ERFOUD (MOROCCO): Overdrive Racing’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah confirmed his dominance of the 2016 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies with an emphatic start-to-finish victory in the punishing six-day OiLibya Rally of Morocco on Friday.
The Qatari drove one of five Toyota Hiluxes entered by the Belgian car preparation company on the most difficult event of its kind in Africa and Joan Roma, Ronan Chabot and Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah brought three of the other four cars home in sixth, seventh and 15th positions.
Al-Attiyah and his French navigator Matthieu Baumel reached the finish in Erfoud with a comfortable winning margin of 12min 08sec over former Dakar winner Carlos Sainz to confirm their sixth successive victory in the FIA World Cup since joining Overdrive Racing in March. The Qatari has completely dominated every event in which he has competed and the Morocco win followed remarkable successes for the Toyota Hilux in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Italy, Spain and Poland – shooting commitments at the Rio Olympics forced him to miss the Baja in Hungary in August.
Roma and fellow Spanish navigator Alex Haro belied their lack of experience with an Overdrive Racing Toyota to steer their V8-engined car into contention for the final podium place until they hit transmission problems on the final stage and dropped three places to sixth.
Frenchman Ronan Chabot and his navigator Gilles Pillot set some excellent stage times on their way to an encouraging sixth place in the third Toyota. Al-Attiyah’s brother Khalifa Saleh and Belgian co-driver Stéphane Prevot finished 15th in the QMMF-backed Toyota after losing time on the fourth stage.
Dutchman Erik van Loon and co-driver Wouter Rosegaar were well placed inside the top 10 before crashing the fifth Toyota on the third stage on Wednesday. They completed the timed special and failed to start the penultimate stage.
“This is a fantastic result for Overdrive Racing,” said Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “It is our sixth victory in a row in the FIA World Cup and the first win for the team in Morocco, although we had a second and third place last year. This time we have stepped up a gear. Obviously Nasser drove superbly, but Matthieu also deserves special credit for his work on the navigation. We came here and expected the navigation to be easy, but it was not. When someone like Carlos Sainz loses time with navigation it hits home how tough this rally was.
“Joan Roma lost three places today and that is a shame. He had a minor transmission problem in the middle of the stage. But we showed on the fourth stage - with a 1-2 finish - that we have two good drivers and we are capable of beating the factory teams. That is not bad for a small garage in Belgium to climb the mountain and reach the very top….
“Ronan Chabot did a brilliant job to finish seventh. He told me before the start that he was going to run with a Dakar tempo and try and be consistent and that was a very good preparation for him and Dakar. Khalifa damaged a prop shaft after a big jump on a dune yesterday, but he is improving fast and still learning. It was disappointing that Erik Van Loon retired, but he was on a fast pace early in the race and setting some very good times against the other front teams.
“We carried out a useful test before Morocco and now we will miss Portugal and focus on our preparations for the Dakar. We have won the FIA World Cup and enjoyed a tremendous season.”
Al-Attiyah made the perfect start to his Moroccan challenge on the tight and twisty Prologue stage of seven kilometres. The Qatari clocked the fastest time of 4min 41sec to snatch a 13-second lead over Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen. Roma moved into third place in a second Toyota and Van Loon, Chabot and Khalifa Al-Attiyah were 11th, 12th and 17th.
Al-Attiyah opted to start the first of the desert stages from fifth position on the road. The day’s action was split into two short stages of 69km and 50km and the Qatari carded the quickest time of 48min 56sec in the opener to extend his outright lead over Hirvonen to 41 seconds. Roma, Van Loon, Chabot and Khalifa Al-Attiyah held fifth, seventh, 17th and 20th.
Al-Attiyah also won the second part of the special to take a lead of 1min 07sec into the overnight halt. Roma and Van Loon held third and sixth and Chabot and Khalifa Al-Attiyah were 13th and 16th.
Accurate navigation and another fastest time on the demanding second selective section, which also featured a series of dune crossings near the finish, enabled Al-Attiyah to extend his outright lead over Yazeed Al-Rajhi to 14min 31sec. Roma climbed to third position and Van Loon, Chabot and Khalifa Al-Attiyah made it a truly successful day for Overdrive Racing by holding eighth, 10th and 12th overall.
Carlos Sainz won the third desert stage of 291km, but Al-Attiyah maintained an outright lead of 11min 07sec heading towards the overnight halt and the planned fourth special of 319km. Roma slipped a place to fourth overall and Chabot and Khalifa Al-Attiyah emerged unscathed from the desert in ninth and 10th positions. Van Loon crashed on the final section of the stage and fell to 11th overall.
The fourth selective section of 319km formed a loop stage through the deserts around Erfoud and Al-Attiyah extended his outright lead to 16min 44sec after winning the section by 2min 54sec. An upbeat Roma was also in superb form, despite a puncture near the stage start, and the Spaniard gave Overdrive Racing a stage 1-2 finish to consolidate his hold on the final podium place after Yazeed Al-Rajhi was delayed.
“Every day we have been opening the road and it has not been easy, but today was a good position for us and we tried to push,” said Al-Attiyah. “We had a good speed in the dunes and we caught Carlos there.”
Chabot held eighth overall heading into the overnight halt, but Khalifa Al-Attiyah was delayed and slipped to 16th. Van Loon did not restart after his third stage accident.
The final selective section ran for 230km and crossed the notorious Erg Chebbi en route to the ceremonial finish in Erfoud. Al-Attiyah took no risks and reached the stage finish in 2hr 26in 25sec to confirm the victory by the winning margin of 12min 08sec in a crushing exhibition of professional driving. Roma, unfortunately, lost third position after hitting transmission problems after the first of the passage controls, but he reached the finish in sixth, ahead of Chabot and Khalifa Al-Attiyah.
2016 OiLibya Rally of Morocco – final positions
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 12hr 28min 28sec
2. Carlos Sainz (ESP)/Lucas Cruz (ESP) Peugeot 3008 DKR 12hr 40min 36sec
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All4 Racing 13hr 04min 37sec
4. Orlando Terranova (ARG)/Paolo Fiuza (PRT) Mini All4 Racing 13hr 12min 21sec
5. Jakub Przygoński (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Mini All4 Racing 13hr 38min 03sec
6. Joan Roma (ESP)/Alex Haro (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 13hr 52min 41sec
7. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 14hr 14min 35sec
15. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Stéphane Prevot (BEL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 16hr 48min 17sec