LOSAIL (Qatar): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Austria’s Matthias Walkner and Poland’s Rafal Sonik claimed victories in the third stage of the Qatar Cross-Country Rally, but Al-Attiyah, Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland and Sonik held the overall advantages in the car, motorcycle and quad categories after a windy day’s action in the Qatar deserts.
The day’s stage of 353.02km started near Sealine, passed the Inland Sea and then meandered across to the west coast before heading north to an eventual finish at Mekaines. Al-Attiyah attacked through the early sand dunes and began to eat into Yazeed Al-Rajhi’s virtual stage lead. The Saudi had moved to the top of the rankings when overnight leader Jakub Przygonski lost time in the sand.
Al-Attiyah continued to dominate throughout the day and, when Al-Rajhi withdrew from the stage after 277km following suspension damage in a ditch, the Qatari stormed to the top of the leader board and now holds an advantage of 3min 23.7sec over Toyota team-mate Leeroy Poulter, the South African making his first appearance in the Middle East.
Al-Attiyah said: “The car is working very well and we do our job and our target to win the stage. Now we are leading and try to keep going like this. The wind made it not easy and we had a small mistake in the dunes and we lose around three minutes. But we came back strong.”
“We broke the front left in a ditch and tried to drive the stage slowly, step-by-step, but then we decided to (pull) out,” said Al-Rajhi, who arrived in Losail with a Mini sporting a puncture and broken front-left suspension. “It got worse and worse. We see tomorrow what our start position will be and we will push.”
Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi carded the second quickest time to move up to fifth overall behind third-placed Qatari Mohammed Abu Issa and Przygonski. Dutchman Erik van Loon was sixth in a third Toyota Hilux run by Overdrive Racing.
KTM Red Bull Factory Team rider Sunderland made a storming start from the front in the motorcycle category and stayed well ahead of his rivals through the first two checkpoints. But his pursuers managed to close in over the faster sections as the stage progressed and Austrian Matthias Walkner claimed the stage win and moved up to third overall.
Walkner said: “I realise now that I won the stage. Sure, it helps a bit when you start at the back. It was so windy out there and almost on the limits for the safety reasons. Sometimes you did not see any piste or nothing. It was really hard, but I am happy that I make up for the time loss yesterday. The dunes were okay because Sam did a great job to leave the lines to follow. But, after the refuelling, it was getting really difficult with the navigation and I slow down a lot.”
Sunderland continues to lead outright by 6min 28.9sec from Monster Energy Honda team rider Paulo Gonçalves. Pablo Quintanilla of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Team holds fourth and Honda’s Kevin Benavides is fifth. Ride to Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi holds eighth place.
“I saw that I was a bit too fast this morning and I had to ease it off a bit for the strategy,” said Sunderland. “I didn’t want to take any risks or make any big mistakes with the navigation because it is so easy to happen. It’s strange now with this one being four days. It makes it different again. We will see how it pans out. It was very difficult to see this morning to be honest. You could not see the ends of the dunes or the bumps. There was a really high wind today.”
Gonçalves was upbeat after his second place: ”I did another good stage. There were sand dunes at the beginning and then we arrived at the fast stony tracks. Before refuelling, Sam push a lot and I cannot catch him. Then he did a mistake and I start to open the track. I am happy. The bike ran perfectly. We have two days more and a long race in front.”
Alexis Hernandez lost his quad lead when he was penalised for missing two waypoints and the Peruvian slipped to second after day three behind the day’s stage winner Rafal Sonik.
Qatar’s Adel Abdulla lost his T2 category lead in the sand dunes south of Sealine and that opened the door for Abu Dhabi Racing’s Mansour Al-Helai to claim the stage win and move ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saeidan in the standings. The duo are 12th and 13th overall. Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Harqan is third.
