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Al-Attiyah, Bernacchini lead after tense tussle Sheikh Khalid, Patterson slip behind

KUWAIT CITY, March 21: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah with Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini edged their opponents and held a 12.5-second lead after a tense tussle over six desert special stages of the 22nd Kuwait International Rally, round two of the 2014 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, on Friday.  Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Chris Patterson had been in impressive form through the first two stages and the Emirati held the advantage before slipping behind Al-Attiyah. The Citroën DS3 RRC driver kept up the pressure throughout the afternoon to set up a fascinating contest over the closing six timed tests on Saturday.

“I have not been feeling 100% after having the ‘flu for a few days when I came here,” said Al-Attiyah. “Saying that, it has been a good day, no real issues and I have a lead to build on now on Saturday. I will try my best.” Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari fought a close fight for third until the Qatari dropped a lot of time on the final loop of three stages. Al-Rajhi finished the day in a clear third, 67 seconds behind the leader but 1min 42.3sec in front of fourth-placed Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi, despite a spin on the seventh stage and persistent overheating issues during the day.

Salah bin Eidan was comfortably the top Kuwaiti driver in his Ford Fiesta R5 in fifth position and that costly loop of three stages with boost valve woes pushed Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari down from fourth to sixth at the end of the day. Fellow countrymen Khalifa Al-Attiyah and Abdullah Al-Kuwari were seventh and eighth. Kuwait’s Dawood Al-Gharabally rounded off the top 10 in his Group N-leading Subaru Impreza.
The talented young Emirati Mohamed Al-Mutawee made giant strides towards a second successive victory in the Abu Dhabi Racing-Citroën Middle East Trophy by holding a 1min 31.5sec overnight lead over Mohammed Al-Sahlawi and birthday boy co-driver Craig Parry. He was also classified ninth overall. Juma Al-Falaisi rolled out of fourth position on the first Al-Zour stage.  Germany’s Edith Weiss and Qatar’s Nada Zeidan were continuing their battle to be top lady driver at the rear of the field.
Two runs through three special stages was on the agenda for Friday and steady rain greeted teams before the start of the 13.46km ‘Misfer’ stage, named in memory of former regional champion Misfer Al-Marri, who passed away last month after illness.
 

Michel Saleh’s engine issues were worse than first thought and the Lebanese veteran was not able to continue; his demise reduced the number of runners to 20 after Elie Chachati also withdrew his Subaru.
Al-Attiyah posted the target time of 7min 37.3sec, but Al-Qassimi was one tenth of a second quicker. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari dropped nine seconds to the leading duo and Al-Rajhi was not able to sandwich himself between the leading duo and Al-Qassimi headed to the longest stage of the rally at Kheiran with a lead of 0.1sec.
 

Al-Attiyah set a time just 2.6sec shy of 15 minutes, but Al-Qassimi was clearly enjoying the conditions and beat the Qatari by 8.1sec. Neither Al-Kuwari nor Al-Rajhi could match the Emirati and he reached the start of the fourth rapid-fire Al-Zour stage with an 8.2sec lead over Al-Attiyah. Bin Eidan was the highest of the ranked Kuwaiti drivers in sixth position, but Abdullah Al-Kuwari took a sizeable shortcut in the stage after losing his way and was awarded a four-minute time penalty.
Al-Qassimi dropped 12.9sec to Al-Attiyah in Al-Zour and this gifted a lead of 4.7sec to Al-Attiyah at the regroup at service stop in Julai’a. The duo had continued to edge away from Al-Rajhi and Al-Kuwari during the morning and the Saudi and the Qatari found themselves trailing by 25.8sec and 36.0sec at the regroup.
 

Abu Dhabi Racing’s Juma Al-Falaisi lost an hour after rolling his Citroën DS3 R3; he had been running as the fourth of the Juniors behind Al-Mutawee, Al-Sahlawi and Mansoor Belhelai.
Al-Attiyah was quickest through Misfer 2 and extended his lead to 7.5sec, but Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari lost 70 seconds with boost issues and slipped well behind Al-Rajhi and into the clutches of Abdullah Al-Qassimi, running well in fifth with his new Ford Fiesta. The Sharjah driver started the second Kheiran special just nine seconds behind last year’s WRC 2 runner-up.
 

But there was disappointment for the Kuwaiti Group N runners Meshari Al-Thafiri and Essam Al-Nejadi, who both fell foul of the fifth stage with respective fuel pump and engine issues.
Could Al-Qassimi claw some time back through the 30.23km re-run of Kheiran? Al-Attiyah was slower than his second run through the stage and Al-Qassimi took full advantage to reduce the defending champion’s lead to 5.1sec. Al-Kuwari’s boost valve woes continued and the Qatari was passed in the overall standings by both Abdullah Al-Qassimi and Bin Eidan.
The tracks had begun to deteriorate on the second run and it was no wonder the drivers were setting slower times than the morning, but Al-Attiyah was not to be denied and a fastest time was enough to push his lead up to 12.5sec at the overnight halt. Al-Rajhi suffered a spin and managed to hold on to third and Abdullah Al-Qassimi consolidated fourth, but Al-Kuwari’s loss of time continued and he finished the day in sixth.
 

Tomorrow (Saturday), crews will tackle a further six timed desert special stages, starting with the 13.8km of Safir at 10.06hrs. Runs through Bneider (17.4km) and Julai’a (12.8km) follow at 10.34hrs and 11.12hrs before a regroup and service.
The three specials are repeated at 12.40hrs, 13.08hrs and 13.46hrs, before the finish podium outside the Safir Hotel and Residences in Fintas at 16.30hrs.
 

2014 Kuwait International Rally - positions after SS7 (@15.30hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta RRC - 1hr 14min 25.6sec; 2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Citroën DS3 RRC - 1hr 14min 38.1sec; 3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Michael Orr (GBR) Ford Fiesta RRC - 1hr 15min 32.6sec; 4. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (ARE)/Catherine Derousseaux (FRA) Ford Fiesta RRC - 1hr 17min 14.9sec; 5. Salah Bin Eidan (KWT)//Nasser Al-Kuwari (QAT) Ford Fiesta R5 - 1hr 18min 02.2sec; 6. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta RRC - 1hr 20min 00.6sec; 7. Khalifa Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Adel Hussein (QAT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X - 1hr 22min 05.2sec; 8. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta R5 - 1hr 22min 56.6sec; 9. Mohamed Al-Mutawaa (ARE)/Stephen McAuley (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3 - 1hr 26min 17.7sec; 10. Dawood Al-Gharabally (KWT)/Abdulla Al-Ghanim (KWT) Subaru Impreza - 1hr 27min 10.7sec.
11. Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (ARE)/Craig Parry (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3 - 1hr 27min 49.2sec; 12. Ali Saleh (KWT)/Fares Al-Thafiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII - 1hr 31min 31.5sec; 13. Mansoor Belhelai (ARE)/Khalid Al-Kendi (ARE) Citroën DS3 R3 - 1hr 32min 13.4sec; 14. Saeed Bintowq (ARE)/Allan Harryman (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3 - 1hr 34min 02.0sec; 15. Edith Weiss (DEU)/Vicky Psarali (GRC) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX - 1hr 42min 46.1sec; 16. Nada Zeidan (QAT)/Kamal Khoder (QAT)    Subaru Impreza - 1hr 53min 50.0sec, etc.

By Iddris Seidu (Arab Times Staff) & Neil Perkins


 


By: Iddris Seidu (Arab Times Staff) & Neil Perkins

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