Thursday, April 23rd, 2015- SEALINE (Qatar): Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Spain’s Marc Coma and Poland’s Rafal Sonik remain firmly on course for victory in the car, motorcycle and quad sections of the 2015 Sealine Cross-Country Rally, after the penultimate 406.78km selective section through the Qatar deserts on Thursday.
KTM’s Coma began the day with an overall lead of 10min 12sec in the motorcycle category and that was reduced to 7min 57sec after Joan Barreda Bort claimed the stage win for Team HRC. The leading six riders finished the stage in the customary group, but a favourable starting position and a determined pace ensured that Barreda Bort claimed his first stage win and moved up to second overall.
“You never know until the end, we have a long day to go,” said Coma. “It’s never finished until the end. You cannot just take it easy and that’s it. The level of the stage is high all the time. You cannot relax one minute. It is very difficult to break the group here with the difficult navigation. It is easy for the riders starting behind to catch you. This is the game of this race.”
“Today was normal strategy, I catch the front riders,” said Barreda Bort. “Tomorrow, Marc starts four minutes in front of me and it will be difficult. We need to finish like this. Paulo (Gonçalves) and I were together and we catch the group and there is nothing to do. I think this race needs to change something. It has difficult navigation, but it is the same. Maybe we need a situation where there is a chance to push and make a difference.”
Portugal’s Paulo Gonçalves was his Honda colleague’s closest rival and the second fastest time lifted the CRF 450 rider a place to third overall. Pablo Quintanilla holds fourth and Jordi Viladoms and Sam Sunderland are classified fifth and sixth on their three KTMs.
Al-Attiyah lost time on the day’s special with three flat tyres, but he found a competitive pace in between and reached Sealine with the third quickest time. This ensures that the Qatari will start the final stage on Friday with a lead of 16min 36sec in the car category. Thursday’s stage win fell to Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi, with Russian Mini driver Vladimir Vasilyev 3min 49sec behind.
“Three punctures today,” admitted the rally leader. “From the beginning we had a flat tyre ad we don’t take any risks and we stay behind Vasilyev, but after we decide to pass and then we have another flat tyre. We were very careful after that because we only had one spare, but we had a slow puncture in the last 10km and we decide to change it. Altogether we lose 11 minutes, but we only lost five minutes to Yazeed and still have a good lead. Tomorrow I start third and that is a good position for me to manage my race.”
Al-Rajhi was upbeat about his stage win and comfortable second place, as German co-driver Timo Gottschalk explained: “I think this was the day of the punctures. We had two quite early in the stage and then we were careful. We were scared to lose a third tyre. At the end it was difficult and we had to find a good rhythm, because it was very rough and rocky. The target now is second place and points for the championship.”
Two-time Dakar Rally winner Joan Roma lost his hold on fifth overall in the car section when he suffered transmission issues with the team’s development gearbox near a sand dune before the first passage control and was unable to continue.
Vasilyev now holds a comfortable third overall, Brazilian Reinaldo Varela is fourth in a second Overdrive Toyota Hilux and Czech Miroslav Zapletal is fifth with his H3 Evo 7.
Mohammed Abu Issa hassled and pressurised Rafal Sonik from the start in the quad category and the Qatari managed to pass the defending Dakar champion and move ahead. But the Pole hit back and when Abu Issa clouted a rock and shed a wheel within sight of the finish, the contest was all but settled in the Pole’s favour with the Honda rider now taking a 40min 23sec lead into the final stage.
Sonik said: “Mohammed was pushing too hard and he lost a wheel. He was pushing so hard, kind of motocross. It’s hard to follow him even and I think he was too hard on the bike. It cannot resist this treatment, hitting rocks, stones and jumps. He’s a tough guy, but my bike would not survive this punishment. I don’t think about the lead now.”
SS4 – as it happened
Twenty-five cars, 21 bikes and four quads were given start times for the penultimate 406.78km selective, which was also the longest of the entire event. Temperatures were already into the thirties Centigrade at 06.30hrs when the leading motorcycles left Sealine for the short trip of 940 metres to the stage start.
Matthias Walkner was the unfortunate rider left with the task of opening the road. Barreda Bort slotted into seventh and leader Coma was fifth. But the Austrian hit a rock after 10km of the special and damaged his factory KTM. He returned to the bivouac to enable KTM technicians to make emergency repairs and this meant that the task of opening the road fell to Jordi Viladoms. Barreda Bort headed Coma by 10 seconds through PC1, after 56.27km, and Walkner eventually rejoined the race with the loss of around 1hr 20min.
