AL-ATTIYAH HOLDS SLENDER LEAD OVER LOUBET AFTER DRAMA-FILLED DAY AT QATAR INTERNATIONAL RALLY
2024 Qatar International Rally
FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1
For immediate release
Friday, February 2nd, 2024
AL-ATTIYAH HOLDS SLENDER LEAD OVER LOUBET AFTER
DRAMA-FILLED DAY AT QATAR INTERNATIONAL RALLY
- Mads Østberg fights back from two-minute loss to hold third place
- Jweihan dominates MERC2 category to lead Khaled by 2min 27sec
LUSAIL (Qatar): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini overcame four flat tyres and a drama-filled morning to hold a slender lead of 5.6 seconds after a further six desert special stages of the Qatar International Rally on Friday.
The risk of punctures and tricky stage conditions added a dose of nervousness and caution into the top drivers’ strategies. Flat tyres were prevalent throughout the field and Al-Attiyah emerged as the front-runner in his Autotek Volkswagen Polo GTI after a pulsating day’s high-speed rallying across Qatar’s northern deserts.
Al-Attiyah said: “It has been a tough day for everyone. We have had a lot of punctures. The terrain is very rough. But, okay, still we are leading and now we must push tomorrow. It is a little bit smoother tomorrow but the speed is very high.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet and Loris Pascaud belied their lack of desert knowledge and made rapid progress as the day progressed, despite punctures of their own on the SRT Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. They are well-placed to mount a final day challenge in second place.
The Frenchman added: “It was possible to get some time back but we had a puncture on the second stage of the loop. Again, it was a lot of time lost but it is quite difficult for everyone. Let’s continue and avoid the puncture. Maybe a little bit smoother tomorrow.”
Norway’s Mads Østberg and his Swedish co-driver Patrik Barth were the fastest crew out on the tracks. The overnight leaders won five of the day’s six gravel stages in their SRT Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 but a two-minute stop to change a puncture on stage three proved costly and then they were handed a 15-second penalty for brushing some stage fencing during the afternoon. Remarkably, the Fabia driver still held third place and was only 33.3 seconds behind Al-Attiyah.
Østberg said: “We had a bit of a push, for sure. It is a strange rally because you also have to avoid punctures. This is part of the game. For that, I think, we have managed really well the afternoon. We had just a slow puncture on the first stage after service and no big time loss. We are fighting back in the rally and it looked a bit darker at lunch. But now it is 18 seconds. We have caught back one and a half minutes! So that’s not bad. Today was the day that I struggled last year. Tomorrow will be the first day from last year. That’s where we had a really good time and enjoyed it the most so I hope that this good feeling will help us tomorrow.”
QMMF-backed Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Irish co-driver James Fulton somehow avoided any flat tyres, although they lost a little time in the dust. A cautious pace by the 2012 event winner delivered fourth place overnight in his Sarrazin-supplied Volkswagen Polo GTi.
Al-Kuwari said: “The whole rally, no flat tyres. I am driving a little bit safe trying to learn the car more. I am happy. I don’t have the confidence from when I was driving a lot. Not far from the leader. We had some issues with dust and we lose the road a little on the second stage of the second loop. But, in general, I am happy.”
Abdullah Al-Rawahi and Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud sustained two flat tyres of their own during the afternoon but the Omani was pleased with his improved pace over the second loop and he held fifth in an Autotek-run Škoda.
Al-Rawahi said: “I’m happy to be back here (Lusail), especially with two punctures. The second loop was much better in terms of pace but we were just unlucky with the punctures. I had one in the last four kilometres of the last stage and one on the second one (SS6). Nasser and Loubet had a puncture, I think, at the same place on a jump.”
Qatar’s Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya and Lebanon’s Ziad Chehab were a distant sixth in their Motortune Ford Fiesta MkII.
The Jordanian crew of Shaker Jweihan and Mustafa Juma were the class of the MERC field chasing production class honours. They finished the day seventh overall and 2min 27.7sec ahead of the Lebanese duo of Ahmad Khaled and Sami Sfeir. Fellow Jordanians, Husam Salim and Nancy Al-Majali, were classified third of the MERC2 contenders in ninth overall and Shabi Shaban and Samer Issa rounded off the top 10.
Friday – as it happened
Six competitors, including Al-Atya and Shaban, were awarded minor time penalties for hitting cones on the opening super special stage on Thursday evening. But it didn’t affect the overall classification at the top of the leaderboard heading into the opening 15.32km Waab Al-Mashrab stage in blustery weather conditions. Indian Fabid Amer was able to continue with a 10-minute stage penalty after his Subaru WRX-STi ground to a halt in the opening stage.
Al-Attiyah stopped the clocks in 8min 43.6sec at the stage finish north of Al-Waab farm, despite a slow puncture. Loubet also punctured and finished his first ever desert stage 18.2 seconds adrift. Al-Rawahi missed out by 5.6 seconds but a flying Østberg delivered a stunning stage time to win the stage by 15.9 and extend his overnight lead to 19.2 seconds.
Al-Kuwari and Khalid Al-Suwaidi were on the pace from the outset with the third and fourth fastest times. Jweihan continued to dominate the MERC2 category on an opening desert special where all 22 cars finished.
The nearby Al-Waab stage ran for 15.33km. Al-Attiyah needed to respond quickly and the Qatari carded a time of 7min 24.1sec on the faster tracks to lead by 35.5 seconds. Østberg stopped shortly after the start to change a puncture and dropped vital time. He eventually ceded two minutes to the Qatari and slipped down to fifth with Loubet moving into second and Al-Kuwari holding third.
