· Frenchman Chabot and Dutchman Ten Brinke finish fifth and sixth
· Action-packed week for Toyota’s De Villiers, Van Loon and Seaidan
· Chinese crew of Liang and Hongtao impress; disappointment for Vasilyev
FES (MOROCCO) – Tuesday, October 9: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah stayed clear of problems through the final stage to claim his fifth successive victory in the gruelling Rally of Morocco and give Overdrive Racing and the Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Team a major boost as preparations continue for the 2019 Dakar Rally.
A demanding six-day event that ran with a new organising team under the leadership of former Dakar organiser and navigator David Castera featured 1,362 kilometres of tricky navigation, dunes, rocky terrain, river bed crossings and everything that the team needed to shake down its fleet of Toyota Hiluxes before January’s Peruvian challenge. The success marked a hat-trick of wins for Al-Attiyah with the Toyota.
Al-Attiyah and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel dominated the race from the start and overcame their fair share of minor problems and delays to earn a winning margin of 16min 41sec over the newly-crowned FIA World Cup champion Jakub Przygonski and his Belgian navigator Tom Colsoul.
Al-Attiyah said: “It’s unbelievable that we’ve been able to win our fifth consecutive Rally of Morocco. I’m so happy with our performance here and our new car has been really strong all week. The stages here in Morocco have been really hard, just like they always are. We had days with over 300 kilometres of racing and we were the first car on the road a couple of times because of our stage wins.”
The French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot produced one of their best ever performances to seal an impressive fifth overall in the second of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas.
It was an action-packed event for South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke in the second and third Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa cars. De Villiers broke a wishbone and suffered exhaust issues that ultimately cost him additional time penalties and pushed him and French navigator Alexandre Winocq down the order.
Ten Brinke teamed up with Frenchman Xavier Panseri for the first time and started strongly. Small navigational errors and a light roll hampered their progress and the Dutchman reached the finish in Fes in sixth place after passing Jean-Pascal Besson on the last stage.
Morocco proved to be a happy hunting ground for the all-Chinese crew of Yuxiang Liang and Kou Hongtao. They continued to make improvements and climb the leader board as the event progressed and reached the finish in an excellent 15th overall.
The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and new co-driver Harmen Scholtabers were running strongly inside the top 10 until they suffered a heavy impact on the fourth stage that damaged the car’s differential and the resultant time penalties incurred for reaching the bivouac by road dropped Van Loon down to the tail end of the leader board at the finish.
Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan and Russian navigator Alexei Kuzmich started their Moroccan challenge in dramatic style with a roll on the Prologue stage. But the Saudi set some impressive pace in the desert and managed to reach the finish with the sixth quickest time on the last stage.
Russian G-Energy driver Vladimir Vasilyev and navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov lost their slim chance of overhauling Przygonski to snatch a second FIA World Cup title when transmission issues sidelined their Toyota.
Al-Attiyah clocked the quickest time of 8min 27sec through the opening 10km Prologue stage at Fes. The Qatari beat Martin Prokop by nine seconds and Jakub Przygonski by 23. Overdrive Racing colleagues De Villiers, Vasilyev, Ten Brinke, Van Loon and Chabot were fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth and 14th. Seaidan lost 13 minutes on the Prologue and stopped the clocks in 21min 04sec after rolling his Toyota and Domzala also suffered a minor technical issue.
After a liaison of 322km from Fes, the first of the desert sections was split into two timed parts of 103km and 91km before crews arrived in Erfoud – an oasis town situated in the Drâa-Tafilalet region of eastern Morocco.
Ten Brinke clocked a time of 1hr 20min 26sec for the opening section to set a time 48 seconds than two-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz. De Villiers, Vasilyev and Al-Attiyah were sixth, seventh and ninth.
Despite damaging a suspension arm on the first section, Al-Attiyah actually won the combined stage after Ten Brinke missed a route waypoint and the Qatari moved into a 24-second lead. De Villiers suffered a puncture in an area of camel grass and suffered a small time loss with a navigational mistake that put him third overall
Ten Brinke, who incurred a 20-minute time penalty and slipped to 10th, said: “We missed a waypoint but we decided not to go back because we didn’t want to meet the other cars head on. It is the first time for Xavier and me.”
