crews will use Pirelli's hard compound Scorpion gravel tyre. The normally loose surface has been bonded and hard-packed over the last two years to create the rally's stage route and provide crews with a very hard surface on which to compete. Whilst the first few cars to run will inevitably experience a loose covering of sand, surface deterioration shouldn't be an issue, even as temperatures reach towards 40 degrees Celsius.
It does mean however that if crews run off line the surface will be far looser and grip reduced significantly. Whilst there is a lot of run-off in the barren desert landscape which may give crews the confidence to push harder in the knowledge there is more chance that mistakes will go relatively unpunished, off-road excursions may still prove costly with soft sand and interspersed rocky outcrops. The stages offer their own unique challenges in accurately judging distances and defining the roads amid the vast expanse of desert.
Just two weeks after Rally Jordan, crews will commence a flurry of European events with three rallies in five weeks, the hardest stint of the season. Jordan will be a crucial event for teams in setting the tone of their performance in this mid-year period, and so everyone will be looking to step their performance and consistency up a gear. Those who are strong in Jordan will carry more momentum into the European events.
The event starts with a ceremonial start on Thursday evening, and finishes at the King Hussein Bin Talal convention centre on the banks of the Dead Sea, shortly followed by a finish podium set against the spectacular backdrop of the body of water famed for being the most buoyant in the world due to its exceptionally high salt content. Twenty two stages take crews through 360 kilometres of competition.
Jordan is a barren landscape that, at less than half the size of Great Britain, is more than 80 per cent arid. It lies just east of the Mediterranean Sea, sandwiched between Israel, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The Subaru World Rally Team have entered two Impreza WRC2007s for Rally Jordan. Petter Solberg / Phil Mills will drive car number five and Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prevot will be in car number six. Petter and Phil conducted a recce of 18 of the stages in May last year, and it was on the Rally of Jordan in 1994 that Phil Mills scored his first international rallying win with Middle East champion Mohammed Bin Sulayem.
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "I have been very closely linked with motorsport in the Middle East since 1976 when I was first involved in organising the early rallies in the Gulf and then working with Saeed Al-Hajri who won the Middle East Rally Championship on three occasions for Prodrive. I built so many great friendships in the region and very much look forward to meeting everybody again in Jordan.
"It has been a long-held dream of mine that the World Rally Championship would finally come to the Middle East and I am particularly pleased that it is doing so in Jordan. It will be a totally different experience for the WRC teams but I am sure that with the support of Prince Feisal it will be extremely well organised and we can expect a wonderful Arabic welcome to the region."
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: "Jordan is a new event so no drivers in the WRC have competitive experience of it which could prove to be a bit of a leveller amongst the younger drivers. Temperature will be a factor here as it'll be the hottest round of the season so far so everyone will have an eye on cooling and brake temperature. The route is quite twisty but because of the way they have bonded the stages together there is a lot of grip on what would seem to be very loose surface. It's a new event but we've done all our research: two years ago we studied the nature of the stages and, with a ban on testing there since, obtained the knowledge we will use now to develop a base setup for the event. Consistency here is key to carrying momentum into the following batch of three European events."
Petter Solberg: "I did the recce in Jordan last year and I was very happy to have the chance to look at the roads. It will be a new event for everyone so we are doing all we can now, using the notes from the recce to prepare as best we can and try and be in the best shape for the rally. It may be possible to do the rally well with new pace notes and no experience of the roads, but I'm just trying to do things 110 per cent, and if the recce gives us even a slight advantage, it was worth it. It's a brand new event but we have the same mentality and approach to it as any other event, as we continue in the way that works best for us. The unseen roads are quite tricky, and there are a lot of crests. It's quite wide, but it's a little difficult to read the road surface and know just how much to push."
Chris Atkinson: "I haven't been to Jordan and don't really know what to expect. I've heard the roads are in quite good condition, but it's going to be difficult first time there having not done the recce last year. It's very interesting to go to a country like that anyway as an experience, so I'm really looking forward to it. I'm going out a few days earlier to look around and see Petra, as it's not every day we'll come here. The fact that no-one has competed here before may even things up a little, but we know that the same guys will always be fast anywhere. At this part of the season it's all about linking events to build momentum for the next few rounds."
Between the rallies
After Rally Argentina, Stephane Prevot flew straight home to his family to take his daughter on a long-promised trip to Disneyland Paris, amid his preparations for Jordan. Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson and Phil Mills travelled to Cordoba for a two day shooting break, along with P-WRC Subaru competitor and multiple Asian shooting champion Nasser Al-Attiyah.
As the pace of the calendar rises, Solberg and Atkinson have been increasing their exercise programmes and training to improve their fitness in time for May and the toughest part of the season. Improved fitness will also help them with the extreme in-car temperatures of Jordan, Greece and Turkey.