Kris Meeke finishes fourth and wins T3; Al-Attiyah’s brother Khalifa Saleh tops T4
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel won a Qatar International Baja that was shortened by strong winds, sand storm conditions and resultant safety concerns that forced officials to cancel the final 200.39km selective section through the western and southern deserts.
With visibility substantially reduced by shifting sand and gusting north-westerly winds, competitors were not able to take a revised start and results stood as per the classification after the second section the previous day. Reduced points were, therefore, awarded to registered contenders in the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.
Al-Attiyah entered the event for testing and development purposes in the latest Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR. The Baja replaced the cancelled round of the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship in Kazakhstan in the Qatari’s programme and he duly won the opening Qualifying Stage and the first of two desert selective sections. With no action on the final day, he secured a winning margin of 3min 52.6sec.
“Safety is the most important thing for everyone and it was the only decision to cancel the stage,” said Al-Attiyah. “I was very happy with the way the car performed yesterday and I am always so happy to win races in Qatar. This terrain is tough and the navigation is never easy.”
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and co-driver Michael Orr finished second overall in their Overdrive Racing Toyota, winning stage three in the process, and fellow countryman Yasir Seaidan rounded off the podium places and gave Toyota a 1-2-3 finish with French co-driver Laurent Lichtleuchter.
Al-Rajhi said: “It was a clever and good decision to cancel the stage, safety is very important. There was a lot of wind and dust and the organisers tried to push us to CP1 to try and see how it was. We could not see, so it was a good decision. We want to do motor sport in a safe way. Sure I am happy with my position. Second place in Qatar, you have to be happy. To win here is difficult. Nasser has a lot of experience.”
WRC star Kris Meeke enjoyed his first experience in a South Racing Can-Am, entered in the T3 lightweight prototype category by Nasser Racing. The Andorra-based Ulsterman secured the category win and finished fourth overall with French co-driver François Cazalet, despite two punctures on day one. Meeke was classified 24min 25.3sec ahead of the local sixth-placed driver Ahmed Al-Kuwari in his QMMF Team Can-Am.
“Unfortunately day two was cancelled,” said Meeke. “The wind was really strong on the far side of the country where the stage was due to start. It was like a mini sandstorm and visibility was really low. The organisers took a decision on safety. It’s a bit disappointing for everyone not to be able to get more kilometres. I really enjoyed day one and the two stages we did. I was happy we had a good rhythm. I can say it’s my first victory in off-road. I continue to learn and look forward to the next events.”
Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah and Max Delfino were handed 12 minutes of time penalties for missing route waypoints. The Qatari finished in fifth place and secured the FIA T4 category win by 4min 32.8sec from the seventh-placed Qatari father and son crew of Sadoon and Nasser Al-Kuwari. Al-Attiyah now leads the T4 championship by three points.
Rashid Al-Muhannadi, Emirati Yasmeen Koloc and former FIA T2 World Champion Adel Abdulla rounded off the top 10 finishers in their T3 Can-Ams.
Seventeen-year-old Koloc’s twin sister Aliyyah arrived in Qatar leading the FIA Middle East Cup and she finished 11th overall and sixth in T3 with a Buggyra ZM Racing Can-Am. The youngster collected another four points and extended her overall lead in the series over Saudi Arabia’s Hamad Al-Harbi to nine points. She also leads the T3 section by 10 points from her sister.
WRC star Dani Sordo’s progress was ruined by missing waypoints on day one and the Nasser Racing Can-Am desert debutant slipped down the rankings as a result. He was eventually classified in 13th overall and eighth in T3 with French co-driver Xavier Panseri.
Action in the FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas continues with the final two rounds in Saudi Arabia and Dubai in November and December.
2022 Qatar International Baja – Final results:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Toyota GR DKR Hilux 2hr 21min 11.5sec
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2hr 25min 04.1sec
3. Yasir Seaidan (SAU)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 2hr 48min 41.3sec
4. Kris Meeke (AND)/François Cazalet (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 2hr 50min 40.6sec
5. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Max Delfino (FRA) Can-Am Maverick XRS (T4) 3hr 14min 01.7sec
6. Ahmed Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Manuel Lucchese (QAT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 3hr 15min 05.9sec
7. Sadoon Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Can-Am Maverick XRS T4) 3hr 18min 34.5sec
8. Rashid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Can-Am Maverick XRS (T3) 3hr 22min 48.3sec
9. Yasmeen Koloc (ARE)/Stéphane Duplé (FRA) Can-Am Maverick DV21 (T3) 3hr 29min 23.6sec
10. Adel Abdulla (QAT)/Hugo Magalhães (PRT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 3hr 35min 48.8sec
11. Aliyyah Koloc (ARE)/Sebastien Delaunay (FRA) Can-Am Maverick DV21 (T3) 3hr 36min 35.6sec
12. Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Edward Lines (GBR) Can-Am Maverick XRS (T3) 3hr 46min 53.1sec
13. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 3hr 56min 30.8sec
14. Muneef Al-Shammeri (SAU)/Tamer Hijazeen (SAU) Nissan Patrol 3hr 58min 58.1sec
15. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU)/Waleed Al-Shegawi (SAU) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 4hr 00min 02.4sec
16. Ahmad Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Mubarak Al-Khelaifi (QAT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 4hr 01min 04.2sec
2022 FIA Middle East Cup for Cross-Country Bajas – positions after round 2:
1. Aliyyah Koloc (ARE) 43pts
2. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU) 34pts
3. Muneef Al-Salmani (SAU) 25pts
3. Yasmeen Koloc (ARE) 25pts
5. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 18pts
6. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 15pts
7. Yasir Seaidan (SAU) 12pts
8. Kris Meeke (AND) 10pts
9. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAY) 9pts
10. Ahmed Al-Kuwari (QAT) 7pts
1. Aliyyah Koloc (ARE) 47pts
2. Yasmeen Koloc (ARE) 37pts
3. Hamad Al-Harbi (SAU) 33pts
4. Kris Meeke (AND) 20pts
5. Ahmed Al-Kuwari (QAT) 17pts
6. Adel Abdulla (QAT) 9pts
7. Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT) 5pts
7. Dani Sordo (ESP) 5pts
1. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 18pts
2. Sadoon Al-Kuwari (QAT) 15pts
Photo caption: Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah & Mathieu Baumel, Qatar International Baja/ Credits: QMMF