(MENAFN - The Peninsula) The Peninsula
Overdrive Racing's Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah was made to work mightily hard for a second victory in Rally Kazakhstan and the outright lead in the 2019 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
The Qatari and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel looked to be in control before the fifth demanding selective section through some of the remotest terrain in eastern Kazakhstan.
Lengthy delays for the crew in that loop stage to the north of Aktau City meant that the outcome went down to the wire and the Toyota Hilux crew had to stave off a fierce challenge from rival and Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel over the final stage to confirm a second win on the longest FIA event in the calendar.
Al Attiyah eventually pressed on down the coastline of the Caspian Sea to the finish in Aktau City to secure a winning margin of 5min 21sec and repeat his 2017 triumph on the newest round of the cross-country calendar.
The win gave him an unofficial nine-point lead in the Drivers' Championship to take to the final round in Morocco in October.
Al Attiyah said: 'I am obviously very happy to win Rally Kazakhstan and now I am leading the championship. Now we are waiting for Morocco. This is a good year for us. Six wins in total and six races in which I competed. We controlled the pace well today. It was a nice stage, no problems.
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi was not able to repeat last year's success in Kazakhstan but he and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz claimed two stage wins, led after day one and recovered from a third-day roll and a series of punctures to reach the finish in eighth overall.
Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brinke and Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul held third overall in their Toyota Hilux until issues on the fifth Aktau loop stage cost them a lot of time. They won the last stage but hefty time penalties dropped them out of the top 15 at the finish in Aktau.
It was an enthralling start to the event being organised by the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan for both Al Attiyah and Al-Rajhi. They were separated by just two seconds through the opening 280.35km selective section from Aktau City to the bivouac to the south at Kenderley.
The Qatari carded a time of 2hrs 22min 03sec to snatch the outright lead from his Saudi rival. Defending World Champion Jakub Przygonski was just over three minutes behind the stage winner in third and Ten Brinke came in fifth with the third Toyota in a time of 2hrs 30min 26sec.
However, Al Attiyah was awarded a one-minute time penalty for speeding in a restricted area and the overall lead was gifted to Al-Rajhi. The Qatari said: 'Last year our car was seriously damaged on the first stage and we had to withdraw. Everything is going according to plan and I am optimistic, despite the one-minute penalty.