Attiyah eyes record 14th title as Jordan Rally begins today - GulfToday

Attiyah eyes record 14th title as Jordan Rally begins today


Hamed Al Wahaibi tested his car before the rally.

The 2021 edition of the world-renowned Jordan Rally, round two of this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship, gets underway at the Dead Sea on Thursday.

Record-breaking Qatari rally driver Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will be aiming to rewrite his own history and win the event for a 14th time as he bids for a 17th regional rally title and a 78th victory on a round of the championship since 2003.

Speaking during the recce Al Attiyah said: “We are really happy to come back here to Jordan after the rally was cancelled last year because of Covid-19. Thanks to the organisers and Prince Feisal for making this happen. It is very important for our region. Me and Matthieu are excited to be here.

“I have a lot of nice memories here. My start of racing was here in Jordan in 1989 in the Desert Challenge. We are ready and are so happy to see our friend Hamed Al-Wahaibi come back to do the race and to compete in the Middle East Championship. I hope all the drivers continue to come back each year.”

The Jordan event has attracted 13 entries in the FIA category and competitors from nine nations. They completed their two days of stage reconnaissance on Wednesday before cars pass through the mandatory FIA technical checks on Thursday morning.

Several drivers, including Abdullah Al Rawahi and Hamed Al Wahaibi of the Oman Rally Team, also managed to fit in a shakedown of their cars at the start of the week to iron out any last minute issues.

Wahaibi makes a dramatic return to international motor sport competition when he joins forces with young Abdullah Al Rawahi to form a two-car Oman Rally Team at this weekend’s Jordan Rally.

Al Wahaibi was one of the fastest drivers in the Middle East during his heyday in the late 1990s and won numerous special stages during ambitious rallying programmes that also stretched to the FIA World Rally Championship.

 But the Omani has not competed in the regional rally series since finishing fourth in the 2011 Dubai International Rally in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, although he did tackle two events in the Sultanate of Oman the following year in a WMS-built Toyota Yaris as part of a youth development programme with Ulster navigator Allan Harryman and ran a Mitsubishi on three national rallies in Oman, winning all three.

Wahaibi has been testing on gravel stages in Oman to regain the pace and rhythm he showed for many years and has recruited the services of Austrian female navigator Ilka Minor to sit alongside him in Jordan.

The 46-year-old is one of the most experienced female navigators in the world and has guided an impressive list of drivers, including Henning Solberg, Manfred Stohl and Evgeny Novikov. This year she has already finished 26th and 21st overall in the Monte-Carlo and Croatian rallies with Johannes Keferböck.

Wahaibi, 53, will drive a Motortune-run Škoda Fabia 1.6 with logistical support from Asyad Express, an Omani delivery and logistics company, WMS, Sandan (a new industrial area near Muscat) and Pirelli.

 “At this stage, I am not here to win against Nasser (Saleh Al-Attiyah),” admitted Al-Wahaibi. “He’s in a car every week and has been there for so long. He knows the stages so well. I am here aiming to gain as much experience as possible. My year is next year. That’s the plan.

 “I’ve come out of retirement with a different mind-set. Now I am really enjoying the time in the car. It feels great to be back behind the wheel. I realise I have been out of touch for the last nine years and it will take some time for me to get back in the groove. I am proud to be representing Oman for my return.”

 Wahaibi first tackled a WRC event in the United Kingdom back in 1997 and finished as the runner-up in the 1999 Production WRC behind Gustavo Trelles of Uruguay. He last competed in the WRC in Japan in 2005.

 He has yet to win a round of the MERC, but came within a few hundred metres of winning the Jordan Rally in 2004, before a cruel engine failure handed the win to local driver Amjad Farrah on the final super special stage. Al-Wahaibi’s best finishes to date in the MERC were as runner-up in Oman in 1998 and third overall in Abu Dhabi, Jordan and Dubai in 1997.

Team-mate  Rawahi, 24, is one of the most improved drivers in regional rallying and can call upon the experience of local navigator Ata Al Hmoud in Jordan, himself a winner of the inaugural Jordan Baja on a motorcycle.

Rawahi graduated from a Subaru Impreza in the MERC2 category to driving an M-Sport-built Ford Fiesta R5 prepared by Motortune. Last season he finished second and 10th on rounds of the regional series in Oman and Cyprus and reverted to the Subaru to win the opening round of the Jordan National Championship.

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