Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser, Spaniard Marc Coma and Poland’s Rafal Sonik led their respective car, motorcycle and quad categories after a punishing opening 405.12km selective section of the 2013 Sealine Cross-Country Rally across the deserts of southern Qatar on Tuesday.
Pre-rally favourite Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah may have lost his chance of retaining the Sealine car title after grinding to a halt with rear brake caliper issues before the first passage control. The Qatari holds seventh overall and ceded over 65 minutes to stage winner Schlesser, while he and Lucas Cruz Senra made emergency repairs and then faced further delays later in the stage. Al-Attiyah must now mount a fascinating fight back over the remaining three days.
“Not good, we had a problem with the brake, the left caliper, after 20km and we lost maybe one hour,” said Al-Attiyah. “Then, I push and we get back some time but the power steering was leaking fluid and we had a small fire. And we got lost. We have to see now what the problems are before we look to tomorrow.”
Schlesser, the ‘Desert Fox’, finished 16min 44sec in front of Polish Mini driver Krzysztof Holowczyc, despite the difficult navigation that placed an extra burden on his Russian co-driver Konstantin Zhiltsov.
Brazilian Reinaldo Varela lost third place near the stage finish after a front impact damaged his Toyota. This paved the way for the three other Overdrive Racing Toyota Hiluxes of Kazakh Aidyn Rakhimbayev, Venezuelan Nunzio Coffaro and Poland’s Martin Kaczmarski and Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Shegawi (Nissan) to round off the unofficial top six.
“Once we passed Nasser it was difficult to open the road and still drive quickly,” said Schlesser. “The stage was not so hard on the car but we needed to concentrate all the time. I know that Nasser will push hard tomorrow but he can do his own race. My priority is to finish and collect points for the World Cup.”
Coma managed to snatch the early advantage from Portugal’s Paulo Gonçalves in a tense motorcycle contest. The leading riders were bunched together for long periods, but the Spaniard was able to edge the stage win from Gonçalves by the margin of 2min 04sec. Norway’s Pal-Anders Ullevalseter took third and Poland’s Jakub Przygonski was fourth.
“It was a big mix today with fast roads, stony, piste and very tricky navigation,” said Coma. “I tried to push a little and then they catch me back, but it was not easy. You had to be so focused. Tomorrow, I start first and the game changes again. But I have made a good start.”
Emirati Obaid Al-Kitbe lost his chance to secure the quad title on the last day in 2012 and his cruel luck struck again. He led for much of the stage before falling behind Poland’s defending champion Rafal Sonik and stopping short of the finish. Sonik, riding a Honda TRX700, will now take a 37min 06sec advantage into Wednesday’s second stage after Al-Kitbe managed to get going again. The UAE’s Atif Al-Zarouni and Qatar’s Adel Hussein Abdullah failed to complete the stage after technical problems.
Day 1 – as it happened
Twenty-four cars, 13 bikes and seven quads reached the start of the first selective section and Luis Calderay-Gonzalez was the first rider into the desert for the start of the day’s 405.12 competitive kilometres shortly after sunrise. Coma started from 10th position and defending quad champion Rafal Sonik was 14th of the 20 riders in the field.
Lopez started fourth and soon overtook his three rivals to reach the first PC at 83.42km with a virtual stage time of 57min 52sec, although Gonçalves and Coma later passed the checkpoint with a quicker time and the Portuguese held the early stage lead with an interim time of 53min 44sec. The UAE’s Khalid Al-Falasi was badly delayed with mechanical issues before the time control and returned to the Sealine camp.
Coma had edged 2min 16sec in front of Gonçalves at the second checkpoint after 180.33km and Al-Kitbe led Sonik in the quad class. The Spaniard increased his lead by a second through PC3 at 289.51km, with Gonçalves, Ullevalseter, Przygonski and Lopez staying in contention, although the leading group of five riders reached the stage finish together.
Coma recorded the fastest time in just under five punishing hours. Engine woes sidelined Adel Hussein Abdullah near Dukhan on the extreme west of the route, as Sonik snatched the quad stage win once Al-Kitbe was delayed in the final kilometres.
Al-Attiyah led 23 rivals into the car action in his Desert Buggy and was running in front of Schlesser until his car ground to a halt after 20km. This opened the door for a number of his rivals to take up the challenge and Schlesser reached PC2 with the quickest time. Faisal Al-Attiya’s ex-Gordon Hummer also stopped prematurely, although both he and Nasser managed to repair their cars and continue at a fast pace to try and claw back the lost time.
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