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GP Week : Issue 7
WRC INSIGHT >> Crossing Jordan For the first time in the history of the World Rally Championship, points will be scored in the Middle East. And, as MARTIN HOLMES writes, what better place to do it than Jordan? I NEVER really believed I would be going to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to report on a world championship rally. I have had the pleasure to go there on a handful of occasions, each time bringing back suitcases full of memories. The odds, however, always seemed stacked against a Middle Eastern rally being accepted into the world series. The championship was already full of other exotic destinations and rallying in the Middle East was not what world level sport seemed to need. Cars, for the Arabs, had a different meaning to cars owned by Europeans, Americans or even the Japanese. And the places where cars were driven could not be called roads as these are generally known. Jordan, however, is different. It may be in the Middle East but it is far from Middle Eastern in much of its character. Jordan is the 30th country to run a rally within the FIA’s World Rally Championship in the 36 years since the series started in 1973. It is the first rally in the series to be held in the region, but not the first Arabic qualifying event. That was the prerogative of the Moroccan Rallies which were included in the series in 1973, 1975 and 1976. Jordan has three quite distinct areas available for rallysport. The lush, hilly areas to the north of the capital Amman, in the direction of Jerash, where stages can often be run on asphalt roads. Then there is the barren desert areas to the south towards the historic site of Petra, and the mountain area to the west, towards the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. The need for a Central Service area meant that only one area could be chosen. The area down towards the Dead Sea was selected, not only because of the remarkable quality of the spectacular roads found in the area, but also for its geographical exclusivity. The proximity to the Dead Sea opened up one very important opportunity. Sludge extracted from the sea is used as a coating for the surfaces of the roads in the area. When this sludge dries out on the ground it forms a very hard surface and the roads used for the stages can be as smooth as a billiard table. This region also provides a most fascinating aspect – elevation. Of the 12 different locations, all except one are run in part or completely below sea level. On the final day a 41km stage will be run twice, and that is completely at negative elevation. The lowest part of the competitive route is around minus 400 metres. The rally headquarters and Service Park are situated alongside the Dead Sea and are at the deepest depths. T he Jordan Rally is one of the oldest events in the Middle East but really special is the interest in the Royal palaces of the land. Not many countries have a King who has been twice his country’s national rally champion, and whose brother Feisal is the hands- on consultant to their event. In the days before he ascended to the country’s throne, King Abdullah was a very active competitor. He never won the event, but finished the 1986 and 1988 events in third place. Although only Arabic drivers have won the event, visiting co-drivers have been very successful. One of the best known winning co-drivers was Phil Mills who won the 1994 event alongside the Dubai driver Mohammed Bin Sulayem. In 1996 Mills co-drove for the future King on the event, but they crashed. Mills remembers it well. 35