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·         Ten Brinke, Domzala and Van Merksteijn finish third, fifth and eighth

SZCZECIN (POLAND) – Sunday, September 3: Overdrive Racing recorded their seventh FIA World Cup rally victory of the season when Qatar’s Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel secured the win in ORLEN Baja Poland, round nine of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, in Szczecin.

The Qatari finished 3min 54sec in front of series rival Jakub Przygonski and now takes an unofficial 81-point championship lead to the remaining two rounds of the series in Morocco and Portugal, where there are a maximum 90 points at stake for the winner of both events. 

“I am delighted to take another important victory with this win in Poland,” said Al-Attiyah. “I built up a good lead on Saturday and I was able to slow down a bit and control the pace. I do not mind that we have not achieved the championship yet. Kuba (Jakub) is a friend of mine and we try to make our sport as attractive as possible.”

Four of Overdrive Racing’s Toyota Hiluxes reached the finish: Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian navigator Stéphane Prevot rounded off the podium places with an excellent third position and the Polish duo of Aron Domzala and Szymon Gospodarczyk finished fifth. Peter Van Merksteijn returned to cross-country action and teamed up with Frenchman Pascal Maimon to claim eighth in the fourth Hilux. 

Ten Brinke said: “I had not sat behind the wheel of a rally car for almost one year and a half, so we are happy with this result. It is an awesome feeling to drive the Toyota again. Each day was a huge lesson for us and we were raising our pace through the rally.”

Domzala added: “We finished the rally in fifth place. Unfortunately, we lost our chance to reach the podium on Saturday when we had to change a wheel. But we demonstrated our pace with second place on the longest stage behind Nasser.”

Dane Jes Munk and Poland’s Rafal Marton crewed the sixth team entry with additional support from Bewa and M-For Sport, but niggling electrical problems forced the crew out on the first of the longer stages on Saturday morning. 

Work commitments in the Netherlands meant that Erik Van Loon and navigator Wouter Rosegaar missed out on ORLEN Baja Poland on this occasion. 

Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin said: “It was an excellent job from Nasser, Matthieu and the team to achieve the win. It was a difficult rally with a lot of rain before the start and, this morning, again it was raining and it was slippery. We had a good control of the race and having Bernhard on the podium as well is very good for his comeback. 

“Aron had a good Prologue and some good stages but, in the morning yesterday, he had a puncture and the jack was not working properly and he lost too much time. Peter also did well on his comeback. He was patient and calm and finished the race in eighth. It was a good overall result for Overdrive Racing. I thank every member of the team for their hard work and effort.”

Al-Attiyah made his intentions perfectly clear in the opening 7.08km Prologue stage on Friday evening. The Qatari carded the fastest time of 6min 09.7sec to snatch a lead of 5.1 seconds from series rival and Polish driver Jakub Przygonski. Domzala, Ten Brinke, Munk, and Van Merksteijn were fourth, seventh, ninth and 11th

“I was quite surprised that we won the Prologue,” said Al-Attiyah. Domzala said: “To be honest, I did not expect such tough conditions. We went off the road a few times and each of those cost me some seconds.”

Al-Attiyah opted to start the opening selective section of 215.90km through the Drawsko Pomorskie military firing range from third position. Domzala, Ten Brinke and Munk followed in fourth, fifth and eighth. 

The Qatari’s starting position worked well and he safely negotiated the opening stage with the fastest time of 2hrs 21min 07sec to extend his lead over Przygonski to 27.1 seconds. Ten Brinke, Domzala and Van Merksteijn were fourth, seventh and eighth, but Munk suffered a niggling electrical problem and incurred a stage maximum penalty of eight hours. 

Al-Attiyah was slower on his second run through the stage but still set the quickest time and extended his advantage over Przygonski to 4min 09sec, as Domzala, Ten Brinke and Van Merksteijn were second, fourth and eighth quickest and held fifth, third and eighth at the overnight halt in Szczecin. 

Ten Brinke complained of getting stuck in thick mud for around 90 seconds and Domzala got stuck in a river, had to reverse and lost even more time when he ran out of windscreen washer fluid and suffered visibility problems in the muddy conditions over the closing kilometres. 

“We managed to finish both stages without any problems,” admitted Al-Attiyah. “It was not easy. There were plenty of puddles lurking in the road and, in some places, it was incredibly muddy and slippery.”

Sunday’s competitive action consisted of two runs through a pair of 18.39km and 10.5km selective sections in the Dobra and Lubieszyn areas. Former champion Krzysztof Holowczyc recorded the quickest time of 17min 00sec in the opening Krzekowo stage, where Al-Attiyah dropped 75 seconds and saw his outright lead reduced to 3min 15sec. Domzala, Ten Brinke and Van Merksteijn were fifth, sixth and 10th and maintained fifth, third and eighth in the rankings. 

Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs was the surprise winner of the first of the runs through Lubieszyn, but Al-Attiyah was able to increase his lead to 4min 18sec with the sixth quickest time. His three Overdrive colleagues retained their positions in the top 10 heading to service.

Przygonski trimmed Al-Attiyah’s lead to 4min 07sec through the re-run of the Krzekowo special, where Ten Brinke, Domzala and Van Merksteijn retained third, fifth and eighth overall, but the sixth quickest time in the second pass through Lubieszyn enabled Al-Attiyah to claim his sixth win of this year’s FIA World Cup campaign by 3min 54sec. Fuchs was quickest and Ten Brinke, Domzala and Van Merksteijn emerged unscathed to consolidate their positions.

2017 ORLEN Baja Poland – final positions (unofficial @ 14.55hrs):

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hrs 45min 40sec

2. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Mini John Cooper Works Rally      5hrs 49min 34sec @3min 54sec

3. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD)/Stéphane Prevot (BEL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive  5hrs 59min 25sec @13min 45sec

4. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini Cooper Countryman   6hrs 03min 06sec @17min 26sec

5. Aron Domzala (POL)/Szymon Gospodarczyk (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive     6hrs 03min 32sec @17min 52sec

6. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Bartosz Momot (POL) F-150 Evo                             6hrs 14min 36sec @28min 56sec

7. Nicolas Fuchs (PER)/Fernando Mussano (ARG) HRX Ford                             6hrs 17min 17sec @31min 37sec

8. Peter van Merksteijn (NLD)/Pascal Maimon (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive      6hrs 30min 51sec @46min 11sec

DNF. Jes Munk (DEN)/Rafal Marton (POL) Toyota Hilux Overdrive

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – standings after round 9 (unofficial):

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)               240pts          

2. Jakub Przygonski (POL)                       159pts          

3. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)                        105pts

4. Yasir Saeidan (SAU)                            96pts            

4. Aron Domzala (POL)                           96pts            

6. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT)                84pts

7. Martin Prokop (CZE)                            72pts  

8. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)                        55pts, etc