Doha, Qatar: The 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies resumes with next week’s Rally Kazakhstan (May 26th-June 1st). Overdrive Racing will field a formidable line-up of three Toyota Hiluxes for Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke.
Now in its third year as a counting round of the world’s premier off-road series, Rally Kazakhstan is also the longest round of the series in terms of its six days of punishing special stages and 1,860.13km to be driven against the clock in a slightly modified route that still features tricky sand dunes, camel grass, rocky terrain, vast high-speed plains, steppes and difficult navigation.
The opening two rounds of the series in Qatar and Abu Dhabi threw up their fair share of surprises. Al Attiyah heads to Aktau City on the shores of the Caspian Sea tied for the lead in the Drivers’ Championship with Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel, despite missing the second round of the series.
Al Attiyah won his home event and his French rival prevailed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. Both drivers now have 30 points and are four clear of the Brazilian T3 front-runner Reinaldo Varela.
Alongside French co-driver Matthieu Baumel, Al Attiyah has already won the Dakar Rally this year for Toyota and was the winner of the first Rally Kazakhstan to be a round of the FIA series in 2017.
He said: “It is important that we take the win here, or at least finish high up on the podium, because this is a short championship this year with the loss of Turkmenistan and just Morocco to come in October. We are feeling confident. I have taken part in three other rallies in Qatar, Morocco and Jordan since the first round and have enjoyed the stages in Kazakhstan before. It is not an easy rally and the stages are long and demanding. But we will try our best for the win.”
Saudi Arabian driver Al Rajhi teams up with German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz in the second Overdrive Toyota. Al-Rajhi is equal fifth in the Drivers’ Championship after finishing second to al-Attiyah in Qatar and retiring from the Abu Dhabi event with mechanical issues. He can also call upon the fact that he gained experience from winning this event last year with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk.
Brinke is determined to bounce back into title contention with Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in the third Hilux. The Dutchman finished sixth in Qatar after earlier on-stage delays and then a crash in Abu Dhabi ruined a potential runner-up finish behind Peterhansel. The crew have already shown their competitiveness this season and know the importance of a podium finish on this Central Asian classic.
The Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan have made some minor changes to the route for the six days of selective sections that start out of Aktau City and then head south towards the border with Turkmenistan and a bivouac for four nights at the Kenderley resort on the Caspian Sea. After a ceremonial start in the main square in Aktau City, the first stage of 280.35km takes place on May 27th and is followed by specials of 414.12km, 327.47km, 399.24km, 290.19km and 148.76km before the finish back in Aktau City on June 1st.