From the first 20km from the start, the temperature of the engine went up and we stopped to try and fix it,” said Adel Abdulla. “The fan had broken. Problems are chasing me from the beginning of the season. I tried my best not to miss any waypoints. You never know. There are still two long days to go.”
Saudi Arabia’s Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi finished the shorter non-FIM section on his Yamaha quad for a second day, with fellow countryman Sultan Al-Masood running behind.
Saudi driver Khaled Al-Feraihi was the unofficial winner of the day’s National Baja stage that finished at PC2, after 152.5km. Qatar’s Mohammed Al-Harqan was second and Mohammed Al-Mannai held third. Emirati driver Abdullah Al-Ketbi was hospitalised after an accident just five kilometres into the day’s National Baja stage. His co-driver Rashed Al-Ketbi was not hurt in the incident.
Thursday – as it happened
Sam Sunderland led his rivals into the second of the desert stages with a lead of 9min 32.9sec over Paulo Gonçalves. Alexis Hernandez had ridden the closing stages of the previous day’s special alongside Polish rival Rafal Sonik in the quads, but the Peruvian was given a 40-minute time penalty by the FIM Jury at the meeting on Wednesday night for missing two waypoints and that dropped him behind Sonik and Kees Koolen in the standings.
Vendetta Racing’s David McBride and David Mabbs reached Losail in 12th and 16th overall, but the Dubai-based duo decided to sit out the second desert stage to recover in time to tackle the last two days. “It was really heavy out there, my body is hammered and I’ll miss one day to get ready for tomorrow,” said Mabbs. McBride added: “It was really tough, especially at the start, and the rocks really take their toll. The sand here is fine and soft and not like the UAE. Here you have no control of the bike. But you can miss one stage and still score points.
In the car category, Jakub Przygonski opened the road in his Mini All4 Racing and held a lead of 1min 25sec over Yazeed Al-Rajhi, with local favourite Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in sixth.
Sunderland took no prisoners from the start and managed to find a potent pace through the dunes and the opening two passage controls. He only ceded a handful of seconds to Gonçalves through PC1 and managed to pull away from the Portuguese through PC2. Only Walkner could get anywhere near the Briton, but he was over one and a half minutes adrift at PC2.
Al-Attiyah was also on a charge and the Qatari overtook three cars before the first checkpoint and shaved over seven minutes off Al-Rajhi’s overnight advantage. Przygonski ceded over 13 minutes in the sand dunes and Al-Qassimi was running strongly and second quickest in the stage. Al-Attiyah shaved another minute of Al-Rajhi’s lead through PC2
Gonçalves managed to catch Sunderland over the faster tracks before the third passage control and finished the stage with the second fastest time. The stage win fell to Walkner, but Sunderland maintained his overall lead.
When Al-Rajhi damaged his Mini All4 Racing in a ditch, it left the track clear for Al-Attiyah to claim the stage win and snatch the outright lead with Al-Qassimi finishing second on the day.
Tomorrow (Friday), the fourth stage of 338.05km begins off the Dukhan Highway and heads west before running through the south-west of the country and then right up the west coast to a finish in the very north of Qatar at the Al-Shamal stadium, the home venue for Qatar Stars League team Al-Shamal SC. There are many kilometres in this stage that have never been used before in the FIA World Cup round.
2017 Qatar Cross-Country Rally – positions on SS3 (unofficial)
Cars – FIA
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 3hr 26min 53sec
- Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Khaled Al-Kendi (ARE) Peugeot 3008 DKR 3hr 36min 07sec
- Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Mini All4 Racing 3hr 36min 30sec
- Leeroy Poulter (ZAF)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota Hilux 3hr 36min 58sec
- Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Mini All4 Racing 3hr 44min 10sec
- Erik Van Loon (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 3hr 47min 39sec
- Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally 4hr 01min 25sec
- Paolo Gonçalves (PRT) Honda 450 CRF Rally 4hr 04min 39sec
- Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Husqvarna 450 Rally 4hr 07min 31sec