BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Sound navigation across Qatar’s desert terrain will be key to producing favourable times at this week’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally, former Dakar champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah said yesterday.
Four-time Dakar bike champion Marc Coma of Spain and Polish World Cup champion Krzysztof Holowczy endorsed Al Attiya’s words, saying the secret to good results this week would be a combination of smart piloting and a manageable number of mistakes across Qatar’s notorious off-road routes.
“OK, I am the local driver and I know the place and the driving area really well but the routes are changed for every race,” Al Attiyah, the 2011 Dakar Rally champion, said yesterday.
“It is important to follow your co-driver’s advice. If you don’t follow the co-driver’s advice then you get lost and lose a lot of time. It is very important to co-ordinate with your co-driver. You need proper advice,” the 43-year-old added.
“Of course I would like to win this race. This is a big event. Most of the times we have gravel and small sand dunes to tackle. It is important to start well. I missed the first three races but I want to win this one,” Al Attiyah said.
“The objective is to continue racing. Sealine Rally is very important race in the world. You see so many Mini and Toyota drivers here,” the Qatari added.
The drivers and riders will cover a distance of 1739.55kms over five days of gruelling racing under temperatures that are expected to touch 40 degrees Celsius this week.
Hołowczy, the veteran Polish racer, also said Qatar presented a unique challenge to the drivers.
“Last year I was second but for sure it is a hard rally. It is true that it is hard,” Hołowczy, 51, said. “There is a lot of navigation problems but my car is working nicely. We always have the possibility to change something. Year by year our car is looking better,” the 1997 European Rally Champion added.
“There is possibility to find more power and quality of our car is fantastic,” he added.
Coma, a winner in Qatar two years ago, said: “We know riding conditions are tough. We are in a special country where terrains are brutal. Now we have experience but we know it is tough for riders and machines (cars) also. The small dunes are also different to ride. It is important to be competitive here.”
He added: “Qatar is very special ride for me. Last year we couldn’t win as we lost by three seconds. We can picture how close it is going to be. We don’t have big number of riders here but we know top names are here. It will be a close race here. Small things matter. I want to fight until the end. I hope I can get a good result.”
Qatar’s Mohamed Abu Issa, who made his Dakar Rally debut in quad bike racing with a fourth-place finish last January, warned rivals about the tough terrain.
“Of course I am trying to win but I have to try and not make mistakes,” Issa said. “I want to navigate well. Last year I crashed and I don’t want to crash this year. It is a tough ride (in Qatar). We changed a lot of tires last year and we need to be careful as the terrain is tough,” Issa added.
“It is quite hard and there are lot of experience riders. But I am trying to be consistent. It is a home rally for me,” Issa said.
British rider Sam Sunderland, who is based in the UAE, said: “Hopefully I can win as it is an important rally. It is a difficult rally in terms of navigation.”
Riding for KTM after switching from Honda, Sunderland, 24, said with a smile: “It is a dream come true to be part of KTM. It feels like a child that I ask a lot of questions. It is a great position to be in.”
UAE’s Mohamed Al Balooshi said: “Navigation is very demanding. You have all those points what you don’t have at home. This is a very good place to learn for Dakar Rally. If you want to go to Dakar then come here. I love Qatar terrain. I like this track.”
Paulo Goncalves, who won the Dubai Desert Challenge for the first time a couple of weeks ago, said: “This is our second race. After I won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge I need to keep focus. This is a really hard race. The trick is not to make mistakes as a lot of directions change here. It is hard condition with a lot of stones. We have to be careful and not make mistakes during the race.” Goncalves added: “There are a lot of fights in the race. There are seven or eight riders who can win. We will try to win again. This is our target.”
Saudi rally giant Yazeed Al Rajhi said he wanted to pick up points in Qatar this week after a sluggish show in the Dubai Desert Challenge.
“Yes, we were unlucky 10 days ago. We lost 60 points. Our plan here to get back in the points race,” Al Rajhi said.
Home hero Al Attiyah, however, issued a clear warning to his rivals when he said: “I am using the same car I drove during this year’s Dakar Rally. It is a Mini. It is a very good and strong car. I think I will enjoy driving in this race. It won’t be easy but my car is ready to win this race.”