Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah continued to rewrite his own history by securing a comfortable victory in the Qatar International Rally on Saturday.
The Qatari and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel managed the pace perfectly over the closing stages and guided their Autotek Motorsport Volkswagen Polo GTi R5 to a winning margin of 1min 48.4sec over Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and his new Irish co-driver James Fulton.
Al-Attiyah duly broke his own record of achieving a 15th victory in Qatar and a record breaking 77th MERC win in the 218-event history of the series. Baumel earned his 26th regional rally victory on the 41st running of the Qatar event to overhaul both Chris Patterson and Giovanni Bernacchini in the Hall of Fame. He now has his sights set on Ronan Morgan’s record of 41 successes.
“Today we did a really good job,” said Al-Attiyah. “Leg one was a nice fight between me and Kris Meeke. It was (becoming) a nice race but when Kris get out from the race it was an easy day for us today. It was great to have some high level in the Qatar Rally. If you look this year we had seven R5s. It was an amazing race. Thanks to the QMMF. I hope to continue in this level for this championship and this year.”
Al-Kuwari won three of the second’s day’s six special stages in his Tok Sport Škoda Fabia R5 and was pleased with the runner-up spot after infrequent rally appearances in recent seasons. Khalid Al-Suwaidi and his navigator Hugo Maghalães rounded off the podium places to make it a Qatari driver 1-2-3.
Any hope of seeing Al-Attiyah and visiting WRC star Kris Meeke battling for stage wins on the final day fizzled out when the Ulsterman was unable to restart after the team discovered engine damage on his SRT Škoda Fabia R5 that was sustained on stage five.
“Unfortunately no day two for us,” said Meeke. “On the last stage on Saturday, quite close to the finish, there were some waves (bumps) and I was on a similar line to my first pass in the morning. But the car skipped and landed nose on the next dip. This damaged the front bumper and took the water pipe off the radiator. That put an end to our rally. I really enjoyed the experience. It’s a different kind of rallying here. It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle and to try to work it out is a challenge enough.”
Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya and Lebanese co-pilot Georges Nader gave the host nation a another driver inside the top four and Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri began the defence of his MERC 2 title in impressive fashion by winning the showroom category and finishing fifth overall in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
FIA T4 cars are permitted in gravel rounds of the series this season and Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al-Saif showed that the Can-Am Maverick X3 is a competitive package, setting a fifth fastest stage time on the way to a superb sixth place.
Qatar’s Rashid Al-Mohannadi and Oman’s Zakariya Al-Aufi reached the finish in seventh and eighth and Lebanon’s Ahmad Khaled was ninth. Rally first timer Sheikh Suhaim Al-Thani retired his R5 Škoda before the last stage and missed out on a potential top 10 finish.
Oman’s Zakariya Al-Amri duly rounded off the top 10 and Lebanon’s Henry Kahy clinched maximum points in the MERC 3 category for two-wheel drive vehicles after another measured drive in his Škoda Fabia 1.6 to take 11th place. 11 of the original 17 starters completed the rally.
A furious three-way battle waged for outright success in the Qatar National Rally between Ahmed and Khalid Al-Mohannadi and Ahmed Allouh. They each won a stage on the morning loop but time delays cost Allouh his chance later on and Khalid Al-Mohannadi secured the win by the margin of 8min 32.7sec after problems for his rivals. Lebanon’s Jad Al-Aawar retired before the end of the morning’s loop.
Sunday – as it happened
Al-Attiyah headed out into the remaining six stages with a lead of 1min 40.6sec over Al-Kuwari. Both Ahmad Khaled and Al-Thani incurred one-minute time penalties after the Stewards’ meeting for route violations, the latter losing a place in the overall rankings. Kris Meeke did not restart after the engine damage caused to his car on the fifth stage.
Oman’s Abdullah Al-Rawahi confirmed before the restart that exhaust sensor issues had forced him to retire as well, as Al-Attiyah headed to the 18.30km of the Al-Khor opener. He carded the target time of 9min 47.1sec, although Al-Kuwari claimed the fastest time by 0.7 seconds. Al-Thani slipped to ninth after losing over five minutes, but the special spelt the end of the road for Kuwait’s Jassim Al-Muqahwi after engine problems.
A cautious Al-Attiyah stopped the clocks in the new seventh stage in 11min 11.2sec, but Al-Kuwari gained another stage win by six seconds and reduced the defending champion’s overall advantage to 1min 33.9sec. Al-Saif set the fifth quickest time and moved up to sixth at the expense of Al-Aufi, but the loss of over 12 minutes pushed Al-Thani down to 10th overall. A fastest time enabled Ahmed Allouh to snatch a 24.6-second lead in the Qatar National Rally.
Fourteen cars remained in the main event as Al-Attiyah headed to the new stage at Ras Laffan in the north-east of Qatar. A time of 11min 59.0sec enabled the Volkswagen Polo driver to regain 6.8 seconds of his overnight lead. Al-Kuwari increased his cushion over third-placed Al-Suwaidi to 51.6 seconds, as crews returned to Losail for the mid-session regroup and service.
Al-Attiyah was 0.8 seconds faster on his second pass through Al-Khor and 8.5 seconds clear of Al-Kuwari to extend his lead to 1min 49.2sec. Al-Thani was running near the rear of the field after his morning issues but Mohamed Al-Attiyah retired at the midday halt and Shadi El-Fakih went OTL with electrical issues and a fuel pump failure.
Al-Attiyah shaved 1.1 seconds off his morning’s sprint through the QMMF stage but he ceded the stage win to Al-Kuwari. The top group held station and headed to the final stage of the rally at Ras Laffan.
There were no late dramas for Al-Attiyah and the stage win confirmed the title for the 15th time, as Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi rounded off the podium places.
This weekend’s event was held under the chairmanship of QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, senior committee member Abdulrazaq Al-Kuwari and the QMMF’s Executive Director Amro Al-Hamad.
Action resumes in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship with the Oman International Rally at the end of February.
2021 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS11 (unofficial)
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 1hr 50min 48.5sec
- Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/James Fulton (IRL) Škoda Fabia R5 Evo 1hr 52min 36.9sec
- Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Hugo Magalhães (POR) Škoda Fabia R5 1hr 57min 16.9sec
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT)/Georges Nader (LEB) Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 09min 41.6sec
- Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X (MERC 2) 2hr 17min 10.9sec
- Saleh Al-Saif (SAU)/Oriol Vidal (ESP) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4) 2hr 19min 45.2sec
- Rashid Al-Mohannadi (QAT)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Subaru Impreza (MERC 2) 2hr 22min 31.3sec
- Zakariya Al-Aufi (OMN)/Ammar Al-Balushi (OMN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX (MERC 2) 2hr 33min 51.9sec
- Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Musa Djiyerian (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X (MERC 2) 2hr 34min 09.7sec
- Zakariya Al-Amri (OMN/Mohamed Al-Mazroui (OMN) Subaru Impreza (MERC 2) 3hr 01min 00.2sec
- Henry Kahy (LEB)/Carlos Hanna (LEB) Škoda Fabia 1.6 (MERC 3) 3hr 01min 40.3sec
2021 Qatar National Rally – positions after SS11 (unofficial)
- Khalid Al-Mohannadi (QAT)/Kirill Shubin (RUS) Polaris RXR 1000 (T3) 2hr 17min 42.6sec
- Ahmed Allouh (QAT)/Firas Allouh (QAT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 2hr 26min 15.3sec
- Ahmed Al-Mohannadi (QAT)/Mubarak Al-Khulaifi (QAT) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3) 2hr 42min 24.3sec