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Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah, the champion nonpareil

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah

Bengaluru, January 18: Sports history is replete with stories of athletes chasing dreams and realising them and Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah has just added another chapter to it.

Ever since he was a child, Al Attiyah had been dreaming of winning the most-gruelling off-road event of all times. And now, in a span of eight years, the Qatari sports icon has accomplished his mission three times nonchalantly.

By clinching his third Dakar Rally crown (his previous wins came in 2011 and 2015) and the first for Japanese manufacturer Toyota, Al Attiyah has joined an elite band of multiple Dakar winners including Rene Metge, Ari Vatanen, Pierre Lartigue, Jean-Louis Schlesser, Hiroshi Masuoka abd Stephane Peterhansel.

Considering the fact that he is someone who dabbles in two disciplines - Al Attiyah is an accomplished shooter, who won skeet bronze in 2012 London Olympics - the tag 'champion nonpareil' suits him perfect.

Stamping his class

Stamping his class

The 48-year-old's accomplishments speak for himself - three Dakar titles, 14 Middle East Rally Championship wins, two FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies crowns and as many titles in the support category of World Rally Championship (WRC).

As yet another Dakar Rally came to a close at Pisco in Peru, Al Attiyah stamped his class once again - be it sand, gravel, rocks, mountain or desert, the ace Qatari driver mastered them all as was his evident in his victory margin. - a whopping 46 min, 42 sec lead over his nearest rival Nani Roma.

Hard race

Hard race

"It was a very hard race. I'm really happy to win this race. It was a fantastic job from the team. There's been a lot of people working on this car for a long time, always believing we could win the Dakar. I'm so proud of these guys right now. My job was to bring the car home in first place and I'm so glad I could do my part," a beaming Al Attiyah said.

Al Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel dominated the 10-stage race through southern Peru from the opening stage on January 7. They won three of the timed sections, led after day one and then from the end of day three to the finish.

Flawless drive

Flawless drive

"We were leading from day three and we built on our time every day until we came to the last day with a big lead. I'm happy for Toyota because it is the first time in history that they won the Dakar," he added.

It was a near flawless drive from the Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing powered duo that brought them the title in their South African-built Toyota Hilux.

Sand racing expertise

Sand racing expertise

Al Attiyah's sand racing expertise came to the fore on the 2019 Dakar route that saw the convoy plunged into the dunes.

And he was quick to thank his crew for having helped him emerge on top. "There's been a lot of people working on this car for a long time, always believing we could win the Dakar. I'm so proud of these guys right now," said Al Attiyah.

Last laugh

Last laugh

The entry field for the 2019 Dakar Rally included virtually the crème de la crème of off-road racing. The X-raid MINI JCW trio of Peterhansel , defending champion Carlos Sainz and nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb who together had an impeccable 20 Dakar victories between them had all the ambitions to park on the top step of the podium.

Loeb, behind the wheels of a private run Peugeot 3008DKR, was the only driver who could pose any threat to Al Attiyah after 13-time champion Peterhansel's challenge for the X-raid MINI JCW Teamended with a tragic crash.

But it was Al Attiyah, who had the last laugh and he summed up his feelings quite aptly.

Is he the greatest?

Is he the greatest?

"All the drivers were really strong. Everybody wants to win the Dakar. But we felt when we came, that in Peru, a 100 per cent Peru rally, there would be a lot of sand dunes, so we could do what we know we are good at."

Whether Al Attiyah is the greatest rally driver of all times remains a subject open to debate. But for the time being he can bask in the glory of having crossed the chequered flag first after a bumpy ride of over 5,500 kilometres including 10 stages at the planet's toughest test of motorsports endurance. Kudos champion!

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    Story first published: Friday, January 18, 2019, 11:57 [IST]
    Other articles published on Jan 18, 2019
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