The Spaniard continued to edge a little ahead of Coma and moved back up to second overall at PC2, while Vasilyev was the quickest of the cars at PC1, with Adam Malysz and Marek Dabrowski in second and third and Al-Attiyah 2min 51sec adrift after a puncture. Joan Roma, Zapletal, Raul Orlandini and Kamat Shagirov all lost substantial time in a dune before PC1, but Roma’s troubles were worse and transmission issues cost the Spaniard fifth overall.
Abu Issa had gained 54 seconds on Sonik and was 1min 07sec behind the Pole heading towards PC3 and Al-Attiyah began to close the gap on early car stage leader Vasilyev. Abu Issa managed to pass Sonik and edge into a 1min 49sec lead at PC3. That meant the Pole headed into the remaining 217km of the stage just 12 seconds in front of the Qatari.
The leading six motorcycle riders were together in the customary group for the remainder of the stage and Barreda Bort held firm over the closing kilometres to confirm the stage win from Honda team-mate Gonçalves by the margin of 1min 59sec.
Vasilyev and Al-Rajhi were locked in a fight for the stage win in the cars and the Saudi prevailed, despite two flat tyres, with the Russian in second place. Poland’s Marek Dabrowski survived a minor transmission issue and only dropped around 20 minutes to his closest rivals and held sixth place in the overall standings.
This year’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally is being organised by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) with support from GAC and the Salam International Group.
Tomorrow (Friday), competitors tackle the final stage of the event – a loop of 381.89km through the southern Qatar deserts – to a finish at Sealine, which will also host the post-event press conference and ceremonial finish later in the afternoon.
2015 Sealine Cross-Country Rally – positions on SS4 (unofficial @ 14.00hrs):
1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottchalk (DEU) Overdrive Toyota Hilux 4hr 06min 13sec
2. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All4 Racing 4hr 10min 02sec
3. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Mini All4 Racing 4hr 11min 56sec
4. Reinaldo Varela (BRA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Overdrive Toyota Hilux 4hr 27min 36sec
5. Adam Malysz (POL)/Rafal Marton (POL) Mini All4 Racing 4hr 31min 13sec
1. Joan Barreda Bort (ESP) Honda CRF 450 Rally 4hr 32min 38sec
2. Paulo Gonçalves (PRT) Honda CRF 450 Rally 4hr 34min 34sec
3. Marc Coma (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 36min 38sec
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 38min 40sec
6. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 40min 43sec
6. Jordi Viladoms (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 4hr 42min 41sec
9. Rafal Sonik (POL) Honda TRX 700 5hr 29min 26sec
13. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT) Honda TRX 680 6hr 07min 48sec
2015 Sealine Cross-Country Rally – positions after SS4 (unofficial @ 13.50hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Mini All4 Racing 13hr 48min 00sec
2. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottchalk (DEU) Overdrive Toyota Hilux 14hr 04min 36sec
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) Mini All4 Racing 14hr 13min 49sec
4. Reinaldo Varela (BRA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Overdrive Toyota Hilux 14hr 52min 04sec
5. Miroslav Zapletal (CZE)/Maciej Marton (POL) H3 Evo 7 15hr 30min 24sec
6. Marek Dabrowski (POL)/Jacek Czachor (POL) Overdrive Toyota Hilux 15hr 46min 26sec
7. Adam Malysz (POL)/Rafal Marton (POL) Mini All4 Racing 16hr 00min 35sec
8. Yuriy Sazonov (KAZ)/Arslan Sakhimov (KAZ) Hummer H3 Evo 16hr 16min 53sec
1. Marc Coma (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 15hr 30min 40sec
2. Joan Barreda Bort (ESP) Honda CRF 450 Rally 15hr 38min 57sec
3. Paulo Gonçalves (PRT) Honda CRF 450 Rally 15hr 39min 09sec
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) KTM 450 Rally Replica 15hr 42min 55sec
5. Jordi Viladoms (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 15hr 46min 55sec
6. Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 Rally Replica 15hr 47min 43sec
7. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally Replica 16hr 46min 22sec
8. Armand Monleón (ESP) KTM 450 Rally Replica 17hr 41min 35sec
9. Mohammed Al-Balooshi (ARE) KTM 450 Rally Replica 18hr 09min 39sec
10. Rafal Sonik (POL) Honda TRX 700 18hr 23min 32sec
12. Mohammed Abu Issa (QAT) Honda TRX 680 19hr 03min 55sec
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