Sensational Al-Attiyah gives Overdrive first victory in Baja Spain

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Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel delivered a sensational last stage performance to earn Overdrive Racing and Toyota a first ever victory in Baja Spain Aragón, round five of this year’s FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, on Sunday afternoon.

Al-Attiyah, driving a Toyota Hilux, won the opening stage on Friday and went on to finish 19 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz after trailing the Spaniard at the start of the day. The result enabled the Doha-based driver to extend his lead in the FIA World Cup drivers’ championship standings before he leaves for South America to represent the State of Qatar in skeet shooting at the Rio Olympics.

Joan ‘Nani’ Roma’s competitive debut with his new team ended prematurely when the Spaniard left the road on a right-hand corner and he and navigator Alex Haro were forced to retire the second of the Hiluxes.

Qatar’s Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Belgian navigator Stéphane Prévot completed the four special stages in 13th overall in the third Overdrive Racing car.

“This is a truly fantastic result for Nasser and everyone at Overdrive Racing,” said Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “It gives Nasser another 30 points in the FIA World Cup and puts him in a very strong position going forward. Yesterday was a bit frustrating, because he lost a lot of time in the dust behind another car and this result was pay back.

“I looked at the time at the first checkpoint this morning and knew that Nasser was going for it. I was confident he could do it. That’s four wins in four races now for Nasser and the team.

“‘Nani’ was unfortunate yesterday to leave the road. We had intended to restart him this morning, but there was some slight damage on the chassis and we didn’t want to risk further damage to the car with some testing coming up.”

Al-Attiyah made the perfect start on the 9.2km super special stage, near Teruel, on Friday evening and posted the fastest time of 5min 50.2sec to snatch a 12.9-second lead from Spaniard Xavier Pons. Roma was third in the second of the Overdrive Racing Toyotas on his team debut, a mere half a second behind Pons. Khalifa Al-Attiyah was 14th in a time of 6min 46.6sec.

The bulk of the action took place over two selective sections of 162km and 184.80km through the Jiloca and Comarca de Teruel regions on Saturday. Sainz set the fastest time of 2hr 03min 24sec through the opening special and edged in front of Al-Attiyah by just 49 seconds in the overall standings, with the Qatari slipping to third place. Roma was sixth and held a similar position in the general classification, while Khalifa Al-Attiyah was ninth.

Al-Attiyah completed the second of the day’s stages – the 184.80km of Alfambra – in second position behind Sainz and reached the overnight halt in third place, a mere seven seconds behind second-placed Mikko Hirvonen of Finland.

Roma was not so fortunate, however, and the Spaniard’s first appearance with Overdrive Racing was cut short on a right-hand corner when he left the road and was forced to prematurely retire from the race. Al-Attiyah’s brother Khalifa carded the 28th quickest time after his own delay and reached Teruel in 17th overall.

Action concluded with a second run through the 184.80km Alfambra stage on Sunday morning. Al-Attiyah began the special from third on the road behind Sainz and Hirvonen and it was the Madrid driver who set the target time of 2hr 23min 55sec.

But Al-Attiyah was in inspired form and a stunning time of 2hr 22min 29sec enabled the Qatari to overhaul the two-time WRC champion by just 19 seconds to secure a stunning victory and a first ever for Toyota in Spain’s premier off-road rally. His brother Khalifa capped a superb weekend for the Doha duo with the 12th quickest time to confirm 13th place.

Photo: Didier Lagutère