Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel were firmly in control of the Kuwait International Rally after seven desert special stages on Friday.
The defending champion’s Ford Fiesta RRC never missed a beat all day and the Qatari will take a lead of 1min 14.9sec over Khalid Al-Qassimi into the final six timed tests on Saturday. He was quickest on every stage and remains on course for a fourth successive victory in 2015 and a fourth win in Kuwait since 2009.
“No problems for us today, a good clean run and a good lead,” said Al-Attiyah. “I am very happy. Now I need to manage my pace, keep it clean and stay out of trouble.”
Abu Dhabi Racing’s Al-Qassimi clawed back some of the time he lost after taking the wrong route after a third-stage jump in the dust and managed to stay ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi to hold second overall in his Citroën DS3 RRC.
Al-Rajhi was a comfortable third after a puncture, a missed junction and a flock of sheep on the stage gave fourth-placed Qatari driver Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari plenty to talk about at the overnight halt. Former event winner Khalid Al-Suwaidi held fifth overall and fellow Qatari Abdullah Al-Kuwari was sixth.
When Salah bin Eidan lost a chunk of time on the first loop and Rashid Al-Naimi retired on the third stage, Kuwait’s seventh-placed Meshari Al-Thafiri was left in complete control of the Group N Trophy category at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. But he also sustained a flat tyre on the sixth stage and reached the end of the leg with a lead of 1min 36.2sec over Bin Eidan.
Mohammed Al-Sahlawi was the only two Abu Dhabi Racing junior to complete the first leg and also led the two-wheel drive category in eighth overall. Bin Eidan was a close ninth.
The second round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship is being organised by the Basil Salem Al-Sabah Motor Racing Club (BMRC) in conjunction with the Kuwait International Automobile Club (KIAC) and is running under the patronage of Sheikh Athbi Nayef Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
Chasing a 56th MERC career win and a fourth successive victory of 2015, Al-Attiyah led his rivals into the 13.86km of the opening Nuwaiseeb stage and edged into a 1.1-second lead over Al-Qassimi, with Al-Rajhi seven seconds behind the Qatari.
Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari was delayed by a flock of around 200 sheep and then a puncture rubbed salt in the Qatari’s wounds. He lost 21 seconds, but the curse of Friday the 13th struck Khalifa Al-Attiyah, who retired three kilometres into the stage with engine issues. Sixteen cars finished the special.
Al-Attiyah was again quickest in the 22.62km Kheiran stage and extended his lead over Al-Qassimi to 4.7 seconds. Bin Eidan’s chances of winning Group N suffered a crippling blow when he lost seven minutes in the special. Meshari Al-Thafiri retained a tiny lead of 0.8 seconds over Rashid Al-Naimi in the showroom category battle.
Al-Attiyah set a storming pace in Al-Zour and arrived at service with a lead over Al-Rajhi of 43.6 seconds. “I got confused after a big jump because of the dust and I wrongly went right instead of left and that put me on another road,” said a disgruntled Al-Qassimi, who slipped to third. “So I did a U-turn to come back to the right way and lost a lot of time.”
Mohammed Al-Thafiri retired with a broken turbo pipe, Abu Dhabi Racing’s Saeed Bin Towq damaged a wheel after leaving the road and landing in a ditch and his Citroën DS3 colleague Mohammed Al-Mutawaa also retired.
Fourteen cars reached the midday service, although Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari complained that he had missed a hairpin on the second stage and Al-Suwaidi lost time when his seat belt unbuckled in Al-Zour. Al-Naimi retired and gifted seventh-placed Meshari Al-Thafiri a commanding lead in Group N.
“All is well. I set the fastest time on all three stages, but it was difficult to find the right braking points during the first two stages,” said Al-Attiyah. “I know the third stage well from previous years and I am always fast through there.”
The Qatari maintained his momentum through the re-run of Nuwaissab, shaved four seconds off his morning time and extended his lead to 49.5 seconds. Al-Qassimi moved two seconds clear of Al-Rajhi and back into second place, but Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari punctured and dropped further time to the leading trio.
Only two-tenths of a second separated the leading duo through Kheiran 2, but Al-Attiyah was again quickest. Al-Rajhi slipped 19.6 seconds behind Al-Qassimi but remained over half a minute in front of Al-Kuwari. There was no stopping the Qatari through Al-Zour either and he headed off to the final stage of the day with a comfortable lead of 58.6 seconds.
Dawood Al-Gharabally and Mansoor Bel Helai failed to appear from the fifth stage with respective gearbox and drive shaft problems and the former’s demise enabled Bin Eidan to climb back to ninth overall. The Kuwaiti also overtook Edith Weiss, while Al-Thafiri retained the Group N lead, despite suffering a flat tyre.
Al-Attiyah had mentioned that the seventh Al-Basil stage was more technical, but he remained in cruise control to the finish and beat Al-Qassimi by 16.3 seconds to extend his advantage at the overnight halt to 1min 14.9sec.
Two loops of three special stages bring proceedings in the desert to a conclusion on Saturday. The day’s action starts with the 24.60km of Bneider at 10.06hrs and this precedes passes through Arifjan (15.36km) and Julai’a (12.91km) at 10.54hrs and 11.32hrs.
Service and a regroup follow before the three timed tests are repeated at 13.00hrs, 13.48hrs and 14.26hrs. The ceremonial finish takes place outside the Safir Hotel and Residences in Fintas from 17.00hrs.
2015 Kuwait International Rally – position after SS7:
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 25min 06.2sec
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC 1hr 26min 21.1sec
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 27min 04.0sec
4. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Marshall Clarke (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 27min 54.1sec
5. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/John Higgins (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC 1hr 28min 41.7sec
6. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta R5 1hr 30min 43.2sec
7. Meshari Al-Thafiri (KUW)/Mubarak Al-Thafiri (KUW) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 1hr 37min 51.8sec
8. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (ARE)/Craig Parry (GBR) Citroën DS3 1hr 39min 21.8sec
9. Salah bin Eidan (KUW)/Vili Oslaj (SLO) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 1hr 39min 28.0sec