BANKING on intelligent driving, Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah won the inaugural Rally Kazakhstan to leap to the top of FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies for the first time since the season started in February.
Nasser and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel of Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux team won only two of the event’s six demanding selective sections across some of the wildest and most spectacular terrains in Central Asia.
But that was enough for them to secure maximum points as they finished 7.43sec ahead of Polish driver Jakub Przygonski of Mini All4Racing.
Przygonski’s compatriot Aron Domzala, in another Toyota Hilux, finished third in the fifth round of FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies which started and finished on the eastern shores of the picturesque Caspian Sea in the city of Aktau.
Being a new rally, Nasser did not take any undue risks and played it safe. After starting slowly on the opening day, Nasser took the lead from Przygonski on the second section between Aktau and Kenderly in southwest Kazakhstan.
He then fought off a spirited challenge from the 32-year-old and held on to the lead till the end.
Nasser, who won the fourth and sixth stages, admitted that it was part of his strategy to stay clear of trouble.
This year he had crashed out after holding similar leads at the Middle East Rally Championship’s home leg and the FIA World for Cross-Country Rallies’ Abu Dhabi leg.
The defending champion had missed the opening leg in Russia, won Round 2 in Dubai, failed to finish in Abu Dhabi and came back to win in Qatar.
“A great result for us. Kazakhstan is a new event in the championship and a new challenge for me and Matthieu. We played it smart from the very start. We pushed when we had to and had the right strategy. It was a really enjoyable rally, fantastic, and I’m sure many more drivers will come in the future,” said a beaming Nasser, who has a 45-point lead over Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi. Przygonski is third on 84.
With Shaikh Khalid not competing in Kazakhstan as the event clashed with his World Rally Championship commitments in Portugal and a certain uncertainty looking over his future participation in FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, Nasser looks well on course to defend the title.
“Thanks to my team, Overdrive. It’s a great team result. Now we lead the championship and try to keep going like this,” added Nasser.
The next round will be the Italian Baja, to be held from June 15 to 18. dsp