AL-ATTIYAH VS LOEB
The newly elected FIA President, Mohammed bin Sulayem, travelled to Ha'il to witness the awarding of the very first FIA Cross-Country World Championship points. The Emirati former driver must have been delighted to see his heir take the lead at this momentous time. Not that Nasser Al-Attiyah is looking forward to an office with a commanding view of the Place de la Concorde in Paris! He is bin Sulayem's successor in the sense that the Toyota driver has won the Middle East Rally Championship 11 times between 2003 and 2021, the same race that bin Sulayem won on almost every occasion from 1986 to 2002, with 14 titles in total. The game is on, but Al-Attiyah is currently focused on his incipient struggle with Sébastien Loeb, his closest rival who has entered the W2RC.
AL-ATTIYAH… AND THE RETURN OF THE ARGENTINIANS
Nasser Al-Attiyah has an insatiable appetite in winter as in summer. His competitive spirit has catapulted him to five victories in the World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies (2008, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2021), of which he is the joint record holder with Jean-Louis Schlesser. He is tackling the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship with the same panache. In Ha'il, he became the first competitor to score points in the competition. His tally of 5 points give him a razor-thin margin on Sébastien Loeb. At the same time, history may remember that two Argentinian racers, both of which are making their Dakar comeback in the first year of the W2RC after four years on the sidelines, are also among the first point scorers: Lucio Álvarez, with 3, and Sebastián Halpern, with 1.
LOEB AND AL-ATTIYAH LEVEL PEGGING
Another duel is taking place on the tracks of the Dakar with the aim of crowning the world rally-raid champion and it involves the two main players at the beginning of this rally. Each with a stage victory and a second-place finish, Sébastien Loeb and Nasser Al-Attiyah together lead the classification. Today, “Nani” Roma also made his entrance into the rankings and finds himself tied in 3rd position with Lucio Álvarez, both on 3 points. The contest also concerns the T3s, led by South Racing’s Can-Am driven by Francisco “Chaleco” López ahead of Cristina Gutiérrez’s OT3-Red Bull. In the T4 class, Austin Jones is leading the dance, whilst in the truck category, after only two days, Martin Macík is starting to open up a gap, with a total of 10 points.
AL-ATTIYAH GAINS A BIT OF BREATHING SPACE
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sébastien Loeb were neck-and-neck yesterday, but today that is no longer the case. The Frenchman who broke his transmission, drew a blank on completion of stage 3 and stays on a total of nine points. However, by finishing eighth on the stage but third amongst the world championship protagonists, his Qatari rival has added three points to his total and is the same number of units ahead of Loeb. “Nani” Roma enjoyed a profitable day in W2RC terms because he is now only one point behind his BRX clan team-mate. In the T3 class, Seth Quintero, who was unlucky on Monday, came up trumps today and climbs to within two points of “Chaleco” López. As regards their T4 class colleagues, Michał Goczał got the upper hand over Austin Jones and the two Can-Am drivers are respectively on 11 and 10 points before the fourth special. In the truck race, Martin Macík opened up the gap a little further, with 15 points as opposed to the 12 possessed by his team-mate Martin Šoltys.
T3/T4 - A CORNUCOPIA OF POINTS FOR STAGE HUNTERS
As well as fighting for the Dakar title, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sébastien Loeb are locked in a vicious battle for the world championship. The Toyota driver's 44th stage win increased his tally to 17 points, not too far ahead of his BRX rival, who has scored 13 so far. The situation in the T3 category is a world apart. Seth Quintero is no longer in contention for the top step of the podium, but he remains hell-bent on catching and overtaking "Chaleco" in the W2RC. His third stage win was good enough for him to pull level with the Chilean with 15 points apiece. Pole Michał Goczał is also tied with Austin Jones after claiming the first stage to Riyadh. Finally, Martin Macík has seen his lead shrink, but the competition with his Big Shock Racing teammate, Kees Koolen, is a far friendlier affair.
