DOS HERMANAS (SPAIN) – Sunday, October 23: Four-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah finished second at the Andalucia Rally and duly sealed the drivers’ title in the inaugural FIA World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC).
The Qatari driver and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel guided their Toyota GR DKR Hilux to the runner-up spot on the demanding event that used a multitude of varied tracks and trails across three provinces in southern Spain. They finished just six seconds behind title rival and nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb and his Belgian co-driver Fabian Lurquin.
When inclement weather conditions forced race officials to cancel the second stage through the Málaga region on Friday, the decision was taken to only award half points for the Andalucian event and that made it virtually impossible for Loeb to catch the Qatari. Nevertheless, Al-Attiyah overcame a couple of punctures on Saturday and won the short final stage by 22 seconds.
Toyota Gazoo Racing also pipped Bahrain Raid Extreme to the FIA W2RC’s Manufacturers’ Championship.
“This is a fantastic result for us to cap a memorable season,” said Al-Attiyah. “It was not easy and we had a fantastic fight all weekend with Loeb. But we have won the title for the first time and that was goal at the start of the programme. It was amazing for us here in Andalucia. It was important to win the World Championship for the first time in cross-country.”
Recently-wed Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Dirk von Zitzewitz finished third in their Overdrive Racing Toyota. They were classified second in the qualifying stage and then Al-Rajhi maintained a top three position throughout the five days to confirm third place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Isidre Esteve Pujol teamed up with Jose-Maria Villalobos for the second time in an Overdrive-prepared Toyota run under the Repsol Rally Team banner. The Spaniard finished 10th.
Lionel Baud and fellow Frenchman Rémi Boulanger were classified in 12th in their Overdrive Racing Toyota.
Dutchman Erik van Loon and French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay suffered technical delays in their Overdrive Racing Toyota after holding fourth early in the event. They incurred hefty time penalties on day three and finished 30th.
Al-Attiyah shadowed Loeb to the finish of the opening qualifying stage of 9.61km and dropped just five seconds to the Frenchman, but he was later awarded a one-minute penalty for speeding and slipped down to 21st. Al-Rajhi came home in second, 17 seconds in arrears, and Van Loon and Baud were seventh and 13th. Isidre Esteve made a cautious start in 27th.
The opening selective section carved a passage through the Sevilla region of southern Spain for 317.33km. Al-Attiyah’s starting position of 11th proved to be extremely advantageous and the Qatari stormed to the stage win, beating Al-Rajhi by 8min 46sec and Loeb by 11min 25sec to storm into a lead of 7min 58sec.
Baumel said: “We started from the 11th position. The stage was very technical and the navigation was not easy, as we had many junctions and a lot of waypoints to check and to manage in the car.
Van Loon held fifth overall, Esteve Pujol was 11th and Baud returned to Dos Hermanas in 19th.
Stage two (223.74km) headed into the Málaga Province but was delayed because of poor weather conditions. Race officials then shortened the day’s action to just 84km before taking the unfortunate decision to cancel the day’s action entirely and instruct competitors to return directly to Dos Hermanos. That decision, although disappointing, strengthened Al-Attiyah’s grip on the inaugural W2RC Drivers’ title and the Qatari knew that a good run through the third stage of 284km in the Huelva region could prove decisive. Fog delayed the start but At-Attiyah received welcome news that his day one speeding penalty had been rescinded.
The stage ran through pine and eucalyptus groves and across fast open terrain and Al-Attiyah ceded time to both Loeb and Al-Rajhi, the Qatari eventually finishing the day’s section 11min 48sec behind the Frenchman, who moved 2min 20sec ahead of Al-Rajhi and back into the overall lead. Al-Attiyah came home fourth after collecting two early punctures and headed into the last day trailing Loeb by 28 seconds.
But the cancellation of the second leg meant that only half points would be awarded at the Andalucia Rally and the Qatari headed into the final day knowing that a finish would guarantee him the world title.The final stage ran for 100km across remote rural terrain in the Cadiz area of southern Spain with a finish on the coast, near the Straits of Gibraltar.
Loeb and Al-Attiyah were just one second apart after 29km but the Qatari managed to edge in front and won the last stage by just 22 seconds. The fourth quickest time was sufficient for Al-Rajhi to round off the podium places.