By Sports Reporter/Lusail
Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah confirmed a seventh victory in nine seasons at the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally (MQCCR) and kick-started his challenge to win back the FIA World Cup Drivers’ title with the fastest time on the final stage yesterday.
Having last won the FIA World Cup title in 2017, the Qatari and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel knew the importance of a good start to the five-round series. They secured bonus points for winning four of the event’s five selective sections to secure a winning margin of 1hr 31min 40sec, despite finishing the last stage with two flat tyres.
Al-Attiyah said: “We are quite happy to take this win. This was not an easy race with lots of navigation. Today we had three flat tyres. It was not easy for the tyres here. The last 50km, we lost the pressure in the tyres and we reached the finish line with two punctures. But I won the stage and I lead the championship, so we are happy.”
Yazeed al-Rajhi and Michael Orr claimed one stage win and finished the last timed section of 254.58km in third place from first on the road to confirm the runner-up spot in the second of the Overdrive Toyota Hiluxes. They also suffered tyre wear on the abrasive rocky terrain and were then handed a 10-minute time penalty for leaving a destroyed wheel and tyre in the desert.
Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and German navigator Timo Gottschalk battled back from a near two-hour time loss on day two to secure the final podium place on their first appearance together in a Toyota.
Broken steering and punctures had pushed the 2018 FIA World Cup champion down to seventh position at the start of day three, but the Pole found an impressive rhythm for the remainder of the rally and reached the end of the last stage at Ash Shafallahiyah with the second quickest time, he too crossing the finish line with two flat tyres.
“All three of us had the same problem before the finish, like 20 or 30km, when we lost the pattern (tread) of the tyre,” said Przygonski. “The tyres were gone and we finished with flat tyres and Nasser, the same. It was hard for the tyres with a lot of stones and hard ground. We are pleased with this position after the problems. In the end, it was a good race for us. We learn the car and know what to do to be faster in this car.”
Six T3 drivers were evenly matched on the stages and Khalid al-Mohannadi and Sébastien Delaunay had shown the most consistency in their Polaris RXR 1000. But two punctures on the final stage cost the Qatari crucial minutes and he plummeted to third in the category behind Ahmed al-Kuwari and Saleh al-Saif, his woes exacerbated when he had to drive 50km to the stage finish on a wheel rim.
Al-Kuwari and Italian co-driver Manual Luchesse were confirmed as winners by the margin of 10min 57sec, with the OT3 by Overdrive prototypes of Kees Koolen and Fedor Vorobyev coming home in fourth and fifth, the Dutchman being rewarded with the second quickest T3 time on the day. Vorobyev, however, wrecked the OT3’s rear right suspension near the end and was forced to stop at the stage finish to make repairs with a time penalty knocking him down to 13th overall.
A delighted al-Kuwari said: “There was one of two results today, either we win or we bring the steering wheel back! I saw that Khalid (al-Mohannadi) had problems, because we passed him on the piste a few times. We got lost also. It was really rough and we suffered one puncture. We were driving like there was no tomorrow. It was always going to go one of two ways…”
South Racing Can-Am driver Austin Jones was the fastest of the 12 drivers taking part in the T3 category, but an unfortunate accident on day three ruined the American’s chance of securing maximum points in Qatar. Jones won stages two and four but massive time penalties after the crash put him out of contention and he dropped over 45minutes on the final stage with a broken brake disc after leading early on.
Hungarian driver Balazs Szalay guided his self-designed Opel Grandland X to the finish in eighth overall and fourth in T1 and Russian Can-Am driver Aleksey Shmotov was ninth.
There were finishes down the leader board for Qatar’s Mohamed al-Harqan in 10th, Rashid al-Mohannadi (11th), Mubarak al-Hajri (13th), and Mohamed al-Meer (brake problems – 15th), with al-Hajri setting the fastest time on the day after problems last Sunday wrecked his chance of challenging for the outright T3 win.
Competitors taking part in the third round of the Manateq Qatar National Baja also tackled the first part of the sixth stage. The seven drivers who were eligible for both events continued to the finish of the longer stage to be classified in the FIA standings.
Victory on the day fell to al-Hajri in his FN Speed Can-Am from Saleh al-Saif and Ahmed al-Kuwari. Ahmed Allouh and Peruvian navigator Héctor Garcia Chavez were the best of the non-FIA runners in sixth place.
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