Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah claimed his first stage victory in Rally Kazakhstan and extended his overall lead, after the fourth selective section of 274.17km across some of the remotest desert terrain in the Mangystau oblast, on Wednesday.
Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel, crewing an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, began the day second on the road and looked set to potentially cede the stage win to Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk for a third successive day.
But the Saudi’s Mini John Cooper Works Rally fell into a deep hole in a stretch of tricky sand dunes close to the finish and the crew had to wait for Mohammed Abu Issa to arrive in a second Mini and offer support. Al-Attiyah duly reached the finish 58 seconds in front of Jakub Przygonski, while Al-Rajhi eventually dropped 1hr 50min to the stage winner.
Przygonski began the day 8min 53sec behind the defending FIA World Cup champion and now finds himself 9min 51sec adrift and still coming under pressure from third-placed Aron Domzala in a second Toyota Hilux. Domzala was only two seconds behind his fellow Pole on the day’s stage after a fascinating tussle between the two.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was very hard today. It is a very interesting rally. We are happy to keep our lead and stay like this. The Mini is pushing a lot here. In a straight line the Mini is faster. But we took no risks and we try to manage each day. We did not see Yazeed. It was maybe a different route (he was on). We saw Timo (Gottschalk) but not the car. Tomorrow we have the opposite stage to the second day and we know it will not be easy.”
“It was a nice fight with Aron today,” said Przygonski. “We saw he was following us, but we pushed a lot in the last 50km. The stage was really nice. For me, it was the best stage so far on this race.
There were dunes, some sand piste, some fast bits and it was nice to drive. We stopped for a few seconds in the dunes. We passed Yazeed. They were in a bowl in the dunes and it was hard to move the car.”
The day’s fourth selective section of 276.2km started after a liaison of 111.1km from Kenderly to the Senek road on the easterly side of Zhanaozen. The special wound its way in a clockwise – almost figure-of-eight-style – loop back to a finish through that fateful series of dunes near the village of Senek.
Yuriy Sazonov recorded his best stage finish of the campaign with the fourth quickest time and Miroslav Zapletal’s mechanical issues midway through the stage lifted last year’s rally winner into fourth position and dropped Zapletal to an unofficial sixth.
Yerden Shagirov began the day in sixth in his Toyota Hilux, but race officials finalised additional time penalties for the first three legs of the rally on Wednesday morning and the Kazakh driver was penalised by 6hrs 45mins. That pushed him down from sixth to ninth overall.
Lithuania’s Antanas Juknevicius, T2 leader Yasir Saiedan and Adel Abdulla were the main beneficiaries and climbed to sixth, seventh and eighth overall at the start of the day, but Zapletal’s problems promoted Juknevicius into fifth.
Adel Abdulla lost chunks of time early in the stage and fell further behind Saeidan in the battle for T2 honours, although the Qatari remains one of only nine drivers still running without at least 100 hours of time penalties.
Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa was on course for a top five finish until he stopped to assist Al-Rajhi in the dunes, but AMFK President Marat Abykayev, Pavel Loginov, Dmitry Pitulov, Zhanat Zhalimbetov and Kirill Chernenkov made it safely through the special.
One of the performances of the day came from the Russian driver Viktor Khoroshavtsev, who set the fifth quickest time in his BMW X3 CC.
Wednesday – as it happened
Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa decided against withdrawing from the event and taking a planned trip from Aktau and on to London and was duly granted a start time for the fourth stage.
He slotted into seventh on the road behind Zapletal, as Al-Rajhi led the crews into the day’s 274.17km stage and Al-Attiyah began the defence of his overall lead of 8min 53sec.
The recce crew of Thierry Magnaldi and Gilles Picard had made a few minor road book amendments after passing through the stage on Monday, although these were mainly to warn of mud and standing water after the heavy rain the region experienced last weekend.
Al-Rajhi was the quickest driver to the first checkpoint, after 64km, but had ceded the virtual stage lead to Aron Domzala when crews passed the waypoint at 157km. The Pole was an unofficial six seconds ahead of the Saudi on the day’s special and Al-Attiyah was also running quicker than Przygonski. Daniyar Alibayev reached the start 15th on the road, but drove directly to the stage finish in his Mobilex Racing Team Hummer H3.
Adel Abdulla lost a lot of time and ended up running amongst the national rally drivers at the rear of the field, as Al-Attiyah claimed his first stage win of the week when Al-Rajhi got stuck in the dunes and eventually dropped 1hr 50min to the stage winner.
Domzala maintained the pressure on Przygonski to finish two seconds behind the Mini All4 Racing, but Zapletal’s technical issues on the return loop to Senek were expensive for the Czech driver.
The penultimate selective section of Rally Kazakhstan runs between Kenderly and a return to Aktau City.
The competitive action starts 28.7km from the bivouac and retraces many of the tracks taken on Monday run in the opposite direction, including the daunting sand dunes that caught out so many competitors on day two.
The special loops around Zhanaozen to finish just short of Zhetybay. A 100km liaison takes teams back to the last overnight halt in Aktau City.