Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel lost the lead to Polish rivals Krzysztof Holowczyc and Lukasz Kurzeja on the longer first stage of the Qatar International Baja yesterday morning and then battled back to set the fastest time on the next one to lead by 2min 33.8sec at the end of the day.
At the wheel of their borrowed Toyota Hilux, the defending champions now head into the final day with a slim cushion over their team-mates, Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov, who hold second place in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, despite two flat tyres.
Al Attiyah said: “The first stage was not easy because the road book was not really clear but we make two mistakes that cost 10 minutes. On the next two sections we pushed and are quite happy.”
Krotov added: “Today was good. No problems with navigation. My co-driver did a good job. Two punctures cost us time.”
With Holowczyc reportedly stopped in the second stage of the day with cooling issues on his Mini JCW Rally Plus, that opened the door for the Chinese driver Guoyu Zhang and his Spanish co-driver Oriol Mena to climb into third place with their Baic ORC BJ40, despite one flat tyre.
The day’s action featured three competitive sections of 117.29km, 46.05km and 70.53km for the cars and a similar distance for the motorcycles and quads with the FIM entrants tackling the shorter two sections first.
Nasser Al Kuwari is better known as an esteemed international co-driver but the Qatari has excelled so far this weekend in the driving seat and has carved out a 4min 02.1sec lead over his usual driving partner Meshari Al Thefiri in the FIA T3 category for lightweight prototype machines after the Kuwaiti suffered navigational issues. Along with French co-driver François Cazalet, the QMMF Rally Team’s Can-Am driver now holds a lofty fourth in the overall standings.
Al Kuwari said: “I am very happy with the result today. You have two options. Is the route okay or not and we followed the right route. We both did a great job. I was careful with the rocks and I kept my speed. My co-driver is one of the best and I trust him and we are happy to lead the T3.”
Al Thefiri and Oriol Vidal are sixth overall and second in the T3 section with their new MCE-5 T3M and seventh-placed Abdulaziz Al Kuwari and his co-driver Alexei Kuzmich hold third in T3 in the second of the QMMF Rally Team Can-Ams.
Abdulaziz Al Kuwari said: “I am very happy with my first day ever in this kind of rally. It was good experience. The first time in my life in cross-country. A lot of things to see in the stage, cars passing you, different terrain, sometimes sandy, sometimes gravel. My co-driver did a fantastic job.”
Brazil’s Cristiano de Sousa Batista and Portuguese co-driver Fausto Moto continue to lead the FIA T4 section in their South Racing Can-Am and hold 10th overall. French rival Jeremie Warnia is second in the class and 11th, while young Pau Navarro is classified in third with his FN Speed Team Can-Am. Italian racer Pietro Cinotto incurred time penalties for breaking the power steering on the Prologue and is out of contention for the podium.
Overdrive Racing’s Juan Cruz Yacopini holds fifth place in his Toyota Hilux and Saudi Arabia’s Khalid Al Feraihi is on course for useful FIA Middle East Baja Cup points. Despite stopping to assist at the scene of an accident involving Khalid Al Muhannadi and Pedro Santos, the Saudi holds eighth overall. The time lost at the scene of the incident was handed back to the Nissan driver after the stage.
Dabrowski in control in motorcycles
Konrad Dabrowski extended his lead in the motorcycle category to 18min 57.6sec after another dominant stage win on his KTM. The talented young Polish Junior rider, who is following in his father Marek’s footsteps, won the day’s stage by 14min 43.2sec from Great Britain’s Robert Wallace, who retained second overall.
Martin Chalmers claimed third on the day and the Aussie holds a similar position in the overall rankings, with Canadian rival Jonathan Finn in fourth and fellow Australian Andrew Houlihan riding strongly to come home in fifth and first in the Veterans category.
Emirati Abdullah Al Lanjawi and Saudi Arabia’s Mishal Al Ghunei were classified in sixth and seventh and eighth-placed Mirjam Pol continued to lead the Women’s category. Ireland’s Oran O’Kelly stopped to assist South Africa’s Michael Anderson, who crashed his KTM on the stage.
The experienced Saudi rider Haitham Al Tuwaijri topped the quads in the unofficial results from the overnight-leader Emirati Abdulaziz Al Ahli.
Cars tackle one stage of 224.96km that has been split into four sections of 33.73km, 28.51km, 43.23km and 113.20km by three non-competitive transfer zones today. The first vehicle is due in stage at 10.40hrs.
Motorcycles tackle the same route with the first rider going live at the earlier time of 08:45hrs.