Agencies/Aktau City, Kazakhstan
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah and Poland’s Aron Domzala will represent Overdrive Racing at the forthcoming Rally Kazakhstan, round five of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
The Central Asian country takes its place in the FIA calendar for the first time and the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan has laid on a challenging desert route to challenge 23 teams and competitors from 15 nations.
The event, which runs from May 20-27, starts and finishes in the main square in Aktau City – a relatively new conurbation devised to service the requirements of the oil and gas industry on the shores of the Caspian Sea – although the rally will be based at the Kenderly Sea Resort, around 220km from Aktau, for three nights after the second selective section on May 22.
Al-Attiyah has overcome a shaky start to the season and recovered well from his crash in Abu Dhabi to win two recent events in Qatar and Jordan. That victory at the Qatar Cross-Country Rally last month has enabled the two-time Dakar winner to close to within 25 points of the early season championship leader, Sheikh Khalid al-Qassimi.
While al-Qassimi misses out on Kazakhstan in favour of a pre-arranged trip to the WRC event in Portugal, al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel have an excellent chance to grab the championship lead for the first time this season.
The defending champions, who missed the opening round in Russia and won round two in Dubai, placed additional importance on winning the inaugural Rally Kazakhstan.
There are date clashes in the Qatari’s calendar this year as well and the FIA World Cup Bajas in Italy and Spain clash directly with an MERC event in Cyprus and the Silk Way Rally in Asia, respectively.
“Kazakhstan is a new event in the championship and a new challenge for Matthieu and me,” said al-Attiyah. “This is also an important rally for us. We need to win. I need the 50 points. I have a new car and will try my best to achieve the goal. It will not be easy. I know the stages will be challenging and there are several talented drivers on the entry list.”
Al-Attiyah’s Overdrive Racing teammate Domzala led the FIA World Cup after two rallies in Russia and Dubai, but the talented youngster suffered in the intense heat of the desert at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and finished ninth in Qatar.
Domzala, who holds sixth in the championship standings, realises the importance of accurate navigation on long-distance desert events and regular navigator Szymon Gospodarczyk has been replaced by fellow Pole Maciej Marton for their first taste of the Central Asian deserts. Gospodarczyk is due to return for the smaller European Baja events later in the season.
“This is a new event for the team, a new challenge and the third of the long distance rounds of the FIA World Cup in the space of less than two months,” said Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “That places an extra workload on everyone, but we are looking forward to competing somewhere different, with new stages and new terrain.”
The area around Aktau City has sustained heavy rainfall over the last 48 hours and race officials will be hoping that large areas of standing water drain off before the first Aktau-Aktau stage gets underway on May 21. The special runs for 268.23km in a northerly loop of the coastal region between the ex-Soviet military base of Fort Shevchenko and Aktau in a day’s route of 337.63km.
Stage two heads east out of Aktau City and winds its way in a loop via the town of Ushtagan and south of the oil and gas hub of Zhanaozen to finish just north of Kenderly. The stage is split into two sections of 325km and 41.6km by a short neutralised track of just 1.4km.
The next two selective sections on May 23 and 24 loop around the deserts further east and to the north of the Kenderly Sea Resort and closer to the remote town of Senek. They run for 421km and 276.20km, respectively.
The penultimate stage guides the surviving teams back to Aktau City via a competitive section of 370.90km in a day’s route of 499.60km. The action begins to the north of Kenderly and makes its way in an anti-clockwise direction to a finish close to the small town of Zhetybay. A shorter sixth and final loop stage of 147.94km, north of Aktau City, brings the action to a conclusion on May 26. In a compact total route of 2,500.37km, 1852.57km will be competitive.
World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies standings
1. Khalid al-Qassimi (ARE) 105pts
2. Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah (QAT) 90pts
3. Mohamed Abu Issa (QAT) 68pts
4. Martin Prokop (CZE) 54pts
5. Yasir Saeidan (SAU) 53pts
6. Aron Domzala (POL) 44pts
7. Jakub Przygonski (POL) 42pts
8. Leeroy Poulter (ZAF) 32pts
9. Yayha al-Helai (ARE) 28pts
10. Khalid al-Feraihi (SAU) 24pts
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