Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Chile’s Ignacio Casale Catracchia shared the winner’s spoils on the opening 226.42km selective section of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally between Al-Zubara and Sealine on Monday.
The Toyota Hilux Overdrive pilot and the Yamaha rider won their respective car and quad categories from Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Mini All4 Racing) and Poland’s Rafal Sonik. Portugal’s Ricardo Porem (Mini), Al-Attiyah brother Khalifa (Toyota) and former FIA World Cup winner Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini) rounded off the top five in the car category.
“It was okay today, not easy navigation and I think Yazeed is pushing,” said Al-Attiyah. “Tomorrow is a long stage and we try to get a good time. “We could not push today. We were the first car (on the stage) and to see the line and the navigation is not easy. Now we can push.”
“It was a good stage and the first time on these tracks with the Mini for me,” said a delighted Al-Rajhi. “We learn the car and we did a good job. We need to push a bit to make the gap smaller. That’s our goal.”
The shortest stage of the five-day event provided competitors with an ideal opportunity settle in to what lies ahead over four longer and more difficult stages. The leading three motorcyclists rode together virtually all through the timed test and Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland and Chilean rival Pablo Quintanilla reached the flying finish tied and two seconds in front of the defending Dakar champion and FIM World Championship leader Toby Price.
“The mass start is definitely something strange that we have to account for,” said Sunderland. “It was a little bit dangerous with all the guys together in the dust. But I like the idea and, when you make a mass start on the first day, everybody starts the same. It’s fair for everyone.”
Quintanilla said: “Today was an important stage for the road book and the navigation. I did really well. I was in front almost all the stage trying to not make any mistakes. I feel really good. I think on this race the mass start was a good idea. If we had the start order from the last race, in theory, some guys have more chance to do well.”
Toby Price was impressed with the pace of his two rivals. “It’s difficult coming from Abu Dhabi where you follow the way. Here, the navigation is a big change up and the first time we have done this since the Dakar. It was hard to see out there with the sun right above you and everything looks exactly the same, all flat. Sam and Pablo were on a good pace. Their speed was good and I maybe only led for about five kilometres all day. The rest of the time they were out in front. But I am looking forward to the rest of the week.”
Local driver Adel Hussein Abdullah earned a stunning lead in the T2 category in his Nissan Middle East-backed Patrol. “I was competing with Yasir Seidan all the stage and then I had a flat tyre between PC2 and PC3,” he said. “Then I caught Yasir, who was stopped, stuck in the sand. We must respect our land, because if you don’t it will be so tricky. I am not aiming for the first, but if I come to the podium it will be fantastic.”
Michelle Cincotto and Zini Fulvio claimed the early T3 lead in the first of four Polaris RZR 1000s and the Spanish girl Cristina Gutierrez, partnered by Sandra Labuscagne, was the first of the three QMMF-backed Nissan Patrol drivers to reach the finish.
Day 1 – as it happened
Thirty-two cars were granted a start in the FIA section of the rally, in addition to five running in the national rally, 15 motorcycles and two quads.
There was bitter disappointment for Saudi Arabian rookie Saleh Abdullah and his experienced Ulster navigator Michael Orr on Sunday evening. After replacing their Toyota Land Cruiser’s engine with a new unit after the ill-fated Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, 4WD Jaton Racing Team mechanics discovered the new engine was not running correctly and dumping diesel into the oil.
The team worked non-stop for two days to rectify the issue and took the car for a test on Sunday evening, but the unit would not run correctly again and Orr confirmed that they would not be able to start.
seeds would run close together throughout the stage, as the route headed south along Qatar’s western coastline towards Al-Jamaliya, before reaching PC1, after 76.54km. It was a nightmare start for Julian Villarrubia, who drove to Sealine by mistake to take the start on his Yamaha and realised the error of his ways a long time after the others had left the correct start.
Taking the stage win on the first of five selective sections was important for all the leading riders, but Mohammed Al-Balooshi stopped in a tunnel under the Dukhan highway after his engine ingested some standing water. Qatar’s sole motorcyclist Ahmed Fahad Al-Kuwari also stopped at the same point, although Al-Balooshi got going again and eventually reached the stage finish 1hr 23min behind the stage winner. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed Al-Thani suffered a leaking oil pump, retired his Nissan from the national rally stage and was soon joined by Abdullah Al-Rabban’s Buggy.
The group of front-running riders passed PC2 together, after 128.69km, and headed towards the third checkpoint between Al-Kharrara and Al-Wukair. Quintanilla held a virtual stage advantage of just three seconds over Sunderland. Meanwhile, Al-Attiyah had begun the stage at the head of the car category and was beginning to ease away from Al-Rajhi and Vasilyev. He reached PC1 57 seconds in front of the Saudi, but Al-Rajhi had gained the virtual stage lead by 24 seconds after 151km.
Al-Attiyah was not to be denied, however, and he regained a stage lead of two minutes after 183.81km and went on to snatch the stage win by 44 seconds from Al-Rajhi. Sunderland, Quintanilla and Price rode to the stage finish together and Sunderland and Quintanilla were handed a joint stage win.
Casale Catracchia and Sonik rode together on their quads and the Chilean crossed the finish line just one second in front of his Polish rival to record the stage win. Adrien Van Beveren suffered mechanical woes on the second of the works Yamahas, as team mate Helder Rodrigues crossed the finish line in sixth behind Pierre Alexander Renet and Juan Carlos Salvatierra. KTM female rider Laia Sanz was a fine seventh.
Poland’s Jakub Piatek crashed heavily and was hospitalised swiftly by helicopter with a leg injury, while Jose Ignacio Cornejo suffered technical issues and failed to finish the stage on his KTM.
Tomorrow (Tuesday), competitors tackle the second selective section from a start in Al-Kharrara from 07.15hrs for the first of the motorcycles and 08.45hrs for the first of the cars. The stage runs for 345.89km to finish near the old bivouac location at Sealine, south of Doha.
2016 Sealine Cross-Country Rally – positions after SS1 (unofficial @ 16.25hrs):
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2hr 00min 28sec
- Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Mini All4 Racing 2hr 01min 12sec
- Ricardo Porém (POR)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Mini All4 Racing 2hr 08min 38sec
- Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Jean-Michel Polato (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2hr 10min 17sec
- Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All4 Racing 2hr 11min 51sec
- Marek Dabrowski (POL)/Jacek Czachor (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2hr 17min 24sec
- Yuriy Sazonov (KAZ)/Dmytro Tsyro (UKR) Hummer H3 III 2hr 19min 12sec
- Jutta Kleinschmidt (DEU)/Philipp Beier (DEU) X-raid CBRA 2hr 21min 24sec
- Khaled Al-Feraihi (SAU)/Abdulhaleem Al-Busaidi (OMN) Nissan Patrol 2hr 39min 13sec
- Adel Hussein Abdullah (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Nissan Patrol (T2) 2hr 45min 50sec