Rally aces gear up for crossing Jordan
Rally Ireland may have been a new experience for many of the World championship drivers last November but this weekend almost all of them face an even more unique challenge.
The newest event to the World championship calendar is Rally Jordan this weekend and none of the leading drivers have competed there before.
Not only that, but it is based near Amman, which at 400 metres below sea level, is the lowest point on earth. Many of the stages skirt the Dead Sea where temperatures are expected to reach a scorching 40C.
Citroen's Dani Sordo and Subaru's Petter Solberg are two drivers to have been there before but only to take part in the route reconnaissance for last year's non-championship event.
"I've rarely turned up for a WRC round with more experience of the event than most of my rivals," said the young Spaniard.
"But at least I have some idea what we are going to face. The stages are fast and wide, with a surface that's as hard as concrete.
"We will have to watch out for the top coating of loose gravel which will produce changes in grip. It will be unwise to stray off the ideal line, and there are deep ditches if you go off."
Former World champion Solberg added: "I was very happy to have the chance to look at the roads last year and if that gives us a slight advantage it will have been worth it. The roads are quite tricky and there are lots of crests. They are quite wide but it's difficult to read the surface and know how much to push."
It will be completely new to Sordo's team-mate, World champion Sebastien Loeb, who edged back in front of Ford's Mikko Hirvonen in this year's championship when he won the previous round in Argentina.
He now has a five-point lead over the young Finn but Loeb has his concerns about Jordan.
"I don't know much about the Jordan Rally, so I will be on my guard a little bit," said the French ace. "It doesn't appear to be too tough on the cars, but running first on the road could be a handicap.
"I am told there are similarities with Mexico, and the Citroen C4 was competitive there, so that's very encouraging."
And a victory for the record-breaking Loeb would bring him WRC win No.40.
The rally is a round of the Junior World championship and will see Donegal driver Shaun Gallagher resume his challenge in a Citroen C2. He was sixth on the previous round in Mexico but will be hoping for an improved performance without the vicious stomach virus which saw him close to collapse in the Mexican heat.
Meanwhile, there is one crew who know all about Jordan - Khalid Al-Qassimi and his Bangor co-driver Michael Orr. The Ford pair won the rally last year when it was being assessed for World championship status.