Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah Carlos Sainz and navigator Matthieu Baumel snatched both the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas driver and co-driver titles by securing a late victory in Hail Baja 2.
Trailing overnight leader Carlos Sainz by 2min 20sec at the restart, the Toyoya Gazoo Racing crew guided their Hilux to the stage win after their Spanish rival lost vital seconds at a late waypoint. The Qatari duly confirmed a winning margin of 54 seconds that was sufficient to secure the title – a first Baja Championship success for the triple Dakar winner since 2008.
“I feel good to win Baja 1 and Baja 2,” said Al-Attiyah. “We also won the title. This is very important. I am quite happy to win these two races. All the top drivers are here. Now we have a good car and good confidence. We push a lot. We need to be really strong. We needed to win. We passed Carlos, the last 20km.”
A delighted Baumel added: “It looks like we won the Baja World Cup. It was not the goal at the beginning of this race, but we are happy with the set-up of the car we will use at the next Dakar. When you fight with Carlos and Stéphane it is not easy. It is the first time we win this Baja Cup together. The rally was not easy. It was good training.”
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz led during the early part of the opening stage until they collected a puncture and were fourth at the night halt. They reached the finish in fourth place in their Overdrive Racing Toyota.
Al-Rajhi said: “We do it well. We try our best to try and catch (Stéphane) Peterhansel. But he is a fast driver. He has a lot of experience. When I see the mark in the road, every car in the front, cutting, was flying. After that I thought, okay, everybody push and then we stay safe to make no mistake. It was good training for Dakar. We still need to improve ourselves.”
Punctures blighted the progress of Bernhard Ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul on stage one and they were classified in seventh at the start of the final morning. A minor time loss on the stage cost the Dutchman his chance of pushing Vasilyev for the runner-up spot in the title race, but Colsoul had the consolation of finishing second in the Co-drivers’ Championship.
Polish driver Jakub Przygonski and Germany’s Timo Gottschalk began the final day in sixth place and climbed a position to fifth at the end of the event.
Dutchman Erik Van Loon and French co-driver Sébastien Delaunay were ninth in their Overdrive Racing car.
The French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot joined the team for the second of the Bajas and finished 12th.
Overdrive Racing’s team director Jean-Marc Fortin said: “In this difficult time it has been a superb few months for us. I thank my people for doing a fantastic job to escape what is happening in the world. I am happy with the titles and the speed we showed in the two races. We are happy with what we have shown here. Nasser is the fastest driver at the moment. It is a pleasure to have him in the team. All our others drivers did a good job. Yazeed and Kuba drove well and it’s a shame that Bernhard lost a little time.”
A puncture and a wheel coming off the rim cost Al-Attiyah a potential win on the opening selective section of 311.57km that looped through the deserts around Baqqa, to the north-west of Hail, on Tuesday. The Qatari reached the finish 2min 20sec adrift of rival Carlos Sainz, but still in a strong position to challenge for the FIA Baja title from second on the road on the final day.
“Today was a good run but we had two flat tyres (one wheel off rim) and we stopped and we changed,” said Al-Attiyah. “We lose more than four minutes. After that, we came to the finish and we are only 2min 20sec to Carlos. It is okay. We tested the new tyres for Dakar. We need to have more experience of these tyres.”
Al-Rajhi had been the fastest of all the drivers to the 97km point, but a puncture also cost the Saudi time and he finished the day in fourth behind Peterhansel.
The Saudi said: “Today, after 97km, we were leading. After, I catch Peterhansel, I see him and I have a flat tyre. I fix it and go and we push and we touch third position again. Then I have second puncture before the finish, around 80km. After, I was scared because I did not have more spare tyre. But the speed is there. This, the first time I drive this new car. Now I have a good feeling for Dakar and that is important. Tomorrow I will push a little bit to try and get third position.”
A late flat tyre for Ten Brinke cost the Dutchman a potential fifth place and he slipped to seventh behind Vasilyev and sixth-placed Przygonski in the Orlen Team Toyota.
Ten Brinke said: “We had a puncture after 40km and lost one and a half minutes. Then Nasser passed us. It was quite impressive that he passed us already after 45km. We followed Nasser until the neutralisation. He did a good job to be first car and we followed him. We are both fighting for our own titles. It is a free fight. The second part, we were together, Nasser. Vasilyev and me and we were pushing. 50km from the finish, I got a puncture again on a fast right-hander. The tyre was off the rim and we needed to change it.”
Van Loon and Chabot completed the Toyota sextet in 10th and 12th overall after another successful day in the desert for Overdrive Racing.
The drama unfolded on the second day with Al-Attiyah snatching the win and the two Baja titles and Al-Rajhi coming home in fourth after trying to pressurise Peterhansel for the podium.
Attention now turns to the forthcoming Dakar Rally and Toyota’s bid for a second success in three years.
2020 Baja Hail 2 – results (unofficial @ 14.00hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux 4hr 49min 30sec
2. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) MINI JCW Buggy 4hr 50min 24sec
3. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Edouard Boulanger (FRA) MINI JCW Buggy 4hr 52min 40sec
4. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Ditk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hr 53min 40sec
5. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 4hr 59min 13sec
6. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Dmitro Tsyro (UKR) MINI JCW Rally 5hr 02min 00sec
7. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hr 03min 47sec
8. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Alexey Kuzmich (RUS) SRT CR6 Buggy 5hr 05min 06sec
9. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Sebastien Delaunay (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hr 17min 17sec
10. Denis Krotov (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All4 Racing 5hr 24min 36sec
11. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Viktor Chytka (CZE) Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country 5hr 27min 59sec
12. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hr 31min 02sec
Source: Overdrive Racing press release