CONRAD RAUTENBACH Welcome to: Jordan Rally

20.04.2008: CONRAD RAUTENBACH Welcome to: Jordan Rally

Rally Jordan FIA World Rally Championship, round 5/15 Amman, Jordan 

The World Rally Championship arrives in the Middle East for the first time next week, when the Jordan Rally gets underway. This inaugural Jordan Rally will certainly bring a fresh edge of culture and history to the series, running through some of the most important religious sites on the planet, including the location where Jesus Christ was believed to have been baptised.

Jordan's historical and theological importance is well documented, but its World Rally Championship points that Zimbabwe's most successful rally driver ever Conrad Rautenbach comes to the shores of the Dead Sea in search of. Rautenbach and his British co-driver David Senior bagged five points in Argentina last month. Now the pair want more.

This being the Jordan Rally's debut in the WRC, nobody knows precisely what to expect. The event is 90 per cent new – thanks largely to the US$10m investment from the government – from the Jordan Rally first put up for inclusion in the World Rally Championship in 2005. Many of the roads have been built in their entirety and those remaining from previous years have been resurfaced, ensuring this is one of the smoothest gravel events in the series.

One unique factor for the Jordan Rally is the height at which the action takes place: much of the event takes place below sea level. Another feature of this fifth WRC round of the season is the gruelling final day, comfortably the longest of the three days; a sting in the tail if ever there was one.

And the biggest hurdle standing in the way of Rautenbach and his aim of improving on his current eighth position in the drivers' championship is the Jordan River test. At 41.45 kilometers, this Sunday stage will be an epic. It's tough enough having to drive it once, but the event's longest test is run twice on the final day – providing a major challenge for the drivers who have already survived two tough days of rallying in the desert.

Another plus point for the Jordan Rally is the strength of support coming from the royal family. King Abdullah II was a driver of some note in the 1980s and '90s and his brother, Prince Feisal has been one of Jordan's staunchest supporters in its efforts to land a WRC round.

Conrad's column*

I've been really busy since finishing fourth in Argentina. I've been in the gym every day and also in the sauna – trying to get myself prepared for the heat which is coming our way in Jordan. I'm quite lucky in the way that I deal with the heat; I don't seem to suffer too much. Coming from Africa, I've competed in hot conditions for quite a while, which has probably got something to do with it.

It took a little while for things to calm down after Argentina. Thinking back to it, it still seems a bit crazy. I wasn't too sure what to expect from the event or the country, but by the time I left Buenos Aires, I was a big fan of both. When I got to Buenos Aires to take the return flight back to Europe, I was told my flight was delayed by a day.

I was actually quite pleased to have another day in such a great place. I was even happier when an old school friend of mine got in touch after she'd seen me on facebook. I hadn't seen her since junior school, 12 years earlier – so we hooked up on my extra day. A surreal end to what had been a fairly surreal week.

Since being back in Europe, I've been counting the days to Jordan.

Every minute I spend in the Citroen C4 WRC, I enjoy it more and more. And I have more confidence in the car and more understanding of what it takes to drive this car on the limit. It's so different to the Xsara WRC was I was driving before. Looking back at events like Rally Great Britain last year, it's quite clear to me that I was trying to force my driving and force the pace. You just can't do that with these cars.

Sure, the C4 is an easier car to drive than the Xsara, but the biggest lesson I learned in Argentina was that to drive faster, you have to learn to drive slower. Of course, that's not in the literal sense, but you have to relax about everything in the car; trying to force anything with these things is sure-fire way to disaster.

I still have lots to learn about the C4, which is why I'm so excited about Jordan. The best way to learn is in constant conditions with predictable levels of grip. That's what we should have in Jordan – although I do remember people telling me they were sure the sun would shine in Argentina! Running in much warmer weather will also get the

tyres working much at their optimum performance. Better weather should also mean much closer competition; I would be very surprised if we see anything like the crazy time differences after the first stage this time around. My aim is to get into the points again.

I'm eighth in the championship right now and to be starting the rally up around the leading drivers is fantastic – it's where I want to stay. Argentina was a fantastic achievement. To receive the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award was awesome recognition not just for David [Senior, co-driver] and myself, but the whole team behind us. But Argentina's done now. It's history and I have to build on that achievement, starting with Jordan next week.

Last time out: Rally Argentina (27.03.08-30.03.08)

Conrad Rautenbach re-wrote the World Rally Championship's history books on last month's Rally Argentina. He became the first driver from Zimbabwe ever to score WRC points, finishing an exceptional fourth overall in the Citroen C4 WRC.

The Sunday afternoon celebrations – not only for fourth place, but also for being awarded the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally trophy for his efforts – seemed a long way away for Rautenbach after he finished the opening fog-bound and rain-lashed stage in 21st position. Unwilling to let the inclement South American weather damped his spirits, the reining FIA African Rally Champion battled his way back up the order, climbing 17 places, to end the rally in an incredible fourth overall.

What was even more impressive was that last month was Rautenbach's first trip to Rally Argentina, only his second outing in a Citroen C4 WRC and only his fifth ever drive in a World Rally Car.

The full facts: Conrad Rautenbach

Age: 23

Nationality: Zimbabwean

Car: Citroen C4 WRC

WRC debut: Monte Carlo 2004

WRC starts: 33

Jordan Rally starts: 0

FIA championships won: 1 (2007 FIA African Rally Championship)

Best WRC finish: 4th (Rally Argentina, 2008)

Co-driver: David Senior

The full facts: Jordan Rally

Start: Dead Sea, 1800** Thursday April 24

Day one: 8 stages 115.18km

Day two: 8 stages 109.84km

Day three: 6 stages 134.24km

Finish: Dead Sea, 1500** Sunday April 27

 

- Conrad Rautenbach media -

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/jordan-rally-conrad-rautenbach-amman-world-rally-championship-dead-see-david-senior---36121.html

20.04.2008 / MaP

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