Tribune News Network
Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Konrad Dabrowski recorded the fastest times in the car and motorcycle classes on the opening 9.08km Prologue stage of the Qatar International Baja on Thursday afternoon.
The customary short opening timed section has been introduced to determine the starting order for the longer second part of the stage through the Qatari deserts on Friday morning and preceded the ceremonial start on Lusail Boulevard on Thursday evening.
Forty-four cars (seven T1+, three T1, three T2, 18 T3 and 13 T4), 47 motorcycles and five quads passed scrutineering checks and were permitted to start the Prologue stage. Santiago Navarro and Henry Kahy were non-starters in the T3 category for lightweight prototype machines. There were also nine cars running in a National event behind the main Baja.
Al Attiyah and his regular co-driver Mathieu Baumel carded a time of 5min 49.5sec in their Toyota Hilux and lead the car section by 4.8 seconds from the Polish duo of Krzysztof Holowczyc and Lukasz Kurzeja in their Mini JCW Rally Plus. Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov are third in an Overdrive Racing Toyota.
Kuwait’s Meshari Al Thefiri edged out the South Racing Can-Am Team’s Otavio Sousa for the early lead in T3 in his new MCE-5 T3M. Brazil’s Cristiano de Sousa Batista continued his excellent run of form to top the T4 standings from young Pau Navarro in his FN Speed Team Can-Am.
A time of 6min 20.9sec enabled the defending champion Konrad Dabrowski to claim the early advantage in the motorcycles on a stage where the times are multiplied by a coefficient of eight to ensure tactics and positional musical chairs are discouraged. The Pole has recovered well from a recent appendicitis operation and is targeting a repeat win this season. The KTM rider also topped the Junior category.
Great Britain’s Robert Wallace and Italy’s Paulo Lucci came home in second and third, with Italian rider Cesare Zacchetti (KTM) leading the Veterans in 12th and Mirjam Pol topping the Women’s section in 13th.
Emirati Abdulaziz Al Ahli drew first blood in the quad category to lead from Saudi Arabia’s Haitham Al Tuwaijri and Mansoor Al Suwaidi.
Saudi Arabia’s Mishal Al Ghuneim is one of the more experienced of the motorcycle riders. He finished 14th on the Prologue and said: “I feel good after my ankle injury and have got a couple of riders with me, Andrew (Houlihan) from Australia and Luca from Italy. Luca is a rookie but Andrew is fighting for the Veterans’ Championship. Hopefully we all have a good race.”
The second part of leg one runs through the Qatar deserts for 233.87km and is split into three sections of 46.05km, 70.53km and 117.29km on Friday morning by non-competitive transfer zones. The first motorcycle will be on stage at 07.35hrs. Cars will tackle the longer section of 117.29km first and then the two shorter stages with the first vehicle on stage from 08.45hrs.