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DOHA (QATAR): Overdrive Racing will be aiming to win next week’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally for the second time. The Belgian team has entered three Toyota Hiluxes in the third round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, which takes place on April 20-24. 


The event runs for five days across challenging desert selective sections through the remotest parts of the State of Qatar and is being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF). A record entry of 43 cars will start the rally and Overdrive’s and Toyota’s hopes rest with the Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Poland’s Marek Dabrowski and Brazilian Reinaldo Varela. 


The trio are tackling as many rounds of this year’s FIA World Cup as their calendars permit with their respective co-drivers, Germany’s Timo Gottschalk, Pole Jacek Czachor and Brazil’s Gustavo Gugelmin. 


Overdrive Racing won the Qatar event outright in 2012 and was also second and fifth overall that year. The team has begun this season strongly with an outright victory for Finland’s Tapio Suominen at the opening Baja event in northern Russia and fourth and fifth places for Al-Rajhi and Dabrowski at the recent Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. 


These two results mean that Overdrive Racing drivers currently hold fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth in the Drivers’ Championship points’ standings and each of the teams realise the importance of at least a top three finish in Qatar. 


Varela has a useful track record in the deserts around Doha and claimed victory on the last stage in 2014 on his way to a fine fifth overall. Dabrowski was also a consistent performer last time out and the Pole pedalled the Team Orlen Toyota to a podium finish and third overall. 


Al-Rajhi knows sections of the Qatar desert well from his forays into FIA Middle East special stage rallying and is due a good result after retiring from the Sealine event last year. Overdrive Racing also finished third overall in 2013, courtesy of a useful performance by the Venezuelan Nunzio Coffaro, and team director Jean-Marc Fortin is confident that the type of terrain and the level of navigational accuracy required suits his driver line-up and the set-up of the car.


“I have a feeling that the championship is wide open after what happened in Abu Dhabi,” said Jean-Marc Fortin. “We will ask Yazeed and Marek to push hard and keep in contact and gain as many points as possible. After Sealine, the next Baja-type rallies favour us much more and we have good news coming with a new 2015-specification Toyota Hilux for Yazeed in Egypt.


“The navigation will not be easy, especially with the smaller margin for error with the route waypoints. It will definitely be more complicated, but I think Timo (Gottschalk) has been here before and will be well prepared for that.”


Officials at the QMMF in Doha continue to extend and modify the route and format of the Sealine Cross-Country Rally to make it more challenging. This year the event again runs over five days and a quintet of selective sections across the length and breadth of the State of Qatar. 


Pre-race technical checks and administration are based at the Losail international circuit, north of Doha, and the first of the stages starts out from Losail on Monday, April 20. The entire event then moves lock, stock and barrel to a purpose-built bivouac at Sealine, south of Doha, and four further loop stages through southern Qatar bring the event to a conclusion on Friday, April 24. 


In a provisional total route of 1,917.02km, 1,758.62km (91.74%) will be competitive, with the stages, albeit subject to late modifications, running for 194.08km, 397.56km, 401.15km, 400.55km and 365.28km, respectively. 


FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – positions after round 2:

1. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)                           81 pts     

2. Erik van Loon (NLD)                                    52 pts

3. Harry Hunt (GBR)                                         32 pts

4. Tapio Suominen (FIA)                               30 pts   

5. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)                              24 pts  

6. Marek Dabrowski (POL)                           22 pts

7. Ahmed Al-Fahim (ARE)                            18 pts       

8. Reinaldo Varela (BRA)                              16 pts    

8. Orlando Terranova (ARG)                        16 pts    

10. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)                          12 pts   

10. Adam Malysz (POL)                                  12 pts , etc

(Overdrive Toyota drivers in bold)