Al-Rajhi, Barreda Bort And Laskawiec star on second stage of Sealine Cross-Country Rally
Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Spain's Joan Barreda Bort and Poland's Lukasz Laskawiec were the star performers after a repeat run through the 330.51km special stage of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally in the southern Qatar desert on Thursday.
Al-Rajhi and Portuguese co-driver Filipe Palmeiro claimed an excellent stage victory in their Mini All4 Racing to reduce local hero Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah's overall lead to 8m 55s heading into the last two days of the third round of the FIA World Cup. Barreda Bort overtook numerous rivals in the motorcycle category to clinch the fastest time on two wheels.
"I felt good about the stage today," said Al-Rajhi. "Yesterday I did not know anything about the tracks and I lost nearly seven minutes with two punctures. Today I planned to attack and it worked perfectly. This is a fantastic stage win for me, especially here in Qatar. I even had a puncture near the finish at kilometre 268 and I was delayed a little by passing some of the other cars."
Al-Attiyah finished the stage in second position with his Overdrive Toyota Hilux and Dubai's Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei set the third quickest time and this was enough to push the Fazza Rally Team driver up from sixth to third and, more importantly, in front of championship rival Jean-Louis Schlesser.
"Today the stage was much rougher than yesterday and more difficult," said Al-Attiyah. "I had a puncture but I am still quite happy because I have a comfortable lead and we have the most difficult stage of the event tomorrow."
Marc Coma now has a reduced overall lead of 68 seconds over Portugal's Helder Rodrigues in the motorcycle category after the pair finished the day's stage together. But Barreda Bort was the revelation of the day after incurring a crippling two-hour penalty on Wednesday evening for an alleged route violation.
The Spaniard mounted a superb charge through the field on Thursday to win the special by 7m 10s, but a game of cat and mouse is now expected between Coma and Rodrigues over the final two days. Spain's Jordi Viladoms climbed to third overall.
Poland's Lukasz Laskawiec suffered a breakdown on the first stage while leading the quad category, but the Yamaha rider made amends on stage two to confirm the fastest time. Qatar's Adel Hussain Abdullah also recovered from first day delays to claim second position, but Poland's Rafal Sonik retained the overall lead.
In three separate incidents on Thursday morning, emergency services were called to three quad riders who had crashed at the same place. Russian rider Vadim Kuvshinov suffered a broken left femur – a repeat of a former injury – and the Bulgarian Yamaha duo of Todor Hristov and Zornitsa Todorova were also taken to Hamed hospital in Doha, the former for treatment to suspected shoulder bruising and the latter for further checks.
Stage two - 330.51km
Denmark's Jes Munk was forced to withdraw from the race after Wednesday's stage because of a recurrent wrist injury. The Dane finished the first special in 15th position, but was in pain from a persistent Dakar injury and was unable to continue.
The real loser from the evening's FIM meeting was Barreda Bort, who was penalised two hours at the overnight halt for missing a crucial waypoint. That decision cost him second overall and pushed him down to 34th.
Time penalties were also imposed on several leading drivers who had not adhered to the new maximum stage speed limits. Amongst those to receive a one-minute penalty were car leader Al-Attiyah, his cousin Faisal Al-Attiyah and Vladimir Vasilyev. This meant that the Qatari's overall lead over Al-Rajhi was reduced to 10m 07s.
Neither the UAE's Nooh Buhumaid nor Qatar's Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani took the start of the second stage, where Schlesser and Al-Mutaiwei followed Al-Attiyah into the desert. But it was Coma who led the entire field into a repeat of the previous day's stage. He passed PC1 first on the road, but Rodrigues trimmed the Spaniard's bike lead by a virtual 19 seconds.
Barreda Bort was in flying form. Aggrieved after receiving the penalty on Wednesday evening, the Spaniard began the stage from 34th position and mounted a determined charge. The Husqvarna rider was 3m 04s faster than his nearest rival through PC1. Al-Attiyah reached the checkpoint in under 40 minutes – over two minutes quicker than the previous day – as Barreda Bort opened up a huge lead in the motorcycle category on the day's stage at PC2.
Al-Rajhi had suffered two punctures on the first stage and opted to take three spare wheels on this occasion. He had been running on a similar pace to Al-Attiyah at the first PC on day one and reached the check point 73 seconds in front of his rival on Thursday morning. He extended that virtual stage lead to 3m 09s at PC2, as Schlesser fell behind Al-Mutaiwei in the overall rankings after delays and was overtaken by a flying Al-Rajhi.
Barreda Bort maintained his charge and had already taken over seven minutes from Coma by PC3. The world championship leader had other things on his mind, however. He had started the day 3m 10s in front of Rodrigues and the Portuguese regained 1m 29s of that time at the third checkpoint.
The pair raced together to the stage finish and Rodrigues managed to claw back 2m 02s of Coma's advantage, as Barreda Bort followed soon afterwards to confirm the fastest time of the day. Coma headed into the camp with his lead reduced to an unofficial 68 seconds.
Al-Attiyah reached the stage finish seven minutes quicker than the previous day, but Al-Rajhi maintained his impressive pace to seal an excellent stage win for the X-raid team. Al-Mutaiwei finished third and Faisal Al-Attiyah passed the flying finish boards in fourth position.
Tomorrow (Friday), competitors tackle the longest stage of the entire event – a 357.99km loop through the southern Qatar desert. The first bike will start at a similar time of 06.00hrs, with the leading car joining the competition at 7.15hrs.
The stage starts in the same place, before heading west across the other side of the Salwa Road and then turning south towards Abu Samra and then east towards the Inland Sea. It offers faster and harder tracks, less sand dunes that the first two days and finishes in the same position.