Last stage crash costs Nasser Al-Attiyah victory in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Overdrive Racing’s run of seven successive victories on rounds of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies came to an abrupt end at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, when defending FIA World Cup champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah made an uncharacteristic mistake and crashed his Toyota Hilux out of a massive lead on the final stage.
The two-time Dakar winner began the final 219.76km selective section with a huge advantage of 1hr 46min 03sec, but got out of phase on a fast track and rolled the Toyota, his demise handing the victory and the championship lead to arch rival Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.
Aron Domzala and navigator Szymon Gospodarczyk were unable to maintain the lead in the FIA World Cup that they had taken into the Abu Dhabi round of the series. Motion sickness in the dunes plagued the Polish driver for several days and, despite cooler conditions for days three and four, Overdrive Racing’s second driver did not start the penultimate stage and failed to add to his points tally.
“I am so disappointed. The team was doing such a great job,” said a deflated Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin.
Al-Attiyah was the class of the field through the super special stage at Al-Forsan International Sports Resort and the Qatari took a 4.4-second lead into the first of the five desert sections in the Rub Al-Khali. Domzala was a solid fifth.
Punishing heat and soft sand made the first 279km selective section a lot more difficult than in previous years, but Al-Attiyah pushed hard through the first 70km and managed to overtake the five cars ahead of him to surge into a lead he held to the finish. The Qatari reached the overnight halt with an advantage of 11min 35.1sec. Domzala struggled with the punishing heat in the sand dunes and was sick as a result, but he managed to recover to record the 14th quickest time and slipped to 13th overall.
There was no stopping Al-Attiyah through the second stage either and the Qatari extended his advantage over Al-Qassimi to 23min 03.1sec. Domzala was clearly struggling to adjust to the heat and he suffered a bout of motion sickness in the intensity of the midday sun and was unable to complete the day’s route.
It was a similar story on the third stage: Al-Attiyah surged clear of all of his rivals to claim the stage win and coasted into a lead of 39min 38sec. Even though temperatures were cooler than the previous two days, Domzala was again affected by motion sickness and only completed part of the stage before returning to the bivouac.
The Pole failed to start the fourth special and Overdrive Racing concentrated their resources on Al-Attiyah’s bid for an eighth successive victory in a Toyota Hilux. The Qatari was not about to disappoint either and a fifth successive stage win gave the Toyota team a massive lead of 1hr 46min 03sec to take into the final day.
But the drama unfolded on the final stage and Al-Attiyah finds himself 51 points adrift of Al-Qassimi heading to his home event in Qatar in two weeks time.