LOEB LEVELS UP
With his lowliest performance since the beginning of the first leg of the world rally-raid championship, Al-Attiyah has allowed Loeb, the day’s winner, to draw back level on points. While it is obvious that the battle between the two men for the crown in Jeddah has been on the cards since several days ago, it seems like the wider contest is set to carry on for the rest of the year! They both have 18 points each after 5 days of the championship. Behind them, with half as many points, Al Rajhi and Alvarez are providing backup to Nasser for the constructor’s title which currently looks set to go to Toyota. However, Nani Roma is 5th with 8 points, ready to assist Loeb in putting Prodrive in the reckoning. In the T3 class there is another duel at the summit of the race hierarchy. Seth Quintero for the OT3 Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team has succeeded in redressing the balance after drawing a blank on stage 2. He has regained the lead with a score of 20 points, against 19 pour Francisco López of EKS South Racing. Behind them, there is an identical scenario to the T1 class. Two of the leader’s team-mates have boxed in “Chaleco” thanks to the performances of Cristina Gutiérrez and Guillaume de Mévius. In the T4 class, Austin Jones, the South Racing Can-Am Factory driver, has still not picked up the 5 points awarded for a stage victory. Poland’s Michał Goczał, driving for the Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team, boasts two stage wins and 17 points in total against 16 for the American who is instead relying in his consistency, tied with South Racing Can-Am driver Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira. In the T5 class, Martin Macík from Big Shock Racing has pocketed a fourth stage victory out of 5 specials and now boasts 23 points under his belt against 18 for Kees Koolen, who is flying the flag for Project 2030. In the bike category, although we will have to wait until the end of the Dakar to award points to drivers and constructors, GasGas continues to sit atop the virtual rankings with Sunderland still leading the race, followed by the current world champion, KTM’s Matthias Walkner. Daniel Sanders, just behind the Austrian in the championship, has reinforced the position of the Gerona based constructor. In the Rally 2 class, rookies Mason Klein and Bradley Cox are still holding out against the best French representative on the Dakar 2021, Camille Chapelière.
AL RAJHI IN PURSUIT
Yazeed Al Rajhi (Toyota Overdrive) not only climbed into second place in the general rankings of the Dakar, but this performance could prove valuable to him right up to the final at the Rallye du Maroc, because through finishing as the highest placed driver enrolled in the W2RC he gained 5 points, allowing him to close in on Loeb (Prodrive), who went empty-handed today. His team-mate Nani Roma, out of the reckoning for the title in Jeddah, can look further ahead and now focus on his consistency until the end of the season. By pocketing 4 points today, he in turn closes in on the Saudi driver. Al-Attiyah remains in the lead with a total of 20 points, in front of Loeb on 18 points, Al Rajhi on 14 points and Roma on 12 points. The match between the European drivers at Prodrive and the Middle Eastern drivers at Toyota Gazoo Racing and Toyota Overdrive seems well underway. In the T3 class, Seth Quintero (Red Bull) continues his fine harvest. His 25 points have all been gathered in chunks of 5 which is synonymous with victory! However, his off day at the beginning of the race allows “Chaleco” López (EKS South Racing) to remain within just 3 points, thanks to his consistency. Cristina Gutiérrez is closing in on their struggle by grabbing 4 points thanks to 2nd place today, whilst Marco Carrara and Fernando Alvarez scored their first points. In the T4 class, Marek Goczał (Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team) continues to collect the points with a second batch of 5, but Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira (South Racing Can-Am) stays in the overall lead with 20 points more than Marek’s brother, Michał Goczał, and Austin Jones (Can-Am Factory South Racing). In the truck category, Martin Macík (Big Shock Racing) has the highest score in all the categories together with a total of 27 points out of 30 available! Kees Koolen (Project 2030) enhanced his position by finishing 2nd in the category and now totals 19 points, sandwiched in between Macík and the other Big Shock Racing driver, Martin Šoltys and his 14 points.