Losail, Qatar: Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel held a comfortable lead of 2min 00.1sec over Czech rival Vojtech Stajf and his navigator Veronica Havelkova after the opening four special stages of the Manateq International Rally of Qatar on Friday.
Al Attiyah said: “It was a good start and we are quite happy. It is better to make a good start now because tomorrow will not be easy. We did our best. The stages have dried completely now after the rain last week.”
The Ford Fiesta R5 driver won all four shortened timed specials, but there was a fascinating battle for supremacy in the MERC 2 category behind third-placed Adel Abdulla and his Lebanese navigator Ziad Chebab in the third of the more powerful R5 cars.
Making his debut in an R5 car, Adel Abdulla said: “The first two stages were very difficult for me. I was learning the speed of the gear ratios and my speed in the corners. We only tested for a short time the same day as scrutineering for half an hour. We are close behind second position. I will push a bit tomorrow if I feel more comfortable in the car.”
Kuwait’s Saleh bin Eidan laid down the gauntlet with the fastest MERC 2 time in the opening stage but he was overtaken by Abdullah Al Kuwari on the second special that saw the end of MERC 2 champion Meshari Al Thefiri’s challenge after navigator Saffah Al Thefiri felt unwell. Bin Eidan suffered transmission issues of his own, however, and completed the last of the stages with fifth gear.
Overnight MERC 2 leader and fourth-placed Abdullah Al Kuwari said: “I have a problem on the first stage. I had new brakes and I forgot. The second stage was better, but I had no power really for the next two stages. I think there is a problem with a pipe or something with the turbo. In the slow corners there was no power. We will work on the car now so it is ready.”
“I get a problem with the gearbox and I only have one gear, fifth,” said Bin Eidan at the end of the leg. “It was difficult at the starts and in the hairpins and into the 90s (corners), everywhere, but we have a spare ‘box. Tomorrow is a long day and we hope to have it back in one piece.”
Oman’s Abdullah Al Rawahi was the best of the rest in MERC 2 until he stopped his Subaru Impreza WRX before the third stage with engine problems. That opened the door for Qatar’s Mohammed Al Meer to snatch third place in MERC 2 and sixth overall.
MERC 3 champion Henry Kahy duly reached the end of the day in seventh overall with Rashed Al Mohannadi rounding off the FIA survivors in eighth position.
Oman’s Saif Abdullah Al Harthy held a lead of 7min 44sec over Oman-based Shaun McGonigal in the National category.