Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel remarkably clung onto their Rally Kazakhstan lead, despite problems during the fifth leg today, and they now head Stephane and Andrea Peterhansel by five minutes and 38 seconds, the husband and wife team powering into second position as both Jakub Przygonski and Bernhard Ten Brinke dropped time.
Przygonski and co-driver Timo Gottschalk lost nearly an hour to Peterhansel in the stage, dropping them to third position while Ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul - who were third last night - were forced to abandon their run to the finish of the section.
The penultimate leg of Rally Kazakhstan took the crews north from the Aktau bivouac for a 290.19-kilometre section and the drama-filled day saw a number of the leading crews hit problems. Al Attiyah looked comfortable at the start of the day, the Qatari focused on extending his advantage with a more favourable position of fifth on the road. However, a sensor problem showed fluctuating water temperatures, dropping the Toyota into safe mode and forcing them to stop twice, losing them around 45 minutes. Once they solved the problem and got back going, the Qatari flew through the stage before stopping just before the finish to change a puncture.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Al Attiyah back at the bivouac. “We have lost time but this is racing and we have to accept what happens. After our problems, I somehow found another level [of speed] today! It was more than flat-out and with no mistakes.”
The Peterhansel MINI crew were second fastest through the section and, courtesy of their rivals’ problems, have moved from fourth to second with a comfortable advantage over Przygonski.
Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk looked set to benefit from Al Attiyah’s time loss, until they too hit problems.
The leading trio now have a huge advantage over fourth-placed Miroslav Zapletal and Marek Sykora who were able to set the third fastest time in their Ford F-150 Evo following their rivals’ problems. They have nearly 20 minutes in hand to the Russian MINI crew of Denis Krotov/Dmytro Tsyro, who also stopped to assist Przygonski in the section. The Kazakh crew of Andrey Cherednikov/Ignat Falkov have also moved a position up the leaderboard, to sixth, ahead of Yazeed Al Rajhi.
The Saudi Arabian driver opened the road today courtesy of his stage win yesterday and was one of the few crews to enjoy a reasonably clean section. He set the fastest time by more than four minutes to move from 10th to seventh.
Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin continue to hold eighth in their Can Am Maverick, the Brazilians also leading the T3 category, now ahead of Spaniards Jose Luis Pena Campo and Rafael Tornabell in a Polaris RZR 1000. Fedor Vorobyev and Kirill Shubin round out the top 10 in another T3 Can Am Maverick. Mohammed Al Meer and Alexey Kuzmich are 11th and leading T2 in their Landcruiser.
Bernhard Ten Brinke and Tom Colsoul were another to have a disappointing day, the Dutch/Belgian pairing forced to abandon the stage after a catalogue of problems saw them forfeit their third position.
The final leg of Rally Kazakhstan on Saturday is the shortest and covers 148.76 competitive kilometres before returning to Aktau for the podium and prize-giving ceremony.