Defending FIA Middle East rally champion Mohammed bin Sulayem clinched his regional title for an unprecedented 14th time by winning a dramatic Jordan International Rally, supported by Marlboro, which finished in Amman yesterday.

Bin Sulayem and his English co-driver John Spiller started the day's five special stages behind Marlboro Rally Team Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Bakhashab. But they hit the front at the end of the eighth stage when Bakhashab and co-driver Bobby Willis suffered a flat tyre and suspension problems in their Toyota Corolla WRC.

"Motorsport is a strange sport," said bin Sulayem. "Sometimes this happens. I had my own small problem with the gear selection. It happened before in Qatar earlier this year, but we managed to overcome the problem and checked for the fault at service. After that I just had to hang on and conserve the car by driving sensibly. It's a dream to win the title again."

According to His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Al Hussain, who was flying overhead in the safety helicopter and witnessed the incident which changed the course of the rally, Bakhashab's Toyota Corolla WRC collected a flat tyre and the wheel hub assembly disintegrated about 150 metres further into the stage.

The resultant damage wrecked the front suspension and punctured a second tyre, but Bakhashab managed to struggle into service and repaired the damage. He lost further time with gearbox problems and flat tyres on the next two stages and eventually settled for a distant second overall.

"It just got worse," moaned Bakhashab. "The tyre exploded on the first stage this morning and the hub and wheel collapsed. We managed to get out of the stage with a road penalty and reached service and fixed the car. Then I had to complete the next stage with only second gear and just to cap off a great day I had a flat tyre in the next one!"

The Saudi's problems should have been Jordan's Ma'rouf Abu Samra's gain, but the twice former Jordan national champion suffered head gasket failure in his Mitsubishi, a mere two kilometres into stage eight.

This promoted Sheikh Abdullah Al Qasimi into third place in his Ford Focus WRC and consolidated his second position in the Middle East rally championship.

Ahmad Al Daoud finished as the leading Jordanian driver in fourth place in a Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5 and Cypriot Andreas Tsouloftas was seventh overall.

The Group N section developed into a fascinating tussle between the Qatari trio of Misfer Al Marri, Abdullah Al Kuwari and Mubarak Al Hajri and Mohammed Al Sarraf in the Marlboro Rally Team Kuwait Mitsubishi Lancer.

Al Marri benefitted from Al Kuwari's flat tyre late on Friday afternoon to lead the category at the start of the final day, as he increased his efforts to close the gap on Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi in the championship.

Flat tyres abounded, Al Sarraf was delayed with an electrical fire and Al Marri eventually held off a late charge from Al Hajri to draw level with Al Qasimi in the overall championship standings.

Bahrain's Yasmin Alhilli finished 15th overall and emerged as the top female driver pipping Jordan's Abir Batikhi on the final stages, while the UAE's Ron Oakeley took maximum points in the FIA Super 1600 section.