Defending Group N champion Husam Salem heads local contingent
Weiss, Al-Naimi and Al-Thafiri in FIA Group N title contention
While most eyes will be on Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah’s quest for an 11th FIA Middle East Rally Championship title in 13 years at this weekend’s Jordan Rally, there is a secondary battle going on under the radar for the Middle East’s prized Group N crown.
Held in conjunction with the eight-round regional rally series and open to cars that are more reminiscent of those we see on our public highways, the Group N series has a strong following. Drivers are attracted by the availability of competitive cars, the lower budgets required to run a rally programme and a close level of competition.
Kuwaiti driver Salah bin Eidan arrives in the Hashemite Kingdom with a 30-point lead in the championship with three rallies to run - Jordan and Oman and Dubai in November. Eidan and American navigator Alex Gelsomino finished fifth overall in Jordan last season with a Ford Fiesta R5, but the Kuwaiti switched to a showroom category car for 2015 and teamed up with the Slovenian co-driver Vili Oslaj.
“The goal is obviously the championship title, but I know that a podium finish is possible here if some of the more powerful S2000 cars have problems,”
said Bin Eidan.
“We have had a good season so far and the target is a finish and more points on the board, but I would also like to finish as high as possible.”
Edith Weiss has been competing in the Middle East since the 1990s and is enjoying her best ever season. The Mitsubishi driver is a clear second in the points’ standings and will take the start of the Jordan Rally nine points in front of Qatar’s Rashid Al-Naimi. A further point behind is the fourth-placed Kuwaiti driver Mishari Al-Thafiri, who finished 10th overall in Jordan last year. These are the only four drivers who can realistically win the 2015 Group N Championship.
But several Jordanian drivers are present to upset the applecart: Husam Salem teams up with Nancy Al-Majali for a second year and will be hoping to retain his Group N crown in Jordan. Salem finished a superb sixth overall last season with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and a second maximum points score in 17 months could throw the title race wide open.
Ma’rouf Abu Samra has enjoyed missed fortunes in recent Jordan rallies and had planned to compete at the Dead Sea with navigator Nicolas Fanous. But plans to run a new car were thwarted by late logistical delays.
Other local competitors capable of causing a Group N upset include Khaled Juma, Ihab Al-Shorafa and the second female driver Lina Hadadi.
The event gets underway on Thursday afternoon with a full programme of activities, starting with the ceremonial start in Abdoub Circle from 14.30hrs and the opening 2.5km spectator stage, starting at 16.30hrs.
FIA Middle East Rally Championship – Group N standings after round 5:
The Stage: Liaison 27 km, SS 157 km, Liaison km 40 Total km 229
It was a very good day for the KTM Factory rider Sam Sunderland, winner of the MR 2013, who claimed the first stage of the Merzouga Rally in front of Stefan Svitko (KTM) and Gerard Farres (KTM). Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha) finished in 4th position, while Antoine Meo - the fastest rider of the Prologue - closed the top 5.
Mathias Walkner was the first rider to take the start of the 157km long special stage. He rode with Antoine Meo and Laia Sanz for most part of the stage, before they made some navigation mistakes, allowing Sunderland and Svitko to catch up. Meo finally finished 5th, with Walkner 6th, Piatek 7th and Laia 8th.
Bruno Martins was the fastest of the Expert category, followed by Emanuele Piva and Paolo Caprioni.
In the SSV category the Spanish crew Yeste – Cuadra of Enjoy Quads wins the stage 1 with 5’ of advantage on the duo Abel-Manez (Los Amigos), Ibarz – Torne (enjoy quads) completes the provisional podium.
Today the MR 2015 came into action with a first technical stage with the competitors crossing two of the three Ergs (mountains of sand) of the Merzouga Desert: the Ergs Chebbi and Snaguy. The competitors took the start by the Oued Ziz, heading south via a series of small dunes and a fast and sandy river bed. With Cap direction Erg Chebbi, the big mountains of dunes were crossed from North to South, before tackling the Erg Snaguy. The route for the Expert finished at the CP2, while the Pro tackled the rocky Scorpion Pass that brought the competitors back to the Erg Chebbi that was crossed this second time on the west side till the Yasmina lake. After a path at controlled speed, the riders challenged themselves on the desert stadium, a 2-km long “circuit” of dunes and natural jumps.