By Shady Janzeir
The first day of the 2000 Jordan International Rally ended Thursday with UAE’s Mohammad Ben Sulayem and his long-time co-driver Ronan Morgan leading with almost one and a half minutes ahead of his closest contestant and compatriot Michel Saleh, co-driven by Jordan’s former co-driver champion Khaled Zakaria.
Third runner-up was Australian Ron Cremen, co-driven by Stewart Flemming, and in fourth came Oman’s Nizar Al-Shanfari with Cypriot co-driver Michael Michalakis.
Ben Sulayem himself almost foresaw his lead even before the race kicked off.
“I did just fine today and managed to put a one-and-a-half-minute gap between me and Michel, and what helped is a reliable car which performed superbly,” Ben Sulayem, who drives his Ford Focus WRC, told Albawaba.com.
“Tomorrow I intend to do even better, and I do not expect any significant pressure from any other drivers. Jordan will be our field for the taking,” he added.
Saleh, who was not available for comment on Thursday, managed to clinch a two-second lead in the first stage over Marouf Abu Samra, the only Jordanian native driver to pose a real threat on both Ben Sulayem and Saleh.
But Abu Samra’s glory was not to last, as mechanical problems dawned on too early. “Although we were hopeful after the first stage,” Abu Samra explained, “within four kilometers of the second stage we totally lost the brakes, and almost withdrew, but we had it fixed right after and did well on the third.”
But that was hardly the end of his troubles.
“In the fifth stage I broke the suspension and had to drive all the way to the tenth stage with practically no roadholding, which was very dangerous, not to mention 15 seconds penalty for finishing a stage with a flat tire,” he said.
“And to top it all, an electrical problem prevented the car from starting,” he added.
Bahrain’s Jaber Al Khalifah, who came in fifth, was very satisfied with his result, especially that he had introduced his brand new Extreme Racing team just two days before the rally. Besides, his modest experience and short history in the sport as were enough reason for him to feel proud compared to the result.
“I did just fine considering my experience and breaking in the car,” Al Khalifah told Albawaba.com, adding “I am getting used to the [Mitsubishi Lancer] Evo 6 pretty fast, but I am in this rally only to practice and gain experience, and winning is not a priority right now.”
The rally will continue for the second day on Friday, with the final stages being run mostly on desert tracks southeast of the capital Amman. If Ben Sulayem wins this year, it will be his eleventh victory since 1984. No Jordanian driver has ever won the rally since it was held for the first time in 1981 – Albawaba.com (Photos by Shady Janzeir)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)