By A Correspondent/Aktau City, Kazakhstan
Overdrive Racing’s Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah faces a crucial test of his nerve when he takes part in Rally Kazakhstan, round five of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, a series that he has won for the last three years. The event takes place from May 27 to June 2.
The decision to miss two rounds of this year’s championship in the United Arab Emirates was exacerbated by a cruel non-finish at his home Qatar Cross-Country Rally last month and the Doha-based driver finds himself in eighth position in the Drivers’ Championship and, more importantly, 114 points behind Polish series leader Jakub Przygonski.
Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel won the first four stages in Qatar until a technical issue cost them a potential victory and the two-time Dakar winner knows the enormity of the task awaiting him if he is to win the FIA World Cup for a fifth time this year.
The duo did, however, claim victory in Kazakhstan’s inaugural round of the series last year.
“I made a calculated decision not to go to the UAE and I guess success hinged this season on winning in Qatar,” said al-Attiyah.
“That was not meant to be, that’s motorsport, and the non-finish there has made it vital that I win in Kazakhstan. I like the new rally here very much and really enjoyed the stages and the terrain last year.
“It’s a case of pushing for the win and the 60 points and then seeing how it all pans out and how that affects the championship.”
Yasir Seaidan returns to action in Central Asia with Russian navigator Alexei Kuzmich after tacking the recent event in Qatar with Frenchman Laurent Lichtleuchter. Seaidan finished on the podium at Losail last month, after overcoming the rigours of the event’s complex navigation, and also enjoyed his visit to Kazakhstan last season in a T2 Toyota Land Cruiser to win the category and finish seventh overall.
Seaidan currently holds fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship standings behind Przygonski, Martin Prokop and Vladimir Vasilyev.
The French duo of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot crew the third Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. Chabot retired from 15th position in the Dakar Rally on medical grounds and is due some better luck after retiring from the Italian Baja last year and then being forced to fight back from early problems to finish 30th overall in the Rally of Morocco.
This year’s Rally Kazakhstan will be fought out over a revised route featuring six long and demanding selective sections and around 1,900km of competition in a compact route through the far west of the country.
The opening timed section of 280.35km heads south from Aktau City to a Caspian Sea Resort in Kenderly, a tourist destination located around 210km south-east of Aktau.
This plays host to the event’s bivouac for the second, third and fourth legs.
Second day action on May 29 takes place on a stage of 414.12km that loops through the deserts to the east around the town of Senek, before the third timed section of 327.47km on May 30 heads deeper into the area east of Kenderly. Stage four runs for 398.57km and skirts around the nearby oil city of Zhanaozen before returning to Aktau City.
The remaining two stages of 298.04km and 148.52km head north out of Aktau City, with the last one passing along the shoreline of the Caspian Sea before the ceremonial finish in the city on June 2.
Championship standings (top 10)
1. Jakub Przygonski (POL) 144 pts
2. Martin Prokop (CZE) 113 pts
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS) 111 pts
4. Yasir Seaidan (SAU) 58 pts
5. Ahmed al-Shegawi (SAU) 39 pts
6. José Luis Pena Campo (ESP) 36 pts
7. Claude Fournier (FRA) 31 pts
8. Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah (QAT) 30 pts
9. Aron Domzala (POL) 24 pts
10. Cyril Despres (FRA) 24 pts
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