Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Spain’s Marc Coma closed in on outright victories in the Sealine Cross-Country Rally after the tricky, penultimate 357.99km special stage in the southern Qatar desert on Friday
Al-Attiyah, driving a Toyota Hilux, comfortably set the fastest time in the car category to extend his overall lead to a massive 46min 09sec on a day where Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves won the motorcycle section and Poland’s Lukasz Laskawiec emerged on top in the quads for the second successive day. Delays for both Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Mini) and Portugal’s Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) mean that Al-Attiyah and Coma are firm favourites to win the car and bike events on Saturday.
“It was a very technical and difficult stage but it was enjoyable and the result has put me in a very good position now,” said Al-Attiyah.
Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser set the second fastest time on the day’s stage and climbed to fourth overall and Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez moved ahead of the UAE’s Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei and into second position. A mere 48 seconds separate the Toyota and Mini drivers heading into the final day. Qatar’s Faisal Al-Attiyah recovered from a gentle roll and the loss of considerable time to slip to fifth position in the overall rankings and Mubarak Al-Hajri suffered mechanical issues after running close to the top 10 early on in the big Chevrolet LS3.
“We lost our way a little during the stage and that cost me a bit of time,” said Al-Mutaiwei. “I took it a bit easier today. We were sometimes ahead of Schlesser and sometimes behind him. But I am happy with the position and need to stay in front of him on the final day for the sake of the championship.” “I had a puncture and then stopped to check that Faisal and Matthieu were okay after their roll,” admitted Alvarez.
Stage three – 357.99km
After a slight delay, Al-Attiyah headed Al-Mutaiwei and Schlesser into the stage in the car category and began to pull away from his nearest rivals. Al-Rajhi was also on a charge and the flying Saudi stormed through the first two checkpoints to snatch a virtual 5m 17s from Al-Attiyah.
It was a stunning start by the Riyadh driver, as Schlesser reached the control third on the road and regained over three minutes of the time he had lost to Al-Mutaiwei on Thursday. But Yazeed was forced to stop and change a puncture shortly afterwards and lost over three minutes of his hard-earned stage advantage before losing further time with a navigational mistake.
Al-Attiyah was running well ahead of the rest of the cars and was unaware of Al-Rajhi’s problems behind. Schlesser reached the third control just in front of Al-Mutaiwei, but saw his virtual stage advantage over the Dubai driver reduced to 2m 14s. It was not enough.
Al-Rajhi’s brave challenge ended shortly before the third passage control when the Saudi inverted his Mini All4 Racing. Neither he nor Portuguese co-driver Filipe Palmeiro were injured. Al-Attiyah coasted to the stage finish to record another fastest time and Alvaraz reached the end in third behind Schlesser, but benefited from Al-Rajhi’s demise to climb to second overall in his Toyota.
Tomorrow (Saturday), teams tackle a shorter 208.63km special stage that starts 71.64km from the Sealine campsite and finishes at the same place. The first bike leave the overnight halt at 05.45hrs and begins the special at 07.00hrs, with the leading car leaving at 07.00hrs and starting at 08.15hrs.
Triumphant riders and drivers will then attend the official post-event press conference at 14.30hrs, before the podium finish takes place at the bivouac from 16.00hrs.
Positions on SS3 (357.99km) – unofficial @ 12.50hrs
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Lucas Cruz Senra (ESP) Toyota Hilux 3h 25m 40s
2. Jean-Louis Schlesser (FRA)/Konstantin Zlitstov (RUS) Schlesser Original 3h 41m 26s
3. Lucio Alvarez (ARG)/Bernardo Graue (ARG) Toyota Hilux 3h 42m 24s
4. Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei (UAE)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) Mini All4 Racing 3h 44m 34s
5. Boris Gadasin (RUS)/Dan Shchemel (RUS) G-Force Proto 3h 59m 20s
6. Patrick Sireyjol (FRA)/Francois-Xavier Beguin (BEL) SMG Buggy 4h 06m 38s
7. Ilya Kusnetsov (RUS)/Roman Elagin (RUS) BMW X3 CC 4h 08m 42s
8. Faisal Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota HiLux 4h 11m 57s
Overall positions after SS3 (357.99km) – unofficial @ 12.50hrs
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Lucas Cruz Senra (ESP) Toyota Hilux 9h 27m 38s
2. Lucio Alvarez (ARG)/Bernardo Graue (ARG) Toyota Hilux 10h 13m 47s
3. Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei (UAE)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) Mini All4 Racing 10h 14m 35s
4. Jean-Louis Schlesser (FRA)/Konstantin Zlitstov (RUS) Schlesser Original 10h 25m 16s
5. Faisal Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota HiLux 10h 44m 48s
6. Boris Gadasin (RUS)/Dan Shchemel (RUS) G-Force Proto 11h 05m 57s
7. Ilya Kusnetsov (RUS)/Roman Elagin (RUS) BMW X3 CC 11h 19m 16s