Nasser Al-Attiyah, six-time winner of the Qatar Cross Country Rally, has stamped his authority on his home round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. The Qatari and French navigator Mathieu Baumel led the first stage from start to finish to head the opening event of the season by an impressive five minutes and 50 seconds. Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr reached the finish second overall with the third Toyota Hilux crew of Jakub Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk locking out the top three.
Today’s route eased the crews into the competition with the shortest of the six selective sections at 171.25 kilometres, which ran from the centre of the country in an anti-clockwise loop towards the east coast.
Al-Attiyah had the task of opening the road, but co-driver Baumel guided the Qatari through the maze of tracks - considered to be some of the trickiest for navigation in the series - to claim the first stage win of the cross country rally season. “It’s never easy and the roads are difficult and tricky,” said Al-Attiyah, who picked up one puncture. “But we made no mistakes, managed without problems and had good pace.”
Al Rajhi maintained a close second position throughout the section, only a minute adrift of Al-Attiyah, but then he and co-driver Orr dropped another four minutes after the 100 kilometre mark. “We picked up a puncture and then completed the last 40 kilometres of the section with a brake problem; the pedal just kept going to the floor,” said Al Rajhi.
Przygonski is competing for the first time in the Toyota Hilux and the Pole, with regular co-driver Timo Gottschalk, finished third as they struggled to get into the right groove. “It was hard to get into a rhythm today with the navigation and car to go like we used to do,” said the 2018 Qatar winner, another to stop and change a wheel. “We will try and fix some of the navigation problems between us and the cooperation tomorrow will be good.”
Khalid Al Mohannadi and Sébastien Delaunay had a great run through the section, the Qatari/French pairing fourth overall and leading the T3 category in their Polaris. “Today the strategy was not too much about speed,” said Al Mohannadi. “No problems and Sébastien is a very good co-driver so no mistakes.”
Austin Jones, with new navigator in Brazilian Gustavo Gugelmin, was just 35 seconds adrift of his T3 rival with a consistent performance throughout the section. “It was a good day and we went pretty slowly, maybe at fifty percent, as I wanted to get into the groove with my new navigator,” said the American, who overnights fifth overall in the Can-Am Maverick and second in T3. “I can’t read the terrain at all, it all looks the same and is very very challenging; I can’t imagine trying to navigate! It’s our first time together and we wanted to see what the rest of the competition was like. Now we know where we are, we’ll get it going a bit more for the longer stages.”
Fedor Vorobyev and Kirill Shubin consistently upped their pace in the new OT3 Overdrive vehicle and finished sixth overall and third of the T3 contenders. “We had a gearbox problem and one puncture,” said the Russian, who finished last year’s cross country rally season second in the category.
Monday’s leg is, competitively, the third longest of the rally and takes the crews over a 334.25 kilometre section that winds its way along the north-eastern coast and across the northern desert