The first Rally Jordan could also produce a first World Championship Rally win for Citroen’s Dani Sordo after the Spaniard finished fastest on the opening day of the inaugural event.
Sordo’s teammate and reigning WRC champion Sebastien Loeb completed a one-two finish for the French team after starting slowly, while BP-Ford Abu Dhabi’s Jari-Matti Latvala sits third, 8.5 seconds off the lead.
The harsh conditions are proving as hazardous as expected. Sharp rocks and loose gravel have resulted in some wary driving. Those who have not heeded earlier warnings have found themselves out of the action. Stobart’s Gigi Galli, and Suzuki duo PG Andersson and Toni Gardemeister were all forced to retire, as was Subaru’s Petter Solberg. All four are expected to rejoin the race today.
Loeb said: “The stages were particularly tricky in the morning, when grip and traction were changing all the time. But we made some changes [between stages four and five] and it was much better this afternoon.”
Latvala added: “It was just so slippery on those early stages. The grip was unpredictable and the priority was not to make a mistake.”
The Finn’s Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen, who said winning was crucial in his quest to catch Loeb in the overall standings, sits fourth, but admitted he is lucky to still be in the race after coming off during stage two.
“We slid off as we went over a crest,” said Hirvonen. “We crashed over some rocks, but somehow managed to keep going. The car doesn’t feel 100 per cent because there is some damage to the rear suspension, but we’re lucky to be here.”
BP-Ford Abu Dhabi’s third driver, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, is also on course to achieve his goal of a top 10 finish. The Emirati has raced in Jordan many times and looks comfortable albeit inexperienced manoeuvering a WRC car through the gravel. After eight stages, he was only one second off ninth from a pool of 29 drivers.
“The gravel is moving all over and it is really hard to stay on the track,” said Al Qassimi, who won Middle East Rally here last year. “There are some serious jumps and big rocks. If you hit them that can end your day, so I must be careful.”