From the dizzying heights of the Guanajuato region in Mexico, this weekend’s third round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) moves to the lowest point on earth with Rally Jordan.

The event covers 339 kilometres of competition over tough gravel roads west of Jordan’s capital city Amman, in the only visit the 13 round series makes to the Middle East.

A WRC round  for the first time in 2008, changes to the 2010 regulations allow Rally Jordan to fit  the Islamic weekend with the event running from Thursday 1 to Saturday  3 April, rather than the usual Friday to Sunday schedule.  

The hard desert rock roads dip to 400 metres below sea level in places and have a unique abrasive base that holds a sharp marble-like edge, similar to that of tarmac.  Earlier in the year, the heaviest rain to fall in Jordan in twenty years has forced alterations to the route, despite remedial work from the army and Government.

Rally Jordan 2008 was won by the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s top crew, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. The pair has the added impetus to repeat their victory after a disappointing result in Mexico which dropped Hirvonen down the drivers’ championship standings.  That’s where 29-year-old Finn says preparation for the event is extra important.

"It's the most difficult rally of the year on which to make pace notes.  It's fast and high speed sections are punctuated by small crests.  But suddenly the rhythm can change and you come over a crest to find a series of hairpin bends.  There are no trees or bushes in the desert to use as sight lines so the notes must be pin-point accurate.  We've analysed the reasons why we weren't as competitive as we had hoped on the last round in Mexico and tried a few options during our test in Sardinia this week.  I'm confident we'll be fully competitive in Jordan," said Hirvonen.

Six-time WRC champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, from the Citroen Total World Rally Team, are adamant their bad luck in Jordan in 2008 will not be repeated. A bizarre collision with another competitor during a liaison section is not on the 36-year-old’s mind as he chases for his 56th world rally win, with a margin of just six points to the second-placed Hirvonen.

“Another victory would obviously be a big boost for us and for Citroen,” said Loeb.  “It’s not going to be an easy rally.  The stages take place right in the middle of the desert; there are no markers and we’re often running blind, so it’s very easy to hit one of the big rocks that line the route.  We have to be very precise when we’re making notes.”

Although Citroen Junior Team pairing of former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom will be an attraction, Citroen C4 WRC privateer Petter Solberg and Phil Mills could again be the pace-setters, as they start behind the road-sweeping front-runners.

Rally Jordan is also a round of both the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC) and Super 2000 World Rally Championship (SWRC). Swede Patrik Flodin, who won the PWRC class in Sweden, will continue in the series thanks to a deal with Russian Uspensky Rally Team.  The 26-year-old will drive a Subaru Impreza to try and oust Portuguese series leader Armindo Araujo in his Mitsubishi Lancer.

Thirty-four teams, including ten WRC manufacturer cars, start the event with an allocation of 36 hard compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres per car.

The event also features as a round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, with the additional competitors using the same roads to complete 21 special stages, although they don’t have the same requirement to run the Pirelli control tyre.

Following the ceremonial start in the former Roman city of Jerash, crews depart the Dead Sea service park to use roads north of capital city Amman on the first day (Thursday).  The stages vary in altitude, with most well below sea-level, and traversing many sites recorded in the Bible.  Friday includes the double-run 41.5 kilometre Jordan River stage, running north-to-south through barren landscape adjacent to the Palestine border. Following the final 10.83 kilometre Baptism site stage on Saturday afternoon, the ceremonial finish kicks off at 3pm from the Dead Sea service park.

Photo: Having won the Rally of Jordan in 2008, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen intend to repeat the victory over the below-sea level roads alongside the Dead Sea.

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