The Central Asian country takes its place in the FIA calendar for the first time and the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan has laid on a challenging six-day desert route to challenge 23 teams and competitors from 15 nations.
The event starts and finishes in the main square in Aktau City – a relatively new conurbation devised to service the requirements of the oil and gas industry on the shores of the Caspian Sea – although the rally will be based at the Kenderly Sea Resort, around 220km from Aktau, for three nights after the second selective section on May 22.
Al-Attiyah has overcome a shaky start to the season and recovered well from his crash in Abu Dhabi to win two recent events in Qatar and Jordan. That victory at the Qatar Cross-Country Rally last month has enabled the two-time Dakar winner to close to within 25 points of the early season championship leader, Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi.
While Al-Qassimi misses out on Kazakhstan in favour of a pre-arranged trip to the WRC event in Portugal, Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel have an excellent chance to grab the championship lead for the first time this season.
The defending champions missed the opening round in Russia, won round two in Dubai and a non-finish and a win in Abu Dhabi and Qatar means Al-Attiyah has placed additional importance on winning the inaugural Rally Kazakhstan. There are date clashes in the Qatari’s calendar this year as well and the FIA World Cup Bajas in Italy and Spain clash directly with an MERC event in Cyprus and the Silk Way Rally in Asia, respectively.
“Kazakhstan is a new event in the championship and a new challenge for Matthieu and I,”
“This is also an important rally for us. We need to win. I need the 50 points. I have a new car and will try my best to achieve the goal. It will not be easy. I know the stages will be challenging and there are several talented drivers on the entry list.”
Domzala, who holds sixth in the championship standings, realises the importance of accurate navigation on long-distance desert events and regular navigator Szymon Gospodarczyk has been replaced by fellow Pole Maciej Marton for their first taste of the Central Asian deserts. Gospodarczyk is due to return for the smaller European Baja events later in the season.
“This is a new event for the team, a new challenge and the third of the long distance rounds of the FIA World Cup in the space of less than two months,”
“That places an extra workload on everyone, but we are looking forward to competing somewhere different, with new stages and new terrain.”
Stage two heads east out of Aktau City and winds its way in a loop via the town of Ushtagan and south of the oil and gas hub of Zhanaozen to finish just north of Kenderly. The stage is split into two sections of 325km and 41.6km by a short neutralised track of just 1.4km.
The next two selective sections on May 23 and 24 loop around the deserts further east and to the north of the Kenderly Sea Resort and closer to the remote town of Senek. They run for 421km and 276.20km, respectively.
The penultimate stage guides the surviving teams back to Aktau City via a competitive section of 370.90km in a day’s route of 499.60km. The action begins to the north of Kenderly and makes its way in an anti-clockwise direction to a finish close to the small town of Zhetybay.
A shorter sixth and final loop stage of 147.94km, north of Aktau City, brings the action to a conclusion on May 26. In a compact total route of 2,500.37km, 1852.57km will be competitive.