Leaving sceptics dead in the water - Emirates24|7

Leaving sceptics dead in the water



As the curtains were drawn on the inaugural Jordan Rally last Sunday, the wave of adrenaline left lingering in the air was on a parallel with that of the waves of sand and dust that choked the hundreds of spectators who turned out to witness history in the making.

The WRC had officially conquered the Arab world.

In the run-up to the biggest event in Jordan since the World Economic Forum was held here last May, critics levelled their potshots at the Kingdom, claiming that the region did not have the infrastructure or the organisational aptitude to host an international contest.

Yet, as the final stage of the final day unfolded, the buzz and excitement around the Dead Sea was simmering. It was almost as if the entire Hashemite Kingdom had been building up to this crescendo since the day it was announced Jordan would host the first WRC rally in the Arab world since Morocco played host in 1976.

Sun-kissed spectators lined the streets as Mikko Hirvonen, the BP-Ford Abu Dhabi driver, raced home in the quickest time, etching his name into the tomes of Middle Eastern motorsport and taking his place at the top of the Drivers' Championship.

The sheer number of fans who braved the midday heat to watch the three-day race is testament to the passion projected from Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein, brother of King Abdullah II and chairman of Jordan Motorsport.

A long-standing rally enthusiast, Prince Faisal was seen throughout the weekend walking around the service park, meeting drivers and speaking with engineers. And he told Emirates Business that, having attracted far more spectators than many had hoped and produced a successful – and highly watchable – event, he hopes the FIA, motorsport's governing body, shows its suppleness when organising next year's calendar.

"Right now, our understanding is that [Rally Jordan] will be every other year," he said in reference to the FIA's current plan to reduce the number of rallies per season from 15.

"The FIA are looking for 12 rallies a year and they have 24 [optional venues] in the Championship at the moment, so we would likely be looking at alternate years. If that is what is going to be adopted in 2009 then that is what we will abide by.

"But I hope we can remain [on the calendar]. I think we have proved we deserve to be in the WRC, we obviously still have some work to do and we'll be asking for input so we can do it better, but everybody seems to be happy and that, I think, is the sign of a good race."

And Prince Faisal says that while organisers will work to improve the rally in future years by constructing additional stages, work on the greatest stage of all has already begun.

"I think we have got a good formula in terms of the stages that we have," he said. "We are looking, each year, to maybe add one or two more stages that we can use in order to mix and match more effectively. The more that we have, the more we can look at what people like and what people dislike.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm, you have seen a lot of people come in and help out. A lot of these volunteers are new to the sport so I think with the right exposure, this is just the start of a new stage of motor racing in Jordan."

Simon Long, CEO of International Sportsworld Communicators, the company that holds the exclusive rights to the World Rally, revealed exposure was as expected: excellent.

"Rally Jordan was broadcast to our partners in more than 180 countries worldwide," said Long, who also revealed it is too early to have audience figures.

"There was much more interest than usual from broadcasters in the Middle East; from Al Kass, JRTV and Al Jazeera," he added.

As a vehicle to a worldwide audience, it is unsurprising the WRC is attracting interest from the UAE.

Rumours began months ago that the Emirates capital was keen to host its own leg of the Championship after the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) signed a deal last July to become the "official destination partner" of the WRC and main sponsor of manufacturers' title holders BP-Ford.

Since then, Emirates-born driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi has been awarded a seat on the Ford team and the Abu Dhabi branding has been emblazoned across the manufacturer's three cars.

Another new addition to the five race carnivals so far this season has been the Spirit of the Rally award, presented by the ADTA to "any individual who exhibits the values for which the emirate is famous: respect, innovation, integrity and teamwork".

Last weekend's award was presented to Prince Faisal for his contribution in organising the first WRC event in the Middle East.

"This weekend marks the culmination of years of hard work by Jordan to host a round of the World Rally Championship," said Prince Faisal after receiving the award from ADTA Deputy Director General, Ahmed Hussein. "The Jordan Rally has proven to be a worthy addition to the WRC calendar and has tested the skills of the best drivers the world has to offer.

"Abu Dhabi's recognition of our efforts is a timely tribute and we look forward to strengthening our ties with the UAE as the two principal Arab supporters of the World Rally Championship."