MERC Comfortable day one lead in Qatar Rally for Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah
2015 QMMF Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1
For immediate release
Friday, February 6th, 2015
NASSER SALEH AL-ATTIYAH HOLDS COMFORTABLE
LEAD AFTER DAY ONE OF QATAR INTERNATIONAL RALLY
· Second for Yazeed Al-Rajhi at halfway point; Khalid Al-Qassimi holds third position
· Broken turbo pipe sidelines Qatar’s Al-Naimi; suspension damage for Edith Weiss
DOHA (Qatar): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah remained firmly on course for an unprecedented 12th victory at the QMMF Qatar International Rally after six timed special stages in the Qatar deserts on Friday.
The Qatari and co-driver Matthieu Baumel have teamed up for a full programme of FIA Middle East Rally Championship events in a Ford Focus RRC and lead the 13-stage event by 1min 17.50sec heading into the final half dozen timed tests on Saturday.
“It’s a nice position to be in at this point with a good lead and six stages to go,” said Al-Attiyah. “But, I suppose I was a little fortunate this morning. I was pushing quite hard and managed to avoid the punctures that affected the others and cost them time. I do have a good lead, but one puncture tomorrow and that can all be lost. I need to manage the race carefully now.”
Punctures wrecked the challenge from both of his major rivals. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi was forced to stop and change a wheel on the second of the day’s specials and the delay cost him 3min 50sec. He reached the end of the leg in third overall.
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his Ulster co-driver Michael Orr complained of handling issues on the first stage, but the Riyadh driver settled into an impressive pace from then on to hold third place and he moved up to second on the last test of the day.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari completed eight kilometres of the second stage of the day on a flat tyre and lost half a minute. The Qatari and his Irish navigator Killian Duffy held second at the midday regroup and looked set to reach the overnight halt in a similar position until they reportedly punctured again on the last stage and dropped nearly four minutes to the leader and moved into fourth place.
Kuwait’s Salah bin Eidan and new Slovenian co-driver Vili Oslaj held sixth and led the Group N category from the sole-surviving Iranian crew of Ali Mesgarha and Vahidreza Vahdatinikzad until the last stage. But they too hit serious suspension trouble and the Iranians held the showroom category lead at the overnight halt. Only five of the 12 starters reached the overnight halt, although the rest should return in Rally2 on Saturday.
Day 1 – as it happened
Al-Attiyah led 11 rivals into the opening 21.63km of the tricky Umm Wishah stage in his newly-liveried 2014 Ford Fiesta RRC. He already knew that Al-Rajhi’s strategy was to attack from the start and the Qatari laid down the gauntlet with a time of 10min 31.20sec and gained 21 seconds on the struggling Saudi, as Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari pipped Al-Qassimi to second.
Al-Rajhi’s co-driver Michael Orr had noticed low pressure in a rear tyre before the start of the special and the wheel was changed, but Al-Rajhi clouted a rock early in the special and complained that the car was pulling to the right. All 12 cars reached the stage finish.
Nasser Al-Attiyah was now in a focused mood and a stunning time through the first Al-Shabana special saw his lead over Al-Kuwari climb to 40.2sec when his rival sustained a rear, right flat tyre and was forced to drive for 8km on the deflating rubber.
The stage was also a critical one for Al-Qassimi: he eventually finished 3min 43sec behind the leader and wrecked his chance of a maiden Qatar win. “After about two or three kilometres, in a tight right-hand corner, a rock had been pulled out into the track and we clipped it. I carried on a little, but we knew there was a problem and decided to change the front wheel. But there was also some damage under the car and we had to jack it up from the back. This cost us even more time.”
A heavy landing after a jump sidelined Edith Weiss’s Mitsubishi with suspension damage and Rashid Al-Naimi was also in trouble. After sustaining a puncture, his Mitsubishi took off over a huge jump and the resultant impact broke a turbo pipe and damaged the front of the car. He managed to finish the stage before retiring and returning to the service park. “Hopefully SuperRally (Rally2) for us,” said the dejected Qatari.
Al-Attiyah increased his lead over Al-Kuwari to 50.20sec through Al-Kharsaah 1 and reached service without issues. A slow puncture had slightly delayed Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Abdullah Al-Kuwari complained of power steering problems and the Iranian driver Mohammed Ghalehbani was sidelined in the special with technical trouble.
Nine cars began the second loop of three stages, with Al-Attiyah leading from Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, Al-Rajhi, Khalid Al-Suwaidi, Khalifa Al-Attiyah, Al-Qassimi, Group N leader Salah bin Eidan, Ali Mesgarha and Abdullah Al-Kuwari, who incurred a hefty time penalty of 4min 44sec and slipped to ninth.
Al-Attiyah had vowed to ease his pace a little to preserve his Ford Fiesta, but was a mere 7/10ths of a second slower on his repeat run through Umm Wishah. Al-Qassimi only dropped a second to the defending regional champion, but suspension arm issues sidelined Al-Suwaidi, as Al-Kuwari and Al-Rajhi maintained second and third. Al-Rajhi collected a puncture within sight of the finish and changed it on the road section.
Abdulah Al-Kuwari had complained of a sore hand after the earlier power steering issue and he began the stage before returning to the start to retire soon afterwards.
There was no stopping a defiant Al-Attiyah in SS6 either and the Qatari shaved three seconds off his morning’s time to extend his advantage to 1min 05.40sec. He was again quicker on his second attempt at Al-Kharsaah and reached the overnight halt with a lead of 1min 17.5sec.
Khalifa Al-Attiyah lost fourth place with reported axle issues and Kuwait’s Bin Eidan relinquished his grip on the Group N lead after stopping with terminal suspension damage.
Tomorrow (Saturday), crews tackle the remaining six special stages of the MERC opener, starting with 20.90km near Mekanes at 08.38hrs. Runs through the 15.33km of Salwa at 09.11hrs and a QMMF-backed 27.56km special at 09.49hrs precede a regroup and service stop at the Qatar Aqua Park.
The three specials are repeated at 11.52hrs, 12.25hrs and 13.03hrs. After a final service at the Aqua Park, cars then return to the QMMF on the Salwa Road in Doha for the ceremonial finish and prize giving from 14.30hrs onwards.
2015 QMMF Qatar International Rally – positions after SS7 (SS1 cancelled):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 03min 08.9sec
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 04min 26.4sec
3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC 1hr 07min 21.3sec
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 08min 09.3sec
5. Ali Mesgarha (IRN)/Vahidreza Vahdatinikzad (IRN) Subaru Impreza 1hr 28min 45.7sec
For live results on Saturday:
Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, International Press Officer, 2015 Qatar International Rally, Qatar mobile: + 974 55292739, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: email@example.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases), Twitter: @LordPerkins