AL-ATTIYAH FENDS OFF FIERCE ØSTBERG CHALLENGE TO LEAD QATAR RALLY
2023 Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 2
For immediate release
Friday, February 17th, 2023
AL-ATTIYAH FENDS OFF FIERCE ØSTBERG CHALLENGE TO LEAD QATAR RALLY
- Mikkelsen and Lindholm in distant third and fourth; Al-Kuwari in fifth
- Kuwait’s Al-Thefiri leads MERC2 category; power steering woes for Sadoon
LUSAIL (Qatar): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah saw off a fierce first day challenge from Norwegian rival Mads Østberg to lead the Qatar International Rally after seven special stages.
The Qatari won four of the day’s speed tests in his Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTI and overcame a lunchtime deficit of 4.2 seconds to take a 8.1-second advantage into the night halt in Lusail. The 16-time event winner and his Andorra-based co-driver Mathieu Baumel stayed clear of trouble and tyre issues and will need to defend their advantage from first place on the road on Saturday.
The Qatari said: “We keep the same plan and tried to make no mistake and push in the afternoon. We did a good job. We need to keep this pace tomorrow. I am happy. To race the top drivers in Europe, you need to have a good pace. This is a new race for Andreas and Emil, but Mads has been here before. Tomorrow, it will be longer and a little bit more rough.”
Østberg teamed up with Sweden’s Patrik Barth and was able to call upon the experience he gained last year. He won stages three and four but punctured in the first speed test after the regroup and was somewhat disappointed to be so far behind after the second loop.
Østberg said: “The plan this year was not to lead after day one but I would like to be closer. I didn’t purposely give him eight seconds. But we had a puncture on the first stage (SS5) after service and we, maybe, dropped 10 seconds. It was not ideal. On the last, he was very fast. I tried to regain a bit of time but I couldn’t. We are happy with the day. I have to say that it is according to plan but three or four seconds more would be perfect. It’s a long day tomorrow and I don’t think those few seconds will be as important at the end of the day. I wanted to be behind Nasser to see his lines and see where he is going. I didn’t want to end up in the same situation as last year where I was opening the line and he can follow me!”
The Norwegian pairing of Andreas Mikkelsen and Torstein Eriksen soon realised that high-speed desert rallying was not going to be a walk in the park, although a third stage puncture and a lack of confidence with the tyres hindered the 2021 FIA WRC2 champion. He ended the day in third.
Mikkelsen added: “We did better driving than the first loop. I was a bit too careful in the dips. The second loop was better. I think it’s more the stability (of the tyres). They are on Michelin and their soft is harder than this one. We will try that tomorrow some harder tyres. It should be better.”
Like his SRT Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo team-mate, Finland’s Emil Lindholm had an early wake-up call to the pace needed to achieve success in Qatar. He relished the challenge with co-driver Reeta Hämäläinen and has taken a lot of information on board heading into the final day. The 2022 FIA WRC2 champion is fourth, 20 seconds behind Mikkelsen.
The first of two Qatari-Irish pairings, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Lorcan Moore, overcame a morning misfire to regain fifth place during the afternoon. They head into the final day just 6.5 seconds ahead of Khalid Al-Suwaidi and Niall Burns, with both crews looking far more confident after the afternoon’s loop of stages.
Veteran Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya held seventh with Italy’s Giovanni Bernacchini in his new Ford Fiesta R5.
The eighth-placed multiple MERC2 champion Meshari Al-Thefiri and his Qatari co-driver Nasser Al-Kuwari dominated the MERC2 category again and returned to Lusail with a commanding 4min 04.5sec lead over fellow Kuwaiti Yousef Al-Dhafeeri and his Lebanese co-driver Carlos Hanna. Qatar’s Abdullah Al-Rabban and Emirati co-driver Hassan Ali Obaid rounded off the top 10 and held third in MERC2.
Mechanical issues side-lined Jordan’s Sheikh Bader Al-Fawaz and Lebanon’s Shadi Sheban on the fifth stage.
Friday – as it happened
Two loops of three stages got underway with the 16.15km of the Al-Khor stage. Blustery weather conditions had set in on Thursday and Friday morning was no exception. The saving grace was the fact it alleviated many of the dust issues on the stages.
Al-Attiyah opened the scoring in the teeth of a strong northerly wind with a target time of 8min 11sec. He managed to beat Lindholm by 14.2 seconds, Østberg by 2.2 and Mikkelsen by seven to snatch an outright lead of 0.3sec. Al-Suwaidi got the better of Al-Kuwari and Al-Rawahi to hold fourth place, while Al-Thefiri snatched the MERC2 advantage with the fastest time.
Ras Laffan is better known for being the major hub of Qatar’s liquefied natural gas industry and the neighbouring desert played host to the second 15.44km stage.
Al-Attiyah stopped the clocks in 7min 46.9sec and edged a further 7.4 seconds clear of Lindholm. Mikkelsen struggled through to the finish with a rear puncture and ceded 20.7 seconds to the Qatari, but Østberg was not to be denied and the flying Norwegian called upon all his experience to set the fastest time and snatch an outright lead of 2.6 seconds.
