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·         Poland’s Aron Domzala rolls twice and retires before final timed test

·         Yasir Saiedan delivers stunning debut performance to finish fifth overall

KARELIA (RUSSIA) – Sunday, February 18: Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah began the defence of his FIA World Cup title in convincing style with a start-to-finish maiden victory in Baja Russia Northern Forest Rally, the opening round of the 2018 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

The Qatari and French navigator Matthieu Baumel won four of the five stages in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux, running under the Tamim Al-Majid Team banner, to reach the finish 5min 55sec ahead of former WRC star Martin Prokop.

Overdrive Racing entered three Toyotas in the only snow and ice round of the series, held over the demanding snow-covered forest trails of the Republic of Karelia in north-western Russia. Saudi Arabian team debutant Yasir Saiedan delivered a stunning performance to reach the finish in fifth place with Russian navigator Alexei Kuzmich.

Poland’s Aron Domzala and Maciej Marton endured a fraught weekend in the third Toyota. Last year’s winner rolled his car on both of Saturday’s timed stages and retired before the second of the stages on the final day.

Al-Attiyah said: “It was a good rally for me. We were here for the first time and managed to win. I have a lot of fans in Russia. It was a nice start to the season and, of course, thanks to Toyota. It’s the best team!”

Al-Attiyah and Baumel kick-started the action through a 17km super special stage on Friday afternoon and set the target time of 12min 12sec in their 2017-specification Toyota Hilux. Rival Jakub Przygonski dropped 1min 25sec to the Qatari, but Al-Attiyah’s Overdrive Racing team-mate and last year’s Russian winner Domzala pipped the champion by four seconds to snatch the overnight lead. 

Saeidan carded an impressive time of 13min 31sec on his debut with the Toyota and settled into sixth overall, beating Przygonski and the experienced Russian Boris Gadasin in the process. 

Al-Attiyah extended his lead through the first of the selective sections on Saturday morning by beating Tapio Lauronen by 48 seconds and the Qatari was four minutes quicker than Russian driver Vladimir Vasilyev through the second one to extend his lead at the second overnight halt to 4min 20sec over Martin Prokop. Saiedan was sixth in the opener and fourth in the second stage to hold sixth overall, but Domzala dropped 13 minutes in the opener and then lost a further 24 minutes in SS3 after rolling his Toyota twice. He slipped to 16th overall. 

The Pole said: “Yes, we rolled over twice. You can say, it was a pretty bad day. The first time I was a bit quicker in the turn that it was necessary. There was a snow bank and we overturned and blocked the road. Thanks to Yasir Saiedan for helping us and Martin Prokop the second time.”

Teams tackled a further two selective sections on Sunday before the ceremonial finish in the village of Vyartsilya. Al-Attiyah carded a time of 1hr 19min 50sec through the first stage to beat Prokop by 1min 18sec and extend his comfortable lead in the overall classification. Saeidan and Domzala were fifth and seventh.

There were no late dramas for the Qatari in the shorter final selective section and another fastest time – 15 seconds quicker than Prokop – earned the two-time Dakar winner his first victory in Russia. Saeidan was sixth quickest but Domzala retired before the stage start to cap a disappointing weekend for the Pole. 

2018 Baja Russia Northern Forest Rally – final results

1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive 5hrs 14min 07sec

2. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford F150 Evo                                        5hrs 20min 02sec 

3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI One                                    5hrs 25min 31sec

4. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally                 5hrs 36min 27sec

5. Yasir Saeidan (SAU)/Alexei Kuzmich (RUS) Toyota Hilux Overdrive                 5hrs 41min 09sec

6. Andrey Rudskoy (RUS)/Evgeny Zagorodniuk (RUS) G-Force BARS                            6hrs 00min 56sec

7. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Juan Pablo Monasterolo (ARG) Volkswagen Amarok             6hrs 10min 29sec

8. Alexsey Titov (RUS)/Andrey Rusov (RUS) Ford F150                                             6hrs 44min 46sec