Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah held off a fierce challenge from main rivals Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel and overcame the disadvantage of running first on the road through the second day to confirm a 6min 10sec victory in Hail Baja 1, round four of the 2020 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel won both selective sections on the first of two events that will decide the outcome of the FIA Baja series and also gives teams the perfect chance to finalise their set-ups for the forthcoming Dakar Rally.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a good day for us. We believed in our speed. We opened the road but we only had one way and that was to push. We make incredible stage without mistake, no problems and no punctures. I am happy to win Baja 1. Now we have two days of rest. Baja 2 will be different but we try to do our best.”
Local star Yazeed Al-Rajhi and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz reached the finish in fourth place and second of the Toyotas and Bernhard Ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul ensured that the outcome of the FIA Baja Drivers’ Championship would go down to the wire with sixth overall in their Overdrive Racing Hilux.
“I enjoyed this rally as preparation for Dakar and everything went well,” said Al-Rajhi. “First day we had a small issue and we didn’t take too much risk today. I think the next race, we need to improve a little bit in the soft and slow dunes because you do not need to push more. When you push more, you lose time.”
Ten Brinke said: “We started quite good. We had tyre pressures too high yesterday and we had the right pressures today. The navigation was very good. We pushed very hard but the times didn’t show what we wanted. We lost a lot of time keeping the car in the right balance with the tyre pressures. We are not quite right with the setting. Maybe I can self improve also a little. We are still in for the title. We are one and Vasilyev (Vladimir) is two, but if Nasser wins the next race and we are not in the top four, Nasser can win. Let’s see, we have two days to make better steps for the next Baja.”
Polish driver Jakub Przygonski and Germany’s Timo Gottschalk lost their chance of challenging for a top five position after fuel-related issues on day one, but the Team Orlen driver bounced back strongly on day two to set the fifth fastest time in his Overdrive Toyota.
Dutchman Erik Van Loon and French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay were classified ninth on the second stage and confirmed a similar position in the overall standings.
Overdrive Racing’s team director Jean-Marc Fortin said: “Nasser did a fantastic stage today. We were expecting that Carlos (Sainz) would come back, especially as he started second on the stage and Nasser was opening the road. But, when you see the performance of today, yesterday they were playing 100km like cat and mouse. It is very nice, but Nasser was showing today that he is probably the best driver in the world.”
Al-Attiyah managed to catch Sainz and race alongside the Spaniard for much of the demanding opening selective section of 251.81km. He claimed the stage win by 2min 50sec, with Stéphane Peterhansel in third and Overdrive’s Al-Rajhi in fourth.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a very good day for us and we start in a good position behind Carlos and we were fighting with Carlos. Last 40km we are together and he touch us two times….we were together all the way. I am happy to win the stage.”
Ten Brinke overcame a minor misfire at the start of the stage and a scare when running low on fuel near the stage finish to complete the special with a slow puncture in sixth place. The Dutchman said: “We were running a bit low on fuel towards the finish and could not push in the last 100km. The speed was okay, but I was impressed with the speed of the first two. I think they took some risks. We were more like on the Dakar speed and they were on a sprint speed.”
Van Loon finished 12th in his Overdrive car, but a fuel-relate misfire cost Przygonski over 80 minutes and he dropped out of the top 15. Overdrive Racing’s team manager Jean-Marc Fortin explained the fuel issue. “Around 80km, Kuba got a problem with the car. We have a problem with the quality of fuel in the region. It is difficult to find a good set-up of engine management. Then we resolved the problem.”
Despite opening the road for day two’s 275.54km stage, Al-Attiyah managed to stay clear of a charging Sainz and Peterhansel and was never challenged by his rivals. He managed to win the stage by 3min 20sec to confirm his impressive winning margin.
Al-Rajhi shadowed the leading trio to the finish in fourth place and Przygonski finished the day’s stage in fifth, with Ten Brinke and Van Loon coming home in eighth and ninth to confirm sixth and ninth in the rankings.
The French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot will join the team for the second Baja in sixth Toyota. Baja Hail 2 has a slightly shorter format and offers an opening selective section of 311.57km on December 15 and a shorter second special of 180.29km.
“We are working on different items on the car for preparations for Dakar,” added Jean-Marc Fortin. “We still have almost 500km of additional preparation and that is good. We are validating many things, but we are happy with the performance on Hail 1.”
2020 Baja Hail 1 – results (unofficial):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Gazoo Hilux 6hr 14min 27sec
2. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) Mini John Cooper Works Buggy 6hr 20min 37sec
3. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Edouard Boulanger (FRA) Mini John Cooper Works Buggy 6hr 23min 26sec
4. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 6hr 29min 15sec
5. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)./Dmitro Tsyro (UKR) Mini John Cooper Works Rally 6hr 43min 02sec
6. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 6hr 49min 56sec
9. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Sebastien Delaunay (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 7hr 12min 07sec
14. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 7hr 48min 04sec
Source: Overdrive Racing press release