Al Attiyah retains Qatar lead; Abu Issa eyes win

 25 Apr 2014 - 10:19

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel push their Mini All4 Racing to the limit on day four of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally yesterday.

SEALINE: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Mohammed Abu Issa retained their leads in the car and quad categories while Marc Coma regained a slender motorcycle advantage after a tricky navigational 404.18km fourth selective section of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally yesterday.
Al Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel turned an overnight lead of 39min 38sec into an advantage of 1hr 05min 11sec over Polish Toyota Hilux driver Adam Malysz with one stage remaining in the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
“I am quite happy,” said Al Attiyah. “I had no reason to push today. It is very easy to make a mistake here. Matthieu has been excellent all week. No problems with the car and we just have to do the same again one more time. This rally is now at a high level. The navigation is probably the most difficult of them all,” he added.
Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc lost his chance of taking a top finish with overheating issues on Wednesday, but the Mini driver stormed back with a useful performance on day four. 
He was leading the stage all the way to PC5 before losing time with navigational issues. 
“This rally is very different,” said the Pole. “This is a co-driver’s rally. This is not for the driver. You push like hell for hours and then one mistake and it’s back to square one again.”
Toyota’s Marek Dabrowski claimed second position on the day and Overdrive team-mate Malysz took advantage of Vladimir Vasilyev’s lengthy navigational delays to snatch second overall by just 5min 20sec.
The dogfight between Honda and KTM continued into day four; overnight leader Joan Barreda, riding a Honda CRF 450, ceded the overall advantage to KTM’s Coma for the second time in four days, although the stage win fell to Honda’s Paolo Goncalves.
The two leading Spaniards will now go head-to-head on Friday, with Barreda having the sizeable advantage of following the four-time Dakar winner and defending Sealine champion through the stage. Coma has a lead of 41 seconds and starts two minutes ahead of his rival.
“I know it’s going to be difficult now,” said Coma. “It was a very hard day with a very high level of navigation. I lost my rhythm a little towards the end and I now have to give it a go tomorrow. That’s all I can do,” Coma added.
Goncalves was delighted with the stage win. 
“I have been recovering time since the first day and it was good to get back a lot of that time against my rivals today. It was a difficult and demanding stage. Tomorrow is the last day and I will need to concentrate and not make a navigation mistake. I have a chance still. You never know,” he  said.
Barreda admits that he needs to remain focused. 
“The strategy is working well. Now I need to keep my concentration and not make any navigational error. I will need to push and catch Marc and stay with him. That is the plan,” Barreda said.
After his navigational woes on Wednesday, Poland’s Rafal Sonik caught Abu Issa, the pair rode together and the Pole managed to win the quad stage by 5min 07sec. 
Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa takes a comfortable unofficial advantage of 29min 14sec into the final selective section today and, barring a late disaster, should snatch the Sealine title from the defending champion.
There was no respite in the difficulty of the navigation. 
The fourth 404.18km selective section headed northwest from Sealine towards the Salwa Road and carried on towards Al Owaina before turning west and then south towards Al Kharsaah and then back in a south-easterly direction to Sealine.
There were five passage controls at 46.89km, 120.73km, 175.41km, 228.32km and 242.82km with a finish over a sharp dune.
One hundred hours of time penalties had pushed Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and Holowczyc down to 15th and 16th overall of the remaining 19 cars in the event. 
Neither driver held any chance of scoring FIA World Cup points and Overdrive Toyota team manager Jean-Marc Fortin decided that Al-Rajhi should retire from the event and return to Saudi Arabia in advance of next week’s Jordan Rally. 
Holowczyc decided to continue for testing purposes and experience. Denis Berezovskiy and Emirati Ali Al-Shawi also retired.
Thirteen motorcycles and two quads resumed the competition. Coma was running 1min 18sec quicker than Barreda by PC1, although Helder Rodrigues was the fastest rider on the course.  Sunderland fell after 45km and sustained a suspected wrist fracture to cap a disappointing event for the Dubai-based Briton.
Coma continued to attack. He knew that to overturn the Honda strategy he would need to eke out a good lead on today’s stage and he passed the top Honda rider and led by 2min 08sec at PC2. Goncalves was now the stage pacesetter.
Holowczyc was the quickest of the car entrants to PC1 and PC2 from a starting position of 16 and Abu Issa was managing to hold off the Sonik challenge in the quads and had a virtual stage lead of 58 seconds at PC2.
Coma, Barreda and Rodrigues arrived together at PC3 and PC4, and Rodrigues had gained the virtual stage lead at the refuelling point. 
Barreda was playing the strategy perfectly and shadowing Coma’s every move. Sonik edged into a small lead over Abu Issa in the quads and Vasilyev made a navigational error before PC3 and dropped over 25 minutes to third-placed Adam Malysz.
The leading riders had formed groups of three and two at PC5. Rodrigues retained the lead and Coma held a 2min 08sec lead over Barreda heading into the final section across the breadth of Qatar. Ruben Faria had already called it a day and returned to Sealine after PC3.
Goncalves held on to take the stage win and Coma moved 41 seconds in front of Barreda heading into the final day. 
Al Attiyah also cruised to the stage finish and extended his massive lead in the car category, while Malysz shadowed Dabrowski through the final kilometres and the Toyota duo crossed the finish line together.
Today competitors will tackle the fifth and final 362.97km selective section in a loop around the south of Qatar before returning to the Sealine bivouac for the official podium finish.