Al-Attiyah added: “It was not a bad day. We broke the front arm in stage one and decided to continue. We lost a lot of time over the last 30km but we fixed it with a spare and then we needed to be really careful because it was only an emergency one. The car is new and we needed to find the weak points.”
Van Loon, Chabot and Lliang were classified in eighth, 14th and 28th positions heading to the first of the Erfoud loop stages that ran for 328km. Seaidan and Vasilyev hit trouble on the stage and gearbox issues wrecked the Russian’s chance of preventing Jakub Przygonski from securing the world title.
Al-Attiyah extended his advantage to 15min 05sec with the fastest time on the second stage after leading from the front throughout. De Villiers got stuck in thick mud for over an hour and slipped to seventh overall, despite assistance from sixth-placed team-mate Van Loon. Seaidan bounced back strongly from a poor start to the rally to card the fourth quickest time, but he remained at the foot of the leader board after previous time penalties. Vasilyev didn’t start the stage but Ten Brinke, Chabot and Liang completed the day in eighth, 11th and 21st.
Al-Attiyah said: “After around 120km there was a lot of mud and we got stuck but managed to only lose around four minutes.”
Crews tackled a second loop stage of 289km for day three while the motorcycles were sent on a different track and the first part of a Marathon section without service assistance. Przygonski claimed the stage win but Al-Attiyah maintained a lead of 13min 05sec with the second quickest time.
Despite two punctures and several minor navigational delays, Seaidan finished third on the stage to continue his remarkable return to form after the miserable start, but a broken wishbone was expensive for De Villiers and Ten Brinke was 15th fastest after stopping to support the South African and losing his way on a couple of occasions.
The fourth and penultimate stage of 342km looped through the Erg Chebbi but the arduous route and difficult navigation had caused changes in the overall classification. De Villiers slipped to sixth, Van Loon, Chabot and Ten Brinke held ninth, 10th and 11th and Lliang was 18th.
Al-Attiyah was second quickest and extended his advantage over Przygonski to 18min 12sec and headed the stage-winning Cyril Despres by 25min 57sec after the penultimate stage. Seaidan, Chabot and Ten Brinke were fifth, seventh and ninth on the stage – the latter rolling his Toyota on to its side 20 kilometres from the finish after striking some camel grass.
Van Loon and De Villiers were not so fortunate and stopped early in the special, Van Loon after taking a large impact and damaging the front differential and De Villiers with exhaust header pipe issues. Both drivers collected substantial time penalties as a result.
“It was a really hard stage,” said Al-Attiyah. “We didn’t push crazy because we catch Przygonski and then we passed him in the last part of the dunes to avoid the dust. We have a good lead and I want to make it five in a row.”
It meant the Overdrive Racing cars of Al-Attiyah, Chabot, Ten Brinke, Liang, De Villiers, Van Loon and Seaidan headed to the final two short parts of the last stage between Erfoud and Fes in first, fifth, seventh, 14th, 21st, 23rd and 25th overall.
Ten Brinke and Seaidan were the pace-setters through the opening section of 128km. Al-Attiyah erred on the side of caution to conserve his lead and a fifth victory in Morocco, as Carlos Sainz won the last part of the stage and De Villiers recovered strongly to pip Ten Brinke to the second quickest time.
2018 Rally of Morocco – results after SS5 (unofficial @17.30hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux 16hrs 38min 28sec
2. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally 16hrs 55min 09sec
3. Cyril Despres (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA) MINI John Cooper Works Buggy 17hrs 12min 25sec
4. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Jan Tománek (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country 17hrs 17min 20sec
5. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 19hrs 36min 50sec
6. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Toyota Hilux 19hrs 38min 29sec
15. Yuxiang Liang (CHN)/Kou Hongtao (CHN) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 25hrs 54min 40sec
20. Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Alexandre Winocq (FRA) Toyota Hilux 83hrs 43min 05sec
21. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Harmen Scholtalbers (NLD) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 84hrs 46min 41sec
23. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexey Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 120hrs 56min 03sec