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Overdrive Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah stormed into the outright lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies with a convincing victory in the Rally of Morocco. 

Overdrive Racing-run Toyotas completely locked out all the podium places and Ronan Chabot’s fourth Hilux made it an emphatic 1-2-3-4 finish for the Belgian team on one of the world’s most demanding cross-country rallies. 

Driving the older specification Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux, the Qatari teamed up with French navigator Matthieu Baumel to seal his sixth personal success on Africa’s premier off-road rally by the margin of 15min 58sec. 

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr won one stage and pushed the triple Dakar Rally winner hard. Punctures cost the Saudi some time but he also stayed well in contention for the FIA World Cup title with a comfortable second position.

Dutchman Erik van Loon and French co-driver Sebastien Delaunay were not eligible to score points and be classified in the official results in Morocco on this occasion. The crew used Toyota’s latest Hilux T1+ Ultimate in a course opening capacity and several competitive stage times would have put them in third place at the finish in Zagora.

“This car is a big improvement,” said Delaunay. “We have to learn a lot because there is a big difference. The size of the tyres is different, the gearbox and the speed we arrive at the dangers and the way we cross the dunes.”

Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez also remains firmly in FIA World Cup title contention after bringing his Overdrive Racing Toyota home in third place with Spanish co-driver Armand Monleón. The winner of Rally Kazakhstan trails Al-Attiyah and Al-Rajhi in the race for the title and moves clear of Sweden’s Matthias Ekström.

The French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot crewed the fourth Overdrive Racing Toyota and held fourth place for much of the rally. They slipped to fifth on the penultimate day and then climbed back to fourth position to the finish. 

Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and Alejandro Yacopini lost time early in the rally with technical issues but recovered strongly to bring the fifth Toyota home in 10th overall.

Cristina Gutierrez and French co-driver François Cazalet controlled the FIA T3 category for four days in their Red Bull-backed OT3, only to lose the lead with transmission problems on the penultimate day. merica’s Seth Quintero teamed up with Germany’s Dennis Zenz in a second Overdrive OT3 but early fuel pump issues and time penalties ruined his chance of taking the win.

Overdrive Racing began strongly and Al-Attiyah beat Al-Rajhi by one second to win the 11.11km Qualifying Stage. Alvarez, Chabot and Yacopini slotted into ninth, 10th and 12th positions, but the meat of the action started with the opening selective section last Saturday.

That timed desert section was split into two sections of 225.52km and 40.19km with a neutralisation zone between the two parts in a loop near Zagora. Al-Attiyah continued his winning ways, despite starting from 10th on the road, and the Qatari increased his advantage over Al-Rajhi to 4min 17sec, with Chabot running well to snatch third place and give Overdrive Racing a 1-2-3 in the general classification. 

“We start 10th position, but it was not a good position because there was a lot of dust. But I was happy to win the stage,” said Al-Attiyah. “I overtook six cars but it was not easy in the dust.”

Alvarez held sixth but Yacopini dropped around 40 minutes and slipped to 25th

Despite racing for the first time since Kazakhstan, ninth-placed Gutierrez topped the FIA T3 rankings in her OT3, but T3 Qualifying Stage winner Quintero incurred hefty time penalties after on-stage delays with fuel pump issues after 142km. 

The second of the desert stages again looped through the deserts around Zagora, ran for 333.93km and included a section through the Erg Chebbi. Al-Attiyah won the special by 6min 01sec and increased his lead over Al-Rajhi to 10min 18sec, although punctures blighted the Saudi’s progress. 

“We started the stage behind Nasser and it was a nice fight for the whole stage,” said Al-Rajhi’s co-driver Michael Orr. “I think, after 280km, we were four second ahead. Then Nasser had one puncture and we had one before that. Then we had something broken inside the gearbox and we could not use second gear. It slowed us down. Then, in the last section, we had two punctures and we had no spare wheels left after that, so we drove the last 20km like we were on vacation.”

Alvarez and Chabot came home in fourth and seventh to hold third and fourth in the rankings. Had he been classified in the official results, Van Loon would have been sixth fastest and Toyotas would have held the top five positions in the general classification.

Day three of desert action was split into two parts by a section of neutralisation. Al-Attiyah again topped the times and extended his lead over Al-Rajhi to 13 minutes. The Saudi completed the stage in third, 2min 15sec behind Jakub Przygonski. 

“It was the most physically demanding stage since the start because there were a lot of bumpy, tricky and rough parts,” said Baumel. “T1+ looks more comfortable on a stage like this, but we drive a T1, so we have some pain in our bodies. It was not easy to avoid the stones and the punctures.”

The sixth and seventh fastest times enabled Alvarez and Chabot to retain third and fourth in the overall classification, although they were beaten on the special by Van Loon in the new Hilux running as course car. He was fourth on the special and would have been third in the overall results if the car had been registered for the rally.

Stage four ran for 367.43km and Al-Rajhi managed to stop the Al-Attiyah juggernaut and a stage win enabled the Saudi to reduce the Qatari’s outright lead to 11min 21sec. Alvarez retained third with the seventh quickest time, but a short delay for Chabot enabled Sweden’s Matthias Ekström to snatch the Frenchman’s fourth place. 

“Very happy. We win today’s stage,” said Al-Rajhi. “Lucky day for us, not any punctures not any problem and also Michael did a great job. When the car works well and everything work well we can win stages. We have the speed and we have the experience. Just need some luck.”

Van Loon was again inside the top five and looking at a top three finish had the T1+ Hilux been registered for the FIA event. Yacopini climbed back to 13th

The fifth desert loop around Zagora was shorter than the previous days, but there were no late dramas for Al-Attiyah and a stage win enabled the Qatari to clinch a sixth win in Morocco. He beat Al-Rajhi on the stage by 4min 37sec. 

Action continues in the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in early November.