Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel moved further ahead of their nearest rivals after winning a dramatic second 334.25km selective section of the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally (MQCCR) across the country’s northern and western deserts on Monday.
Driving a Toyota Gazoo Hilux, Al-Attiyah was the first on the road on Monday morning and benefited from an increased advantage of 6min 00sec, after nearest rival Yazeed Al-Rajhi was handed a 10-second time penalty at the night halt for a minor speeding violation.
His rival had the better of the day’s early exchanges and led the Qatari by over 1min 40sec at the first passage control. But the stage advantage was short lived and Al-Rajhi had dropped five minutes to Al-Attiyah by the fourth checkpoint before stopping several times on the run down the north-west with power steering issues and flat tyres.
Al-Attiyah duly recorded a stage time of 3hr 26min 48sec and increased his overall lead to a massive 1hr 06min 49sec, the Qatari finishing the special over an hour ahead of Al-Rajhi.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a good day except for one tyre that was completely destroyed in the last 50km. We had a good run and good navigation. We are quite happy. This rally is very difficult if you don’t take care with the speed. You will get a lot of problems. From the beginning today, it was very tricky. Matthieu did a good job. Sometimes we were searching for the correct road. We need to score full points here in Qatar.”
Al-Rajhi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr haemorrhaged time as the stage progressed, came home in fifth place and slipped to third overall, 1min 38sec adrift of American driver Austin Jones and his Brazilian team-mate Gustavo Gugelmin.
Both Al-Attiyah and Al-Rajhi were recorded at stunning average speeds in excess of 191km/h and 190km/h on a fast gravel section of the stage between the nine and 22km points.
“Not a good day but we are here,” reflected Al-Rajhi at Lusail. “That is the most important. We lost power steering. We had to stop to put oil back in the system because we lost it. Two times we had punctures and we cracked the windscreen in a ditch. Tomorrow is a different day. We see what is going on.”
Jones, on the other hand, made a patient start to his first event in Qatar, but began to increase his pace on day two in the South Racing Can-Am Maverick X3. He was rewarded with the second quickest time and climbed to a similar impressive position in the overall rankings, the T3 category lead being an added bonus for the 24-year-old.
A delighted Jones said: “It was a good one - hard, long and rocky. I had a little bit of trouble with the steering in the car, so I had my hands full all day. There was lots of attrition with cars everywhere. It’s insane to hear that I am second. That’s awesome. The plan today was to go out there and gap them a little bit. We are more than happy with that. It was tough though.”
It was a day to forget for Poland’s Jakub Przygonski and German navigator Timo Gottschalk in the third Toyota Hilux. They were running strongly in third place through the opening checkpoints and staying close to Al-Attiyah’s pace before sustaining a damaged steering arm after an impact in a ditch. The crew managed to repair the car temporarily, reached the finish 1hr 49min 39sec behind Al-Attiyah and plummeted to seventh overall.
“Not a good stage for us,” said the Pole. “We had a good rhythm and, in one big jump, we were too fast and we bend an a-arm. Luckily we are good mechanics and we fixed the car.”
Hungarian Opel Rally Team driver Balazs Szalay was the only other T1 finisher on the day in ninth after Mohammed Al-Meer’s Chevrolet Buggy ground to a halt shortly after the start and damage from Sunday’s accident sidelined fellow Qatari Abdullah Al-Rabban.
Time penalties of 15 minutes were handed to both Mohammed Al-Harqan and Rashid Al-Mohannadi for missing a waypoint before the resumption of racing on Monday.
Khalid Al-Mohannadi began the second stage with a lead of 35 seconds in the T3 category, but the Qatari lost precious time with flat tyres and no intercom system for over 300km. He still managed to set the third fastest time to hold fourth overall, 19min 08sec adrift of Jones in the T3 contest.
Ahmed Al-Kuwari and Manuel Luchesse moved up to third in T3 and fifth overall. “The stage was tough and very technical at times,” said Ahmed. “But we enjoyed it a lot and Manuel did a good job. We had to suffer two punctures and then we had to take it easy because we don’t carry a third spare.”
Saleh Al-Saif holds fifth in T3 in his Can-Am and Dutchman Kees Koolen is sixth in the first of the new OT3s. Russian team-mate Fedor Vorobyev stopped near the finish after an accident and lost over an hour and a half.
Al-Harqan was forced to repair an electrical connector on the front of his Can-Am that had been damaged by a rock. The delay cost the Qatari valuable minutes and he finished the stage in seventh in T3 and holds 10th overall. Mubarak Al-Hajri, however, recovered strongly after retiring on day one with a broken suspension arm and was fourth on the day in the second of four FN Speed Can-Ams.
Qatar’s Adel Abdulla restarted with hefty time penalties after his first day electrical issues but the G-Force T3 GF ground to a halt again before the first checkpoint. The former FIA T2 world champion said: “We had a steering box problem. We feel the car was not good before the start. We checked the bar before the start and it seemed okay. Then it got worse and worse until the first speed zone and we stopped. It was finished.”
The day’s action began off the Al-Shamal highway and wound its way along the north-western coast and across the northern deserts to finish off the Al-Kharsaah road. The timed section included three passages controls on the Al-Zubara and Al-Jumailah roads and the Dukhan highway.
The third Al-Kharsaah selective section is the longest of the event at 340.28km and starts at 08.40hrs. The route heads south towards the Inland Sea, before turning north-west and heading back through the central deserts to finish in the north-west of the country, 68.55km from Lusail. There are four passage controls – two on the Al-Kharrara road – and a further two where the stage crosses the Al-Aamriya and Umm Bab highways.
2020 Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally – positions on SS2 (top 6 - unofficial):
2020 Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally – overall positions after SS2 (unofficial):
Source: Neil Perkins / Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally press release