By Our Correspondent Fes, Morocco
Overdrive Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing endured mixed fortunes in what turned out to be a dramatic Rally of Morocco, the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
South African driver Giniel de Villiers managed to claim the outright victory for the fourth time and the first with new Spanish co-driver Spaniard Alex Haro at the wheel of one of four Toyota Gazoo Racing Hiluxes.
Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah began the event with a nine-point lead in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, but cruel engine issues on the fourth day cost the Qatari and French navigator Matthieu Baumel a useful lead they had built up over the first three days.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing pairing were relying on rival Stéphane Peterhansel finishing lower than fifth overall if they were to claim the world title again.
The Frenchman managed to reach the finish in fifth place and snatched the title from the Qatari by a single point.
Two-time FIA Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso gained valuable experience from his first ever FIA cross-country event and overcame punctures, a front axle breakage and everything that the Moroccan desert could throw at him to reach the finish in 27th position with five-time Dakar winner Marc Coma acting as his co-driver.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian Tom Colsoul were running strongly through the early stages before losing a lot of time after damaging the car in a hole.
They recovered well to reach the finish in an unofficial 26th in the fourth of the Toyota Gazoo Racing cars.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ulsterman Michael Orr overcame niggling time delays during the course of the five days of action in the desert to head home the Overdrive Racing contingent in sixth place.
Russian duo of Viktor Khoroshavtsev and Anton Nikolaev stayed clear of serious problems in their Overdrive Racing-prepared car and reached the finish in Fes in 12th overall.
Dutchman Erik van Loon and Frenchman Sebastien Delaunay stopped to assist at the scene of a rival’s accident and then succumbed to issues of their own soon afterwards, despite setting several impressive stage times in their Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux.
The French crew of Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot were not able to start the event after Chabot rolled during the pre-event test session.
Only the motorcycles tackled a Prologue stage, near Fes, and the timed action for the cars began with two selective sections of 103.46km and 225.70km en route to the bivouac in Erfoud.
Al-Attiyah overcame one puncture to clock the fastest time and snatch a 2min 39sec advantage over Frenchman Matthieu Serradori in the overall rankings. De Villiers gave Toyota Gazoo Racing a second place on the podium with the third fastest time, albeit 3min 14sec adrift of al-Attiyah.
Alonso clipped a stone after the third passage control and lost over 20 minutes before finishing the stage at a slow pace in 21st position with a total time loss of 45 minutes.
Ten Brinke was a solid fifth and Van Loon was the fastest of the four Overdrive Racing cars in seventh.
Al-Rajhi finished the stage in 10th.
Al-Attiyah said: “It was a hard day and tricky from the beginning with 100km of mountains.
The last section was more open desert with a lot of rivers.
We had one flat tyre, but I am quite happy to have this performance and to be winning the stage.”
Al-Attiyah was again the man on form and the Qatari beat last year’s FIA World Cup winner Jakub Przygonski by 11min 09sec and title rival Peterhansel by 12min 32sec.
De Villiers reached the finish in fourth place and moved up to second in the overall classification, 17min 09sec behind Al-Attiyah, while Alonso was 10th fastest, despite a lowly starting order and having to battle through the dust. Ten Brinke and Van Loon were sixth and eighth, but Khoroshavtsev and Al-Rajhi lost time in 19th and 20th. Al-Attiyah said: “We didn’t make any navigational mistakes and I was really pushing because we need to see where we are.” Al-Attiyah regained the advantage on the last section but Sainz eventually won the stage by 29 seconds when the route was later shortened by event Stewards because of a GPS issue.
Al-Attiyah’s overall lead over De Villiers was 17min 21sec with the South African fourth on the day’s stage.
FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – standings after round 4 (unofficial):
1. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) 61pts
2. Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah (QAT) 60pts 3. Reinaldo Varela (BRA) 37pts
4. Yazeed al-Rajhi (SAU) 35pts
5. Giniel de Villiers (ZAF) 30pts
6. Jakub Przygonski (POL) 28pts
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