Nasser Al-Attiyah claimed a record-breaking 15th Qatar Rally win on the first round of this year’s Middle East Rally Championship. Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel finished an impressive one minute and 48 seconds ahead of Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and James Fulton.
Kris Meeke and Sebastian Marshall were forced to retire their Skoda Fabia R5 on Saturday evening. They were embroiled in a battle with Al-Attiyah, claiming two stage wins to stay 10 seconds behind the eventual rally-winners after the fourth stage.
Unfortunately, a heavy landing over a Stage 5 jump damaged the Skoda’s bumper and ripped a water pipe off the radiator. It cost Meeke 46 seconds on Saturday’s final stage but further penalties were to come after he stopped on the succeeding road section.
Engine damage ruled out a return on Sunday for Meeke and Marshall.
“On the last stage on Saturday,” explained Meeke, “quite close to the finish, there were some waves (bumps) and I was on a similar line to my first pass in the morning.
“But the car skipped and landed nose on the next dip. This damaged the front bumper and took the water pipe off the radiator. That put an end to our rally.
“I really enjoyed the experience. It’s a different kind of rallying here.
“It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle and to try to work it out is a challenge enough.”
Qatar Rally master Al-Attiyah headed into Sunday’s six stages with a one minute and 40 second lead over Al-Kuwari and Fulton. The two crews shared three stage-wins apiece on the final day to keep the podium positions as they were at the start of the day.
Khalid Al-Suwaidi finished third over six minutes off the leading pace.
Al-Attiyah’s 15th Qatar Rally success was also his 77th MERC win in its 218-event history. Winning co-driver Baumel earned his 26th regional rally victory to overhaul both Chris Patterson and Giovanni Bernacchini in the Hall of Fame. He now has his sights set on Ronan Morgan’s record of 41 successes.
“Today we did a really good job,” said Al-Attiyah. “Leg one was a nice fight between me and Kris Meeke.
“It was (becoming) a nice race but when Kris get out from the race it was an easy day for us today. It was great to have some high level in the Qatar Rally.
“If you look this year we had seven R5s. It was an amazing race.
“Thanks to the QMMF. I hope to continue in this level for this championship and this year.”
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Cover photo courtesy of MMS Racing