Determined to make up for his exclusion from the previous round of the series, the Ford Fiesta S2000 driver set about the Middle Eastern roads he knows well with astonishing speed and accuracy.
Such was his pace that by the second stage and just 30 kilometres of competition, he was 44 seconds ahead. One stage later at lunch and that gap was past the minute mark.
Only a misfire would slow the flying SWRC leader through the afternoon, but even with this engine glitch, he still carries a margin of close to two minutes into tomorrow.
Second placed Bernardo Sousa put it succinctly when he said: “There is Nasser’s rally and there is the other rally - I’m leading the other one!”
With such a margin over his peers in SWRC, Al-Attiyah has started to range his Fiesta against the turbo-charged World Rally Cars which were standing in his way. Running 10th overall, Al-Attiyah was ahead of numerous WRCs and hoping to hassle some of the cars ahead through tomorrow’s final day.
“It’s nice to be fighting with the World Rally Cars!” he said with a smile. “Today has gone well, except for the misfire. I think this has cost me around 45 seconds or something like that. The misfire has been all the way through the revs, it feels like the engine has no power some of the time. It’s been quite tough at times, but I’m sure the boys can sort it tonight.”
The initial challenge to Al-Attiyah’s dominance came from Eyvind Brynildsen. The Norwegian was closest to the leader on the opening test, albeit still 15 seconds back. Brynildsen’s challenge ended one stage later, however, when he hit a rock and broke a suspension arm.
That left Sousa looking comfortable in second. The Portuguese driver had been slowed by an intercom problem in the morning and intermittent power steering on the final stage.
Karl Kruuda was first non-Fiesta in third place, despite a brief scare when his Skoda failed to fire coming into lunchtime service on the banks of the Dead Sea. Kruuda’s hopes of keeping third were helped when Hermann Gassner suffered a puncture on the final stage of the day.
The German Red Bull driver was the only driver to halt Al-Attiyah’s charge towards a clean sweep of fastest times through the day, when he posted the scratch time in fifth test. That time moved him into fourth, just 1.9 seconds behind Kruuda, but then disaster struck when the front-right tyre on his Fabia punctured on one of the sharper rocks. He dropped two minutes and slipped back behind Frigyes Turan’s fourth-placed Fiesta.
Andorran Albert Llovera drove with his usual grit to bring his Abarth Grande Punto home sixth.