Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel romped to an emphatic victory on the opening 358.15km desert stage of the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally on Thursday. The day’s stage started south-west of Losail and wound its way through the remote western wastelands before crossing the bottom of the country to finish near Sealine in the south. The Toyota Hilux driver began the day positioned eighth on the road, but he delivered another polished performance to extend his overall advantage in the fourth round of the FIA World Cup to 16min 07sec.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a good job today, but it was a very difficult stage and not easy for the navigation. We lose a little bit of time searching for the road and we had one flat tyre, but I am quite happy to be here. Many people made mistakes today. Tomorrow is another day and we try to do our best.”
Poland’s Jakub Przygonski lost some time in the middle of the stage with his own navigational issues, but the X–Raid MINI driver hit back over the closing kilometres to pull clear of fellow countryman Aron Domzala to snatch the second quickest time and move up to a similar position in the standings.
“We are happy for second position but we are not so happy with the rhythm today,” said Przygonski. “The speed was okay but we had a lot of navigation mistakes and we lost a lot of time on this, maybe 12 or 14 minutes. This is when Aron (Domzala) catch us. But we are still in the game and the car is perfect. We need to focus on the next days and not make any mistakes.”
Dutchman Erik van Loon put Wednesday evening’s Losail mishap to the back of his mind and clocked the fourth quickest time to move up the field to seventh. Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan and Russian Vladimir Vasilyev finished the stage in fourth and fifth overall and held fifth and fourth in the overall classification, respectively.
FIA World Cup leader Martin Prokop slipped to sixth in the rankings after losing his way in the desert. The Ford F-150 Evo driver said: “The stage was not the most difficult and was quite nice to drive, but it was navigation that was big trouble for us. We struggled a lot. We got lost really properly in the first 55km. It took a long time to find the right way again. Then we were looking for a waypoint after 200km and really struggling. It’s a disappointment. The speed was good, the car was perfect. It was a good decision to start 10th. But the two big mistakes have cost us this race. We try and do a good job o the last three stages.”
Qatar’s Adel Abdulla increased his lead in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles after Saudi Arabian championship rival Ahmed Shegawi suffered technical problems before PC2. The QMMF and Ooredoo-backed Nissan Patrol driver also held an impressive 10th overall and a T2 lead of 47min 15sec at the end of the day.
Frenchman Claude Fournier romped to the T3 stage win in his Polaris RZR 1000 and moved up to an impressive eighth in the overall rankings, after series rival José Luis Pena Campo of Spain lost time early on and both Italy’s Michele Cinotto and Spaniard Santiago Navarro were delayed.
The Qatar debut of Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers came to a premature and painful halt when co-driver Robert Howie complained of back pain shortly after a heavy landing in a deep hole shortly before the first passage control. De Villiers took the sensible decision to retire the Toyota.
De Villiers said: “It was at the end of a shott and I guess there should have been a couple of cautions in the road book. I braked hard but, unfortunately, Rob injured his back and was in a lot of pain. I decided to stop. His health is more important. There is nothing wrong with the car. I wait to see if he is okay after the medical checks.
“Other than that, the navigation is really tricky and I don’t like the system of not being able to go back if you miss a waypoint. We missed a waypoint and got the new one before we knew that we had missed the previous one. It’s not a good system at all. It makes it impossible on the navigation side.”
Polish Orlen Team rider Maciej Giemza maintained a level head and survived the rigours of navigating alone from the front to card a stage time of 5hrs 47min 56sec on the sole motorcycle. Russian Alexsandr Maksimov was a comfortable leader of the quad category after Dutch rival Kees Koolen stopped with fuel pump problems on the day’s stage and lost a lot of time.
Giemza said: “It was a great experience to open the stage for the first time. We know how hard the Qatar stages are for navigation and I heard that some of the best guys in the cars also lost some waypoints today. I am happy about the clean stage without a crash. I hope to do better navigation tomorrow.”
The difficulty of the stage decimated the field running in the Manateq Qatar National Baja and T2 leader Adel Abdulla – who is eligible for both rallies – stormed to the top of the leader board in his TOK Sport Nissan Patrol Y62.
