Al-Attiyah, Sunderland and Sonik clinch victories at the Qatar Cross-Country Rally  

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Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah , Dubai-based Sam Sunderland and Poland’s Rafal Sonik claimed outright victories in the car, motorcycle and quad categories after a gruelling five-day Qatar Cross-Country Rally drew to its conclusion at Losail on Saturday.

 

Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel began the final day with a lead of 5min 58sec over South Africa’s Leeroy Poulter and the Qatari pushed hard from the outset to catch the South African. The two Toyota Hilux drivers reached the finish in first and third overall, Poulter’s position belying the fact that he had never before competed in the Middle East and even though he got stuck in the last dunes on a lump of camel grass and missed out on second.

 

The final stage of 343.32kmtarted near the fort at Al-Zubara on Qatar’s north-west coast and headed down the west of the country before turning inland to finish on Sealine beach, south of Doha, after a series of dune crossings near the end. Victories on the last stage fell to Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla and Peru’s Alexis Hernandez in the car, bike and quad sections.

 

“Today we tried to take care,” said Al-Attiyah. “We had a few problems. We try to fix and continue and then, in the last part, in the dunes, we have a puncture and we don’t have the jack working. We put the car on a small hill and we change it and it takes around four minutes. After that, we did good navigation and we catch everybody. It was important to win here. Everybody had some small problems today but this is a good result for my championship and it’s always nice to win at home.”

 

Przygonski and Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi battled hard for the final podium position. The Emirati began the day trailing by 1min 53sec in his Peugeot 3008 DKR and Przygonski pulled clear and eventually overhauled Poulter by 28 seconds to snatch second place, with Al-Qassimi nearly slipping behind Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa over the closing kilometres after losing his way. The Peugeot driver maintains his lead in the FIA World Cup championship standings, but doesn’t yet have a programme of events in place to continue the season.

 

Al-Qassimi said: “I was struggling. I lost around 10 minutes today, yesterday maybe five and so on. It’s just very difficult navigation here, especially when I am new in this game. You keep hoping someone will pass and you can follow. I am still learning this game. You need to know a lot of detailed, tough navigation. I got lost today. I’m not sure yet about the rest of the season. I will go away and think about it, because I also have WRC commitments.”

 

Sam Sunderland, the winner of this year’s Dakar Rally and Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, completed an emphatic hat-trick of victories by staying out of trouble over the final stage to with the Qatari event for the second time. His winning margin was 7min 42sec on a Red Bull KTM 450 Rally.

 

The Dubai-based Briton was first on the road this morning and benefited from a canny five-day strategy to confirm the win. Monster Energy Honda team rider Paulo Gonçalves was second and Sunderland’s KTM colleague Matthias Walkner of Austria rounded off the podium places, despite a late push by last stage winner Pablo Quintanilla of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Team. Ride to Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Balooshi reached the finish in Losail in eighth place.

 

“It’s been a good race and it’s been as tough as always here in Qatar with the navigation,” said Sunderland. “I felt good and the bike was perfect and the team did a great job. We have a bit of a break now before the next one, Atacama, so I have time to recharge the batteries and refocus after three rallies in just over a month.”

 

Rafal Sonik survived a fourth stage suspension arm breakage to clinch a comfortable victory in the quad category. Making up for his disappointing run in Abu Dhabi recently, the Pole duly confirmed his fourth win in Qatar and his first on a Yamaha.

 

Peru’s Alexis Hernandez recovered from a 40-minute time penalty, road book scrolling issues and a heavy landing in a hole on Friday to clinch the runner-up spot from Dutch rider and former CEO of Booking.com, Kees Koolen. Guatemala’s Rodolfo Schippers was fourth and Italy’s female rider Camelia Liparoti was fifth.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Saiedan extended his lead in the FIA T2 championship with victory in the section for series production cross-country vehicles. He and French navigator Laurent Lichtleuchter finished 1hr 13min 44sec in front of Abu Dhabi Racing’s Mansour Al-Helai, who lost time on Friday with suspension issues.

 

Adel Abdulla set several fastest times in his QMMF and Ooredoo-backed Nissan Patrol, but the Qatari incurred massive time penalties after a troubled second desert stage in the sand dunes, south of Sealine. Ahmed Al-Shegawi, Mohammed Al-Harqan and Ahmed Al-Malki rounded off the top five.

 

“We had bad luck again today and that has cost me a potential stage win,” said Adel Abdulla. “I have lost points again, but the championship still has a long way to go and we have a new cross-country rally coming up next month in Kazakhstan where I can get my challenge back on track.”

 

Frenchman Claude Fournier was the sole entrant in the FIA T3 section and reached the finish with navigator Loic Minaudier in a Polaris RZR 1000.

  Saturday – as it happened

Sunderland led the riders into the last of the desert stages that started near the Al-Zubara fort and finished close to the former bivouac at Sealine after 343.32km. The stage featured four passage controls at 132.69km, 168.62km, 183.91km and 238.91km. The Briton held a lead of 12min 34sec over Gonçalves.

 

Al-Attiyah began the final day with a larger lead than he may have anticipated. He had ‘lost’ 3min 02sec trying to find a waypoint on Thursday after a GPS issue and race officials agreed to hand back 3min 02sec of time to the Qatari overnight. That meant that Al-Attiyah headed out into the desert with a cushion of 5min 58sec over Poulter.

 

Sunderland managed to stay well clear of his rivals to PC1, even though Quintanilla carded the quickest split time through the first two PCs and maintained his stage lead through the remainder of the special to card his first stage win of the week. Gonçalves did enough to hold on to second overall, but the ??? quickest time was enough for Sunderland to claim victory.

 

With a slightly larger cushion in hand, Al-Attiyah’s goal was to catch Poulter and follow the South African to the finish. The pair were closely matched through the first two checkpoints and Przygonski managed to pull clear of Al-Qassimi to secure third place and snatched second from Poulter near the finish.

 

Yazeed Al-Rajhi rejoined the action after a drive shaft failure on Friday and was fourth quickest through PC1 before withdrawing his Mini John Cooper Works Rally.