Al-Attiyah, Sunderland and Casale confirm memorable victories at Qatar’s Sealine Rally

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Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Dubai-based English rider Sam Sunderland and Chile’s Ignacio Casale emerged unscathed from the final 350.94km selective section of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally to confirm memorable victories in the car, motorcycle and quad categories at Losail on Friday.

The final stage was won by the rally runners-up, Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Pablo Quintanilla and Rafal Sonik, but they began the fifth section too far behind to realistically challenge for victory and the stage wins were minor consolations.

Al-Attiyah recorded a second outright win with Overdrive Racing and the Toyota Hilux in the space of four weeks and a fifth win in six years. The triumph marked a third successive win for his French navigator Matthieu Baumel and gives the entire team a comfortable lead in the FIA World Cup after three rounds. The X-raid Mini All4 Racing crew of Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk won the final stage and finished 12min 03sec behind the Toyota.

“It was a good day for us. This is an important win in Qatar,” said Al-Attiyah. “I am quite happy. It was good to control the race all the way. We had the speed if we needed it. After two races I have 120 points. Now we prepare ourselves for the smaller races. To win at home is fantastic.”

Chilean Pablo Quintanilla made Sunderland work mightily hard for the second biggest win of the talented young Englishman’s career. The Chilean started fifth on the road, passed three of his rivals and then caught Sunderland to halve the overnight deficit. Neither rider could afford the slightest mistake over the closing nervy kilometres and Sunderland held on to give KTM a fifth win in Qatar in six years by the margin of 9min 38sec.

“It was really good. It has been a lot of work over the last six months to come back after the broken femur,” said 27-year-old Sunderland. “I missed Dakar and sitting at home watching was really a tough time for me mentally and physically. I’m really happy. The team have been so supportive through all this time and I owe everything to them. It’s been a tough race, fighting with Pablo all week, and it’s not been easy. I knew he was going to catch me today. I could relax a bit and then we rode together to the finish.”

Quintanilla secured a comfortable second overall, Yamaha’s Helder Rodrigues rounded off the podium and Bolivia’s Juan Carlos Salvatierra and Husqvarna’s Pierre Alexander Renet were fourth and fifth. “I am quite happy with the race and the result,” said Quintanilla. “It’s an important race for the championship and this is good points at the end. It was a hard race with Sam and the navigation. I did a mistake, but these things can happen.”

Ignacio Casale rode a superb race on his Yamaha Raptor 700 SE to clinch a crushing victory in the quad category and break Rafal Sonik’s stranglehold on success in Qatar. It marked the first victory on the Sealine event for a Yamaha of any kind and puts the Chilean back into contention for the FIM world title. His winning margin was 31min 49sec.

Casale said: “To come all the way from Chile and compete here was not easy, but I am delighted with the win. It was a very hard race and a great practice with the navigation for the Dakar.”

“Not my luck this year, because we had some technical problems in the beginning and then I was struggling,” said Sonik. “Last night we had to change the engine and since Julien (Villarrubia) crashed I was a little bit upset on my mind, because I had already experienced this kind of crash in Abu Dhabi two years ago. It was not an easy race, but credit to Ignacio for his performance and his victory.”

Al-Rajhi said: “We are happy. We pushed at the start until we catch Nasser and then I follow him to the finish. It was a very good fight. Other than the one day, we did a very good job.”

Behind Al-Rajhi, G-Energy Team Mini driver Vladimir Vasilyev rounded off the car podium in third overall, although the St. Petersburg-based driver was 1hr 11in 13sec behind Al-Attiyah. Kazakh Yuriy Sazonov finished an impressive fourth in the Mobilex Racing Team H3 and Jutta Kleinschmidt rounded off the top five.

“This has been a really enjoyable event, demanding, different and the stages were just the right length,” said Kleinschmidt. “It was a proper cross-country rally. It’s great to be back in the car and I hope that I can do some more events now. There is still work to do.” Marek Dabrowski recovered from a roll in the middle of the week to snatch sixth in the second Toyota Hilux, but Ricardo Porém lost two places and finished seventh after delays in his Mini on the final stage. Chile’s Hernan Garces enjoyed an impressive Qatar debut in the DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger to finish eighth after Yerdan Shagirov’s H3 Evolution V fell foul of the final kilometres of the day.