Despite losing over an hour, Al-Shegawi (Toyota) held fifth place behind the Qatari, second-placed Kuwait’s Thuwaini Al-Nahel (Polaris) and the Qatari duo of Mohammed Al-Meer (Nissan) and Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani (Nissan).
Overnight leader Abdulaziz Al-Bsheyer, Nayef Al-Nasr, Ahmed Allouh and Mohammed Al-Attiyah all suffered their own fair share of mechanical issues and delays on the treacherous special.
SS2 – as it happened
Giemza led his quad rivals into the special and Vasilyev drew the short straw of leading the way for the cars. Al-Attiyah started in eighth and series leader Prokop was 10th. The FIM entrants were running together soon after the start, with Maksimov holding the virtual stage lead after catching his rivals.
Al-Attiyah began his charge from the outset and moved over 55 seconds clear of Przygonski at PC1, after 23.59km. Seaidan and Prokop were also running strongly but Saudi Arabia’s Khalid Al-Feraihi was forced to stop after just 12km to change a punctured rear-right tyre.
Al-Shegawi moved ahead of Adel Abdulla in the T2 duel and Fournier edged in front of Navarro in T3 after Pena Campo lost time. Muneef Al-Salmani edged into a slender lead over Nasser Al-Ajmi and Al-Shegawi in the National section.
PC2, after 153.82km, acted as the refuelling point for the bike and quads and the finish line for the Manateq Qatar National Baja entrants. Przygonski overtook both Vasilyev and Domzala and reached the checkpoint in 1hr 31min 15sec, but still ceded 3min 01sec to Al-Attiyah, who had moved up from eighth to third on the road.
Robert Howie had complained of back pain and De Villiers took the sensible decision to retire his Toyota between PC1 and PC2. Howie was taken to hospital for routine medical checks.
Giemza safely reached refuelling 19min 43sec in front of Maksimov, but there was no sign of Koolen, who had lost his quad lead to the Russian after stopping to repair a fuel pump issue on his Barren Racing BR1690 around 30km before the checkpoint. Koolen eventually reached refuelling nearly one and a half hours adrift of his rival.
The stage then headed south across fast rocky desert before switching in a south-easterly direction across the foot of Qatar to finish with a run through the sand dunes on the east coast, near Sealine.
Domzala closed in on a troubled Przygonski through PC4, but there was no stopping Al-Attiyah and the Qatari romped to a comfortable stage win. Przygonski put earlier navigational delays to the back of his mind to confirm second position and Domzala came home in third.
Tomorrow (Friday), competitors tackle another mammoth loop stage across the State of Qatar. The 340.54km selective section begins to the north of Losail and passes around the northern extremities of the country before cutting across the uppermost deserts to run down the western coast to finish off the Al-Kharsaah Road, west of Doha.
2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally – positions after SS2 (unofficial @ 15.45hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 3hrs 38min 41sec
2. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally 3hrs 54min 48sec
3. Aron Domzala (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hrs 03min 52sec
4. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI One 4hrs 12min 00sec
5. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hrs 34min 40sec
6. Martin Prokop (CZE)/David Pabiška (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo 4hrs 50min 58sec
7. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hrs 07min 10sec
8. Claude Fournier (FRA)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 5hrs 10min 09sec
9. Jose Luis Pena Campo (ESP)/Rafael Tornabell (ESP) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 5hrs 51min 52sec
10. Adel Abdulla (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Nissan Patrol Y62 (T2) 5hrs 57min 33sec
11. Michele Cinotto (ITA)/Fulvio Zini (ITA) Polaris RZR 1000 (T3) 6hrs 10min 16sec
12. Ahmed Shegawi (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Nissan Patrol Y61 (T2) 6hrs 44min 48sec
13. Santiago Navarro (ESP)/Pwsdro Lopez (ESP) Yamaha XYZ 1000R (T3) 6hrs 46min 26sec
1. Maciej Giemza (POL) KTM 450 Rally Replica 5hrs 52min 32sec
2. Aleksandr Maksimov (RUS) Yamaha YFM 700R 6hrs 57min 39sec
2018 Qatar Cross-Country Rally – positions on SS2: