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Loeb heads top class entry in 2008 Jordan Rally
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 24 - 04 - 2008

The 2008 Jordan Rally gets underway with a ceremonial start at the Dead Sea on Thursday afternoon and marks the start of the first FIA World Rally Championship event to be held in the Arab world in the modern era.
A provisional 55 cars will compete along the 22 timed special stages that have been laid on by Jordan Motorsport, under the chairmanship of His Royal Highness Prince Feisal Al-Hussein, to test the world's finest rally drivers.
Top seed is the reigning FIA World Rally Champion and current series leader Sébastien Loeb in the first of the Citroën Total World Rally Team's C4s.
The Frenchman is chasing an unprecedented 40th WRC win and arrives in Amman five points clear of Finland's Mikko Hirvonen in the championship standings, courtesy of his recent win in Argentina.
The event marks Loeb's first ever appearance on a rally in the Middle East, but he remains one of the most competitive of the gravel surface drivers and will be confident that he can match and beat Hirvonen and the Finn's Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who is also making his first appearance in Jordan in a Ford Focus RS.
Subaru's Chris Atkinson lies third in the FIA Drivers' Championship standings, a mere three points behind Hirvonen, and the Australian and Impreza-driving colleague Petter Solberg could well upset the form book and confirm a first victory for the Subaru World Rally Team since Wales Rally GB in 2005.
Solberg and co-driver Philip Mills were guests of Jordan Motorsport at the country's candidate event in 2007 and were permitted to view some of the special stages last year.
Mills was a winner of the Jordan Rally in 1994 and his experience of Middle East culture and the nature of the terrain could be crucial as the Prodrive team chase a much-needed victory.
The 2008 Jordan Rally will also play host to both the Stobart VK M-Sport and Munchi's World Rally Teams, which are run in conjunction with M-Sport and utilize Ford Focus WRCs. Italian Gigi Galli currently holds fifth place in the championship - two points ahead of Citroën's Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg - and will be chasing a podium finish over the technical gravel stages and spectacular landscapes that make Jordan a unique rallying experience.
Galli is joined in the Stobart line-up by Britain's Matthew Wilson and Norwegian Henning Solberg, while Argentina's Luis Perez-Companc and Federico Villagra constitute the Munchi's World Rally Team.
The Suzuki World Rally Team began a full WRC campaign at the start of the year and Sweden's Per-Gunnar Andersson and Finland's Toni Gardemeister will be hoping to continue their points-scoring start to the season in a pair of Suzuki SX4s. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will also field the former FIA Middle East rally champion Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi in a third official Ford Focus, the Emirati driver making his first WRC appearance since Sweden on an event where he took outright victory last season.
The event is also round two of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC). Frenchman Sébastien Ogier clinched maximum points on the opening round in Mexico, but will be hard-pushed to repeat the feat against fierce competition in Jordan.
His closest rivals, Estonian Jaan M?lder and Poland's Michal Kosciuszko, have also made the trip to the Levant in a world-class parade of Junior drivers.
The majority of the remainder of the entry is made up of the region's leading drivers, with Jordanian Amjad Farrah leading a list of competitors that includes the UAE's Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Sheikh Suhail Bin Khalifa Al-Maktoum, Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Kuwait's Salah Bin Eidan. __


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