Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel guided their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux to a second successive victory in the five-day Andalucia Rally in southern Spain and got their 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies campaign off to the perfect start.
The Qatari and his French team-mate became embroiled in a fierce battle with Spain’s Carlos Sainz and Overdrive Racing team-mate Yazeed Al-Rajhi for honours over four demanding legs through Andalucia and the neighbouring province of Córdoba.
Al-Attiyah led from the opening qualifying stage, but Sainz maintained the pressure right to the final kilometres, as the Qatari crossed the finish line with a slender winning margin of 2min 43sec. But that was later reduced to just 43 seconds by event stewards when the Qatari was penalised two minutes for a minor route violation 238.31km into the final stage.
Al-Attiyah said: “The last stage was not easy. We had to keep the position, the first place, but I am quite happy to win here again. Every race we are fighting with Carlos (Sainz). He is one of the best drivers in the world. I am quite happy.”
Baumel added: “Andalucia, like last year, was fantastic. Nice places, nice roads, technique, fast and in the mountains and in the valleys and between the vegetation and the olive trees. The fight with Carlos and Yazeed was very high. We pushed a lot to win again this year. It is only piste, so navigation is not so difficult here. It is more about speed than navigation here.”
With regular co-driver Michael Orr still recuperating from a back injury sustained in Saudi Arabia in early March, Al-Rajhi was partnered by German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz, rounded off the podium places and secured third for a second year.
Dutchman Erik van Loon and his French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay delivered an impressive performance in the third of five Overdrive Racing cars to reach the finish in fourth place.
Portugal’s Victor Conceicao teamed up with Brazilian Valeria Nacarato in the fifth of the Toyotas. They had a strong start to the event but a time loss on day two pushed them down to 57th overall and they recovered to finish in 37th.
Poland’s Martin Kaczmarski returned to the Overdrive Racing line-up to drive a Toyota Hilux alongside Finnish co-driver Tapio Suominen. They were running outside the top 10 before transmission issues intervened after 142km of stage three.
Overdrive Racing also ran a quartet of OT3s in the FIA T3 category. The lightweight off-road vehicles dominated the category from the start. A transmission issue cost Seth Quintero an early lead, but Guillaume de Mevius, Cristina Gutierrez and Mitchell Guthrie took up the challenge at the top of the rankings. Gearbox issues thwarted De Mevius’s push for the win on the final leg and Gutierrez was able to cruise to the category win and snatch a fine seventh overall.
Al-Attiyah had scorched through the opening 8km qualifying stage last Wednesday in a time of 5min 50sec and opted to tackle the first leg from fourth position on the road. Al-Rajhi came home in eighth, Kaczmarski was 13th and Conceicao and Van Loon were 16thand 18th.
Leg one consisted of three sections of 67km, 73km and 56km with a neutralisation link after the first two parts, as the route looped around the remote countryside around the Villamartin base. The last section was cancelled but failed to prevent Al-Attiyah extending his lead over Vaidotas Zala to 1min 25sec. Al-Attiyah said: “We did a good job. Not an easy stage, very tricky.”
Van Loon moved up to sixth place in his Overdrive Toyota, Al-Rajhi ceded time to hold ninth and Conceicao and Kaczmarski were classified in 12th and 17th overall.
Two selective sections of 150km and 130km headed into the Córdoba province on day two. Al-Attiyah opened the road and finished the stage in third behind Sainz and Al-Rajhi, who sustained a slow puncture.
The Qatari, who earned a 1min 26sec overnight lead, said: “It was a good day for us. We opened the whole way. We got lost at only one point, which cost maybe 50 seconds or a minute and then we pushed a little without making any mistakes. I’m happy to have opened the day without any punctures. We only lost seven seconds to Yazeed and one minute or so to Carlos. Tomorrow it will be a good road position for us. We will start third car and we can do a good job.”
Van Loon was fifth quickest to hold a similar place in the overall standings, Kaczmarski was ninth but Conceicao lost time and slipped to 64th on the special and 57th overall.
The 298km third stage was divided into two sections by a two-kilometre neutraliation link and crossed rolling plains. Al-Attiyah managed to fend off Sainz’s challenge to win the stage and take a lead of 4min 43sec into the final day.
The Qatari said: “I was really pushing but without taking any risk. We won the stage with a good time between me and Carlos – this was an important day. We don’t want to start relaxing, just drive like we did today. I always try and win the race I’m competing on and also to try and take the world championship.”
Al-Rajhi moved up to a comfortable third with the second quickest time after Vaidotas Sala was delayed with alternator belt issues and the Lithuanian’s issues also enabled Van Loon to climb to fourth place. Conceicao moved up 10 places to 47th with the 16thquickest time but gearbox issues sidelined Kaczmarski.
The final day consisted of two selective sections of 103km and 73km. The varied stage utilised tricky water crossings, but Al-Attiyah held his nerve and maintained his composure to stay ahead of a hard-pushing Sainz to claim a second win in as many years.
Al-Rajhi came home in third, Van Loon was fourth and Conceicao reached the finish in 37th.
Action in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies resumes with Rally Kazakhstan on June 7th-13th.