The fourth Al-Thakira stage (16.70km) brought the rapid-fire morning loop to a close before the return to Lusail for a regroup and service.
Al-Attiyah safely completed the loop and set the benchmark time of 8min 21.6sec. He gained another 10.3 seconds over Lindholm and edged another 14 clear of a cautious Mikkelsen. But Østberg has been his nemesis over the morning’s loop and the Norwegian claimed another stage win to take a 4.2-second lead back to Lusail.
At the regroup in Lusail, the leader said: “I have been driving pretty much flat out. There has been a bit of understeer and the tyre wear has been quite high. But I must be happy with the morning. It has been a good start.”
Al-Attiyah added: “The front bumper was loose and the last stage it was coming off. Mads started number four and it is a bit easier for him. The road is cleaner. A little bit of issues with the wind in the corners but no problem. We push a lot, not the maximum, for the first lap just to keep the pressure.”
Mikkelsen said: “It’s been good. The driving has been fine. Just on the careful side overall with all the dips. It’s just so hard and different to judge from what I am used to. When it is so fast, when you lift a little bit, the time is running so much. We have just been safe. The tyre just deflated. It is quite rough in some sections. I am not sure why that happened. We were just unlucky with that. We just have to adjust the speed over some of the dips. I will go through some of my videos now and see where I can go faster.”
Lindholm, Al-Rawahi, Al-Suwaidi and Al-Kuwari held fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh overall and ninth-placed Al-Thefiri led MERC2. Tyre wear was an issue for many drivers, although Al-Kuwari also complained about a niggling misfire.
Al-Attiyah headed into the re-run of Al-Khor determined to overcome the 4.2-second deficit and the Qatari shaved 3.4 seconds off his morning’s run, comfortably outpacing Lindholm in the process.
Mikkelsen also improved on his earlier pass but still ceded a further 5.6 seconds to Al-Attiyah, while Østberg was 1.6 seconds slower than his morning’s time and Al-Attiyah regained an outright lead of three seconds.
MERC series leader Abdullah Al-Rawahi stopped close to the finish with suspension and differential issues and lost fifth position. Engine damage is substantial and the Omani will not restart on Saturday.
Jordan’s Sheikh Bader Al-Fayez also succumbed to technical issues and lost second place behind Al-Thefiri in MERC2. Shadi Shaban retired with mechanical woes.
Despite the continuous battering from a strong northerly wind, Al-Attiyah continued his afternoon’s attack in Ras Laffan. He beat his morning’s stage time by seven seconds and Østberg by 2.1 to extend his lead to 5.1 seconds heading into the repeat run through Al-Thakira. The Norwegian, for his part, continued to edge clear of his Scandinavian rivals and now led Mikkelsen by 46 seconds.
Al-Attiyah was not to be denied the overnight headlines and the 16-time former event winner delivered another stunning drive to maintain his overall advantage with the quickest time in stage seven. The Volkswagen Polo GTI driver headed to the night halt with a lead of 8.1 seconds.
Østberg was his closest challenger in second place and Mikkelsen and Lindholm were third and fourth. Qatari veteran Sadoon Al-Kuwari fell foul of late power steering problems.
The final day sees crews tackle a further two loops of three stages, starting with a pass through the 15.28km of Waab Al-Mashrab from 08.48hrs. Al-Waab (14.91km) follows at 09.16hrs and the morning loop is completed by the 24.45km of Umm Birka – the longest stage of the event – from 09.51hrs.
After a return to Lusail for a regroup and service, the three stages are repeated at 12.43hrs, 13.11hrs and 13.46hrs, respectively, before the post-event press conference (18.30hrs) and podium finish (19.00hrs) take centre stage on Al-Maha Island.
2023 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS7 (unofficial @ 16.20hrs):
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Mathieu Baumel (AND) Volkswagen Polo GTI 51min 53.2sec
- Mads Østberg (NOR)/Patrik Barth (SWE) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 52min 01.3sec
- Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 52min 54.8sec
- Emil Lindholm (FIN)/Reeta Hämäläinen (FIN) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 53min 14.8sec
- Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Lorcan Moore (IRL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 55min 06.7sec
- Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Niall Burns (IRL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo 55min 13.2sec
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 59min 02.1sec
- Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 00min 11.9sec
- Yousef Al-Dhafeeri (KWT)/Carlos Hanna (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 04min 16.4sec
- Abdullah Al-Rabban (QAT)/Hassan Ali Obaid (ARE) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 04min 26.6sec
- Jad Al-Aawar (LEB)/Vicken Kanledjian (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 04min 38.3sec
- Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Nancy Al-Majali (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 05min 21.2sec
- Rashid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Fares Allouh (QAT) Subaru Impreza STI 1hr 07min 10.4sec
- Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Waleed Al-Fuaim (SAU) Polaris Pro XP (T4) 1hr 08min 46.0sec
- Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Samer Sfeir (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 13min 51.5sec
- Ihab Al-Shorafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 19min 02.1sec
- Sami Fleifel (JOR)/Ahmed Al-Khatab (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 1hr 12min 57.7sec
RESULTS PENDING ADDITIONAL TIME PENALTIES
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