Entries may be thin on the ground in this year’s FIA Middle East Rally Championship, but the hunt for success in the region’s MERC 2 championship for production-type NR4 cars promises to be fascinating.
Heading into this weekend’s three-day FIA Jordan Rally at the Dead Sea, Qatar’s Rashid Al Naimi tops the standings by nine points from Kuwait’s Meshari Al Thefiri.
But Al-Naimi has decided to switch his attention to a limited programme of events in the European Rally Championship this year and that has opened the door for Al-Thefiri to press on to try and drill home his advantage over the 18 special stages that stand in his way in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea areas.
While the Kuwaiti and his new Qatari navigator Nasser Al-Kuwari start as favourites to snatch an MERC 2 lead to take to the Cyprus Rally in June, the duo face eight rivals in Jordan – four from the host nation, two from Saudi Arabia and a further two cars from Kuwait.
The MERC 2 section is cost-effective and attractive to amateur teams and various derivatives of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution dominate the category. Al-Thefiri’s competition from his own country comes from Essam Al-Nejadi and Salem Al-Thefiri, while the experienced drifting champion Saeed Al-Mouri joins Rakan Al-Rashed from the neighbouring Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The host nation’s hopes of claiming the MERC 2 crown and pushing for an overall podium finish rest with Khaled Juma, a returning Ma’rouf Abu Samra, Ihab Al-Shorafa and Ziad Miqdad.