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ABU DHABI (UAE): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah confirmed a comfortable second victory in the gruelling Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and moved into the early lead in the 2016 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup with a resounding 32min 13sec success in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

 A first UAE win since 2008 also marked a little piece of history for Overdrive Racing and his navigator Matthieu Baumel. The win was the first ever for a Toyota Hilux and a maiden success across the deserts of the Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter for Baumel and Overdrive Racing. 

 Al-Attiyah said: “I am delighted with this result and the performance of the Toyota. It was not easy, but we controlled our pace from the front of the field from the start and I am happy to be leading the championship and to take another win in Abu Dhabi. The dunes were tricky, but the car was strong and reliable.”

 The Polish duo of Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor crewed a second Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux in Orlen Team colours and reached the finish in eighth overall. They lost a potential top five finish on the third of five punishing desert selective sections, held on varied weather conditions in the western deserts of the Al-Gharbia region of the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

 “This is a special result for our team and I think that a winning margin of over 30 minutes proves that Nasser has been the best driver,” said Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “We showed on the Dakar that we were very close to the Minis in terms of performance and this result is testament to all the efforts we as a team have put into the car.

 “The conditions were not easy. It rained early in the week and the sand was hard. It was not the heat and soft sand we associate with this event. But Nasser drove superbly. Even at the test before the rally, he was impressed with the chassis and had a good feel in the car. This is something special for us to take a first win in the Desert Challenge and something we must enjoy. I thank all our team and the guys in South Africa for their work. 

 “Marek also produced a strong finish after losing a lot of time and a possible finish in the top five on day three. He is in the points and eighth overall is a decent result.”

 Dabrowski and Al-Attiyah made cautious starts through the opening super special stage at the Al-Forsan International Sports Resort and carded the fourth and seventh fastest times. This gave them both favourable starting positions for the first of the desert sections of 278.04km out of Razeen.

 Al-Attiyah was in super form through the opening stage and a time of 3hr 28min 07sec was sufficient for the Qatari to card the fastest time and edge into an overall lead of 2min 18sec over former Overdrive Toyota driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi. Dabrowski was fifth in the Orlen Team Toyota and held a similar position in the overall standings. 


Al-Attiyah was the first driver to finish the second loop section of 278.90km through the western deserts in a time of 3hr 54min 14sec and that was sufficient for the Qatari to extend his outright lead over Al-Rajhi to 10min 21sec. 


“It was a very difficult stage, needing a lot of concentration on the dunes and there were some sharp ones,” said Al-Attiyah. “Driving the new car in the sand dunes was a very good experience. The Toyota was working well.”


Dabrowski capped another superb day for Overdrive Racing: the Pole was the fourth driver to complete the stage and retained fifth overall.  


The Qatari was fastest on the third stage of 280.06km as well and extended his overall advantage over Vladimir Vasilyev to 15min 19sec.  “I got into my rhythm early on,” said the Qatari. “The navigation was perfect.”


Dabrowski was delayed with a minor battery issue and the time loss was expensive: it cost the Pole around 80 minutes and dropped the Orlen Toyota from fifth to ninth overall. 


Al-Attiyah ceded the win on the fourth section of 257.87km to Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen, but the Toyota driver maintained an outright lead of 28min 08sec over Yazeed Al-Rajhi to take into the final selective section. “It wasn’t easy at all,” admitted Nasser. “We did some of the stage the previous day, but most was completely new. The thing now is not to make any mistakes.”

Dabrowski enjoyed a useful stage performance to finish eighth and hold a similar position in the rankings. 

 Al-Attiyah stormed through the final stage in a time of 2hr 38min 17sec to secure his second victory at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge by the margin of 32min 13sec. Dabrowski also drove a solid final stage to snatch the sixth quickest time and finish in eighth place.