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GP Week : Issue 112
It was a disappointment to many people to hear rumours that the 2011 Jordan Rally was expected to be the final time the country hosted a world championship rally, especially when the FIA has now issued a list of intended events in the 2012 WRC calendar. This indicates that Jordan will be replaced by a rally based at Abu Dhabi, which has still not been run even in a trial (‘candidate’) format and has no established organisation team. The mystery deepens when the same list includes Argentina, with the proviso that this is to be a ‘long distance’ event. Strange things are going on, and the more one enquires what is happening, the more the mystery deepens. We had the chance to ask HRH Prince Feisal, Chairman of the organising committee of the event (above, right), where Jordan stood in all this. Were the financial obligations in running a WRC increasingly more than a small non-oil production country could handle? Did reduced entry lists make the WRC less attractive? Was the WRC the place they liked to be? Feisal: “There are two issues. In 2009 the FIA took a decision saying that they were going with this event rotation system. That was our understanding, and we have not been informed of a change in policy. We realise the WRC is not the WRC we knew five years ago when we entered the championship and I think the FIA President has been working hard to rebuild the brand. “ We will definitely want to be part of that. So we hope to have a good long term relationship with the FIA and I think President Todt is doing a good job reviving a sport which unfortunately has for a number of years been in decline.” Was Jordan given the chance to be in the 2012 calendar? “ To be honest at very short notice they came and asked usdoyouwanttobeinthe 2012 series. It caught us a bit by surprise. They wanted an answer very quickly, but we really didn’t have a lot of time to be able to say yes.” That sets the record straight, but what comes next? Clearly there was pressure on the championship Global Promoters to maintain their presence with a Middle East event, and that brought the mystery round to Abu Dhabi. There was scepticism in the service park at the Dead Sea as to how this event could happen at all, at a satisfactory WRC level. Competitors experienced in the Middle East sport stated that the available roads in the Emirates region were hardly of sufficient quality for WRC standard, and worries increased when the money spent at Yas Marina was quoted as an example of how the Emirate state could buy its way into rallying, and build all the roads the event needed. Nasser Al Attiyah, the 2011 Dakar winner, has been at the centre of discussions as to the next step forward: “"The most recent idea is that the Abu Dhabi Rally should be a three-nation event – Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both Emirate States, and Oman. I hear from Jean Todt that he is counting on bringing a new type of event to the championship, similar to the Africa-style of rallies. It could be a much longer event than a usual WRC event, and more interesting. “And why not? We have seen from the Abu Dhabi F1 race that a lot of things can happen in that region. The WRC could have a full day of competition like on the Dakar. We are going ahead with making plans to have longer stages by using remote service and trying to make this as similar as possible to an Africa stage.” Al Attiyah has been in contact with Mohammed Bin Sulayem, the President of the UAE Motor Sport Federation, the liaison between Abu Dhabi and the FIA. Al Attiyah said that they hoped to use the 2011 Dubai MERC Rally as a prototype for a future Abu Dhabi WRC event: “In any case we are required to run a candidate rally, then we will get the feeling whether this project will work well or not.” The MERC Dubai Rally already runs its competitive stages not in the UAE at all, but in the Hatta region of neighbouring Oman, and these and nearby areas are expected to feature in any WRC plans. MArtin HolMes rallies editor opinion Middle East’s WRC at crossroads? 40