Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Heat, dust and a little ice please - Kimi Räikkönen's next rally in the heat of Jordan

Published by Lady Snowcat

Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindstroem tackle the WRC Rally Jordan
Credit: GEPA pictures / McKlein

Madness comes in many forms, not least when on a whim I decided to pay a trip at Easter time to some truly biblical sites in the heat and dust of Jordan. Oh, and there was a rally on at the same time. I did not need asking twice, and no sooner had the possibility of the trip come up than I had checked the flights out of Heathrow and started to buy a more suitable wardrobe than the snowboots and thermals dictated by rally watching in Sweden.

Flying out of a grey and damp London into the warm and breezy sunshine of Amman was no hardship. The hotels on the banks of the Dead Sea are new and large, and in the week before Easter were littered with team personnel as the Service Park is only a few yards from these self contained resorts.

This Service Park was a slightly weird contrast to the icy cold airfield in Sweden, as they watered the rocky, gravelly surface to keep the dust down on an area sitting above a dual carriageway. And it was hot... very hot.

But, as with my visit to Sweden, everyone was charmingly hospitable. It seemed that all you need is enthusiasm and a smile and nothing is too much trouble. And if the truth be told following trips to Abu Dhabi (hot), Malaysia and Singapore (steamy), Bahrain (very, very hot and dusty) and even sunburn in Barcelona on occasions, perhaps the F1 circuit prepares you better for Jordan than for Sweden.

It’s great to see the relaxed nature of the drivers here. When waiting for Shakedown they queue up on the road after the S2000 class starts at 10am (the big names have been striving for a good set up since 8am and are still trying stuff out) and get out and chat amongst each other whilst waiting for their turn. And yes, in case you were wondering, that includes a certain F1 champ too. They all seem a pretty sociable bunch.

The TV doesn’t do justice to the spectacular scenery of Jordan. Two particular spots remain etched in my mind.

The first, late on the first day, when just below Mount Nebo (the burial place of Moses) and a short walk from the end of the stage. You pick your way over the rocky ground to the top of a steep hill to find a panoramic view in the warm evening light. The Dead Sea slips into sight in the distance and far to the left a car makes its way over the hills, lines of dust demarking its progress as the topography first hides and then reveals and then hides it again. A zig-zag progress towards you builds the anticipation as it growls ever closer. Only when it comes directly below your perch can you see that progress is anything but smooth over the terrain, and it drifts into a right turn fighting to gain grip before launching up a small hill towards the flying finish down on your right.

You feel like you could stay there forever.

The second was on the ferociously long Jordan valley stage. You take a track across a flat plain and suddenly find a number of other SUVs parked, some looking a little precarious, at the edge of a precipitous drop to a flat valley floor. This is a rift valley and whilst the Jordan side is a steep descent, on the Israeli side matching white cliffs rise from the sea of green, which on closer inspection show as a carpet of scrub, brush type trees and shrubs. From this greenery a puff of dust explodes like a fuse burning quickly, leaving a trail of rising pink grit rather than smoke. Occasional glimpses of bright colour or silver reflection are the car setting light to the track.

Suddenly it is close below you, negotiating a hairpin, and covering those that have clambered to the valley floor with a dusty cloud. Then it is sprinting away again, twisting and turning like a gazelle trying to shake a cheetah on its tracks. You watch mesmerised as the spurts of dust show the track being taken to a point far to the left. Then you realise that there is another player charging in from the right, and start to guess the times from the distance the previous car has travelled before the new player arrived on the stage.

The view and the cars - just sublime.

A sense of déjà vu intervenes at the start of the final day when team tactics lead to a switch in running order to ensure Mr Loeb does not run first. Instead his Junior team colleague, who looks like he surely must get a WDC championship one day, Sebastien (do most decent French drivers have this name?) Ogier ends up running first and with a hat load of penalties. The element of controversy makes me think of F1, I can’t think why!

Trying to keep abreast of the results via Blackberry and helpful stewards I have the usual feeling of dread and anticipation when the Kimster takes part. Big relief at the end of each successfully navigated stage and happy cheers when he finishes in a creditable 8th on this tough rally.

So we find ourselves, all too soon, at the closing ceremony. A tad chaotic, but also fun. Loud cheers for the top three finishers but, of the WRC runners, the loudest shout is saved for the rookie in the bunch. He emerges from his car on the podium with a grin and, like a few notable times in the past, is greeted warmly and hugged by a certain Mr Jean Todt.

Meanwhile the teams follow F1 protocol and are disassembling the little village. The ceremonies continue for the various classes and types of car and the local heroes get their chance of acclaim. Gradually the crowd dissipates and you can take a look at the knocks and scrapes on the bodywork of the cars in the Park Ferme. Rallying is a tough but enjoyable business.

In the fading heat of the afternoon a relaxed slim blond figure in dark blue racing overalls smiles a farewell and skips over the remaining power cables, heading towards Turkey, and the next chapter in his new adventure.