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Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah in action during the first day of the Qatar International Rally in Doha yesterday. The Qatari driver leads by 4.8 seconds. Today is the second day of the rally.
DOHA: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini top the leaderboard on the first day of the 2013 Qatar International Rally with a margin of 4.8 seconds after completing six new timed special stages yesterday.
Driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, the Qatari had been involved in a frantic tussle with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and British navigator Scott Martin who are second after mere seconds had separated the pair all day.
The defending regional champion, who is bidding for his 10th Qatar Rally win, eventually finished the day with three stage wins.
“Today (yesterday) was not a day to push too much,” said Al Attiyah. “The new stages here were very hard on the cars. Tomorrow (today) they are smoother and we can go faster. But it is not easy,” added the Qatari.
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi made his traditional flying start, but a little over exuberance on the crucial third stage cost him the lead and his place in the rally.
Khalid Al Qassimi and Al Attiyah took up the fight, with Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al Kuwari and Khalid Al Suwaidi trailing in their wake in a pair of Ford Fiestas.
The Qatari duo reached the overnight halt in third and fourth places.
Abdullah Al Qassimi is fifth after Jordan’s Alaa Rasheed was forced out in the fifth stage.
Rookie Emirati Mohamed Al Mutawaa leads the new two-wheel drive category in his R3 Citroën DS3 and Qatar’s Abdullah Al Kuwari held the initiative after five stages in the hotly contested Group N section.
Elsewhere, young Abu Dhabi junior driver Mohamed Al Sahlawi ran out of spare tyres on his debut and was forced into SupeRally as puncture-related incidents decimated the original 18-car field.
Al Attiyah began the day leading the 17 competitors into the new 21.81km Al Shabhana stage for the first time.
Tactics would come into play from the outset and all eyes were on whether the Qatari and his closest rivals would push hard to try and take the early advantage.
The nine-time rally winner set the target time of 10min 48.1secs and edged into a 5 1/2 second advantage over Al Rajhi, with Al Qassimi closely in third position.
Al Rajhi caught the dust of Al Qassimi and was granted a three-minute starting gap for the second special stage, despite puncturing two tyres.
Al Kuwari and Al Suwaidi were fourth and fifth, but Kuwait’s Meshari Al Thefiri dropped six minutes behind the leaders and Jordan’s Zaid Dahshan retired with fuel pump issues at the end of the stage.
Al Attiyah reached an impressive time of 11min 58.1sec in the 24km of the new Umm Wishah stage but he was pegged back by Al Qassimi in the Citroën.
Al Rajhi was even quicker and a stunning time by the Saudi pushed him into the overall lead.
Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya crashed her Mitsubishi and managed to continue, but rear axle problems accounted for Edith Weiss.
The third stage set at the 25km Al Karaana proved to be tricky for the crews after the recce.
The last few kilometres were particularly rocky and few were prepared to risk their cars on this section.
Al Rajhi damaged a wheel and the front suspension in the stage and was forced out of the running. Meanwhile, Khalid Al Qassimi escaped with a lead of 4.3secs over a more cautious Al Attiyah.
Al Suwaidi completed the third stage with a broken drive shaft sustained at the end of stage two.
Punctures were soon denting the drivers chances with Al Kuwari destroying the right-hand rear of his car after a tyre disintegrated and Alaa Rasheed damaging several tyres.
“It was just not worth pushing hard in there,” said Al Attiyah, after the third stage.
“Yazeed had his problem, Khalid damaged the front of his car. It was a matter of getting through safely,” he added.
Cetinkaya who pulled out at the service point, said: “I rolled one time and landed on the side of the car in the second stage and carried on but I should have stopped there and gone for SupeRally.”
“Instead I did another stage and had more problems with tyres and lost more time,” she added.
The drivers then repeated the same stages in the afternoon session which was deteriorating.
Al Attiyah attacked and shaved over 16secs off his first run through the Al Shabhana stage.
He beat Khalid Al Qassimi by 7.2secs and moved into a 2.9-second lead, as Al Kuwari and Al Suwaidi held third and fourth overall.
Al Qassimi was quickest again in the Umm Wishah stage by 5.8 seconds to retake the overall lead from Al Attiyah by just 2.9 seconds.
Al Kuwari also beat Al Attiyah to retain a solid third place but Rasheed lost fifth position and retired after a series of puncture-related incidents.
Rally driver Al Attiyah emerged to hold an overnight lead. Today is the final day. THE PENINSULA