Lusail, Qatar: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel continued where they left off on Friday by setting the fastest time on the longer 323.58km second selective section of the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally on Saturday.
The Toyota Hilux crew reached the first checkpoint after 164.39km in just under 90 minutes, despite a flat tyre, but main rival Jakub Przygonski gained 15 seconds on the Toyota driver after passing both Yazeed Al Rajhi and Bernhard Ten Brinke on the track.
Qatari ace Al Attiyah redressed the balance through the subsequent kilometres and had eked out a virtual 90-second lead by PC2. He went on to finish the stage in 2hrs 52min 29sec and now leads Przygonski and his German navigator Timo Gottschalk by 8min 03sec in the overall standings.
Al Attiyah said: “It was a good day, except for one flat tyre before the first PC where we lost close to two minutes. It was not easy to open, but we took a good stage without any technical problems. The navigation was very hard, but we had a good pace today.”
“It was a good stage and we were pushing,” said Przygonski, who drives a MINI John Cooper Works Rally. “It was hard navigation with a good job by Timo. The first part was really good, then we get puncture and we were with Ten Brinke in the dust and we lost some time. The car was okay and we were happy we could push.”
The pair were the class of the field, but a fascinating tussle developed between Toyota team-mates Al Rajhi and Ten Brinke for third place.
The Russian crew of Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov were a distant fourth in their BMW X3 CC after their own flat tyres, while Italian Eugenio Amos continued the form he showed on Friday and moved up to fifth in his Ford 2WD Buggy.
Monster Energy Can-Am driver Reinaldo Varela lost considerable time early in the special with a series of three flat tyres, but the Brazilian stormed back into contention for the win as the stage progressed and was rewarded with the fastest time. Eighth in the overall rankings, the Brazilian now holds a 22-second advantage over South Racing Can-Am Team’s Omani driver Abdullah Al-Zubair.
“Punctures, belt issues, the whole shebang today,” reflected Al-Zubair. “But I hope to be 22 seconds in front of Reinaldo tomorrow….”
Mohammed Al-Attiyah began the day in eighth and topping the T3 standings, but the rally leader’s cousin stopped his Can-Am Maverick X3 with a series of punctures after the start and had dropped 17 minutes to Adel Abdulla by PC1. He recovered to hold 10th overall and third in T3. Russian driver Fedor Vorobeyev was 11th and fourth in T3 with his South Racing Can-Am.
Qatar’s Adel Abdulla was the first of the T3 runners to reach the opening checkpoint in his Can-Am Maverick X3 but the former T2 World Champion hit technical trouble soon afterwards with reported water in the fuel tank.
Mohammed Al-Harqan benefited from delays for fellow Qatari Mohammed Al-Meer to snatch the advantage in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles, despite his own transmission problems.
The day’s 323.58km selective section started 69.14km to the north of Lusail, close to Al-Khor, and wound its way down the western coast of Qatar, taking in three passage controls (164.39km, 220.78km and 259.41km) before heading inland to finish close to the village of Mukaynis. Crews returned to the overnight halt on a 77.15km road section.
Ibrahim Al-Muhanna had taken part in the opening stage under a stay of execution from the FIA scrutineers, after it came to light that there were certain safety anomalies with his Mercedes Unimog in the T4 technical regulations. He risked disqualification from the event if they were not rectified, but was permitted to restart.
Mubarak Al-Khelaifi, Ahmed Al-Kuwari and Rashed Al-Mohannadi had been awarded stage maximum penalties after the opening leg that pushed them even further out of contention, but Al-Kuwari bounced back strongly with the 10th quickest time on the second stage.