Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Spain’s Marc Coma and Qatar’s Mohammed Abu Issa edged into early advantages in their respective car, motorcycle and quad categories after the opening 201.94km selective section of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally between Al-Wabra and Sealine in Qatar on Monday afternoon.
Hot and windy conditions made the going tough for all competitors, but the opening stage of just 201.94km was short by Sealine standards and enabled Coma to charge through from 13th on the road to claim the stage win in the motorcycle category by six seconds on his Red Bull KTM factory bike. Team HRC’s Joan Barreda Bort was second and Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland was third.
“Always the first day is tricky and you don’t have the feeling from one year ago,”
“The desert here is very particular and it is important not to make a mistake. In one part I did make a small error, but everyone makes small mistakes. The first day is important now with these new rules. If the first day goes well, then it sets you up nicely for the next four days. At least we are in a good position.”
Barreda Bort was a determined second.
“It’s not easy when you are near the front and you are opening the stage. It was a good job but I made some mistakes in the last kilometres and lose some time.”
Mohammed Abu Issa drew first blood in the battle between four quad riders for Qatar supremacy. The defending Sealine champion and current FIM quad series leader, riding a Honda TRX, gained 59 seconds on Poland’s Rafal Sonik.
“I was happy with that,”
said Abu Issa.
“I caught them (Sonik) after 10 or 15 kilometres and they stayed with me. Then (Rafal) Sonik made a couple of mistakes. Tomorrow I will start alone and I can, maybe, make a difference. My navigation today was a bit off, but I will try and make a gap tomorrow.”
Al-Attiyah passed three of his Mini team-mates to record a comfortable stage win with French navigator Matthieu Baumel in the car category. The Qatari reached the bivouac 3min 39sec in front of Saudi Arabian Overdrive Toyota Hilux driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi. Vladimir Vasilyev, the defending FIA World Cup champion, holds third place in his X-raid Mini All4 Racing
“No problems today, quite happy and not really pushing at all,”
“The navigation was okay, the car is fine. Let’s see tomorrow.”
Al-Rajhi reached the bivouac with a deflating front right-hand tyre and a minor concern about a loss of power mid-stage, but the Riyadh driver was happy with second position nonetheless. “Not bad second, that’s the clever way to keep the championship going forward. We lose a little power midway. I thought engine and then I thought maybe electrical, but I am happy so far.”
SS1 – as it happened
Thirty-two cars, 23 bikes, four quads and four cars entered in the Qatar National Baja left the start at Losail to tackle the opening 201.94km selective section, which started at Al-Wabra and finished less than a kilometre from the bivouac at Sealine.
Jeremias Esquerra had the dubious task of leading the riders into the opening stage on his works Honda, with FIM series leaders Coma and Sunderland opting to start the special from 13th and 12th on the road. Viladoms had caught and passed Esquerra by the opening passage control after 58.36km, but Barreda Bort was on a charge from his starting position of eight and that set the tone for the rest of the stage. He edged into a 1min 54sec lead over second-placed Coma.
By PC2, after 135.33km, Viladoms had pulled well clear of Esquerra and was running alone at the head of the field. He passed the checkpoint in 1hr 33min 50sec, but he was still running over five minutes behind a flying Barreda Bort, who was now riding close to Esquerra after passing five of his rivals. But Coma was also on form and was quicker than Barreda Bort by 1min 45sec into PC2, with Sunderland in second.
Al-Attiyah started from fourth in the car category and stole a march on his closest rivals to reach PC1 with a lead of 2min 18sec over Al-Rajhi. Roma and Vasilyev were third and fourth.
Viladoms reached the stage finish in 2hrs 18min 09sec after running at the front of the field for much of the day.
“Very difficult, like always, and with the wind it was not easy to see the piste. I am happy with this position after opening from around kilometre 20. The strategy is so important with the new rules. I will fight to the end,”
said the Spaniard.
Coma made a small error near the end, but managed to record a six-second stage win from Barreda Bort, with Sunderland and Pablo Quintanilla coming in third and fourth. Emirati Mohammed Al-Balooshi was an impressive sixth behind Team HRC’s Paulo Goncalves.
Al-Attiyah extended his lead over Al-Rajhi to 3min 45sec through PC2 and Erik van Loon moved ahead of Vasilyev and Roma and into a virtual third, but Vasilyev regained third overall through the final kilometres, as van Loon, Roma and Brazilian Reinaldo Varela rounded off the top six and Al-Attiyah claimed the stage win by 3min 39sec.
Qatar’s Sheikh Hamed bin Eid Al-Thani crashed his Ford Raptor six kilometres from the stage finish and the car sustained radiator damage. Dutchman Rene Kuipers crashed his HRX Ford heavily 20km from the finish and was transported via helicopter to Hamad General Hospital in Doha for observation.
This year’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally is being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) with support from GAC and the Salam International Group.
Tomorrow (Tuesday), competitors will tackle the first of four demanding loop stages through the south of Qatar. The day’s action starts 71.52km from the Sealine bivouac, runs for 398.88km and finishes 2.1km from the service park and rally headquarters.