Countdown to the Jordan Rally
Round three of the WRC
Less than a month after conquering the high-altitude stages of Mexico, the FIA World Rally Championship regulars return to action on the Jordan Rally for round three of the 13-event series.
Although the Middle East rally is described as a gravel event, the stages could not be more contrasting to those experienced in Mexico at the start of March.
While most of the tests in Mexico were held 2000 metres above sea level, the majority of the stages in Jordan, although undulating, are actually beneath the level of the sea. And because a large chunk of the Jordan Rally route is held on purpose-built stages blasted into the desert rock, the hard road surface is more akin to a sharp marble edge, unlike the gravel and boulder-strewn tracks found on most loose-surface events on the WRC calendar.
As well as the punishing stage surface, crews will have to compete in ambient temperatures approaching 30 degrees centigrade, which will put a huge onus on driver fitness and car reliability. The high temperatures will also compromise outright engine performance and require drivers to conserve their tyres, particularly when stages are repeated, due to the likelihood of increased wear as they pass over the demanding terrain.
Based 420 metres below sea level by the banks of the Dead Sea, the Jordan Rally joined the WRC for the first time in 2008 after running successfully as a candidate rally for the previous two years. The event enjoys enthusiastic support from the Jordanian royal family, led by HRH Prince Feisal, who was a driving force behind the event becoming a round of the WRC.
Apart from the new Rumman Forest stage and a ceremonial start in the remains of the former Roman city of Jerash north of the rally’s hub, few changes have been made to the largely compact route, although the Baptism Site and Suwayma stages have been shortened slightly due to damage caused by heavy rain in the Hashemite Kingdom earlier this year. Indeed, the fact that the stages - and permanent service park at the Dead Sea - are still usable is down to the efforts of the Kingdom’s army, who helped to rebuild the damaged roads following the storms.
The Jordan Rally breaks the mould in that it will finish on Saturday - rather than Sunday, as is tradition - to take into account the Islamic weekend. It means the pre-event shakedown will take place on Wednesday with the competitive action getting underway on Thursday morning, before the finish on Saturday afternoon.
In total, the event features 21 stages over a competitive distance of 339.48 kilometres. Among the highlights will be the Baptism Site stage, and the Jordan River stage, which runs alongside Jordan’s border with Palestine. At 41.45-kilometres, it’s the longest of the rally and the second pass will take place during the heat of the afternoon sun on Friday. Several drivers and teams believe it could have a major bearing on the outcome of the rally.
Who’s going to win?
Mikko Hirvonen triumphed on Jordan’s first world championship rally back in 2008 although he is the first to concede he would have found it hard to catch Sebastien Loeb had the French ace not hit trouble.
The six-time world champion was leading by more than 30 seconds on the second day of the event when he collided with Conrad Rautenbach on a road section. Loeb was forced to retire while Hirvonen went on to claim what was his first win of the season.
After winning the WRC season-opener in Sweden in February, Hirvonen was out of sorts in Mexico and struggled to the finish in fourth overall in his works Ford Focus, which has dropped him six points and one place behind Loeb in the championship standings. The Finn is determined to get his season back on track and appears to be full of confidence following a pre-event test in Sardinia recently.
Loeb’s disappointment of two years ago won’t be lost on the factory Citroen driver, who will be determined to make amends and extend his advantage at the top of the drivers’ table in his quest for a seventh world title.
Dani Sordo, in the second works Citroen C4, was rapid on his last visit to Jordan, leading into the final day of the event before finishing second. After crashing in Mexico, Sordo will be keen to leave the Middle East with a strong haul of points.
Like Spaniard Sordo, Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala also enjoyed spells out in front in Jordan two years ago but ultimately retired when he damaged his car’s rear suspension on a rock on the final day of the rally. Young Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, who partners ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen in the Citroen Junior Team, has fond memories of competing in Jordan after winning the Junior world championship section of the event in 2008. He also starts the rally on a high after finishing third in Mexico.
Norway’s Petter Solberg will be another driver capable for challenging for a podium finish. Confidence restored after finishing second in Mexico, Solberg has an upgraded engine at his disposal in his privately-run C4.
Raikkonen, meanwhile, is returning to the WRC after rolling into retirement in Mexico. The Finn enjoyed a two-day test in the south of France recently where he reported no repeat of the back pains that prevented him from testing prior to Mexico.
All 34 crews scheduled to take part on the main Jordan Rally (a separate event will also be run for the FIA Middle East Rally Championship) will use Pirelli’s Scorpion gravel tyre.
Available in a hard compound only, 36 tyres will be allocated to each car including six for shakedown.
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