Saudi’s Yasir Seaidan and French navigator Sébastien Delaunay survived two flat tyres on the penultimate stage to press home their T2 advantage into the final day and snatch the FIA T2 World Cup lead after three rounds. The Saudi had won the T3 section at Sealine back in 2013 and finished a fine ninth this week.

Pietro Cinotto beat his father Carlo to the final place in the top 10 and the spoils in T3.

Adel Hussein shadowed Mohammed Al-Harqan and the Polish driver Jaroslaw Kazberuk (Fod Raptor) to claim fourth in T2 with his Nissan Middle East-supported Patrol. Abu Dhabi-based Lebanese driver Emil Khneisser was fifth in a second Nissan Patrol Y62.

Kiwi Emma Gilmour, French girl Charlotte Berton and Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez all started the final day in three QMMF-backed T1 Nissan Patrols and just one car reached the finish to cap a memorable week in the deserts for the girls running under the watchful eye of Kleinschmidt and their ‘mother’, the veteran WRC and Cross-County navigator Fabrizia Pons.

Gilmour retired when the wheel hub broke again and she shed the same wheel as she had on Thursday, Berton succumbed to an oil leak, but Gutierrez struggled on to reach Losail in an unofficial 22nd overall after missing some of the rally with front differential issues.

Day 5 – as it happened

Adel Hussein confirmed that his Nissan had switched into safe mode after he hit a bump on the section before PC2 on Thursday and that is why he lost the T2 lead and stopped at PC2. The Nissan mechanics worked to solve the electrical issue and the Qatari restarted.

The three girls in the QMMF-backed Nissan Patrols endured a baptism of fire, but team mechanics worked late on Thursday evening to ensure that all three could start the final leg. Cristina Gutierrez had suffered front differential issues, a rear differential problem was Charlotte Berton’s issue and a broken wheel hub had brought about Emma Gilmour’s downfall on leg four.

At the front of each of the fields, there were large leads in the overall standings for Al-Attiiyah, Sunderland and Casale but the trio all had to open the road for their rivals through what promised to be a treacherous final 350.94km, starting at Rawdat Rashid and finishing near Sealine.

Sunderland’s motorcycle advantage was 18min 45sec, although he could expect a charging Quintanilla to claw back maybe eight minutes of that time, courtesy of his road starting position of five. It was important that the Briton remained calm and composed.

Only nine bikes and two quads began the special, with Emirati Mohammed Al-Balooshi not setting out from Losail after Thursday’s fall. Quintanilla had gained 3min 48sec on Sunderland at PC1, but Frenchman Adrien van Beveren fell on a fast section and Yamaha team-mate Helder Rodrigues waited with him until medical support arrived. Thankfully, he sustained no serious injury and Rodrigues’s time loss was swiftly reinstated.

Casale and Sonik were riding together in the quad category, leaving a resigned Sonik no chance to gain any time on his Chilean rival. The Pole had gained 2min 22sec by PC1, but Casale’s overall lead was still a virtual 32min 47sec after Sonik was forced to change his engine overnight and incur a further 15 minutes on penalties.

Sunderland and Quintanilla reached PC2 together, after 177.63km, and the Chilean had reduced the leader’s advantage to 11min 28sec. But that was perhaps as good as it was going to get for the Husqvarna rider unless misfortune befell his rival.

Al-Rajhi caught a cautious Al-Attiyah before PC1 and passed the checkpoint 2min 11sec to the good, while Quintanilla took the bull by the horns and began to pull away from Sunderland; he reduced the KTM rider’s virtual rally lead to 10min 22sec after PC2, to 9min 34sec at PC3 and to 9min 28sec at the final checkpoint.

But there were to be no last minute disasters for Sunderland and the Briton kept his cool to seal a superb victory for KTM and lift himself to the summit of the FIM Cross-Country World Championship after two rounds. Quintanilla rode home in a solid second, claimed the stage win and lived to rue that costly navigational error on Thursday. José Cornejo suffered a late scare when his KTM ground to a halt in the water near the end of the stage and the Chilean lost over 40 minutes.

Casale shadowed Sonik to the finish to seal the victory in the quads and Al-Attiyah coasted through the final dunes to earn his fifth victory in sixth starts and his second with Overdrive Racing, as Al-Rajhi claimed a first stage win for the X-raid team.