Abu Dhabi well primed to join WRC family

 

Occasionally when you follow a regional sporting event from its conception through the pressure-laden pregnancy and stressful labour to the moment it is actually born, you find yourself enamoured regardless of its success.

As a journalist, you find yourself dedicating time to the event, believing the hype from the public relations and marketing directors and dreaming of it succeeding as planned and becoming a major sporting showcase on the international calendar. More often than not the event falls flat and you feel as deflated as those directly involved. Like parents of a ginger child.

But Rally Jordan was no damp squib, no flash in the pan. The three-day event held last week in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, if nothing else, actually exceeded expectations.

Organisers had broadcast a countdown clock on the country's national television station for the entire month in the run-up to the Middle East's first WRC event in the hope viewers would tune in and show their support.

With most of the stages taking place during the hottest hours of the day, few people – including Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein and King Abdullah II – expected hordes of supporters to roll out of bed and make their way to a stone-strewn, sand-covered corner on some makeshift dirt track in the middle of nowhere. Yet, that is precisely what happened.

Hundreds of people turned up: groups of young men gathered, smoking pipes, women turned up in their dark glasses and headscarves, children flitted around throwing rocks at each other, camels and donkeys trudged the grounds and geckos squirmed through the gravel. Noah had made the call and the animals had listened.

And they were provided with a good show. In Sweden, spectators only catch a quick glimpse of the cars as they fly past at 250kph, but in Jordan, with nothing but a few boulders to block your view, you can literally watch the cars for miles without having to move.

Abu Dhabi is keen to snare a WRC event for the Emirates, and it's obvious why, but having spoken to some experts in Jordan it won't be easy. David Richards, the man who brought motorsport to the Middle East more than 30 years ago, revealed in this paper two weeks ago there are only two countries in the region that have the right terrain, and neither is the UAE.

But we are talking about a country that has built a ski slope in the middle of the desert and is in the process of building a hotel under the sea. Constructing a few hundred kilometres of track is not the kind of project that will daunt people involved. And having seen the number of fans that they can expect – not just Arabs, but Scandinavians too – they will be keen to buy into the World Rally Championship.

The backing and sponsorship is already there so it's only a matter of time. Which is good news for Abu Dhabi – trying to conceive is, after all, the most enjoyable part of having a baby.

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