· Al-Attiyah misses out on potential victory after cruel late mechanical issue
· Dutchman Van Loon rolls twice and finishes ninth; De Vlliers sidelined early on
LOSAIL (QATAR) – Sunday, April 22: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiuah suffered a cruel mechanical failure on the final stage of an enthralling Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally that deprived the long-time leader of a much-needed victory in his Toyota GAZOO Racing Team South Africa Hilux.
He and French navigator Matthieu Baumel had won the first four stages and were playing the strategy game to perfection by shadowing rival Jakub Przygonski through the final kilometres. But the mechanical failure cost the defending FIA World Cup champion a possible 60 points and leaves him with his work cut out to defend the title this year.
Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan and French navigator Laurent Lichtleuchter sealed a podium finish in the second of the Overdrive Racing-run Toyotas and Poland’s Aron Domzala and Maciej Marton were fourth overall in a third car after a drama-filled five days in the Qatar deserts.
The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar survived two gentle rolls in the team’s fourth car and set some competitive stage times on the other three selective sections to finish ninth overall.
Giniel de Villiers and navigator Robert Howie made their first appearance in Qatar in a second Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa Hilux and were second quickest through the opening super special stage. But a heavy landing in a hole on the first desert stage caused Howie to complain of serious back pain and the decision was taken to withdraw the car as a precaution while Howie went to hospital for precautionary checks.
A disappointed Al-Attiyah said: “This is rally. This is a new car. From two days ago we had a small issue with the engine but we tried to keep going. Suddenly, today, we had an oil pressure alarm and we stopped immediately. We finished at 210km I think. When we see the alarm it was over. We had no plans for Silk Way before but, maybe now, we have a chance to do this big race in the summer!”
After a ceremonial start at the Katara cultural village the previous evening, action got underway with a challenging 4.85km super special stage within the confines of the Losail International Circuit last Wednesday afternoon.
Cars tackled the special in reverse order and Al-Attiyah saved the best until last to set the fastest time of 4min 13.35sec and that gave him the outright lead of 5.76 seconds over De Villiers. Domzala and Seaidan were fourth and sixth, but Van Loon landed heavily in a hole near a water splash and rolled his Toyota Hilux. The foolhardy error, which Van Loon blamed on a faulty windscreen washer, also cost the Dutchman a one-hour time penalty.
“We went through the water splash and the windscreen stayed dirty. It’s such a pity that a small thing can have such an impact on the overall standings. We were confident after the test. The car felt great. I guess the mechanics had a bit more work before the first stage.”
Al-Attiyah attacked through the first of the desert stages – a menacing 358.15km test of navigational ability and car strength – and carded a crushing time of 3hrs 38min 14sec from eighth on the road to extend his outright lead to 16min 07sec, despite a flat tyre and his own navigational delays.
Domzala came home in third, Seaidan was fourth and Van Loon bounced back strongly from the super special woes that had pushed him down to 19th. The Dutchman set the fourth quickest time to hold seventh.
But De Villiers was forced to retire his Toyota after the first passage control when navigator Howie complained of back pain. The South African was hospitalised for checks but the former Dakar champion’s first experience of the Qatar deserts came to an abrupt end; he had been fifth fastest through PC1.
De Villiers said: “It was at the end of a shott and I guess there should have been a couple of cautions in the road book. I braked hard but, unfortunately, Rob injured his back and was in a lot of pain. I decided to stop. His health is more important. There is nothing wrong with the car. I wait to see if he is okay after the medical checks.
“Other than that, the navigation is really tricky and I don’t like the system of not being able to go back if you miss a waypoint. We missed a waypoint and got the new one before we knew that we had missed the previous one. It’s not a good system at all. It makes it impossible on the navigation side.”
Before teams tackled the third northerly loop of 340.54km, Al-Attiyah, Domzala and Seaidan were all given a 15-minute time penalty for missing a waypoint on the second stage. When a two-minute speeding penalty was also added to the Qatari’s time, he actually trailed Przygonski by 53 seconds at the restart.
The Qatari again admitted the navigation was very difficult but he managed to win the third stage and regain the overall lead by 7min 26sec. Domzala and Seaidan survived the special to hold fourth and fifth overall, but Van Loon rolled his Toyota at low speed into a rocky gully and was forced to wait for another competitor to help him tow it back on to its wheels. Another fistful of time penalties awaited the Dutchman before the start of the fourth desert loop.
Al-Attiyah drove cautiously through the dunes at the start of the fourth stage and another victory extended the Qatari’s advantage to 14min 43sec to take into the final day.
The other three Overdrive Racing Toyota crews lost valuable minutes with crucial navigation errors: Seaidan suffered small delays with navigation and a flat tyre but actually climbed a place to fourth in his Overdrive Toyota on the back of Domzala losing considerable tine with navigational problems over the closing kilometres. The youngster finished the day’s section 38 minutes behind his Saudi team-mate.
Erik van Loon was on course for a top-three stage finish until he lost over 20 minutes in the closing kilometres trying to find a tricky waypoint.
Al-Attiyah played the strategy well at the start of the final stage and fell behind Przygonski to enable him to follow his rival to the finish. But the crew noticed an oil pressure warning alarm on the run south along Qatar’s western coast and stopped the car immediately and retired from the race.
It was a bitterly disappointing moment for the entire team but Seaidan and Domzala offered a little consolation by reaching the finish in fourth and fifth overall after their own navigational struggles during an arduous week.
The FIA World Cup resumes in Kazakhstan at the end of May.
2018 Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally – final results
1. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally 14hrs 14min 46sec
2. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI One 14hrs 54min 59sec
3. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 16hrs 30min 02sec
4. Aron Domzala (POL)/Maciej Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 16hrs 48min 36sec
5. Martin Prokop (CZE)/David Pabiška (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo 16hrs 50min 51sec
9. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Wouter Rosegaar (NLD) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 114hrs 05min 03sec
FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – standings after round 4 (unofficial):
1. Jakub Przygonski (POL) 144pts
2. Martin Prokop (CZE) 113pts
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS) 111pts
4. Yasir Seaidan (SAU) 58pts
5. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 30pts, etc