Bengaluru/Doha, February 27: Defending champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah will take an outright lead of 1hr 16min 06sec into the final stage of the Qatar Cross-Country Rally, the opening round of FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
The Qatari and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel, who are six time winners of the event, erred on the side of caution through penultimate day's shortened selective section and Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr took advantage to snatch the stage win in the second of three Toyota Hiluxes.
The day's action was initially delayed by one hour on safety grounds. Strong north-westerly winds had caused dust and fine sand to drift and even the neighbouring highways had severely reduced visibility.
Al Attiyah on course for seventh FIA Qatar Cross Country Rally win
A second delay was confirmed before Clerk of the Course Pedro Almeida held a meeting with competitors at Losail Sports Arena. The decision was taken to cancel the second of the day's shorter special stages, near Sealine, and run only the first 119.39km of the opening Al-Shahaniya selective section.
This guaranteed that the competitive stage distance was long enough (75%) to be eligible for maximum FIA championship points, even if the weather disrupts Thursday's final stage.
Conditions improved as the stage progressed, despite the fierce wind, and Al Rajhi clocked a stage time of 1hr 03min 08sec and managed to beat Poland's Jakub Przygonski and German navigator Timo Gottschalk by 2min 34sec in the third of the Toyotas.
"We had one flat tyre and we stopped and changed. Third on the road tomorrow so that we can manage. I think the weather will be clearer tomorrow, so they should be able to run the whole stage," said Al Attiyah.
"Early morning, there was dust but, after 10.30, it was clearer sky with the strong wind. Sealine may have been a problem if we had gone to the other stage," the three-time Dakar Rally champion added.
Despite the strong winds, the revised timetable laid on by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation ran according to plan. Hungarian driver Balazs Szalay came home in fifth place on the day and held ninth in the general classification in his T1 Opel Grandland X.
South Racing mechanics repaired Austin Jones's damaged Can-Am overnight and the American restarted at the rear of the field.
With nothing to lose, other than a stage win, Jones attacked and was fastest through the first timing point. He went on to claim the day's victory by 2min 01sec from Mubarak Al Hajri.
"I'm really happy with that. That's definitely what we wanted to do. Obviously we don't have much to lose, so I wasn't going to lift my foot off the throttle the entire time and that's what happens," said T3 stage winner Jones.
The final selective section of 254.58km starts on the Zekret road and heads up the western shoreline before turning south at a passage control near Al Zubara, after 150.17km.
The final timed section then heads through the central deserts to finish at Ash Shafallahiyah.
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