Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel won each of the six gravel stages during the first leg of the 2022 Jordan Rallyand held a lead of 6 minutes and 12.1 seconds at the end of the day.
Driving an Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTi, the Qatari was never troubled as he closes in on an 18th FIA Middle East Rally Championship title.
At the end of the leg, he said: “We controlled the race from the beginning. We know the stages very well and the performance was good. Jordan Rally is never easy. I tried to beat my times from last year and I did. I am happy. If you go more easy, you start to make mistakes. I had a good speed and a good rhythm.”
Alex Feghali managed to get the better of defending champion Meshari Al Thefiri in the battle for honours in the MERC2 category. The Lebanese was third quickest on five specials and second on one with co-driver Joseph Matar and had edged into a showroom category lead of 59.4 seconds by the end of the day.
Behind third-placed Al Thefiri and his Qatari co-driver Nasser Al Kuwari, the talented young Jordanian Shaker Jwihan was flying the flag proudly for the Hashemite Kingdom before retiring after an accident in the Jordan River stage.
Abdullah Al Rawahi pursued Al Attiyah from the start and the young Omani set the second fastest time on four of the stages with Jordanian navigator Ata Al Hmoud before retiring from second overall on the re-run of the Jordan River special after an accident.
The carnage that ensued on the second loop meant that Khaled Juma and Tareq Al Taher climbed to fourth place and third in MERC2 in their Mitsubishi. Hamada Odeh and Mohammed Al Thefiri rounded off the top six, with MERC2 title rivals Ihab Al Shorafa and Issa Abu Jamous in an unofficial seventh and eighth overall.
Delays on stage three proved expensive for Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al Atya and his Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini. The former MERC runner-up slipped to 12th in the rankings in his Ford Fiesta R5, but the heat had taken its toll as well and he didn’t start the second loop of stages after suffering fatigue in the energy-sapping temperatures.
Al Attiyah hit the front through the opening Yakrut test and edged into a 9.9-second advantage over Al Rawahi, with Feghali pipping Al Thefiri for third and the early bragging rights in MERC2. Yousef Al Dhafeeri was the only driver to lose considerable time; the Kuwaiti dropping over five minutes to his showroom category rivals.
The giant Jordan River stage of 40.79km was next on the agenda and surviving without technical issues was the goal for the majority of competitors. Al Attiyah increased his lead over Al Rawahi to 28 seconds with a time of 28min 29.4sec. Feghali extended his advantage over Al Thefiri to 29.3 seconds in MERC2 and the impressive Shaker Jwihan moved into fifth overall.
Al Attiyah safely completed the first loop with the fastest time through the Baptism Site special and headed back to service with a lead of 43.8 seconds over Al Rawahi. Feghali increased his MERC2 lead to 48.3 seconds over Al Thefiri. Al Atya dropped six minutes in the special and slipped back to 1th overall, while Salamah Al Ghammaz crashed out of the national event during the first loop and Bader Al Fayez didn’t start SS3.
Al Attiyah shaved 3.6 seconds off his first pass through Yakrut and increased his overall advantage to 53.4 seconds heading to the second run through the Jordan River special. He sliced 17 seconds off his morning’s run and headed to the Baptism Site with a commanding advantage of 5min 36.3sec over Feghaliafter Al Rawahi hit trouble.