Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah finished sixth in stage one of the Rally-Raid Portugal, the third round of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC), which began on Wednesday.
Al-Attiyah had earlier in the day won the 3.5km Prologue with his French co-driver Edouard Boulanger at the wheel of his Nasser Racing by Prodrive Hunter. But the two-time W2RC champion could only finish in the first stage, which was run over 103km in Santiago do Cacem. “The stage was fantastic, with a lot of fans, good roads, and different surfaces. The machine is perfect, so tomorrow we’ll attack,” said al-Attiyah.
The Qatari ace is second in the Drivers’ Championship – nine points behind Carlos Sainz, who was fifth fastest on Wednesday driving a MINI, ahead of al-Attiyah. The first of the five stages was won by Frenchmen Guerlain Chicherit and al-Attiyah’s previous co-driver Mathieu Baumel in Toyota Hilux. The pair held a 28-second lead over their closest competitors Yazeed al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk, who were also behind the wheel of a Toyota Hilux.
“We can’t complain. The car is flawless, the stages are very varied, and we managed a good pace throughout the day. But there are still many kilometres ahead, and this is just the beginning,” emphasised Chicherit.
Al-Rajhi, after finishing the day in second position, said: “The rally is spectacular, congratulations to the organisation, congratulations to the municipalities for supporting this sport. It’s fantastic to drive in Portugal in these special stages with so much support from the fans.”
With the third fastest time of the day, Lucas Moraes confirmed Toyota’s dominance on the opening day, with the Brazilian saying: “Very fun, that’s what I can say! It’s always a pleasure to race here, we see a lot of people on the ground, and that gives us great motivation. The car is perfect. Being at the top of the World, among these legends... I can’t complain!”
Lithuanian Vaidotas Zala, with Portuguese Paulo Fiúza as navigator, started from a modest 36th position but surpassed several cars in their MINI JCW Rally Plus, reaching third place tied with Lucas Moraes. Also driving a MINI, the four-time Dakar winner and two-time WRC world champion, Carlos Sainz, was the fifth fastest, ahead of al-Attiyah. WRC legend Sebastien Loeb, making his debut in the Challenger category, finished the day in 12th place, just ahead of Armindo Araujo.
Today’s Stage 2 will run over 220km in PFE Grandola. The event finishes with a 133km stage in Grandola on Sunday.
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