Al-Qassimi claims stage win in penultimate stage Qatar Cross-Country Rally
Fastest times in cars, motorcycles and quads on the fourth desert selective section of the Qatar Cross-Country Rally fell to Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, Dubai-based Sam Sunderland and Poland’s Rafal Sonik on Friday.
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Sunderland now have respective overall leads of 2min 56sec and 12min 34sec after another hot and windy day in the Qatar deserts. Sonik has an advantage of 46min 50sec in the quads.
The stage of 338.05km wound its way through the west of Qatar and then moved up the west coast to finish at the Al-Shamal stadium, the northerly home venue for Qatar Stars League team, Al-Shamal SC. Many of the kilometres were used on the event for the first time.
Al-Attiyah began the day with a lead of 3min 23sec over South Africa’s Leeroy Poulter and the Qatar debutant began to eat into that lead through the first checkpoint. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi managed to edge in front of Poulter over the closing kilometres to win his first stage and climb above Mohammed Abu Issa and into fourth place. Abu Issa got lost and sustained two flat tyres.
Al-Qassimi said: “The first 37km I catch Nasser and I kept behind him and I am learning and I want to see how he is driving. The first two days I lost a lot of time. Today was a good stage.”
Poulter held on to secure the second fastest time and that enabled him to reduce Al-Attiyah’s overall advantage heading into the final day. Poland’s Jakub Przygonski was fourth and holds third overall. But Al-Attiyah had been trouble free throughout and admitted that he slowed to group the front-runners together.
“Yes, it’s close but we did not take any risks,” said Al-Attiyah. “We open all the way and we stop for Khalid (Al-Qassimi) to pass. He does not want to pass. I don’t know why. After the second time, he never gave me the Sentinel. I stopped to let him pass. We decided to continue to bring everyone together for our strategy for tomorrow. I will try and catch Leeroy (Poulter) and stay with him all the way tomorrow.”
Sunderland started the day fourth on the road and defending a lead of 6min 28.9sec in t he bikes. Despite losing his way with two rivals early in the stage, the Red Bull KTM 450 Rally rider fought back to record the fastest time and will now take an advantage of 12min 34sec over Monster Energy Honda team rider Paulo Gonçalves into the final day.
“It’s not done until it’s done,” said Sunderland. “I made a few navigational mistakes early on and had a bit of stress this morning. I pushed a lot after the refuel and it ended up being a pretty good day. There were a couple of mistakes in the road book. From my point of view it was not so clear in a couple of places and it added a bit of confusion. It kind of snowballs. You try to rush after that. I feel strong. The plan is not to make a mistake now, but that isn’t always easy.”
Honda’s Kevin Benavides clocked the second quickest time to move up to fourth at the expense of Pablo Quintanilla of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Team. Stage opener Matthias Walkner was third on the stage and holds a similar position in the standings. Ride to Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi is eighth.
Gonçalves said: “Until now it was the most difficult stage. I think the road book miss a little informations so, at more or less km80, we make a navigational mistake. We lost a lot of time and we arrived around 10 or 12km in the wrong direction. After, in the second part, we were able to try and push. Tomorrow I have an important day to race. The problem is to try and go fast without making a mistake.”
Alexis Hernandez caught Rafal Sonik and the pair rode close together for the much of the stage, but delays before PC1 for Dutchman Kees Koolen enabled Hernandez to climb back to second overall but Koolen maintained third position from Guatemala’s Rodolfo Schippers. Italy’s Camelia Liparoti was running in fifth place before losing a rear left wheel after 252km.
Qatar’s Adel Abdulla suffered heavy time penalties for his delays on Thursday and the FIA T2 World Champion now has little hope or winning the category this week in his Nissan Patrol. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Mansour Al-Helai began the day with a lead of 3min 02sec over series leader Yasir Saeidan but the Emirati lost over 25 minutes before PC1 and that enabled Saiedan to move through into the T2 lead. Adel Abdulla’s consolation was another stage win in his QMMF and Ooredoo-backed Nissan Patrol.
“I caught the leader in T2 today and had no problems,” said Adel Abdulla. “The problem yesterday was the crucial thing. I proved I have the pace to win this rally. The penalty I got is the reason I am so far behind. It is very important now to get another fastest time, especially for my team who have worked so hard.”
Friday – as it happened
Matthias Walkner led his motorcycle rivals into the fourth stage of 338.05km that began off the Dukhan Highway and headed west before running through the south-west of the country and then right up the west coast to a finish in the very north of Qatar.
Sonik headed the quad contingent and Al-Attiyah was back at the front in the cars. The two passage controls were located at 138.02km and 280.67km, but Sunderland, Quintanilla and Gonçalves lost valuable minutes after 70.73km with navigational issues. Benavides was 12 seconds up on Walkner through PC1, but the straying trio managed to repair some of the damage that their navigational discretion caused early on.
Pryzgonski and Poulter were in excellent form through the early kilometres and reached PC1 at the top of the standings, with the South African reducing Al-Attiyah’s virtual overall lead to just 1min 24sec. The Pole was only half a minute further behind heading up the west coast to the second checkpoint.
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi started out from Losail to take the stage start but further technical issues saw him return to the bivouac. The Mini driver hopes to complete the final stage on Saturday.
Sunderland regained the time he had lost earlier in the special and was 3min 23sec faster than Walkner to PC2 and extended his virtual overall lead to over 12 minutes. He held on to the finish to claim the stage win and extend his advantage to 12min 34sec over Gonçalves.
Poulter began to eat even further into Al-Attiyah’s advantage and the virtual difference was just 35 seconds at PC2, but the Qatari was playing a canny game. Al-Qassimi was able to claim the stage win and Poulter reduced the overall lead but Al-Attiyah was able to slot into third place and has a good starting position and a strategy planned out to strike the killer blow on the final day.
Tomorrow (Saturday), is the final day of the event and features a selective section of 343.32km between a start near the fort in Al-Zubara on Qatar’s north-west coast and a finish on Sealine beach, south of Doha. The route includes four passage controls in a winding path down the western side of the country and a series of dune crossings near the end to add a sting in the tail for the surviving teams.