Al-Attiyah and Overdrive Racing clinch second successive FIA World Title with victory in Morocco  

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Tuesday, October 10: Overdrive Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah made sure of a fourth FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies title in stunning fashion by clinching his fourth outright victory in a rain-affected OiLibya Rally of Morocco, the 10th and penultimate round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

The Qatari, driving a Toyota Hilux prepared by the Belgian team, won the series in 2008, 2015 and 2016 and gave Toyota a second successive series win with his seventh victory of a dominant 2017 campaign with French navigator Matthieu Baumel.

While the Frenchman claimed his third world title, the duo had to fight hard to overcome a fierce early challenge from multiple WRC champion Sébastien Loeb over a six-day event where large chunks of the competitive route were cancelled because of flooding. Al-Attiyah’s winning margin was 7min 55sec and gave him an unassailable lead of 109 points in the FIA World Cup with one event remaining.

“This was a hard-earned victory and a very important one for me and the whole team,” said a delighted Al-Attiyah, who had already claimed outright wins this season in Dubai, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Spain, Hungary and Poland. “This is a great result for Toyota, my country Qatar, Overdrive Racing. Matthieu and myself and we can look ahead to the Dakar with great confidence.”

Overdrive Racing managed seven Toyotas in Africa’s only round of the series. Aron Domzala teamed up with fellow countryman Maciej Marton and finished sixth overall, the result lifting the talented young Pole into third in the FIA World Cup standings behind Al-Attiyah and Jakub Przygonski.

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Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian navigator Stéphane Prevot were the best of the rest in 12th position.

Denmark’s Jes Munk and Poland’s Rafal Marton ran with additional support from Bewa and M-For Sport and reached the finish in Erfoud in 23rd, two places ahead of the all-Chinese Toyota crew of He Zhitao and Zhao Kai in the Boundless Yong Team entry.

The French duo of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot suffered early suspension damage and incurred massive time penalties. They recovered well over the closing kilometres to climb back to finish just outside the top 30.

Dutchman Peter Van Merksteijn and French navigator Pascal Maimon crewed the seventh Toyota and were running outside the top 10 when their Toyota Hilux suffered wishbone and suspension damage on the fourth day and Van Merksteijn decided not to continue.

Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin said: “This is a significant achievement for the whole team and something for which we can be extremely proud. To win the FIA World Cup two years running is no mean feat and it was even more difficult this time against a very strong field with Seb (Loeb) and Carlos (Sainz) pushing very hard.

“We have fulfilled three objectives. We have won the rally, clinched the World Cup and worked on further evolutions with the Toyota for the Dakar. We still have two months to go and we can enjoy this moment. Sometimes, when we are busy, we forget that this is our best ever season and we should appreciate these times. Aron looks on course to finish third and to have two cars on the podium in the FIA World Cup standings is fantastic.”

The action got underway with a 12km super special stage around 40km from Fèz on Thursday (October 5). Al-Attiyah continued his run of stunning form with a crushing opening time of 8min 38sec, which enabled the Qatari to storm into a lead of 31 seconds and gave him the opportunity to choose the most favourable starting position for the first of the longer desert selective sections between Fèz and Erfoud. Domzala was ninth, Van Merksteijn 14th, Ten Brinke 16th, Chabot 19th, Munk 22nd and He Zhitao was 27th of the 43 finishers.

Al-Attiyah started fourth behind Carlos Sainz, Joan Roma and Mikko Hirvonen for the long liaison and the opening selection section of 272.8km. Multiple WRC champion Sébastien Loeb claimed the quickest time and moved into the lead with a time of 3hrs 41min 52sec, as Al-Attiyah slipped to second position with the third quickest time.

Domzala, Van Merksteijn, Ten Brinke and Munk held eighth, 16th, 20th, 23rd overall. He Zhitao completed the stage in 28th overall, but an accident cost Chabot’s Toyota its rear wheels and the Frenchman incurred the customary 100hrs in time penalties, plummeting to 41st overall.

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The second selective section looped around Erfoud for 354.45km and included a passage through the notorious Erg Chebbi, but the route also included an impassable and flooded wadi that claimed some of the leading riders and the NPO decided to stop the competitive action at PC1, after 150km.

Al-Attiyah claimed the fastest time after Sainz was penalised and, therefore, reduced Loeb’s overall lead to 5min 02sec. Domzala, Ten Brinke, a resurgent Chabot, and Munk were sixth, 11th, 15th and 18th. Van Merksteijn dropped around 10 minutes in 22nd and He Zhitao was 36th.

Rain and flooding forced race officials to shorten the third Marathon stage to Erg Lihoudi and teams only tackled the second 142.79km section. Al-Attiyah beat Loeb by 1min 16sec to trim the Frenchman’s overall lead to 3min 46sec. Domzala, Ten Brinke and Van Merksteijn held eighth, 15th and 16th overall. He Zhitao and Munk were 27th and 28th, but Chabot’s earlier woes had moved him down to 40th.

Two selective sections of 191.56km and 263.51km had originally been planned for day four from Erg Lihoudi to Erfoud, but the day was shortened again to just 170km because of flooding.

Al-Attiyah claimed the stage win with a time of 1hr 46min 38sec and that enabled the Qatari to move 6min 42sec in front of a struggling Loeb and snatch the outright lead. Overdrive team-mates Domzala, Ten Brinke, Munk and Zhitao held sixth, 11th, 25th and 26th overall, but Chabot remained down in 38th place. Van Merksteijn suffered a crash that broke the wishbone on his Toyota Hilux and the Dutchman decided not to continue to the final day.

Two short stages of 179.5 and 8.65km were on the agenda for the final loop around Erfoud. Al-Attiyah beat Loeb by 26 seconds through the opener to move ever closer to victory and he stayed clear of trouble over the short finale to claim the win with a final stage time of 5min 58sec. It marked the end of a near perfect FIA World Cup campaign for Al-Attiyah, Baumel and Overdrive Racing.

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