Al-Suwaidi and his British co-driver Ross Whittock also stopped in the stage with electrical issues, while Al-Rawahi dropped over half a minute to the defending champion. Kuwait’s Jassim Al-Muqahwi lost time when he stopped for three minutes near the stage finish.
The Umm Birka stage (21.38km) was the last before a return to Lusail for a service and regroup. Al-Attiyah completed the morning’s loop of three stages cautiously and headed for the regroup and midday service at Lusail with an overall lead of 17.8 seconds, despite finishing the test and driving on a slow rear-right puncture that got him back safely.
An impressive Loubet, who also punctured, and Al-Kuwari consolidated their second and third positions and Al-Rawahi was fourth. Østberg closed the gap on the Omani to 25.2 seconds with a stunning fastest time – his third in four stages. MERC2 driver Mohammed Al-Atteya pulled out after the stage and Zakariya Al-Aamri also retired.
Al-Attiyah said: “I am happy and lucky to lead. First stage, we had a puncture and then we manage. Then we had a slow puncture on the last stage. We are here. Now we try to push in a good way. All the three cars at the front have had punctures. The wind is actually good. It’s helping.”
Loubet said: “Two punctures and the rally is very demanding for the tyres. It is not easy. It is really fast out there but very enjoyable. Let’s see.”
Østberg said: “So we have done four stages and we have won three of them. That is good. We had to stop and change a puncture on the second stage because it happened so early. That was a bit unfortunate. There is still a long way. There seems to be a lot of drama this year. The stages are incredibly rough, much rougher than the previous years. It is very hard to nurse the car and the tyres. Trying to find the balance will be very important. We had a decent stage four. I was trying to get to grips with the car a bit because it is the first time I am driving it. I don’t feel too comfortable to be honest. We will see if we can do some changes to feel a bit more confident. I feel like I drive with my heart up here all the time. It’s hard.”
Several competitors incurred time penalties of between five and 45 seconds for contact with stage fencing on the opening loop before action continued with a re-run of Waab Al-Mashrab. Rashid Al-Muhannadi was penalised 45 seconds for separate offences.
Al-Attiyah punctured and still stripped nine seconds off his morning’s run but Loubet trimmed the Qatari’s lead to just 10.8 seconds. Østberg was 2.2 seconds faster than his morning’s flier and another fastest time moved the Norwegian just six seconds behind Al-Rawahi. He was now 54.1 seconds behind the leader. Al-Kuwari retained third with the fourth quickest time.
The itinerary was relentless and there was little time before the second pass through Al-Waab. A cautious Al-Attiyah was 20 seconds slower than his morning’s run. Loubet beat him by 4.5 and headed to the last stage of the day just 6.3 seconds off the lead. Another fastest time for Østberg enabled him to squeeze ahead of both Al-Kuwari and Al-Rawahi and snatch third. The performance lifted Mads to within 32 seconds of the lead.
The re-run of Umm Birka brought a dramatic day’s action to a conclusion. Al-Attiyah punctured again stopped the clocks in 9min 57.4sec and took a 5.6-second lead over Loubet into the overnight stop. Østberg was again quickest and closed to within 18.3 seconds of the lead but he incurred a 15-second time penalty for brushing the stage fencing and headed to the night halt 33.3 seconds adrift.
Tomorrow (Saturday), action concludes with two passes through the Al-Khor (16.90km), Ras Laffan (15.93km) and Al-Thakira (13.48km) specials before the post-event press conference, prize giving and ceremonial finish take centre stage from 18.30hrs onwards at the vibrant Lusail Boulevard.
2024 Qatar International Rally – positions after SS7 (unofficial @16.45hrs):
- Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (POL) Volkswagen Polo GTI 57min 37.1sec
- Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)/Loris Pascaud (FRA) Škoda Fabia RS 57min 42.7sec
- Mads Østberg (NOR)/Patrik Barth (SWE) Škoda Fabia RS 58min 10.4sec
- Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/James Fulton (IRL) Volkswagen Polo GTI 58min 27.3sec
- Abdullah Al-Rawahi (OMN)/Ata Al-Hmoud (JOR) Škoda Fabia Evo 58min 54.2sec
- Nasser Khalifa Al-Atya (QAT)/Ziad Chehab (LEB) Ford Fiesta Mk II 1hr 05min 00.7sec
- Shaker Jweihan (JOR)/Mustafa Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 07min 14.8sec
- Ahmad Khaled (LEB)/Samer Sfeir (LEB) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 09min 42.5sec
- Husam Salim (JOR)/Nancy Al-Majali (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 12min 05.2sec
- Shadi Shaban (JOR)/Samer Issa (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 13min 33.5sec
- Stefano Marrini (ITA)/Stefano Tiraboschi (ITA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4) 1hr 14min 54.4sec
- Ihab Al-Shurafa (JOR)/Yousef Juma (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 15min 55.8sec
- Filippo Epis (ITA)/Gabriele Zanni (ITA) Yamaha YXZ 1000R (T4) 1hr 16min 14.0sec
- Issa Abu Jamous (JOR)/Saqer Abu Jamous (JOR) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 17min 56.8sec
- Rashid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Taha Al-Zadjali (OMN) Subaru WRX-STI 1hr 19min 07.4sec
- Khalid Al-Muhannadi (QAT)/Mohammed Innab (SAU) Polaris RZR Pro XP (T4) 1hr 19min 17.1sec
- Fabid Ahmer (IND)/Milen George Cherian (IND) Subaru WRX-STI 1hr 20min 32.2sec
- Saneem Payyaakkal (ARE)/Musa Sherif (IND) Ford Fiesta Rally 4 1hr 22min 30.0sec
For further media information: Neil Perkins, Media Relations Officer, UK Mobile: + 44 7831 123153, E-mail: [email protected].
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