By Sports Reporter/Doha
Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel moved further ahead of their nearest rivals after winning a dramatic second 334.25km selective section of the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally (MQCCR) across the country’s northern and western deserts yesterday. Driving a Toyota Gazoo Hilux, al-Attiyah was the first on the road yesterday morning and benefited from an increased advantage of 6min 00sec, after nearest rival Yazeed al-Rajhi was handed a 10-second time penalty at the night halt for a minor speeding violation.
Al-Rajhi had the better of the day’s early exchanges and led the Qatari by over 1min 40sec at the first passage control. But the stage advantage was short lived and al-Rajhi had dropped five minutes to al-Attiyah by the fourth checkpoint before stopping several times on the run down the north-west with power steering issues and flat tyres.
Al-Attiyah duly recorded a stage time of 3hr 26min 48sec and increased his overall lead to a massive 1hr 06min 49sec, the Qatari finishing the special over an hour ahead of al-Rajhi.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a good day except for one tyre that was completely destroyed in the last 50km. We had a good run and good navigation. We are quite happy. This rally is very difficult if you don’t take care with the speed. You will get a lot of problems. From the beginning today, it was very tricky. Matthieu did a good job. Sometimes we were searching for the correct road. We need to score full points here in Qatar.”
Al-Rajhi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr haemorrhaged time as the stage progressed, came home in fifth place and slipped to third overall, 1min 38sec adrift of American driver Austin Jones and his Brazilian teammate Gustavo Gugelmin.
Both al-Attiyah and al-Rajhi were recorded at stunning average speeds in excess of 191kph and 190kph on a fast gravel section of the stage between the nine and 22km points. “Not a good day but we are here,” reflected al-Rajhi. “That is the most important. We lost power steering. We had to stop to put oil back in the system because we lost it. Two times we had punctures and we cracked the windscreen in a ditch. Tomorrow is a different day. We see what is going on.”
Jones, on the other hand, made a patient start to his first event in Qatar, but began to increase his pace on day two in the South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3. He was rewarded with the second quickest time and climbed to a similar impressive position in the overall rankings, the T3 category lead being an added bonus for the 24-year-old.
It was a day to forget for Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and German navigator Timo Gottschalk in the third Toyota Hilux. They were running strongly in third place through the opening checkpoints and staying close to al-Attiyah’s pace before sustaining a damaged steering arm after an impact in a ditch. The crew managed to repair the car temporarily, reached the finish 1hr 49min 39sec behind al-Attiyah and plummeted to seventh overall.
Hungarian Opel Rally Team driver Balazs Szalay was the only other T1 finisher on the day in ninth after Mohamed al-Meer’s Chevrolet Buggy ground to a halt shortly after the start and damage from Sunday’s accident sidelined fellow Qatari Abdullah al-Rabban.
Time penalties of 15 minutes were handed to both Mohammed al-Harqan and Rashid al-Mohannadi for missing a waypoint before the resumption of racing yesterday.
Khalid al-Mohannadi began the second stage with a lead of 35 seconds in the T3 category, but the Qatari lost precious time with flat tyres and no intercom system for over 300km. He still managed to set the third fastest time to hold fourth overall, 19min 08sec adrift of Jones in the T3 contest.
Ahmed al-Kuwari and Manuel Luchesse moved up to third in T3 and fifth overall. Saleh al-Saif holds fifth in T3 in his Can-Am and Dutchman Kees Koolen is sixth in the first of the new OT3s. Russian teammate Fedor Vorobyev stopped near the finish after an accident and lost over an hour and a half. Al-Harqan was forced to repair an electrical connector on the front of his Can-Am that had been damaged by a rock. The delay cost the Qatari valuable minutes and he finished the stage in seventh in T3 and holds 10th overall. Mubarak al-Hajri, however, recovered strongly after retiring on day one with a broken suspension arm and was fourth on the day in the second of four FN Speed Can-Ams.
Qatar’s Adel Abdulla restarted with hefty time penalties after his first day electrical issues but the G-Force T3 GF ground to a halt again before the first checkpoint. The day’s action began off the Al Shamal highway and wound its way along the north-western coast and across the northern deserts to finish off the Al Kharsaah road. The timed section included three passages controls on the Al Zubarah and Al Jumailah roads and the Dukhan highway.
Today, the third Al Kharsaah selective section is the longest of the event at 340.28km and starts at 8.40am. The route heads south towards the Inland Sea, before turning north-west and heading back through the central deserts to finish in the north-west of the country, 68.55km from Lusail. There are four passage controls – two on the Al Kharrara road – and a further two where the stage crosses the Al Aamriya and Umm Bab highways.
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