DOHA: Twenty-two cars, three quads and 15 motorcycles were joined by four cars running in a national event at the rear of the field for the start of the opening 164.18km selective section of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally, near Umm Al-Mawaga, to the west of Doha, yesterday.
Extremely hot conditions greeted the riders at the start of the opening section, where passage controls were positioned at the 28.82km and 97.80km points en route to the finish near Sealine to the south of the capital.
The varied stage offered tricky navigation and a series of sand dunes and dry lake crossings near the finish.
Portugal’s Ruben Faria was left with the unenviable task of opening the road, with Marc Coma and Paulo Goncalves slotting into 10th and 11th positions.
The Portuguese reached the first checkpoint in 21min 48sec, but KTM team-mate Sam Sunderland of Britain suffered navigational difficulties and was forced to retrace tracks and dropped over 16 minutes.
Joan Barreda opened up a 1min 02sec advantage over Coma heading towards PC2. Rafal Sonik of Poland was the fastest of the quads and slotted into eighth overall behind Faria, with Qatar’s Adel Hussein close behind.
Joan Barreda was on a charge and the Honda rider, who started the day from ninth on the road, reached PC2 second behind Faria to extend his virtual stage lead over Coma to 2min 34sec.
FIA World Cup leader Vladimir Vasilyev led the cars into action but Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah stormed through from fourth on the road and reached PC1 1min 02sec quicker than Krzysztof Holowczyc. Reinaldo Varela was third in the first of the four Toyotas.
The bikes were now reaching the stage finish and were first to the end to win the stage with a time of 1hr 42min 31sec.
Spanish bike giant Coma finished second, 1min 02sec behind, and Jordi Viladoms was third.
Faria lost his way after the 195km and slipped down the leader board to eighth.
Al Attiyah extended his virtual stage lead to 3min 02sec at the second passage control over Holowczyz and there was a frantic tussle for third between Marek Dabrowski, Varela and Vladimir Vasilyev.
The Qatari rally ace held on to seal the stage win by a margin of 2min 44sec, despite a flat tyre.
Holowczyc was second and Vasilyev pipped Sauid star Yazeed Al-Rajhi to third after Dabrowski rolled and lost time near the finish, slipping from third to eighth overall. Today, competitors tackle a 396.46km loop stage through the Qatar desert, with the bikes leading the way in what promises to be a cooler and even more demanding challenge, starting at the earlier time of 7.00am.
The event finishes at Sealine on Friday afternoon.