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Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah is the leader of the 2017 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies for the first time after winning the inaugural Rally Kazakhstan in Aktau City.

The defending champion and French navigator Matthieu Baumel may only have won two of the event’s six demanding selective sections across some of the wildest and most spectacular terrain in Central Asia, but the Qatari used a clever strategy to secure maximum points in his Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux.

He took the lead on the second section between Aktau and the remote resort of Kenderly in southwest Kazakhstan and fought off a spirited challenge from Poland’s Jakub Przygonski to hang on to the lead and an eventual winning margin of 7min 43sec. With victories in the Dubai International Baja and Qatar Cross-Country events already under his belt this season, Al-Attiyah now leads the series by an unofficial 45 points.

Al-Attiyah said: “A great result for us. We played it smart from the very start. We pushed when we had to and had the right strategy. It was a really enjoyable rally, fantastic, and I am sure many more drivers will come in the future. Thanks to my team, Overdrive, and it was nice to win the last stage. Now we lead the championship and try to keep on like this.”

Poland’s Aron Domzala teamed up with Maciej Marton in a second Overdrive Toyota and the pair delivered an impressive performance. They pressurised Przygonski for long periods and closed in on second overall after the fourth stage before slipping behind on stage five. Domzala overcame treacherous dunes, camel grass, fast tracks and sand holes to round off the podium positions and boost his position in the FIA World Cup standings.

“I am very happy to be on the podium here in Kazakhstan,” said Domzala. “It was a very nice rally and I thank my whole team for their hard work and support.”

Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin added: “This is another fantastic week for everyone involved with Overdrive Racing. It is a great team result. We have the win, two cars on the podium and two more cars (Yerdan Shagirov and Antanas Juknevicius) built by Overdrive Racing inside the top six.”

Despite a delay of well over two hours because of low-lying fog in the area around the Caspian Sea, Al-Attiyah started strongly and shadowed stage winner Jakub Przygonski to the finish of the opening 268.23km loop section around the deserts to the north of Aktau City. He reached the night halt 56 seconds behind the Pole. Domzala was third overall.

Stage two headed out of Aktau and passed the towns of Ushtagan and Zhanaozen to finish just north of the Kenderly Sea Resort – the location for the bivouac for three nights deep in the south-west of the Mangystau oblast.

Al-Attiyah finished the special with the second fastest time behind Yazeed Al-Rajhi and that enabled the Qatari to move into an outright rally lead of 3min 39sec. Domzala consolidated third overall with the fourth quickest time.

The third stage was the longest of the entire event – at 421km – and headed out of Kenderly and deep into Mangystau beyond the remote town of Senek. Al-Attiyah was quite content to let Al-Rajhi press on ahead to claim the fastest time and the Qatari managed his pace perfectly to cross the flying finish in second position to extend his advantage to 8min 53sec. Domzala also drove well to stay comfortable in the final podium position and closed to within 4min 28sec of second place.

Al-Attiyah managed to claim his first stage win of the campaign on the fourth 276.2km loop section around the town of Zhanaozen and back to the bivouac in Kenderly. He overcame a series of tricky dunes near the finish that claimed rival Al-Rajhi and extended his advantage over Przygonski to 9min 51sec. Domzala had not given up on catching the Pole either and a mere two seconds separated the two Poles on the stage in a fascinating battle for second place.

There was heavy rain in the Aktau region before the start of the fifth section of 370.9km from a start just north of Kenderly to a finish south of the town of Zhetybay. But the special progressed as normal and Al-Attiyah recorded the third quickest time to take a lead of 6min 07sec into the final day after losing some time in the dunes with a minor gearbox issue. Delays for Domzala cost the Pole his chance to catch Przygonski, although he retained third place.

The final stage used sections of day one north of Aktau City and along the shores of the Caspian Sea. At 147.94km, it was short by Rally Kazakhstan standards and Al-Attiyah stayed clear of trouble to secure the quickest time and secure the victory. Domzala finished fifth to reach the podium in Aktau in third.

2017 Rally Kazakhstan – positions after SS6:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 19hrs 00min 20sec
2. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Mini All4 Racing 19hrs 08min 03sec
3. Aron Domzala (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 19hrs 26min 37sec
4. Yuriy Sazonov (KAZ)/Vitalyi Yevtyekhov (KAZ) Hummer H3 Evo VIII 20hrs 38min 34sec
5. Yerden Shagirov (KAZ)/Dmitro Tsyro (UKR) Toyota Hilux 21hrs 36min 04sec
6. Antanas Juknevicius (LTU)/Darius Vaiciulis (LTU) Toyota Hilux 21hrs 40min 04sec
7. Yasir Saeidan (SAU)/Alexey Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Land Cruiser T2 25hrs 30min 48sec
8. Adel Abdullah (QAT)/Sébastien Delaunay (FRA) Nissan Patrol T2 28hrs 48min 02sec
9. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Marek Sykora (SLO) Ford F-150 Evo 116hrs 38min 54sec
10. Viktor Khoroshavtsev (RUS)/Anton Nikolaev (RUS) BMW X3 CC 116hrs 55min 45sec

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – standings after round 5:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 150pts
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE) 105pts
3. Jakub Przygonski (POL) 84pts
4. Aron Domzala (POL) 76pts
5. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT) 68pts, etc