By Shady Janzeir
Albawaba.com - Amman
After losing his biggest foe in the dust, Mohammad Ben Sulayyem is cruising towards what appears to be an easy win – his 12th victory at the Jordan International Rally.
This would be Ben Sulayyem’s sixth consecutive triumph at the Jordan International Rally. Michel Saleh, basically Ben Suleyyem’s archrival, called it quits in the fifth special stage.
The Emirati veteran’s Ford Focus WRC almost hugged the zero car due to lack of coordination amongst the race marshals in the fifth special stage, and was delayed by over two minutes. “The zero car had problems in one of the special stages, and before it was out of the stage...the start base commander gave me permission to start the stage, only to find myself behind the zero car all over again!” a disgruntled Ben Sulayyem told Albawaba.com.
“He [Naser Bustami, the zero car driver] had no mirrors, which is why he couldn’t see me right by him,” the veteran rally driver added.
Nevertheless, Ben Sulayyem managed to score a time of 5:07.30, leaving behind Marouf Abu Samra, driving his Mitsubishi EVO V, with a little above 24 seconds. Abu Samra – the 1996 Jordan Open champion – is tailing Ben Sulayyem with a 5:50 difference, with an overall position of fourth throughout Friday’s first seven stages.
Overall, Ben Sulayyem is leading with a time of 01:11:52.80, with Qatar’s Hamad Al Swaidi in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VI lagging by an almost four minute gap. Ben Sulayyem’s countryman, Abdullah Al Qasimi, came in third with a 4:48 difference.
Ben Sulayyem also scored an easy victroy in the UAE International Rally in Abu Dhabi, the first leg of this year’s Middle East Championship.
The Arab World’s leading driver won the opening round of this year’s FIA Middle East series with a telling seven minutes to spare over second-place Cypriot champion Andreas Tsouloftas.
In a class of his own from start to finish, Ben Sulayyem was fastest on all 12 special stages in his Ford Focus WRC, while Tsouloftas fought out a great battle for second place with Michel Saleh, before the Lebanese driver was hit by a double disaster which put him out of the event.
Ben Sulayyem’s first international win came in Jordan in 1984. He has won the event a total of ten times, recording his most recent win in 2000. The list of his wins in Jordan reads as follows: 1984, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 & 2000.
With new life being pumped into the Jordan International Rally after its imminent exclusion from the Middle East Championship by the FIA, Ben Sulayyem returns to the scene of some of his best successes, hoping to face the toughest test of the season so far in his Ford Focus World Rally Car.
"The moment you start relaxing is the time when this sport can catch you by surprise,” he said.
One of the Jordan Rally’s staunchest supporters over the last two decades, Ben Sulayyem has been heartened by an administrative shake-up by Prince Faisal Bin Al Hussein, head of the Higher Motor Sport Committee in Jordan, which made major changes to the rally format following last year’s safety problems.
Both the Friday (May 18) and Saturday (May 19) legs feature five special stages, each to be run twice, with other new features including timing equipment accurate up to a tenth of a second.