Qatar’s ace rally driver Nasser al-Attiyah is aiming to take the lead of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC), when the third round begins today at the Rally-Raid Portugal.
Al-Attiyah is second in the Drivers’ Championship – nine points behind Carlos Sainz. The participation of Sainz, driving for the X-Raid MINI JCW Team, adds even more interest to the fight for the W2RC title. The Spaniard’s historic triumph with Audi at the Dakar in January gave him an early lead in the Drivers’ Championship, even though he didn’t participate in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the W2RC.
Last month, al-Attiyah put the Dakar disappointment firmly to the back of his mind when he teamed up with Frenchman Edouard Boulanger for the first time to secure a fourth career victory on the demanding Abu Dhabi terrain.
In so doing, the Qatari recorded his second victory at the wheel of his Nasser Racing by Prodrive Hunter and leapt into contention to challenge for both the W2RC Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles this year. In Portugal, al-Attiyah heads a team of three Prodrive Hunters representing Nasser Racing by Prodrive in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
“It won’t be an easy race for anyone and I’ll try to be in the fight for victory,” said al-Attiyah at a pre-event press conference on Tuesday. “It’s a long race and with these rainy and muddy conditions it should be very tough. We will certainly have many spectators, as usual in Portugal, and I ask everyone to stay safe.
“The track is okay. We have good experience and will try to do our best. I will do my best to defend the title. We are very happy to be here. Thank you to the organisation and all the people who made it possible to put the World Cup here in Europe, it is very important to have a W2RC race here.”
Four-time Dakar Rally winner Sainz has teamed up with Alex Haro in an X-Raid Mini JCW Rally Plus and will give a tough fight to al-Attiyah. The Spaniard holds on the lead despite al-Attiyah’s win in Abu Dhabi and both Guerlain Chicherit and Guillaume De Mevius retiring.
Chicherit teams up again with navigator Mathieu Baumel in Portugal and is third in the World Championship, 12 points behind Sainz and just ahead of Guillaume De Mevius, who shone at the last Dakar with second overall.
The Hilux T1+ machines of Yazeed al-Rajhi, Lucas Moraes, Seth Quintero and Juan Cruz Yacopini are also candidates for overall victory, with local expectations also to see how Tiago Reis and Joao Ramo – the first two classified in the Portuguese All-Terrain Championship – can perform in similar machines.
Al-Attiyah’s victory at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge has revitalised the Manufacturers’ series. Toyota Gazoo Racing now leads the series by 31 points from Nasser Racing by Prodrive. The absent Team Audi Sport is a further point behind and the X-Raid Mini JCW Team is fourth on 35 points.
The bivouac for Rally-Raid Portugal will be based in the city of Granola in the Setubal province, situated around 100km south of Lisbon. Competitive action will be fought out over five selective sections and 1,008.87 competitive kilometres in a route of 1,758.41km through Alentejo and Ribatejo in Portugal and the Spanish Estremadura region.
A five-kilometre Prologue will determine the starting order today and this precedes five timed stages, with the third finishing across the border in the town of Badajoz in Spain and the fourth starting out of Badajoz and returning to Portugal. The event finishes with a 133km stage in Grandola on Sunday.